Blog – Summary of TTIP delay and commitment to continue to oppose ISDS and the TTIP proposals

I have received a huge amount of messages from my constituents about TTIP and I just wanted to post a little update about what’s been going on this week in Strasbourg, let you know what I’ve been doing and how I will continue to tackle the TTIP issue in the future.

On Tuesday, the President of the Parliament postponed the vote on TTIP (which was scheduled for Wednesday) but the debate was still going ahead.  Then, as we turned up for the debate at 8am in the morning, we were ambushed by a proposal to postpone the debate as well.  I spoke on behalf of the UKIP MEPs, saying that the debate should continue because this is a matter of such public importance.  You can watch this speech here:

Sadly, we lost the vote by 183-181 (the British Conservative Party voted to cancel the debate) and the debate was also postponed.

I’ve made two other interventions in the chamber this week before the debate/vote was postponed, and you’ll be able to see the videos below:

  1.  I managed to persuade the European Parliament to extend the debate on TTIP so that it can be given greater scrutiny (before it was later cancelled):

2. Because TTIP has been impacted by big business lobbying, you may also be interested in the point which I made in one of the debates on intellectual property rights, about the sheer number of corporate lobbyists in Brussels.  The 1-minute speech can be found at: http://www.jonathanarnott.co.uk/2015/06/parliamentary-speech-i-am-more-interested-in-hearing-from-my-constituents-than-30000-big-business-lobbyists/

Earlier this week I also spoke out during the meeting of UKIP MEPs, and pushed the point very strongly to my colleagues that they should take the same anti-ISDS, pro-NHS and anti-TTIP position that I am taking.  I was slightly surprised to learn that almost all of my colleagues feel as strongly as I do on this.  I have also discussed the matter with colleagues from other parties and other countries, urging them to take a similar position.

I’m very disappointed that I will have to wait to represent my constituents on this matter, I don’t yet know when the vote will now take place but my best guess is that it’s most likely to happen at the July Strasbourg session and whenever it comes before the European Parliament, I will continue to oppose ISDS and these TTIP proposals.

I will continue to keep everyone updated about this important issue through my Twitter feed @JonathanArnott and here on my website at www.jonathanarnott.co.uk.  I hope you will agree that I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that your voice is not ignored!

Yours,

Jonathan Arnott MEP

My Column – How to Win Referendums and Alienate People

A cynic’s guide to winning an EU referendum for a pro-European Union prime minister. So far, David Cameron is following my simple, step-by-step guide to the letter. How much longer will it last, I wonder?

1. Announce that there will be an EU referendum years in advance, when it looks like you won’t be in power to push such a referendum through.

2. Spend years doing nothing to renegotiate with the EU, on the basis that the referendum probably won’t happen anyway.

3. When this plan inexplicably fails and you fluke a General Election win through fear of the SNP, it’s time to move to Plan B.

4. Don’t ask for anything the British people actually want, as part of your proposed renegotiation. Anything we want, the EU won’t let us have.

5. Ask for things which are generally meaningless or semantics.

6. Find a couple of minor issues that the other leaders will fight you on.

7. Win those battles, largely because the concessions involved are tiny.

8. Come back from Brussels trumpeting the ‘success’ of your renegotiation with the EU.

9. Tell the British people how amazing your ‘new deal’ actually is.

10. Make sure that the referendum question makes no mention of the two alternatives: EU membership, or free trade agreement. Mention only the EU. People vote for the status quo if you don’t make the alternative clear.

11. Who should vote in the referendum? There’s a clear strategy to ensure this is weighted in favour of the pro-EU camp:

a) Announce early that the decision on Britain’s future should be one for British citizens

b) Set the earliest possible date for the referendum to be held

c) Wait for the pro-EU House of Lords to amend the Referendum Bill to allow more people to vote

d) Tell everyone that your timescale won’t be derailed, so you won’t wait to use the Parliament Act to force the legislation through

e) Cave in to the demands, allowing a wider electorate to vote

12. Now the real campaign starts. You’ve got to portray yourself as a eurosceptic who’s been persuaded that actually, we now have a great deal with Europe.

13. Whatever you do, do not tell anyone that you have another Plan B up your sleeve. You know perfectly well that you could get a good free trade deal with the EU if we were outside it, but don’t let that one slip. Make people feel that they’d somehow be isolated if we left.

13. Scaremongering and denigration will now take you the rest of the way: repeat a big enough lie often enough, and people will believe it. Now where have I heard that phrase before?

14. Scaremonger about non-existent jobs that depend on EU membership. They don’t, of course, they depend merely on trade with the EU which would be unthreatened if we were to leave.

15. Scaremonger about every ‘good thing’ that the EU does for us, and forget that every benefit of the EU is only a benefit because we’ve handed the power over from Westminster to do it better ourselves.

16. Denigrate your opponents. They’re extremists, the lot of them. Racists perhaps (the closet variety). Of course they are; they don’t agree with YOU, Dave. The people who want to trade with the wider world and emerging markets, avoiding insular narrow-minded EU protectionism? Why, they must be little Englanders!

17. If a newspaper goes against the EU, it’s a gutter tabloid and the press should be more responsible. If it comes out in favour of the EU, that’s responsible journalism.

18. It has to be socially unacceptable to accept you want to leave the EU, so smear early and smear often. Imply that a ‘No’ vote is a vote for racism, to prevent more people putting their heads above the parapet.

 

You can read the rest of this article on my Huffington Post blog here.

 

My Column – Some issues are best decided by people, not politicians

At the time of writing, Ireland has just voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum on gay marriage.

I think that’s far more democratic than the way that gay marriage was introduced in this country, where David Cameron didn’t put it in the Conservative Party manifesto, didn’t hold a referendum, and redefined the word ‘marriage’ – a word steeped in centuries of tradition – because of his personal belief.

The decision taken in Ireland was made in a fair, open and democratic manner; the decision taken in the UK wasn’t.

The Scottish referendum on the Union engaged the public in a way that party politics simply cannot: turnout was high across all age groups. Young people care about political issues more than they care about the colour of a rosette.

Part of the answer to the age-old question of why young people in a modern society don’t vote, is that we don’t have a modern democracy. Some issues are best decided by the people not the politicians.

On a moral issue, why should an MP’s vote matter more than yours on any of these issues? The Left in British politics have opposed greater democracy for many years, fearing that people would vote for social conservativism (or the return of the death penalty – I don’t believe people would vote for it to return, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t have a referendum on it), but the Irish referendum on gay marriage proves that it isn’t so simple.

Ukip has campaigned for years to allow the public to call a referendum on key issues, through a petition with a certain number (two million at present) of signatures. Whilst Ireland’s decision was more democratic than the UK’s, wouldn’t Ukip’s proposal be more democratic still? The proposal to introduce gay marriage wouldn’t have come from a politician, but from the people.

Our big mistake in the UK was to hold a referendum on changing the voting system to AV. Top-down referendums don’t work – they should be called by the people on issues that matter to us, not by the government on issues that matter only to them.

AV was just about the only voting system that’s LESS proportional than First Past The Post, and people correctly voted it down.

Our outdated system is creaking at the seams, and a proportional system is needed: every SNP vote was ‘worth’ 149 Ukip votes in terms of the number of MPs elected. Ukip gained more votes than the SNP and Lib Dems put together, yet took one seat to their 64, and five million people voted Ukip or Green yet saw only two MPs between them.

If we’d had a proper 21st Century system of Direct Democracy, we’d have held a referendum on the European Union long ago. Now it looks as though we’ll finally get one.

The question now is, will that referendum be free and fair?

In the 1975 referendum, official government pamphlets said there would be ‘no loss’ of sovereignty, and sadly enough people believed the lie.

Now we merely watch from the sidelines as countries which didn’t join the European Union (Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Monaco, etc.) consistently outperform those which did, and reap the benefits of having the power to negotiate their own trade deals rather than waiting to see when the EU’s Trade Commissioner will do it for them.

Now we need to be vigilant. Will Cameron try to nudge the vote towards staying in by allowing non-British citizens to vote? Will the outright lies (and the scaremongering over mythical job losses if we leave) be countered clearly by evidence showing that trade would continue with Europe whilst we’d have the freedom to develop trade with the big wide world?

You can read the rest of this article on the Journal website here.

My Column – Not Your Stereotypical Ukip Member

I’m writing this article on May 25th, one year to the day from the announcement of the election result, when I was elected as UKIP’s first ever North East Member of the European Parliament. Given the criticism from many people about UKIP’s work in the European Parliament, I thought I’d write about what I actually do.

When UKIP is wrong, I’m not afraid to speak out – as this article shows. Far from the media suggestion that UKIP clamps down on anyone who dares to speak out of turn, I’ve had nothing but praise for that article from within the party. No dressing down from the boss, no angry phone calls from the press office. I’ve voted against the party line in the European Parliament quite often – and never once been in trouble with the ‘whips’ for doing so. UKIP respects my freedom of conscience to vote as I see fit.

I started as I intend to go on. My term of office started on July 1st, and just days later my name was chosen at random to scrutinise the election for the Commission President. Speaking in front of the whole Parliament, I refused to scrutinise the election: we had just one candidate to choose from, and the election was by secret ballot! How, I asked, could it be right that our constituents couldn’t know how we voted? I refused to take part in the organisation of such an undemocratic process.

When the European Parliament breaks its own rules, as this video shows, I’m not afraid to speak out either. In that case, the Parliament had disabled the red button so that we could not vote ‘no’. Likewise, when the Parliament has a double standard or debate is cancelled I point that out too.

Funnily enough, with my first proper speech in the European Parliament on youth unemployment I joined a very exclusive club: my speech was actually praised by an EU Commissioner. I’d pointed out that countries should learn from each other: there are things that we can learn for example from Germany, where there is no stigma attached to a vocational route in education. Of course, I had also said that it’s more efficient for countries to fund employment programmes themselves rather than send money to the EU, only to request it back. Nevertheless, a UKIP MEP’s speech was praised by an EU Commissioner. I jokingly offered myself for disciplinary action to our Chief Whip, who was equally bemused.

Contrary to the accusations made by our opponents, I’ve turned up. My voting record is hovering between 97% and 98%; I wish it were 100% and – health permitting – that’s my target for next year. But still, it’s much higher than most parties’ records at Westminster – which, I’ll remind you, is actually in this country. The journey to Strasbourg is a 1,500-mile round trip and Brussels 1,000.

Recently I’ve taken to live tweeting the votes in the European Parliament. I think the Parliament is too remote from people in the UK, and things which would be a scandal if they occurred at Westminster pass people in Britain by when they happen in Strasbourg. Last week, President Schulz was asked whether the Parliament might hear a few words from the candidates in an internal election; his response was classic: “When we have an election, it is without debate”. Hopefully by live tweeting the votes, I can show people just how far the European Parliament falls of modern standards of democracy.

I don’t accept hospitality from lobbyists. The champagne and refreshments are free-flowing and available almost every day of the week in Brussels. There are more lobbyists in Brussels than in Washington DC. Sadly, that means that big business is able to mould legislation to give it a competitive advantage over small business. Big business doesn’t mind excessive regulation because it has the infrastructure to cope; it knows perfectly well that such regulation will harm its smaller competitors. If you attend such events, how can you know that your vote hasn’t subtly been influenced by the free champagne? For similar reasons, I don’t take part in the regular foreign junkets organised by the European Parliament.

On the other hand, I’m always much happier to spend time speaking to local businesses and constituents, helping them where I can. We may yet win the fight against the appalling lack of foresight in the VATMOSS regulations, which came into force in January and has been putting small businesses which trade with Europe out of business. Hopefully it will at least be amended to fix the problem, if not repealed entirely.

I’m keen to submit amendments to lessen the impact of proposed EU legislation, but I’ll be honest: it’s taken time to understand the intricacies of the Committee system in Brussels – and the committees I’m on are related to finance anyway, rather than legislation. So whilst I have submitted some amendments, notably to save taxpayers’ money in the EU budget (and watched whilst they were voted down), it’s not something I’ve yet been doing on a daily basis.

On the other hand, I’m one of the few British MEPs to have had the opportunity to vote on TTIP (the controversial proposed EU-USA trade deal). Knowing that one of my colleagues would miss the meeting, I volunteered to attend to make sure that UKIP was represented when TTIP came before that committee. I voted against the possibility of NHS involvement in TTIP, and against the principle of private companies having the right to sue national governments over policy. Finally, given that the votes were negative I voted against TTIP altogether.

Meanwhile I’m trying to represent an area so geographically large that it can take up to 3 hours just to drive from one end of my constituency to the other! So in order to be as accessible as possible to my constituents, I’ve spoken at public meetings the length and breadth of the region, speaking and answering questions about my role as a member of the European Parliament. There’s always a balance between doing the job in Brussels and Strasbourg – where I have some of the best records of any British MEP for speeches and Parliamentary questions – and getting back to the UK to feed back to constituents. Many of my Parliamentary questions take up causes on behalf of constituents.

The media side of my job is substantial, partly because a UKIP MEP tends to be something of a figurehead within that region and also partly because foreign TV channels are interested. So my national media appearances have included the Daily Politics, Newsbeat, Good Morning Britain, Radio 5 Live, the Today Programme, The World At One, BBC News, and many more. At a regional level, I’ve done Around the House, the Sunday Politics, ITV News and various other local radio stations. I have a regular column in a major regional newspaper, not forgetting of course to write here for the Huffington Post!

 

 

You can this article in full at my Huffington Post blog here.

Jonathan Arnott MEP discusses TTIP

Much like the NHS issue, many local people have raised concerns with me about the proposed  Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal.  TTIP is a very complex proposal that if put in place will have wide reaching consequences for the people of the UK.  It is vital that we have a thorough, public debate on this issue and I am pleased that it has finally started to be dragged out of the dark, hidden backrooms of Brussels.

Whilst the party have not yet publicly announced our stance on TTIP, UKIP have formally committed ourselves to, at the very least, securing an exemption from the agreement for the NHS.

Whilst signing trade agreements with countries around the world is key to UKIP policy, aside from the well publicised potential impact it could have on the NHS, I have many concerns about this proposed agreement.  These concerns include the secretive, hidden manner in which it has been negotiated by faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats and also the proposed right for multinational corporations to sue national governments.

Most worryingly of all about this proposal is that it seems that the EU are not taking concerns with TTIP seriously and plan to plough along with the plan regardless of UK concerns that are being very widely  raised.

I support the idea of a free trade agreement between the UK and the US.  Such an agreement could potentially be very positive for both nations, but to work it would have to be very carefully crafted and it would need a full and fair public debate before it was signed. This would need to be a deal specifically and carefully tailored to be in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

We now have seen a leaked draft proposal of the agreement (from the European Union) and this leak confirmed many of my fears.  It also confirmed that the NHS could well be severely impacted by the agreement – UKIP have already publically committing to,  securing an exclusion for the NHS in TTIP.

It is important to remember than this is just a proposed draft of the deal (from an EU perspective.) once this proposal had been opened to US negotiation, if they don’t reject it outright, they will demand many changes to suit their own agenda.  If the best case EU proposals don’t suit the UK, what is the US approved version going to look like?

Oh Tuesday the 24th of March, I had the privilege of voting on TTIP.  Although I am not a member of the relevant committee (IMCO), I volunteered to take the place of another MEP who was unable to attend on that day.  Naturally, I voted to support the exemption for the NHS and other public services from TTIP; this motion was carried.  I also voted against the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, but sadly was outvoted by 22-17.   Given the result of that vote, when we came to vote on the whole draft opinion, which supported TTIP, I felt therefore that I had to vote against.  This vote was also lost, by 20-18 with one abstention.

Whilst UKIP do not yet have an official stance on the issue, I have long held many deep concerns about TTIP.  The recent leaked proposal has not assuaged these concerns and whilst I am not able give a definitive answer until I see the final document, if the recently leaked draft or the proposals I recently discussed in committee come before the European Parliament, I would vote against it.

Show’s over, now it’s back to business for UKIP

I’ve been in UKIP since 2001, not that you’d know it from a Party database that stubbornly insists I didn’t join till 2005.  Believe me, I’ve seen all this before.

I caught the back end of a massive internal row from 2000. In 2003 I was involved when the Party suspended two of its own regional committees in a candidate selection row.  There’s been Kilroy, the Petrina Holdsworth saga, the end of Roger Knapman. I defended the two court cases over UKIP’s 2009 European election candidate selection and the case of the missing laptop in Morocco.

 There was the Nikki Sinclaire nonsense and the Marta Andreasen spat, not forgetting the David Campbell Bannerman dummy-spit, so I’ve seen more schisms and other isms than most.  And there’s dozens more you could never possibly have heard of – some bizarre and others just good old-fashioned slanging matches.

In 2015 we’ve had our internal row in front of the world’s media. We’re the third party now in the UK in terms of votes (and by the way, weren’t the previous third party – the Lib Dems -venomous when THEY decapitated a leader?) so it’s no surprise that the UKIP soap opera is worth watching this time.

Tomorrow’s papers will be harsh.  There’s been briefing and counter-briefing, spin and argument.  And, just as quickly, the whole thing is over.  The Party will shed a couple of Nigel’s closest advisors, the sacrifice offered to the metaphorical gods has been accepted and the whole thing can now pipe down.

Nigel Farage remains as leader of UKIP.  There’s no leadership election on the horizon any more.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that.  The spectacle will be well and truly over, provided that there are no recriminations against those who dared to speak their minds.

Does the Party need a change of direction? I’m not ashamed to say that it does, although I wrote this article on Monday evening before the fuss started:

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/news-opinion/ukip-understand-argument-immigration—9259149#ICID=sharebar_twitter

If I’d known what was coming, would I have written it? Possibly not, or at least I’d have waited a couple of weeks.  But whilst Labour’s internal wranglings will last till September, UKIP is ready to take stock and make the few changes that we need to make.

A more positive narrative, a broader message and a bit of attention to detail over candidate selection.  There are some big issues coming up in British politics, and I don’t for a minute believe that UKIP will allow these to be ignored.

I’m off to do the Daily Politics tomorrow, to talk about the big issues  coming from across the channel, and to refocus on what matters: a common-sense agenda for transforming British politics.

Or to put it another way…nothing to see here, time to move on.

My Column – The Firing Squad in Indonesia

I went to the European Parliament chamber last week for a ‘debate’ about the death penalty in Indonesia following executions of Australians for drugs smuggling. A woman from my European Parliamentary constituency, Lindsay Sandiford, is on death row in Indonesia facing charges. Naturally, I wished to contribute to the debate.

I didn’t want to talk about the issue of the death penalty itself, for two reasons:

1. It’s not our business to tell Indonesia to abolish the death penalty

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage MEP is strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances; his deputy Paul Nuttall MEP is in favour of the death penalty for certain types of murder. Different views and opinions occur naturally in a democratic society.

The UK may have views on elements of the Indonesian justice system, of course, and we may wish to point those out through diplomatic channels but we should also recognise that it’s a sovereign self-governing nation.

2. It’s probably counterproductive to tell Indonesia to abolish the death penalty

If they think that we’re opposing the death penalty in and of itself, on a point of principle, then they’re probably less likely to listen to the specific reasoned arguments that can be put forward in Lindsay Sandiford’s case.

I intended to speak of those reasoned arguments in the European Parliament. It is fundamentally, morally wrong that she should be sentenced to death after having co-operated with police – and being told that such co-operation would lead to a prison sentence not a death sentence. But it’s also hugely counterproductive to Indonesia’s fight against the drugs trade. If those caught feel that they can’t trust an offer of leniency in exchange for identifying drug kingpins, what will happen? They will have no incentive whatsoever to assist in the capture of those who make millions from the drugs trade. I planned to make these arguments in the European Parliament, to urge President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to consider clemency in this case because it is in his interests to do so. Such an argument is likely to prove more persuasive than an argument on a moral basis.

You can read the rest of this article on my Huffington Post blog here.

My Column – An Open Letter About ‘That’ Anti-Ukip Note

To the person who posted this note on the window of the UKIP office in Bromley:

I’d like to start by saying ‘thank you’. That might seem strange given that your note attacks UKIP, but you may be aware that recently in different parts of the country we’ve had offices attacked by criminals. We’ve seen intimidation, violence and threats of violence against us. And of course, only recently, our Party Leader Nigel Farage MEP was enjoying lunch with his 10-year-old and 15-year-old daughters when he was accosted by a group of ‘activists’ who so terrified his children by their antics that they ran away and had to be returned home by police. The behaviour of those thugs (and I’m sorry but I can’t think of a better word to describe them) was so bad that their hired coach driver refused to transport them back.

So, thank you for displaying your message and making your political point in a reasonable and dignified way. That’s what genuine political debate and the freedom to protest is all about, and you have taught your teenage son a powerful lesson: your message has been circulated widely online and had a greater impact than those who don’t respect that we live in a democratic country.

I hope that I can respond to you in a similar fashion. You speak of fear, hatred and prejudice. Yet UKIP is the only party, and I mean the only party, that has a genuinely fair, ethical and colour-blind policy on immigration. If that surprises you, think of this: UKIP believes in controlled immigration into the UK. We wouldn’t discriminate between someone from Poland and someone from Pakistan: we would very simply treat everyone equally. In the 1980s and 1990s we had average net migration in the order of 30,000 per year. Today, that figure has increased ten-fold to 300,000 per year. It is reasonable, I think, for a party to say that the scale of this increase is unsustainable.

You also must consider the effect that emigration has upon those countries who lose people that their economies can ill-afford to lose. In my constituency, I might give the example of a very hard-working local taxi driver. He is a qualified teacher in Romania, yet now regularly works 70 or 80 hours a week in the UK, at or around minimum wage. He earns money that he could never have dreamed of in Romania, yet here he does a job which does not require a degree. We currently have a massive oversupply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the UK. There are fewer such jobs today: our factories are now managed by complex computer systems requiring degree-educated workers to operate them, and even our supermarkets are turning to automated checkouts. Yet the open door from Europe means that anyone can come in to the UK.

So Romania is deprived of a teacher, someone desperately needed to help to develop that country’s economy. Meanwhile, because he is prepared to work for minimum wage this has the effect of driving down the wages of those already in the UK, and he takes a job which someone currently unemployed could have learned to do. Whilst he might personally be richer, both the UK and Romania are poorer because of it.

But what if someone is moving to the UK from a country where they have an oversupply of skills yet we are deficient in that area? In that case, the migration would benefit both countries: their unemployment would be lower, and it would help to develop British business. That would be an obvious example of the kind of immigration which is beneficial to the UK. Now, in the long-term we might ask the question whether our own skill shortages reflect a deficiency in our education system.

And when Syria started being torn apart by unrest and violence leading to civil war, who was it who led the way in demanding that the British government should do our bit and take our fair share of refugees? Why it was none other than UKIP Leader Nigel Farage! At the time, Anna Musgrave of the Refugee Council said “We really hope that David Cameron listens to these people, listens to the likes of Nigel Farage, and acts upon it”.

You see, controlling immigration isn’t about race, or hatred, or prejudice. It’s about doing the right thing – not just for our country, but for other countries as well. So you need not feel shame or indignation when you walk past a UKIP office.

As for your allegation that we’re ‘racist’, former members of the BNP, English Defence League, National Front and similar organisations are banned for life from joining UKIP. We don’t want racists in our midst, thank you very much. And whilst it’s true that some of our members have said bad things, we do not accept it and we’re the Party that takes swift disciplinary action against them. The media have certainly ‘cherry-picked’ though: when a UKIP candidate says bad things it’s headline news – whereas when it’s an establishment Party candidate it rarely goes beyond the local newspapers.

You can read the rest of this article at my Huffington Post blog here.

My Column – We have a chance to curb the excesses of the European Union

A tyrannical king once asked a wise man, ‘What shall I do for the betterment of our people?’

The wise man replied, ‘The best thing you could do for your people is to remain in bed until noon so that for this brief period you shall not afflict mankind’.

As the European Union juggernaut rolls on, sometimes it feels like all I can do as a member of the European Parliament is to try to stem the tide of new legislation which damages Britain’s interests and business.

This week, though, was slightly different. We were able to score a few minor victories which might actually help local people.

On the Budgetary Control committee, one of our group’s amendments (to stop EU subsidies for political parties).

It was my vote as Ukip that made the difference and we won by 14 to 13. As ever with the European Union, nothing is so simple. Not so long ago, MEPs voted to stop our taxes subsidising Spanish bullfights – but the subsidies still continue.

Likewise, this won’t stop millions of pounds of our taxes funding political parties but we’ve won the first battle in a much larger fight.

 

 

You can read the rest of my column on the Journal website here.

 

My Column – Beware of the European Union Bearing Gifts

History seems to repeat itself in the European Parliament altogether too often. This week in Strasbourg the European Parliament voted for a well-meaning yet naive proposal to cap the costs that can be charged for card payments at a very low level. Whether this ever actually becomes law is an open question, but in the meantime no doubt we will hear plenty of it from the EU’s PR machine.

Remember when the European Parliament voted to end mobile phone roaming charges whilst in other European countries? It happened a number of years ago, but was finally due to come into force at the end of this year.

In the meantime, forgetting the legislation, consumer demand had already overtaken the EU’s processes. Imagine that phone companies were preparing to comply. They’d be removing charges from phone calls from other EU countries. But in fact, something very different occurred. With no legislative prodding at all, providers started to respond to demand. From Australia or the USA, with New Zealand soon to follow, charges are scrapped with my provider: I can call home for free. Non-EU European countries like Norway and Switzerland got in on the act too. In fact, calling home is now free from more non-EU countries than EU countries – despite the obvious point that Europe is geographically closer than the USA, Indonesia or Sri Lanka.

The EU didn’t do it, the market did. But for years, when asked to provide just a single benefit of EU membership to ordinary people that we can’t get outside, the go-to answer was that mobile phone prices would come down. Just like the EU claiming credit for NATO’s success in keeping the peace in Europe, or for ‘European funding’ that just gives us some of our own taxes back with strings attached, they claimed the credit for the role of the free market.

If you force these things to happen when a company can’t make a business case for it (yes, my phone calls from Belgium when I’m in the European Parliament are still pricey), then they’ll just quietly put up their line rental prices to cover the cost. Frankly, I think that would be a bad thing: the public shouldn’t have to pay to subsidise what would be free international calls for MEPs!

And then, this year, the proposal was quietly scrapped. Not with the fanfare that had greeted the announcement in the first place, but with a tumbleweed blowing across the front of the European Parliament.

You can read the rest of this article at my Huffington Post blog here.