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Conservative MEPs' monthly report

May 2008

Labour vote to approve EU Accounts

The European Parliament has voted to grant discharge to the EU’s general budget for 2006, despite the fact that the Court of Auditors has been unable to give a positive ‘certificate of assurance’ for the Commission’s accounts for the past 13 years. Labour and Liberal Democrat MEPs voted in favour of approving the accounts. Conservative MEPs voted against.

James Elles MEP, Conservative Spokesman on Budgetary Control, said that only through a zero tolerance approach to fraud, waste, and mismanagement will the EU's efforts to restore confidence in budgetary control be successful. He said: “The Court of Auditors has not been able to approve the EU's accounts. This needs to be tackled urgently and vigorously. We must restore public confidence, and to do that we need much more transparency surrounding the EU's budget.”

The motion for resolution on the European Parliament accounts for 2006 included a demand that a recent Court of Auditors report into alleged abuse of the parliamentary allowances system by some MEPs be published in full. Conservative MEPs voted for this demand, along with all other UK MEPs (except Robert Kilroy-Silk) but it was defeated.

Call for Europe-wide missing child system

Conservative Vice-President of the European Parliament Edward McMillan-Scott MEP has launched a campaign to press the European Commission to set up a Europe-wide missing children alert system. He has tabled a Written Declaration calling for such a system, which requires the support of 50% of MEPs to be debated on the floor of the House. The campaign was launched in Brussels in April by Gerry and Kate McCann.

The EU missing child alert system would include the introduction of a European Missing Child hotline and a European child resource and policy unit. This would provide a single focal point for data collection, drafting of policies and public communication on all aspects of policy. A key element would be the introduction of an Amber Alert system – based on the US model. The Amber Alert (named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was killed by her abductor) operates like a severe weather warning with messages flashed on radio, television and motorway signs. In the US it has helped the recovery of nearly 400 abducted children since 2003. Eighty per cent have been recovered in the crucial first 72 hours. In Europe, only Belgium and France have fully adopted a similar system.

Mr McMillan-Scott said: “According to the Children's Society, some 130,000 children go missing each year in the UK. Although most are recovered, too many are not. A UK hotline should be part of a Europe-wide network, which is desperately needed. Thousands of parents want a European children centre – like the one in Washington - to bring together governments, the police and the voluntary sector to work on a united front and eliminate layers of frustrating bureaucracy and duplication of work. I urge all MEPs to sign this Written Declaration.”

MEPs add to pressure on Mugabe

The European Parliament has approved a motion for resolution calling for the wishes of the Zimbabwean people to be respected and for the democratic transformation of the country to take place.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, who has spearheaded the Parliament's opposition to the Mugabe regime, commented: “We are sending a carefully balanced message that is clear in its intent. We are signalling to elements within the ZANU-PF power structure to choose the path of democracy and to cooperate now with the forces of change. We want the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and the South Africans in particular, to exercise their responsibilities and insist on a democratic transformation in Zimbabwe. And we are urging the EU and the wider international community to stand ready with a massive package of assistance for Zimbabwe that can be activated as soon as democratic change takes place.”

SAGA reprieved

Conservative MEPs have succeeded in modifying a draft EU proposal which could have undermined UK companies like SAGA and Club 18-30. The European Commission is set to propose a new law outlawing discrimination beyond workplace and concerns had been raised that it could have prohibited companies from targeting their services at specific age groups. However, Giles Chichester MEP, Conservative Leader in the European Parliament, has secured assurances that the plans no longer have a potential impact on the business model of companies offering holidays to specific age groups.

Mr Chichester said: “It shouldn't be the job of any government to tell companies who they can and cannot sell to, however laudable the objectives might be. The lesson of the last twenty years is clear: people prosper when a free market prospers. Conservatives will always fight against laws which threaten successful businesses and therefore jobs.”

Let farmers produce food!

In a recent European Parliament debate on food security and the global rise in food prices, Neil Parish MEP, Chairman of the Parliament's Agriculture Committee warned that farmers must be allowed to respond to the market. He said: “We have sleepwalked into this. For the last twenty years our farmers have been stifled by the bureaucracy of the Common Agricultural policy. We need to free them from government interference, and allow them to do what they do best: produce food.”

Improved system for organ donations

Conservative MEPs have broadly welcomed a vote in the European Parliament on proposals to improve the system for organ donations in Europe. John Bowis MEP, Conservative Spokesman on Health also warned against implementing a system that would duplicate existing practices and add administrative burdens. He said: “It is important that each Member State implements its own tailor-made solution, working closely with other neighbours to exchange ideas on best practice. More research is urgently needed and alliances between national transplantation organisations in Member States should first be facilitated to avoid the duplication of work.”

Global Discourse on Kashmir

Possibilities for reinforcing peace and stability in Kashmir were discussed at the 'Global Discourse on Kashmir', a two-day gathering of politicians, academics, diplomats, journalists from India, Pakistan and both sides of Kashmir which was hosted in Brussels in April by James Elles MEP, Chairman of the All-Party Group for Kashmir, in conjunction with the Brussels-based Human Rights Commission Kashmir Centre.

Mr Elles said: “Given the significant peace process undertaken by the governments of Pakistan and India, the aim of the Global Discourse is to give support to these initiatives. Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP, who delivered the conference's closing address, said: “This event enables us to keep the light shining on a country ravaged by three wars over the past six decades and devastated by the earthquake that claimed 75,000 lives in 2005. We will continue to help in any way we can to support all stakeholders in building a future based on peace, justice and respect for human rights.”

The European Parliament next meets in plenary on 7-8 May in Brussels. The next Strasbourg session is on 19-22 May. The Brussels agenda includes: Economic and Monetary Union, Transatlantic Economic Relations, Economic relations with ASEAN countries, Human Rights, Sport in Europe and rules on lobbyists in the EU institutions.