I was thrilled, two and a half years after the European elections, to be able to take my seat in the European Parliament last December.This delay was due to the time needed to ratify the necessary amending provisions to the Lisbon Treaty to allow 18 additional MEPs to join the Parliament.With that process complete I sat in the Hemicycle for the first time along with the other new Members to hear the President welcome us to the EP.
In my first TV interview as an MEP I was asked if, being a new British Conservative MEP, I had noticed any hostility from my non British colleagues.I replied that this was very far from the case in my experience: universally my colleagues have been welcoming, helpful and understanding.
Over the many months of waiting to join the Parliament, several of the “Additional 18” communicated regularly via email. We counted down the countries yet to ratify the necessary protocol and shared information on what was happening. In Strasbourg last month we finally got together for dinner and at last I could put names and faces together and meet people whom I already regarded as friends.Although we are a complete mixture of nationalities and parties, our shared experience has brought us together.
Joining the Parliament at the mid-way point, is rather like starting to watch a film when it’s half way through. I have found myself getting to grips with current issues as well as understanding the dynamics of this Parliament which have developed in the months and years before my arrival.Then there is the administration.The vast majority of my time for the first few weeks was taken up with filling in a plethora of forms with the friendly support of the Parliament's officials, recruiting staff and equipping my office. So far, I have only left my voting card in the Hemicycle once!
Now, three months in, most forms are completed, my office is functioning and I know what Committees I sit on; LIBE and substitute on EMPL and AGRI.These are three active Committees, handling challenging and interesting issues.Indeed the spectrum of subjects covered by my Committee work is very wide; from the Situation in Hungary in LIBE, to Electromagnetic Fields in EMPL, to CAP reform in AGRI.LIBE's work is wide-ranging and challenging in dealing with issues which have very real consequences for our electors' daily lives.
It is with the latter two Committees where I hope my experience may be of benefit to the work of EMPL and AGRI.For the twenty five years prior to joining the Parliament I ran my own business, so I am very well aware of the problems and frustrations experienced by SMEs in understanding and complying with regulations.Additionally, I hope to be able to apply my recent experience in running a business and being an employer in the current economic climate to deliberations in the Employment Committee.I am also relishing contributing to the work of the Agriculture Committee.For many years I have been involved in a smallholding to which recently we have added a vineyard; an increasingly common innovation in England.My contact with farmers across the West Midlands region of England over many years has given me additional insight into the challenges facing agriculture, particularly regarding greening initiatives and CAP reform.
I am becoming accustomed to the D'Hondt method and its implications on speaking time and order; although it is a shame that this can often stultify debate in Committees where there is no blue card initiative.I am quite surprised by the easy ride often given to the Commission.I am sure that in most national Parliaments in Europe, Members would not be so deferential to the executive.Clearly the EU institutions are not, nor should they be, a central government; but the Parliament should still hold the Commission to account.
Recently I commented that finding myself in the European Parliament was rather like joining the Foreign Legion; grappling with the shifting sands of European politics and trying to defend one’s country’s interests. The person I was talking to reminded me that those who joined the Foreign Legion were usually fleeing some crime or scandal at home!I am glad to say that this does not apply to me and I am pleased to be here and particularly pleased, with the administration behind me, to throw myself into the real work of an MEP: representing the people of the West Midlands and advocating Conservative values.