Conservative MEP Julie Girling has received assurances from key members of the EU Commission that the planned Air Quality Package will not be scrapped as part of a thinning out process of the legislative programme.

 Mrs Girling, Conservative environment spokesman in the European Parliament, is lead MEP for a pivotal report in the package. She was concerned last month by reports that the whole series of planned air-quality initiatives would be dropped as part of a new Commission Work Programme to be announced by Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, intended to reflect the principle of better regulation.

 However, in private meetings with Mr Timmermans and Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, it has been confirmed to Mrs Girling that the Commission is not withdrawing the air-quality package. The Commission has instead emphasised the need for synergy with the climate and energy package, but this does not undermine the Parliament's ongoing work on air quality.

Mrs Girling said: "I have been assured by the Commissioner that the legislative process will continue as planned and I will be sticking to my timetable as rapporteur.

 "Air quality is such as important issue and we will need robust rules in place that allow us to tackle this.  After all the recent rumours around the new work programme, I was pleased to hear from both Commissioners that this is indeed the case.

 "I am confident that we can come up with a solution that delivers real value here without imposing unnecessary burdens on industry or members states.

 "Of course we fully support the principle of better regulation and we are right behind Mr Timmerman's in his quest to weed out legislation that is ineffectual, intractable or just plain bad. However, the air quality package is none of those things. It would have been wrong to scrap it wholesale.

 "We are therefore happy that our constructive arguments in meetings with key commissioners have been heard and apparently accepted."

 

A new Conservative Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands has today taken his seat in Strasbourg. Daniel Dalton MEP said that whilst he would prefer to have been elected under different circumstances, he is honoured to be able to play a role in helping to reform Britain's relationship with the EU, and in representing the West Midlands in Europe, rather than the other way around.

Daniel Dalton was elected following the death of Philip Bradbourn last month. As electors vote for a party in the European Elections under the list electoral system, a vacancy is usually filled by the next person on that Party list.

Mr Dalton is a former Warwickshire County Cricketer, and a cricket coach around the region. In recent years he worked for Conservative Chairman of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, Neil Parish, and as an agriculture and international trade adviser for the Conservatives' grouping in the European Parliament – the eurorealist European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

Daniel Dalton said:

"I would prefer to be elected under much happier circumstances. Philip Bradbourn was a sterling defender of the West Midlands in Europe, and I will follow his example and seek to emulate his work in promoting the interests of the region as a diverse and proud manufacturing region.  

"I have lived most of my life in the region, played cricket for Warwickshire and coached around the region so it is a great honour to represent the West Midlands in Brussels and Strasbourg. I will have two priorities: to play my part in reforming Britain's relationship with the EU, and to stand up for the West Midlands and promote the region wherever I can. Philip always used to say that his job was to represent the West Midlands in Europe and not Europe in the West Midlands.

"That will be my aim: to promote and defend the West Midlands over the next five years, and to make the common market work for our region's manufacturers and exporters."

 

Conservative MEPs today expressed dismay over a European Court of Justice ruling rejecting Britain's visa policy for foreign spouses of EU citizens.

The UK insists that all non-EU family members of EU nationals must be in possession of a “Family Permit” to visit. The measure helps prevent abuse as residence permits vary greatly from country to country.

However the rule has been challenged in an appeal to the ECJ by a Colombian woman living in Spain and married to a man with joint British-Irish citizenship. She claims the requirement breaches the EU's Free Movement Directive.

Today's ruling upholds her claim and denies Britain's right to apply the visa.

Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative spokesman on justice and home affairs, said:  "Of course the UK should have an immigration system which is fair, and does not disadvantage the right of British citizens to be with their family.

"However, we are disappointed with this judgement as we believe that the UK's visa system is both fair and lawful, and does an important job in meeting this country's migration needs.

"Britain will always be best placed to decide and deal with its own immigration needs...not a judge in Luxembourg.

"We must have a system robust enough to prevent abuse and flexible enough to assess each case on its merits. Most of all we need a visa system controlled by the UK and not the EU.

"Conservatives have significantly lowered immigration from outside the EU. We have tackled abuse through routes such as student visas. We are addressing failures of the last Labour government."

The European Commission has agreed to scale down and refocus plans for a Common European Sales Law (CESL).

In publishing its legislative schedule for 2015 yesterday, the Commission said plans for a CESL would be replaced by a "modified proposal in order to fully unleash the potential of the digital single market."

Conservative MEPs  gave the re-think a cautious welcome as a vindication of their determined campaign against the plans.

Ashley Fox, leader of Britain's Conservative and a consistent opponent of the proposed law, said: "This is good news and an encouraging approach from the new commission to weeding out meddlesome and unnecessary legislation so we can concentrate on what really matters.

"The CESL as originally proposed would have duplicated many existing national laws or undermined legislation which actually does a better job for both customers and vendors.

"Now we must be careful that any replacement proposal cannot simply echo what has been withdrawn. Instead we should have much deeper analysis of what actually hinders cross-border trade and online commerce.

Sajjad Karim, Conservative spokesman on legal affairs, said: "The CESL would have achieved nothing but  confusion...a classic example of the EU's obsession with legislation making things worse instead of better.

"We have been warning against this for months and I am encouraged that the Commission is coming round to our way of thinking. Now it must move on from this failed project to modern and flexible proposal that will actually help businesses and consumers buy and sell across the EU."

Conservative MEPs today opposed a compromise budget package for the European Union.

A majority of MEPs ultimately supported the series of amending budgets for 2014, along with a package of spending and commitments for 2015, but the UK's Conservative MEPs spoke and voted against.

The revised figures and supporting statements were arrived at during a round of urgent negotiation between the European Parliament and EU Council after initial talks ended in deadlock earlier this month.

Richard Ashworth MEP, Conservative spokesman on budgets, said the agreement represented some progress, but had dodged key challenges.

The South East MEP said: "In terms of figures, this budget is a step in the right direction with a renewed focus on jobs and growth that reflects the political guidelines of the new Commission.

"The figures fall below the initial Commission proposal and far below what Parliament was demanding. However it is simply a straight compromise between the Parliament and Council.

"The deal offers little concrete in terms of addressing outstanding budgetary issues including the payments crisis.

"More needs to be done in terms of making unpalatable decisions about where we cut the budget. The process needs to deliver better value for money and to better reflect the budgetary restraint being taken by member states."

However, Mr Ashworth said simply criticising the budget would not be helpful.

With this in mind he put forward a platform of proposed structural reform to improve the whole budget process and enhance accountability.

Suggestions included:

  1. More and better scrutiny by the Parliament, accompanied by better monitoring of outcomes.
  2. An Office for Budgetary Responsibility to examine both the viability of spending plans and their likely success.
  3. Closer engagement in the budget process of member states – where 80 per cent of EU spending actually takes place.

Mr Ashworth said:  "Instead of the Parliament always asking for more money, we need to work on finding longer-term solutions. This should let both the Parliament and the member states regain control of the budget – to ensure more bang for our buck."