Today's exclusion of UK cities from the European Capital of Culture process has been condemned by Conservative MEPs.

Culture spokesman John Procter, who has been personally involved in Leeds' bid for the title in 2023,

described the European Commission's surprise decision as "unnecessary and deeply unhelpful."

 "Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent and organisations have come together in cities like Leeds to prepare very strong bids. For all that to be trashed at this late stage is an absolute disgrace.

We are still members of the EU and are in the process of negotiating a new relationship. It beggars belief that the Commission has chosen this moment to announce we are not eligible to take part in an initiative that  is all about fostering cultural links and bringing people together.

The Yorkshire and the Humber MEP added: "This is not the final word. I will be asking searching questions about exactly what is going on."

The UK had been due to provide one of two European Capitals of Culture in 2023, with the other coming from Hungary.

Bids have been submitted by Leeds, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Dundee and Belfast/Derry, but  the Commission has now announced that the UK is being barred because it will no longer be a member of the EU. Cities from Iceland and Norway, neither of which are EU members, have previously hosted the capital but the Commission says they qualified through their membership of the European Economic Area.

East Midlands MEP Rupert Matthews, whose constituency includes Nottingham, described the UK's exclusion as "an act of bad faith."

"We are looking to conclude an agreement with the EU which is not just about trade but develops our cultural and artistic links. The EU insists it wants that too, yet it makes an announcement like this out of the blue.

"The Commission has strung us along.  I am determined this should not be the end of the road."

Conservative MEPs have backed moves to make news and current affairs programming more widely available across the EU.

The draft legislation approved today by the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee would mean broadcasters could not stop viewers in one country from watching such programmes in another, so called "geoblocking".

However, damaging proposals to extend the move to other copyrighted content such as entertainment programmes, which would have undermined the business case underpinning  popular TV productions, were defeated with Conservative support.

Conservative Legal Affairs spokesman Sajjad Karim MEP described the committee's decision as "an excellent outcome".

He said: "Freeing up news and current affairs content is particularly important to linguistic minorities who wish to keep up to date with events in their own language.

"But attempts to widen the scope of the legislation would have been immensely damaging to  both the industry and viewers, making the continued production of many existing programmes unaffordable.

"Production companies often rely on sales to individual countries to finance programmes, while co-financers may only become involved on condition they gain exclusive national rights. At a stroke the rules originally proposed by the Socialists and Greens would have wiped out this business model.

"I am delighted we helped persuade the committee to think again."

The draft legislation will now be considered by a full session of the European Parliament. 

EU-wide rules protecting people who buy digital content across borders today cleared an important hurdle today in the European Parliament.

The legislation will introduce safeguards for consumers purchasing a wide range of content, from music and video games to anti-virus software, from another EU country.  This should translate into increased consumer confidence in the European market place and simplify arrangements for businesses.

Conservative MEPs voted for the report at today's meeting of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee, having secured some important changes, including the exclusion of many free apps from having to follow the same rules as paid for content providers.

Consumer Protection spokesman Daniel Dalton MEP said: "Some countries, such as the UK,  already have robust digital goods rules and their consumer rights regimes are explicitly protected in these proposals. However, other Member States don't have any, which leads to legal uncertainty and practical problems for consumers when things go wrong.

"This legislation means people would have guaranteed rights whichever country they purchased their digital goods from.

"Businesses would benefit from greater certainty and a reduction in red tape, being able to supply consumers throughout the EU on the same set of contract rules."

Under the proposals someone purchasing and downloading digital content which then does not work properly can ask for the problem to be fixed. If this is not possible or completed in a reasonable time,  they would be entitled to a price reduction or full refund within 14 days.

The report will now be considered by the full European Parliament. 

Plans to close a loophole which hampers the sharing of criminal records between EU Member States have been unveiled.

Conservative Home Affairs spokesman Dan Dalton MEP is today presenting proposals for a new centralised database to improve the exchange of criminal record information on third country nationals within the EU.

Such information has a wide range of uses, from assisting prosecutions to allowing checks to be quickly carried out on people applying for jobs in sectors such as education, health and childcare.

The new system will be a crucial tool in tackling crime and terrorism.

The proposal fills a gap in the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which since 2012 has enabled Member States to quickly share previous convictions of EU nationals. However, using the system to check individuals from outside the EU is cumbersome and inefficient.

Mr Dalton said: "This relatively simple step will improve information sharing and pan-EU co-operation in the fight against crime.

"Easy access to an individual's previous convictions can be vital in a complex police inquiry. It is clearly worrying that while Member States share information on EU nationals, the current arrangements do not allow a similar exchange of details on third country nationals.  

 "We need to close this loophole as quickly as possible."

Mr Dalton's report limits access to the new database to those bodies already using the ECRIS system and includes clear data protection rules.

He said: "It is a priority of mine to ensure that the rights for access for individuals are clear and fair. Therefore I have looked to ensure that requests for correction and deletion are dealt with swiftly."

 

The report will be considered by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee. 

Links between New Zealand and the European Union will be strengthened following the approval  today by MEPs of a comprehensive partnership agreement.

Piloted through the European Parliament by Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Tannock MEP, the agreement formalises co-operation in a range of areas including trade, education, culture, climate change and counter terrorism.

It will come into effect once ratified by MPs in New Zealand and EU Member States.  Separate talks  on an EU/New Zealand free trade deal are due to begin shortly.

Dr Tannock said: "New Zealand is one of the EU's closest partners, a country with which we share common values and interests. This agreement cements and develops those links, allowing for closer co-operation and more regular ministerial dialogue.

"I strongly support the emphasis placed on combatting climate change, international terrorism and supporting sustainable development. The agreement also reaffirms the arrangement for New Zealand to contribute militarily towards EU common security and defence missions. As our resolution notes, New Zealand plays an important role in contributing towards peace and international security, a role that is all the more impressive considering its size and geographical location.

 

"There is no doubt that the relationship between the EU and New Zealand is a force for good in the world."