Conservative MEPs today voted against unworkable European Parliament proposals to allow member states to introduce national bans on the cultivation of safe, EU-approved genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
A package of measures on GMOs was approved by the European Parliament's Environment Committee, but Conservatives vowed to maintain their opposition.
Conservative environment spokesman Julie Girling MEP said: ""The Parliament's position on GM cultivation risks inflicting untold damage to robust, science-based policy-making in Europe. We strongly oppose these proposals and voted against them today. We will continue to oppose them."
"The EU Council's idea of letting of letting member states seek an op-out before taking the more extreme measure of individually banning certain GMOs on their own soil makes sense. It strikes a fair balance between those that may want to avoid GM cultivation and those that do not.
"The opt-out is quick, simple and legally certain. But it also allows a fair way forward to avoid holding back member states which want to adopt GM cultivation.
"This should be about fixing the current blockage in the approvals process for GM cultivation. But the rapporteur's suggestions would make it difficult, if not impossible, to agree.
"GM crops offer a great potential for growth and jobs in the EU while protecting the environment. Currently we are not able to access these crops because of the political block on approvals at the EU level. The aim of the negotiations is to change that. We need access to these crops to encourage investment and ensure European farming remains competitive."
"There is a single market in European agriculture. This means that farmers across the EU should be working on a level playing field...and bear in mind that half of the EU budget is spent on agriculture.
"The Parliament's proposal to allow some member states to refuse to allow their farmers to cultivate certain crops on non-scientific grounds, drives a coach and horses through this single market.
"We are always being told that we cannot have special conditions for the UK on issues such as free movement, so why should we agree to allow countries like Austria and Slovenia to go their own way on a fundamental single market issue?"
For the 20th year in a row the EU's auditors could today give the bloc's accounts only a qualified statement of assurance.
The Court of Auditors' report on the EU's accounts for 2013, published this morning, shows the estimated error rate, measuring the level of irregularity in the accounts for 2013 payments, at 4.7%. That is almost identical to 2012's figure of 4.8%.
It notes that the vast majority of EU expenditure – 80 per cent – is conducted by member states. Both the auditors and the new Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva today called for a culture change to tackle the root problem. They stressed the urgent need for member states to take political ownership of the EU funding they spend. They also called for the Commission to exercise greater performance management.
Conservative budget spokesman Richard Ashworth MEP said: "We regret that no progress has been made on this deep-rooted problem. We welcome the determination of the new commissioner and the comments of the Court of Auditors calling for culture change and greater political responsibility from national governments.
"But we would go further. Conservatives say it is high time the European Parliament took a more active role in the scrutiny of expenditure of taxpayers' money and MEPs held Commissioners more directly to account for how money is spent on their watch."
The EU Commission's demand for £1.7 billion in additional funding from Britain has been strongly condemned by the leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs, Syed Kamall.
The London MEP said: "The commission is penalising Britain for taking tough decisions, putting in place a long term economic plan and for having the most successful economy in the EU, while actually rewarding France for being an economic basket case," he said.
"This is not moving the goalposts, it is playing the game on a different field.
"David Cameron is absolutely right to stand up to this attempted daylight robbery by the EU."
"This is outrageous and harms the EU's relationship with Britain. At times like this, the European Commission can be its own worst enemy."
The problem of radicalised Muslims returning to Europe after fighting alongside "Islamic State" throws into sharp focus the need to rethink Europe's approach to sharing air-passenger data with security services, MEPs heard today.
Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Conservative spokesman on Justice and Home Affairs in the European Parliament, told a debate in Strasbourg that a decision to delay a Europe-wide system of access to passenger name records (PNR) had been a grave mistake.
The MEP for Yorkshire, a former Home Office Minister, warned: "European citizens are travelling to Syria. They are being radicalised then trained with the possiblemotive of one day returning to our cities and to our streets to harm and kill us.
"They want to replace a Europe of freedom and peace with one of fear and destruction. They may call themselves the Islamic State, but they do not represent the Muslim faith. They are criminals and terrorists and I believe that we should refer to them as such.
"There is no place for this in Europe. We have dealt with such behaviour before and we will do so again by addressing the problems at the source. But words, condemnation and education are not enough.
Leaders of the European Council, the UN Security Council and the airlines all want an EU Passenger Name Records agreement in order for law enforcement authorities to capture EU foreign fighters and address the chaotic information exchange system they currently face. The patchwork of 14 different member states' PNR systems which we have now not only leaves gaps in security for terrorists to exploit, but also leaves gaps in our data protection for travellers.
"I urge Members to look at this agreement again. We must never compromise Europe's hard-fought civil liberties...Freedom must never be sacrificed. But it is also our primary duty as politicians to protect those that have elected us, and to deal with and bring to justice to those who seek to do us harm."
Europe must slash spending on wasteful pet projects and focus investment on jobs, growth and competitiveness.
That was the message from Conservative MEPs today as they opposed moves in the European Parliament to get a multi-billion pound increase to the EU's 2015 budget re-introduced by the back door.
Budget spokesman Richard Ashworth said: "We don't need a bigger budget...we need a better budget. By all means let's improve our investment in research, development, new technology and communications – but we must create the scope for that by cutting inefficient spending programmes and applying simple strategic priorities. You can't spend money twice – so let's spend it where it does most good."
In early negotiations, the European Council – representing the EU's 28 national governments – insisted on a substantial cut to the budget demands of the EU Commission for next year: from €146.3 billion to €145.6bn in commitments and from €146.4bn to €142.1bn in actual payments. But the parliament's Budget Committee voted to restore the Council's cuts and today put a proposed budget including the extra spending before a plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg.
In response the European Conservatives and Reformists Group tabled a raft of amendments demanding added value as the cornerstone of all EU budgets and insisting that EU public spending cannot be exempt from the considerable efforts made by Member States to bring their spending under control. In the event the amendments fell and the committee position was adopted, but Conservative MEPs and the UK Government will continue to resist the proposal.
Mr Ashworth, MEP for South east England, said: "Conservative MEPs will stand firm against this attempt to re-inflate the EU's spending. As well as strategic prioritisation of growth and jobs balanced by cuts elsewhere, we need firm action to stop payments spiralling out of control.
"There has to be a clear responsibility on EU institutions and members states to live within their means. If that responsibility is not met, new solutions including independent budgetary scrutiny must be considered."
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