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."
Conservative MEPs today refused to endorse the signing–off of two sets of EU accounts still hanging over from 2012.
They voted to withhold discharge on the accounts of the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications European Council 2012, and on the equivalent set of accounts for the EU Council itself.
This follows a report by the Court of Auditors in November last year which failed to grant the EU's accounts a clean bill of health for the 18th year in a row. A decision on discharge of the two sets of accounts was postponed by the European Parliament in April.
Conservatives have consistently refused to support a discharge for any single set of accounts until the budget as a whole receives a positive statement of assurance from the Court of Auditors.
Chief Whip Emma McClarkin said: "Sadly this stand of ours over the EU's accounts has a long, long history. However, we will never stop reminding the EU institutions that the money they may waste or misspend, or lose to fraud, is not theirs...it is the public's.
"There must be greater budgetary rigour, closer monitoring of all spending and better accounting for every penny of taxpayer's money. The people deserve no less."
Syed Kamall, leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs, today said the conclusion of the European Union's free-trade agreement with Singapore would mean a host of potential business openings for British and European enterprises.
Dr Kamall, MEP for London, commented "The opportunities involved are simply huge. As well as providing a major boost for professional and financial services companies in London and the rest of the UK, this highlights the importance in coming years of opening up trading relationships with key Far East partners and emerging markets."
The bulk of the agreement was finalised last year, but today the EU Commission indicated that the remaining chapter on investment had been concluded, completing a document which stands at more than 1,000 pages. Now begins the mammoth task of translation into the languages of all member states and detailed checks by lawyers to ensure the consistency of the text.
Dr Kamall has been a member of the parliament's negotiating team on the agreement for more than two years. He said: "This has been a long and painstaking process – but the benefits will be truly significant. Today's announcement is the final piece is a very complicated jigsaw. Significantly, it will allow EU companies to invest in Singapore enterprises and will afford protection to individual investors.
"In today's tough global economic climate, Singapore stands out as a truly vibrant trading region – a go-ahead commercial hub that is full of opportunity. Trade with Singapore can open up new commercial opportunities for British and European companies across south-east Asia."
A top EU body tasked with reducing regulatory burdens on business has today backed a Conservative agenda to exempt smaller businesses from a raft of EU laws.
Proposals that were initially put forward by Conservative MEP and Legal Affairs spokesman Sajjad Karim have been supported in a report published by Edmund Stoiber, the former Bavarian Prime Minister who chairs the EU's expert group on slashing red tape.
The report, launched this morning by outgoing Commission President Barroso, says that small businesses can save over £32 billion per year if regulatory burdens can be reduced. It also supports Conservative calls for more rigorous impact assessments to be carried out on legislation, and for national governments to be discouraged from 'gold plating' EU legislation to make it more burdensome than intended.
Sajjad Karim has drafted several reports for the European Parliament on how EU law can reduce the burden on businesses – and especially entrepreneurs. His report first set out the principle that the smallest businesses should be exempt from EU legislation unless there is a strong argument for their inclusion. He has also called for a 'one in, one out' approach to law so any new proposal is offset.
Dr Karim, who represents the North West of England, said: "Cutting red tape is an agenda that the commission is taking seriously. There is a long way to go but it is clear that we are making progress in ensuring that full consideration is given to the impact that EU law can have on businesses.
"EU law is often pro big business, but anti market, because it shuts out the little guy and favours the multinational corporations that have the luxury of compliance teams and banks of lawyers.
"We want entrepreneurs to devote their time to growing their businesses, taking on new staff and growing the economy. Every minute they are forced to consult a lawyer or an accountant amounts to lost productivity in the economy.
"Jean Claude Juncker's Commission must take this agenda forward in the next five years. With his Vice-President Timmermans in charge I believe we will see a real effort in the coming years to reduce the burden on business and to ensure that EU law is only in place when absolutely necessary."
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