Well, we have finally heard the Prime Minister's long awaited speech on our relationship with the EU. In my opinion he has read the mood of the party perfectly and has promised to renegotiate a reformed relationship with the EU, and to give the British people a referendum on that new relationship. I have been campaigning for reform and a referendum for many years. These negotiations are not going to be easy but I see this as an exciting time.
From budgets to bananas, audited accounts to arrest warrants everyone has their own EU gripes. Furthermore doing nothing is not an option. The Eurozone is changing rapidly and the status quo no longer exists. The Euro's monetary union has expanded to fiscal and banking union. There are proposals for common treasury, common finance minister and huge tax transfers from country to country. These rules for the Eurozone cannot be cut and pasted to the UK and the other nine European countries who have their own currencies.
However, leaving the EU without knowing what terms of trade we can secure with the continent is also a risky suggestion. As an MEP I see how laws made in Brussels already affect so many British businesses. A deal which leaves our companies subject to EU laws but with no British voice or vote in the lawmaking could also be very expensive, hitting our economy, growth and jobs.
What might a reformed UK/EU look like? People are right to ask more details. Last week the Fresh Start group of Conservative MPs launched their manifesto for renegotiation. From fishing to farming to financial services, the paper looks at detailed options in 11 different policy areas.
Does asking for reform leave us isolated? Certainly not. We are not the only country raising concerns. My first meeting of 2013 was with a German MEP who wanted my help to renegotiate the EU energy laws which force companies to relocate production to other parts of the planet. Fresh Start lists 12 other countries who have spoken out about the impact of EU migration policies on welfare and healthcare. Many of my Scandinavian colleagues worry like me that instead of encouraging businesses by opening up trade across borders the EU single market rules of today are protectionist and inflexible.
There are areas where Fresh Start asks for UK specific solutions. For example, as a doctor's wife, I look at the mess the working time directive has caused to medical training, this is a reason why I think our employment laws should be made in Westminster. As an economist, I look at how over exposed the UK was to bank failures so I am not prepared to let the EU weaken our new banking regulations. As a tax payer I am fed up with the excesses of the EU budget, it must be reformed. Issues like these are at the heart of our economy and our public services.
A referendum is long overdue. The last one was in 1975. Only those over the age of 55 have ever had a vote on Europe. If we are to be treated seriously in these negotiations then we need to be prepared to put them to a serious vote. Giving people a real choice with the option to leave the EU if the renegotiation is rejected. That is the promise that the Prime Minister has made, now let's get on with the details - that's where the devil lies.
Energy debate rolls on
I had a very interesting day earlier this month in Essex with Jackie Doyle-Price MP and Rebecca Harris MP visiting gas, electricity and manufacturing plants in their constituencies. At Cemex in Tilbury we heard that despite being Cemex's most energy efficient plant across 50 countries, the high energy prices in the UK mean that it is still only cost effective to operate at 20% capacity. It is very clear to me that if we don't renegotiate parts of the EU energy policy we will be unable to keep our lights turned on in the future.
Whilst I am concerned about the environmental impact of our increased energy usage, I do believe that energy pricing is an issue that needs to be tackled, and urgently. Last Thursday we secured a majority vote to reject the European Commission's latest proposals.
Catching up with Westminster
On Monday I held one of my regular MP surgeries in Westminster, and I met with 15 of the 58 MP's I represent. We shared a full and frank exchange of views, and it reminded me how invaluable it is to keep in touch with them and share views on a regular basis.
On 1st February I will be meeting many Association Chairmen, Agents and Constituency Organisers, and our party Chairman Grant Shapps will be coming to hear their views. If you have issues you would like to raise with me or the Chairman, please do be in touch with your Association Chairman or drop me an email over the next few days.
Save a life today
One of my new year's resolutions was to give blood. I was surprised and disappointed when the Brussels blood donor clinic rejected me, as apparently we Brits might all be mad cows! However I can't give a stronger thank you to the lovely team at the donor clinic in Addenbrooke's Cambridge. This bad weather brings increased accidents and extra demands on the blood banks. Do support them if you can.
Conservative Policy Forum
I am joining with my Eastern MEP colleagues to host a Conservative Policy Forum to discuss the CPF policy paper on Europe which can be viewed here. The free session is open to all members of the party and we are sure this event will be of interest to many of you. The CPF meeting will take place on Saturday 23rd February 2013 at Soham Village College, Sand Street, Soham, Cambs, CB7 5AA. Conservative Party members are asked to arrive at 9:45am for a 10:00am start, the meeting will be over by 12 noon. If you would be interested in attending please contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, I am very keen to join as many of you as possible campaigning in the lead up to May's County Council elections, please contact my office email@example.com if you would like to arrange a time when I can join you on the doorstep.
Until next time,