The Belgian Connection

Many of you will have your own impression of Brussels. Not so much because you have visited the Belgian capital city, but because of those dreaded initials we often hear in Conservative circles, those letters which invoke suspicion, profligacy and authoritarianism. They run parallel to Voldemort and almost reside within profanity; they must not be named… ‘E.U.’

I started working in the European Parliament back in October 2012. I must say that my view of the EU was initially coloured by my own wrestling with the concept from Conservative debating circles and annual conferences.

I had studied the government and politics of the EU at University, unchanged in my assertion that the apparatus was an appallingly misled venture, doomed to failure and a prisoner to abstract idealism.

Whilst it can be said that the EU machine displays profligacy from time to time, whilst it can be said that representatives often appear detached from the electorate and whilst it can be said that the EU machine powers on, headed by the Commission, irrespective of member state governments, we must pause and actually examine the entity for what it is, along with its mind-boggling internal workings.

Far from me to bleat with affection and a sense of loyalty for my new home but we do, in the haze of media spotlight and fantasy, overlook the finer workings of the EU institutions. From a UK view, the European Conservatives & Reformists (our group within the European Parliament) punches well above its weight.

We have chairmanship of the Internal Market Committee, for example, we have strong representation on the International Trade Committee and we also pack a considerable punch on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee. The group’s reach extends into foreign affairs, constitutional affairs, culture & education, transport, regional development, agriculture, fisheries and home affairs, to name just a few areas.

I know what you’re thinking – is this column a feeble attempt to redeem the EU and Britain’s place within it? The answer is ‘no’. I plan to write a series of columns about my experiences thus far, not to convert but merely to show.

There is much to berate the EU for – notably failing and continuing to fail to reach a budget settlement. Member states find themselves torn between those who wish to see a cut and those who wish to see an increase (of course, coincidence dictates that those who receive more wish to see an increase, whilst those who contribute more wish to see a cut 😉 ).

The bloated EEAS (look it up) has done nothing but bring the EU into disrepute, for offering limited diplomacy and timid reaction. We also have the parallel problem of the eurozone to digest – one that will most probably take some swallowing once the banking mechanisms and transaction taxes are set in stone.

But in my humble experience thus far, I have encountered many cultures, many people and many causes. At the foundational level, every individual hopes to change the EU for the better, a way that ushers in prosperity and social harmony. Of course you can accuse them of blind idealism, but there is something quite beautiful about it, something quite fulfilling.

Nowhere in the world will you find such cosmopolitanism, such a desire to make a continent great again. You can naturally accuse them of being misguided. You can quite easily accuse them of going about their desires, their crusades, in the wrong way. But for all domestic criticism, the fact remains that we are in the European Union, along with 27 other states (including Croatia).

Over the weeks, I hope to write about my weeks – perhaps falling short and descending into a mundane hovel. My goal is simple: to tell you what I do and what I see (sorry, no secrets will be spilt, only ramblings of my harmless life!) and for you to understand. It is up to you whether you are a ‘better off out’ or a ‘better off in’. My feelings on the EU are as mixed and complicated as the next person’s.

In the meantime, whilst you await my first diary piece (eagerly, I’m sure), please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or spread the word about my upcoming contributions; let’s kick-start a debate which sheds the usual clichés and gets stuck into the fundamentals of the EU.