Ashley Fox and Julie Girling reflect on their first two years in the European Parliament - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Ashley Fox and Julie Girling reflect on their first two years in the European Parliament

Wednesday, 29 June 2011
South West MEPs Ashley Fox (l), Julie Girling (r) and Giles Chichester (standing) in Strasbourg (Photo: gileschichestermep.org.uk)Ashley Fox and Julie Girling (left, both seated) joined "veteran" South West Conservative MEP Giles Chichester in the European Parliament following the elections in June 2009. In the first instalment of a feature on the ConservativeHome website, they have joined four fellow "newbie" Tory MEP to reflect on their first two years in Brussels and Strasbourg within the sidelined ECR group.

While their responses are somewhat expected, Mr Fox does make a few telling observations about how the Parliament’s become more prominent as an institution, how influential the two big groupings are within it, and how impressive the language skills are amongst its staff.

What follows is the first set of questions and answers as posted on ConservativeHome:

1. Have any of your views about the EU changed after seeing its institutions work at close quarters?

Ashey Fox: I was genuinely surprised at the amount of attention the Commission pays to the Parliament and MEPs. I had expected them to ignore us, but my experience is very positive. To give but one example, one Commissioner agreed to meet me regarding a constituent's problem and has helped in sorting it out.

Julie Girling: Yes my views have changed... I was expecting a bureaucratic nightmare at the Commission, Parliament and Council and this has proved to be the case, but I have been appalled by the way that these institutions have only one direction of travel. Once a report is written at the Commission and proposed to parliament it takes on a life and momentum of its own. There are no effective mechanisms for pulling back or abandoning proposals. Any mechanisms that do exist are rarely, if ever, used. The lesson is "never start a ball rolling or suggest anything unless you are absolutely sure that you want it".

2. Has anything surprised you?

AF: The amount of power wielded by the leaders of the two largest Groups (EPP and S&D) and the extent to which they work very closely together. The Daul & Schultz show really does run this place - at the expense of not only the other political Groups but also individual MEPs in those Groups.

JG: I have been surprised at the sheer volume of work; keeping an eye on this, the goings-on in Brussels, is a mammoth task.

3. What has most impressed or depressed you?

AF: I have been impressed by the language skills of so many foreign MEPs. Several things have depressed me: firstly, the failure to deal with the EU´s accounts after so many years, and secondly, the constant talk of the need for the EU to have more money. I just don't understand how the Commission and so many MEPs cannot see the gross hypocrisy in demanding more money for the EU, whilst almost all the nation states are imposing austerity.

JG: I've been most impressed by the dedication of a lot of my colleagues and unimpressed by the contempt the institutions show for the people of Europe: for example. They tell us all to cut CO2 emissions, but insist on making us all travel to Strasbourg once a month; they call for European taxes but make sure that Eurocrats have dispensation to pay the lower EU income tax if they work in Brussels... I could go on.
Click here to read the responses of the other four “newbie” Tory MEPs.

UPDATE - 01/07:

The second and final set of questions and answers has been posted on ConservativeHome this morning. Here follows the remaining comments from the region's MEPs, including Ms Girling's admission she's become even more eurosceptic (playing to the gallery?), and Mr Fox revealing he's proud he's the subject of fierce criticism from the French government:

4. What is you proudest achievement thus far?

Ashley Fox: Passing the "Fox amendment" to the European Parliament´s calendar for 2012. This reduced the number of times the EP has to travel to Strasbourg - saving time, money and CO2). This enraged the French government who have now taken the Parliament to the Court of Justice. I have also been named in the French Senate as the author of this pernicious amendment!

Julie Girling: My proudest achievement on a personal level was becoming Chief Whip of the Conservative Delegation, but, on behalf of my constituents, it would have to be launching a successful campaign to protect bees and pollinators which has included being Rapporteur on an opinion. We have secured funding for Europe-wide research and development, much of it being spent in the UK.

5. Has your experience made you more or less sceptical of the 'European project'?

AF: I was opposed to "ever closer political union" before I was elected and I remain so.
JG: I am now more Eurosceptic!

6. Have you any other thoughts or reflections you'd like to share after your first two years as an MEP?

AF: I wish our Government, Civil service and MPs would pay closer attention to how EU directives are implemented in the UK. "Gold Plating" is a real problem for the UK. Unfortunately, detailed scrutiny of European legislation by the House of Commons is very rare. I guess it isn't very sexy work, but if it isn´t done then it is the UK that suffers.

Click here to read the responses of the other four “newbie” Tory MEPs (part ii).

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