[Contents page "Asking the Candidates" here].
Ian Parsley of the Alliance party (ELDR) was the first to reply to my questions. I'd like to thank him for his quick reply, especially since it's so close to the polling day.
Here's his answers:
An important task of the European Parliament is to confirm the next Commission. As an MEP, will you back or oppose a second term for Jose Manuel Barroso and why? If you oppose him, is there an alternative you would support and why?
Yes, I would support Barroso, for a few reasons: firstly, he is already a well established and successful politician in his home country, and therefore has some understanding of the need to ensure the EU institutions react to popular will and maintain popular support; secondly, he is well placed, as a Portuguese, to balance reform of the institutions to ensure large countries are fairly represented while smaller countries are not left out of decision-making; thirdly, his taskforce has already done some outstanding work in Northern Ireland, and we can be sure we have a friend at the top of the Commission for as long as Barroso is in place.
The CAP is an important issue, and there seems to be a lot of talk about its reform. What would you like being done differently, and what aspects of CAP would you retain?
I would retain very little of the current policy (CAP). The foundation of any replacement policy has to be maximising fair competition - our producers have nothing to worry about from that, as our produce is among the best in Europe. We must also have a more flexible policy, taking account of the different land and crop types across the 27 member states; promotion of schemes such as Farm Modernisation, but in a way which is less bureaucratic; and more appropriate means of ensuring farmers do not just have representation in Europe, but a direct voice themselves - again, we have nothing to fear there, as the Ulster Farmers' Union and others are already well placed to deliver that for us in Northern Ireland.
The Common Fisheries Policy has been widely criticized. What would you like to see being done differently, if anything?
The Common Fisheries Policy appears to be even worse, from the discussions I have had! In principle, the same basic foundation must apply as to the CAP above. However, the various quota systems appear even less appropriate; disputes over territorial waters have not been fairly resolved; and it remains too difficult for our marine producers to export even within the EU. All of these need to be resolved more effectively, and I would work with fishers to ensure this.
Financial regulation has become a big issue because of the recession. How do you think the EU should (if at all) regulate the financial services? Do you support the Larosiere report?
Yes, the EU should regulate financial services, as they impact not just upon business, but upon personal banking and basic household finances - the downturn and near collapse of financial services is not just a matter of collapse of an industry, but also of students, working families and pensioners left to struggle to get by (especially those whose hard-earned savings suddenly disappeared).
I broadly support the de Larosiere Report. It offers not just an outline of a fair way to regulate financial services across the EU, but also to promote global responsibility. Furthermore, it promotes simplification of financial "products" in a way to ensure individuals and families can better understand what is being offered, and what the impact on household finances would be.
What do you think will be the most important issues for you as an MEP?
Firstly, we must engage more effectively on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland - linking not just with the NI Executive, but also with local councils and, outside politics, with community groups, business organisations, and the local voluntary sector; secondly, we must re-build our economy and do it in a way which is promotes responsibility, not just profit (and so that our young people can look forward to successful careers right here in Northern Ireland); thirdly, we must change our attitude to the environment, basing tackling climate change not just upon what may happen in the distant future, upon the immediate potential positive economic and health benefits of developing renewable energy sources, promoting more efficient construction and electricity, and delivering more ambitious public transport projects - we in Northern Ireland must seek to lead on such issues, not just follow.
In short, we must think not just of what we in Northern Ireland can get out of Europe, but also what we can put into it.