Jim Nicholson and his campaign have responded to my questions and I'd like to thank them for taking the time out to reply. Only 2 days to go!
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?
The Barroso-led Commission, predominantly centre-right in its make-up, has taken positive steps towards deregulation in an attempt to realise the potential of the Single Market. It is therefore likely - along with my Conservative colleagues - that I will be backing Barroso for a second term.
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?
During my time in the European Parliament I have witnessed great change in the Common Agriculture Policy. Having been through the McSharry reforms, the Fischler reforms and most recently the CAP Health Check I have always worked hard to bring some common sense to the debate on CAP reform. Within the context of EU Budget negotiations, the future of the CAP is being examined and it is important that Northern Ireland farmers have a strong voice in those negotiations. Food security and energy security are the twin challenges facing Europe in the years ahead. Farmers will be at the centre of meeting these challenges. Future reform of the CAP must reflect the central importance of farming to the economy, to society and to the environment whilst acknowledging consumer concerns about food quality and food security. Hard working farmers and farm families have had to adapt to significant reform of the CAP in recent years. The challenge for the future is to provide stability for farmers whilst helping them become more responsive to market demands.
Working with my Conservative colleagues we will fight to ensure that any reform of the CAP in the future must be introduced uniformly across Europe so that British farmers are not unfairly disadvantaged. All we ask is that our farmers have a level playing field to compete upon. I also oppose unnecessary red tape and will work to reduce the administrative burdens placed on Northern Ireland’s hard-working farm families
The Common Fisheries Policy has been widely criticised. What would you like to see being done differently, if anything?
The Common Fisheries Policy has been little short of a disaster for the fishing industry and fish stocks in Northern Ireland and across Europe. It has completely failed to meet either its environmental or its economic objectives. It has failed to develop sustainable fisheries or to tackle over-capacity in the fishing fleet, failed to address poor compliance and uneven enforcement, and failed to address dwindling fish stocks and the unacceptable practice of fish discards, which currently produces 800,000 tonnes of by-catch a year in EU waters. The next major review of the CFP is due to conclude in 2012 and I will be working with my Conservative colleagues to secure much needed reforms. Specifically I will insist that more needs to be done to conserve fish stocks and ensure our seas are used in a sustainable way. This can be achieved through more decentralised and rights based management of fisheries. There must be concerted effort to tackle illegal fishing practices and more action taken to promote conservation of the marine environment.
The practice of fish discards is a scandalous aspect of the CFP. Throwing dead catch back into the sea is wasteful and environmentally destructive and makes no economic sense. I will drive our plans to end the scandal of fish discards. I will also press for proper scrutiny of fisheries agreements with developing countries. I will also fight to ensure that recreational anglers are not included in countries’ fishing quotas under the CFP. We need to reform the problems of commercial fleets and illegal fishing, as opposed to penalising recreational and tourist activities.
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?
The crisis in the banking system and the consequent recession means that all countries in the EU and European institutions must look at how the financial services are regulated. However, thriving and properly functioning financial markets are crucial to the UK’s prosperity and wealth creation across the world. We need the right kind of regulation to make sure that financial services never again subject the global economy to dangerous risks, like those the banks and other financial services allowed to take in the last decade.
With regards the Larosiere report, we will resist plans for an EU ‘super regulator’ in any given sector, and instead promote better co-ordination between national regulators. We are at risk of rushing into an ill-considered future regulation, instead of facing the immediate challenge of rebuilding confidence in European banks. I am an advocate of US style Stress-tests, as recommended by the IMF. They would highlight any ongoing weaknesses and failings in the European financial sector - and ensure that action is taken to prevent a repeat of the crisis that provoked the global economic downturn. The EU-wide stress tests should follow the United States and make the relevant information public to rebuild confidence. Any banks with insufficient capital should set out a plan for repairing their balance sheets. To build confidence in the financial services and the wider economy meaningful reform as opposed to unhelpful regulation is needed.
Along with my Conservative colleagues I will be particularly vigilant where new legislation is concerned. All new regulations must be subject to proper consultation and research, including monitoring the operations of the markets and products and be subject to appropriate review mechanisms. We must respond to the financial crisis however, that response needs to be measured rather than fundamental. We must ensure that we create a framework that protects our industry and citizens as far as possible from future crises without damaging our competitiveness.
What do you think will be the most important issues for you as an MEP?
The next European Parliament must get to grips immediately with a number of very challenging issues, which is why Northern Ireland needs an MEP who is ready to lead and get the job done on day 1 after the election.
No-one has been left untouched by the economic crisis; whether through problems with the banks, in the housing market or through the heartbreak of another job loss announcement. To the extent that Europe can deal with this problem, the European Parliament must be at the forefront of offering common sense solutions – for example arguing for a reduction in the regulatory burdens placed on our SMEs.
In Northern Ireland, we have been lucky to have benefited from almost 2 billion Euros of PEACE funding. It looks unlikely that the Commission will renew this funding for a further 7 years and so all of us who have been involved in this process must have a constructive conversation about what will take its place.
I look forward to a change of government taking place during the next European Parliament, seeing change in Westminster, and working with my conservative colleagues in London and Brussels to demand the transfer of more powers from Brussels to National Parliaments and arguing for real change at the heart of Europe.