Vicky Ford MEP outlines her diary of the European Parliament’s first week back

In the interests of transparency and attempt to de-mystify European Affairs, Vicky Ford, MEP for the East of England is starting 2011 with a new year’s resolution to give Fenland a very short weekly debrief on some of the meetings or discussions she has been party to during each week.

This was the first week back in the European Parliament and a number of issues were raised.

- Vicky has been tasked by the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee to draft a parliamentary report on the safety of deep-sea offshore oil and gas drilling. Vicky is looking to prepare a first draft of her report by March to influence the Commission’s thinking on any new potential legislation at an EU level.

“Offshore oil and gas in the North Sea is extremely important to the UK. We have more experience in this area than all other EU countries so it is a huge honour as well as a responsibility to be given this role. Anyone who has filled their car at the pumps this month, let alone those of us who rely on domestic oil for heating, is more than aware of the personal impact of rising fuel prices. However, post the Gulf of Mexico “Deepwater” disaster there are serious questions that deserve an answer. I will be consulting the industry, national regulators and environmentalists in the weeks ahead. I hope the report will allow MEPs from all countries to come to an informed and well-considered view.”

- Meeting with many representatives of European and International banks regarding new global rules on bank capital and liquidity. During recent months Vicky has been one of 5 MEPs from different parties and countries looking at how these rules can be introduced in the UK and Europe in a co-ordinated manner. Vicky is a former banker and was invited as a key note speaker alongside representatives from the British Banking Association and the European Commission.


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“As we saw in Ireland the banking crisis in Europe is still not resolved, there needs to be stronger, more stable banks. Taxpayers should never have to bail out banks. The UK has already ensured that all our banks are well capitalised but new rules need to be brought into place across the globe. Whilst we need strong banks we also need banks that are able to lend to fuel the economy. Globally all countries have signed off on high-level agreement but the devil is in the detail - it is right that certain countries try to ensure that good local practices are not disadvantaged (like the UK Building society model) - but MEPS must not try to protect not poor local practices- especially given the Eurozone crisis. This meeting involved issues from domestic lending and mortgages, to trade finance (important when exporting to emerging countries). I have had subsequent follow up meetings this week with asset managers on to the unintended (but potentially very costly) impact on insurance rates and pension fund returns of other new rules on financial services, especially hedging.”

- Meeting with ESure - owner of “Sheila’s Wheels” an insurance company aimed exclusively at women. The European Court of Justice is currently deliberating whether it discriminatory for insurance companies to offer cheaper rates to women drivers than male drivers.

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“The European Court is a totally separate body from the European Parliament but I am worried by what precedent could be set. As a mother of two boys it is of course alarming to hear that young male drivers still have far higher accident rates than their female counterparts - but facts show this is the truth. That is why women are offered cheaper car insurance. Where could this end? - should everyone have to pay the same household insurance even if living in lower crime areas? - what’s the incentive then to have a watch-thy-neighbour approach to crime prevention?- This does open a Pandora’s box.

- Meeting with Struan Stevenson MEP, vice chairman of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament regarding fish discards.

“This week UK TV viewers have been able to see an excellent and informative program by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtstall that demonstrated the outrageous effect that of EU Fishery Policy leading to a million of tons of healthy fish being caught but then dumped overboard. We have been fighting this for many years but are seeing hopeful progress for reform.

- Meeting with Chief Executive of Ofcom Ed Richard regarding broadband access and other issues.

“It was extremely helpful to quiz Ofcom on many issues - especially on broadband roll-out where he believes that the UK is set to be well ahead of other countries in just a few years. However, I had a lot of questions regarding the issue of rural broadband.”

- Meeting with other MEPs regarding Pensions. Vicky is one of 5 MEPs looking at a parliament report on pension policy. MEPs have submitted amendments.

“The issue of how to fund our lives as we all live longer is a common issue across Europe and I have nothing against sharing best practices - but all countries are different and should not be forced to be the same. Fortunately many other MEPs from other countries seem to agree on this. Public sector pensions are a huge issue in many European Countries including the UK and I have submitted a suggestion that the EU institutions (including the European Commission) should review its own pensions scheme that they themselves are following best practice. It could be controversial but in my view is only right.

- various meetings regarding the Eurozone situation and “economic governance”. Vicky is one of 6 MEPs leading the Parliament’s review of new proposals regarding national government’s budgetary planning and excessive deficits.

“This is a huge work stream which I have been involved in since last summer - as we have learnt in the UK ballooning of government debt carries an extremely painful price for all - but this is multiplied in many parts of the Eurozone during this crisis. In the UK the government prepares 3 or even 5 year forecasts before setting taxes and deciding spending - and we still got into difficulties. Many other countries don’t do this even though they have continually promised to do so. My report does not give EU officials the right to set UK budgets but does suggest that best practice in setting national budgets should be followed. It also suggests that the EU’s own budget should be equally scrutinised.

Other parts of the Economic Governance package refer to specific actions to be taken within the Eurozone following the crisis, such as applying fines and other sanctions to countries that breach financial rules. These fines will not apply to the UK.

- Bankers’ bonuses - Last year Vicky was one of the leading MEPs setting new rules on bankers’ bonuses. The Coalition government has chosen the toughest line to take within the framework of the European rules. These are now amongst the strictest bonus rules across the globe. At least 40% of bonuses for senior risk takers must be deferred and no more than 50% can be paid in cash.

“Banks must moderate their remuneration and act responsibly. One of the causes of the financial crisis was that risk takers were paid large amounts of money up front but long term risks of the positions they had taken remained with the bank. New rules do need to be agreed internationally as we all know that banking is an extremely mobile and global business.”

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