Wednesday was my best day so far in the European Parliament, quickly following my worst on Tuesday. On Tuesday, the reality had set in: even the largest UK Party in the European Parliament, UKIP, is only a tiny minority out in Brussels. As the stitch-up of Committee votes had shown, even mild eurosceptics are ostracised. As the EU machine rolls on in Borg-like [Star Trek] fashion, democracy is irrelevant. It felt like I would never be able to make a difference in that place.
On Wednesday, it was time to stand up and fight for the interests of British voters and plough on regardless. First I found out that I've got the opportunity to speak in a debate on youth unemployment next week - a massive issue particularly in the North East, where one in four young people are unemployed. Then I was able to get on with the business of helping constituents, and in the evening I had the opportunity to question Jean-Claude Juncker, the man who is almost certain to become the next President of the European Commission.
Constituents have contacted me on issues like alleged property scams in Cyprus, the proposed TTIP (trade deal between the EU and the USA) and the changes to the Lisbon Treaty. UKIP is of course supportive of free trade, but there are problems with the proposed TTIP deal. Firstly, there's the usual one. Since 1975, all of our trade deals in the UK have been negotiated for us by the EU Trade Commissioner. It makes the negotiation process cumbersome and the deal on the EU's side is always a massive fudge: it's not possible to protect 28 countries' interests all in one go. Compromises have to be made, so we end up with a worse deal than we could get alone - and it takes longer to negotiate. For example, even Iceland (with a population the size of Newcastle) has negotiated a free trade deal with China. The European Union has not. But TTIP adds a new concern: it appears that it will give multinational companies the right to sue national governments.
The Lisbon Treaty takes effect in stages. In November this year, there will be changes to Qualified Majority Voting (known as QMV) which will generally make it easier for new legislation to come in despite the objections of several countries. Some people have expressed fears, based upon their reading of Article 16 of the Lisbon Treaty, that this could make it impossible for the UK to leave the European Union if we wish. They worry that the 'exit clause' (Article 50) in the Lisbon Treaty would be subject to QMV, and that other countries could stop us leaving. This isn't actually true. It just means that they would use QMV to decide their negotiating position. And in any case, we would still have the right to unilaterally withdraw from the EU through simple repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act. Personally I'd prefer to negotiate a free trade deal through Article 50, because I believe we should be good neighbours and trading partners within Europe. That said, the changes are still bad for Britain.
As I'm on the Budget and Budgetary Control committees, part of my role will be to highlight and expose waste of European Union money. Remember, EU money isn't really the European Union's. It's paid for from our taxes at the rate of £55 million per day.
So, I've submitted some questions to the European Commission on these subjects on behalf of my constituents. To me, this will be an important part of the job - getting official answers to questions that are troubling local people, and highlighting what is going on in the EU. I believe that where public money is being spent, taxpayers should know that it is being managed effectively. I don't believe it should be happening through the EU, but that's the situation we're in at the moment. We don't even have any measure of whether a project has been a success or a failure. We need to know what public benefit a project is meant to achieve, and to judge whether or not that benefit has happened. And a quick glance at the Court of Auditors' annual reports shows that we can't even be sure that the money has even been spent where it was allocated.
Therefore, I want all EU-funded projects to have simple criteria for success or failure set out in advance. We have a right to know whether our money has been spent wisely or not. I imagine this simple proposal will go down very badly in the EU.
The fun part of the day was the meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker. Fair play to him, he did agree to meet with the EFDD Group and we had an interesting exchange of views. The European Parliament has the chance to vote on the new Commission President. But it's not a proper election. We're offered just one candidate, and the vote takes place by a secret ballot. A secret ballot, for such an important decision? Surely our constituents have a right to know how we voted. It is fundamentally undemocratic to keep them in the dark, so we're working with the Italians in our Group to submit a proposal to change the rules to make the process open and transparent.
My question was about 'Spitzenkandidaten'. This is the idea that the European People's Party (EPP) emerged from the elections as the largest political group overall across the 28 countries in the European Union, so their choice for Commission President should be elected. Apparently 'we', the people of Europe, have chosen Mr. Juncker by our votes at the ballot box.
I pointed out to Mr. Juncker that in the UK, the '4 Freedoms Party - UK EPP' got just 0.17% of the vote. The idea that he has any mandate from UK voters is a nonsense. Each of the 28 countries in the EU is different from each other, and the parties are different in different countries. I also mentioned the fact that he had admitted earlier "There is no such thing as a European people" - in that case, there cannot be a true 'democracy' at EU level. Putting all of this together, the Spitzenkandidaten principle is not a sound basis for choosing Mr. Juncker.
The EU juggernaut will still roll on, and Mr. Juncker will still become Commission President next week, but this time there are 24 UKIP MEPs determined to stand up for British interests and fight for democracy.