UK presidency hugely successful
By Richard Howitt IT may have been the last session of the year, but the European Parliament held important votes this month from new passenger rights for disabled people, new environmental measures on battery recycling to measures to combat European terrorist networks.
By Richard Howitt
IT may have been the last session of the year, but the European Parliament held important votes this month from new passenger rights for disabled people, new environmental measures on battery recycling to measures to combat European terrorist networks. The end of 2005 also sees the UK's hugely successful Presidency of the EU coming to an end.
The UK has led the way in putting Europe back on track, and the agreement on the budget, which was pushed through by the UK Government, is being welcomed by community groups and colleges across Suffolk and Essex who depend on EU funding to support their work.
Over the last year I have visited many of these groups to discuss with them how EU funds will continue to flow into our region from 2007-2013. The groups I recently visited included a £20,000 supported student exchange programme for Otley near Ipswich, vocational training for teenagers in Colchester and last week I met with students with learning disabilities in Clacton who are being given the chance to gain workplace experience thanks to EU cash.
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These groups and the hundreds more like them in our area will have breathed a huge sigh of relief that the UK managed to secure their future by negotiating this budget.
Despite what the red top press might say, the result was a good one. The British rebate remains enshrined in law and instead of being scrapped, it will continue to rise from an average £3.61bn to £4.29bn a year. A comprehensive review including the Common Agricultural Policy will address long-term budget reform in 2008 or 2009.
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Asides from the budget the UK Presidency has brokered other key EU successes, I joined the women of Suffolk and Essex Women's Institutes to press for a new law called REACH which will ensure household everyday chemicals are safe and tested, and the UK Government guided this law through.
However, there are many further battles to be fought in 2006, and so the Christmas break will be a short one. I am campaigning with dockworkers from Felixstowe and Harwich to fight a proposed EU law, which will threaten jobs, investment and safety in these local ports. The vote on this crucial law will be held in the second week of January, so lobbying and campaigning immediately after Christmas will be vital.
Finally some scurrilous journalists have suggested that the snow scene on my personalised Christmas card is fake! As with so many critics of Europe, they're wrong again. The snow is genuine - as are my Christmas wishes to all of you.
Richard Howitt is Labour Euro MP for the East of England.