New year, new faces

By: Philip Bushill-Matthews

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Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP and Conservative Spokesman for Employment and Social Affairs.

THE FIRST full meeting of 2007, for European Parliament, has seen a number of changes.

The most immediate change was the arrival of MEPs from Romania and Bulgaria, recognising that the EU has become a club of 27. Following the admission of other former Communist countries in mid-2004, 10 out of the 27 Member States are now from the old Soviet bloc – a vivid reminder of how the face of the EU has been transformed in a relatively short time.

It is less than 20 years since the Berlin wall came down and the iron curtain dividing Europe finally raised. The prospect of EU membership has helped transform each of these countries, ensuring that their values are now closely bound into the West.

One way in which we were able to show immediate solidarity with our newest partners, was to collectively condemn the Libyan leadership for the conviction of five Bulgarian nurses, on the trumped-up charge of contaminating a children’s hospital with HIV/Aids. This is widely perceived as a cynical ploy to try and secure the release of the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bomb outrage. The EU must show that it strongly stands together on this issue.


As the New Year marked the exact half-way point of the current 2004-2009, fixed-term Parliament, there was also a change of Parliament President. With four candidates standing and some 700 MEPs from 177 different national political parties voting, it says something for the stature of the winner. Christian Democrat Hans-Gert Poettering was elected on the first ballot with two-thirds of the House voting for him.

Hans-Gert was born at the end of the last war. He never knew his father, as he was killed in action a few months earlier. Brought up in Berlin, he often talks of the airlift, which literally became a lifeline for the city during the coldest period of the cold war. Given the major role of Britain in keeping that lifeline open, he is from the generation of Germans that recognises the British as friends and liberators rather than conquerors. He has dedicated his working life to healing old divisions in Europe. We look forward to working with him, alongside our new MEP colleagues.

The final change has been the formation of a new political grouping. Twenty MEPs from seven different countries have banded together as the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group (ITS). An extremist alliance, it is anti-immigrant, anti-Jew, anti-Muslim and anti-gay. It includes the granddaughter of the fascist dictator Mussolini, Jean-Marie Le Pen from the French National Front and a UK Independent, who was thrown out of UKIP following allegations of housing benefit fraud. Working with these folk will be more of a challenge.