Yesterday Parliament held a debate on the new Commission work programme for the next year. It is the EU equivalent of the Queen’s speech. It contained 23 major proposals, including two new taxes, a federal energy policy, a Euro 315 bn investment programme and work on migration and borders.
My Conservative colleague Sir William Cash moved an amendment to highlight the importance of migration and the impact of the free movement policy. The debate as a result had to cover both freedom of movement and the work programme, which overlapped anyway.
I spoke against the Energy Union proposal. I raised the question of how much of the Euro 315bn investment programme is to be money from taxes in member states. The Minister told me that would be Euro 24bn, with the rest coming from borrowings and other levered money from the private sector. Sir William and I pointed out that under current EU law benefit reforms which we need to deal with recently arrived migrants may be illegal. I suggested putting our benefit system more onto a contributory basis, so recently arrived people will not automatically qualify without infringing EU law. Anyone educated at school here would also qualify for benefits. Sir William proposed using an amendment to the European Communities Act allowing us to legislate as we wish, which would be a good way of doing it.
Neither Mr Carswell nor Mr Reckless came to the debate, until at the very end Mr Reckless arrived. He did not speak. It was strange that both UKIP MPs missed a crucial debate on the activity of the EU for next year, and had nothing to say on migration, benefits and borders. As it happens, the amendment was passed without a vote, but that was not clear until well into the debate. We need more Eurosceptic voices in the Commons. Once again it was just Conservatives. The Labour front bench supported everything the EU Commission proposed, and made no criticism of the Coalition government’s handling of the EU issue.