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So just what do our MEPs get up to in Brussels? ANALYSIS Philip Bradbourn, MEP for the West Midlands, explains the role of the individual's representative at Brussels.

Byline: Philip Bradbourn

For one reason or another, many people do not fully understand the role of an MEP.

Seen in the background of British politics and occasionally at airports, MEPs are the UK's first line of defence against the bureaucrats of the EU, and we represent you in the European Parliament.

MEPs do not sit with their respective political parties but actually within multi-national groupings.

As a Conservative I currently sit with the European People's Party and European Democrats (EEP-ED) group, which is made up of members from all over the EU.

The EPP-ED is the largest of all the political groupings in the Parliament, with 279 of a possible 785 members.

So where exactly do we work? Well unfortunately that varies! I typically spend Monday to Thursday working in the European Parliament in Brussels, then fly home on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning to get stuck in with some constituency work in the UK.

It's not quite as simple as that, however, as we also have to contend with the second seat of the Parliament in Strasbourg.

For historical reasons the Parliament was split between these cities, in Belgium and France, but over time Brussels has become the natural centre of the EU. As a result, once a month the entire Parliament relocates to Strasbourg for three days at a cost of pounds 200 million each year.

The general consensus among MEPs is that this is an unnecessary cost to you, the taxpayer, unnecessarily damaging to the environment, and not to mention a pain in the neck for the MEPs every month!

When not moving back and forth to Brussels and Strasbourg, what do we actually do?

MEPs spend much of the day debating legislation in the various committees within the Parliament.

I am the senior vice-chairman of the Justice & Home Affairs Committee, which is responsible for, among other issues, immigration and asylum.

This is where we scrutinise and debate forthcoming proposals. As MEPs, we are responsible for voting on legislation brought forward by the European Commission.

Much like Parliament in the UK, we can approve, reject or amend any legislation that comes forward.

Often the proposals that come from the Commission are very broad and generalised, not necessarily reflecting the very diverse nature of the EU.

Many of the proposals are totally irrelevant to some countries and on these occasions the MEPs of a member state may step in to amend the legislation. A good example of this is when the Inland Waterways Directive was put forward by the Commission.

This legislation was drawn up to improve the safety of industrial barges on the commercial waterways of mainland Europe but the Commission hadn't really considered the situation in the UK where the vast majority of our inland waterways are used for leisure craft and privately-owned narrowboats.

Ignoring this fact, the Commission proposed that all narrowboats should be fitted with up to pounds 40,000 worth of technical equipment including radar.

Clearly, the canal enthusiasts of the West Midlands do not want or need thousands of pounds worth of radar equipment for their narrowboats!

It was at this stage that I intervened as a representative of the UK. I approached the Commissioner responsible and explained that this costly legislation was totally inappropriate for the UK and would turn the Commission into a laughing stock.

He promptly agreed to an exception for the whole of the UK and Ireland.

In addition to my committee work in the Parliament, I am one of seven MEPs representing the West Midlands region in the EU, covering an area equivalent to 60 Westminster constituencies!

Having such a huge geographical area to cover can be difficult work sometimes, so often MEPs will use newsletters and flyers to keep their constituencies up to date with what's going on in Europe.

We deal with constituent problems just like Westminster MPs, but we can only help with matters that relate to the EU in some way.

Recently I was contacted by a light aviation company in the West Midlands that was having problems with the EU air safety agency EASA.

This agency, typical of an EU institution, is highly bureaucratic and does not have the experience required for the role. As a result, costs to the aviation industry have increased while quality of service has gone down, frustrating many local businesses.

I am therefore opposing any attempts to increase the mandate of EASA in the hope that we can limit any further financial burden imposed on local aviation companies.

As well as dealing with local people and businesses, I regularly meet various local authorities in the West Midlands, where I can find out what problems they are having with the EU and also to explain forthcoming legislation that may effect them, such as the new Waste Framework Directive.

This directive could have a huge affect on local authorities as it sets out guidelines for the disposal of household waste.

Most of your household rubbish will end up either being recycled, in a landfill site, or converted into electricity via 'waste to energy' incinerators. These new 'waste to energy' incinerators, unlike the old-style incinerators, produce very few emissions and are used by some local authorities as a method of waste disposal. Originally this method was not recognised by the EU as a valid alternative to landfill and councils would have been penalised under the new Waste Framework Directive for using it.

We recognised that many councils wanted to increasingly move towards using 'waste to energy' as an alternative to landfill and as a result we amended the directive to include 'waste to energy'.


An aerial view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg; After approaches from Philip Bradbourn the European Commission agreed to exempt Britain and Ireland from a directive which would have cost canal boat owners pounds 40,000 fitting technical equipment including radar
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 15, 2007
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