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Catherine Bearder writes … Back to work in the European Parliament

July 1, 2014 5:00 PM
By Catherine Bearder MEP in Liberal Democrat Voice

European Parliament, StrasbourgIn May's European elections, it was liberals across the EU who stood up against the growing tide of nationalists, anti-Europeans and populists. Today, the newly elected MEPs met for the first time in Strasbourg to officially open the 8th European Parliament.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the political group with which Liberal Democrats sit in the European Parliament, took a big hit when we lost all of my hardworking Lib Dem colleagues and nine German FDP MEPs. But it is not all doom and gloom. Liberals topped the polls in the Netherlands, and our numbers have been boosted by new liberal parties from Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic, meaning we are still the fourth largest group with 68 MEPs.

ALDE are now more determined than ever to make the EU work more transparently and better for people and businesses across the continent to be able to tackle the big challenges of our time. We need a well-functioning EU to boost a sustainable economic recovery, fight climate change effectively and keep our streets safe.

That's why ALDE decided to form a stable coalition with the two largest groups in the European Parliament - the centre-right Christian Democrat's European People's Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), home of the British Labour party. Being part of this coalition means we will be able to demand some distinctively liberal policies in Europe, especially on issues such as the environment, civil liberties, transparency and trade.

Meanwhile, our coalition partners in the UK have been scraping the bottom of the barrel for partners to form their political group. Eurosceptic and far-right parties have now joined forces with the Conservatives as they become the third largest group in an effort to lure away MEPs from UKIP's political family. The Tories' European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) have allied themselves with some controversial parties such as the Finns Party and the Danish People's Party in addition to a dubious Bulgarian MEP who has lashed out against migrants Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.

UKIP have also gathered some strange parties and characters, including the comedian Grillo's group from Italy, a defector from the French National Front and the far-right Swedish Democrats.

It remains to be seen whether the new Tory and UKIP groups will stand the test of time trying to hold together the controversial and nationalist parties they have assembled.

I will now focus on the policy and reform agenda that we as Liberal Democrats set out during the elections. As a full member of the Environment Committee, I will work towards sensible policies to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity. I will also continue to drive and support our successful ALDE SME campaign to help businesses create sustainable jobs and growth by cutting red tape and improving access to finance and the single market. As for the new EU cap on roaming fees that comes into force today after Lib Dem pressure during the last parliament, I will continue our fight to make sure that by 2015 there will be no extra charges for using your mobile in another EU country.

* Catherine Bearder is MEP for South East England and Liberal Democrat spokesperson on International Trade in the European Parliament