Whilst BBC Question Time were recording at the Berry Theatre in Hedge End this evening, Eastleigh News caught up with Marta Andreasen MEP as she joined local Conservatives on the campaign trail in Botley.
Marta was formerly the Chief Accountant for the European Commission, but was suspended only a few months after starting that job for criticising the EU’s accounting system as being ‘open to fraud’ and for refusing to sign off the EU accounts for 2001. Amid much controversy, Marta was formally dismissed from her EU job in 2003.
Subsequently joining UKIP, Marta became the UKIP party Treasurer in 2007 and was elected as a UKIP MEP for the South East Region in 2009. Marta resigned from UKIP in 2013, shortly before the Eastleigh by-election, and joined the Conservatives. She is now fourth on the Conservative’s list of MEP candidates, with the EU elections due to take place on 22nd May.
In the EU elections, the electorate are asked to vote for a party rather than specific candidates, with the number of seats taken by each party being decided by a system of Proportional Representation. The South East region returns a total of 10 MEPs and the Conservatives currently lie third in the opinion polls. As things stand, a significant swing to the Conservatives is needed if Marta is to retain her position as an MEP.
Undeterred, Marta and the local Conservatives were out about trying to get that support this evening. I met them outside Botley’s Market Hall and began by asking Marta what she had been doing today. She replied;
I have been across the region. I was in Maidstone canvassing and have now come down to Eastleigh to canvass with my colleagues here.
Eastleigh has a history that derives from the last by-election, more than one year ago. I had just switched from UKIP, so Eastleigh was the first campaign that I did for the Conservatives.
It didn’t go that well, but I think people have had a chance now to reflect now on what the Lib Dems and UKIP can offer. I think we have a good chance to have many people voting for us in the European elections.
Basically because I think the Conservative party is the only one that is offering a referendum on the European Union. Even if people complain that they would like to have a referendum today, and that the offer is not enough, that it has been promised before, I think it is the only way we can decide if we can leave or stay in the European Union.
UKIP want to leave, but they haven’t campaigned for a referendum and they haven’t actually campaigned to go against the legislation from the European Union.
Their campaign has a lot to do with immigration. I think they are turning the whole election into an immigration debate. More than a debate. You see the billboards they have set up? I think they’re quite aggressive and they don’t actually tell the truth. Although I recognise that immigration has not been controlled properly so we don’t know how many immigrants we have, where they come from, if they have a job, if they have left, if they have an education and that’s appalling and we need to sort out the problem, this is not what UKIP are proposing. It is proposing that we close the doors altogether.
They [UKIP] have tried to smooth their message, saying we would like controlled immigration, but actually what the papers say is that they don’t want any more immigrants.
I think this country has really benefited from immigrants. Many are first or second generation so it is ridiculous to start this billboard against immigration, but UKIP have seen that this is the way to win support.
I think we need to look to other things, namely the economy. Because at the end of the day if we have a sound economic situation we will all be to live in this country without any problem.
The issue is not immigration, it is the economy. That is what we should be looking to and I think the Conservative party is doing a good job. We are coming out of the crisis.
As we had quickly got onto the subject of immigration [n.b. I wasn’t planning to go there actually..!], I asked Marta if immigration was good or bad for the country, maybe a bit of both..? She replied;
I think that immigration if it is properly controlled helps because firstly it brings a cultural exchange, which is good. We understand other cultures and they understand us.
In some areas, there are not enough people who can do the job. So if we need other people to come from abroad to do the job, they should be welcomed.
Of course I am not in favour of people abusing the benefits system, not at all. This shouldn’t happen and it is up to the Government to put the regulations and controls in place to stop it.
But as I said, this country has grown a lot thanks to immigration.
UKIP is making a differentiation. It appears to me they are saying that the immigration they don’t want is from the European Union.
I am a eurosceptic. A very convinced eurosceptic because I am the only MEP candidate and MEP that lost her job fighting against the European Commission. I don’t think that there is anybody who is more convinced than me.
But I don’t see that this [immigration] is the biggest problem that we have with the European Union. I think that there are other problems, like a lot of the red tape that doesn’t allow small and medium business to grow.
Immigration is not the biggest problem we have and we should be able to control it. We need discipline and obviously a Conservative party can not turn around 13 years of Labour Government who encouraged uncontrolled immigration.
Changing tack, I asked Marta how she had found the experience of being an MEP. Did MEP’s have teeth, can they effect things, or is the real power at a higher level, the European Council..? Marta explained;
I think the MEPs can work together with the members of the Council, which is the dominant body, the Heads of State.
If they work together with the Heads of State, then there is a good teamwork that can succeed sometimes.
In that sense, it is very important that MEPs involve themselves in what’s happening in Brussels and actually go and work in the committees where the regulation is being approved.
I’ll give you an example. The Prime Minister successfully negotiated a reduction to the budget. He has done this in conjunction with the work that I myself and other colleagues have been doing in the budgets & budgetary control committee. So that’s one thing that I think is an achievement, which unfortunately was not supported by UKIP. And I don’t know why.
There are other Conservative MEPs who have worked hard to protect the financial industry. There are many who hate the Bankers, they think the crisis is due to the Bankers which I don’t agree 100% with. You know it’s the main industry that this country has and I think we should protect it from heavier regulation that doesn’t achieve anything for anybody.
I asked about a vote by the MEPs, held last November, which was heavily in favour of having a single seat in Brussels and stopping the travelling circus to Strasbourg. The French subsequently vetoed any change. Marta said;
There are some things that are very difficult to change and this is one of them, because unfortunately this is embedded in the treaty.
When the Lisbon treaty was being approved, there was a chance to eliminate this tranche from the treaty and at that point there wasn’t sufficient effort put into that and we missed the occasion to get rid of this.
There have been calls to eliminate this seat and I think that this should be one of the things that the Prime Minister should be negotiating about, because its outrageous and nobody supports this.
Its only there because it has to meet an obligation, a commitment, with the French Government, but there should be a way to do away with this and I think that if the Conservatives do well in the European elections we will be putting the energy into getting rid of this seat. We will be working with the Prime Minister in this renegotiation that he is trying to achieve and this will be one of the issues.
I asked if that problem with the French vetoing an overwhelming vote by the MEPs was an exception, or did that kind of thing happen quite often..? Marta said;
No, it doesn’t happen quite often at all.
Most of the time we Conservatives are in a minority voting against a lot of things. Now even if we are in a minority, sometimes we manage to negotiate agreements with other parties and we manage to succeed in what we want, so we shouldn’t give up. The reduction in the budget was one of things.
In general terms it’s a hard job to get the Parliament to reduce powers in the EU, to reduce the cost and to actually reduce the red tape. I am not going to lie on this, it’s a huge job. But if we don’t have Conservative MEPs working on that, then it will never happen.
So when people turn out on May 22nd, to vote for an MEP, they’re sending people to Parliament who really can make a difference…?
That is what I think. Yes. They should…
I asked if Marta thought she had a good chance in the election, despite being fourth on the list.
I think that I have a good chance because when people go out to vote they should be thinking about this being a very different election.
We’re trying to support a party that is going to give us this famous referendum that everybody wants.
So I think people should be looking to vote and support the Government and support the Conservatives into re-election in 2015.
If they would not support the Conservatives, they cannot expect in 2015 the Conservative party will do well and have a majority to actually deliver the EU referendum.
So I think it would be very silly if people used this vote as a protest vote, a protest I don’t exactly know about what, but about things that have nothing to do with the European election.
The issue at hand is we need people to defend our interests in Brussels and we need people to support the Conservative’s offer to deliver a referendum. That’s the issue that people should be thinking about.
On the rise of euroscepticism across Europe, and the possibility that the new European Parliament would be heavily eurosceptic, Marta said;
Well, I have to be honest. Europe or the European Union countries have turned more eurosceptic not because of the existence of Nigel Farage or Le-Penn or ….
They have actually jumped onto the wagon of this euroscepticism that has grown as a result of the crisis. People are furious about the crisis and they blame they European Union about the crisis. I think to a certain extent they are right.
But they are also furious about the way the European Union has tried to resolve the crisis.
The European Union always takes things and tries to sort them out with this ‘one size fits all’ solution. And it doesn’t work. The problems in Greece are not the same as in Spain. Not the same as in Ireland. Not the same as in the UK.
So actually, one size doesn’t fit all.
I agree that in the UK austerity measures have helped us get out of the crisis, but austerity measures alone will not sort out the crisis. In some cases, it may make it worse. Countries like Greece can simply not cope with a common currency. They cannot have the same currency as Germany…
And in as much as the European Union doesn’t realise this, then we may be having more euroscepticism.
Finally, I asked Marta if she had a message for the readers of Eastleigh News. She said;
Well I would like to say that it is important that the people go out and vote.
I have heard many people complain that they were not asked if they wanted to be in this European political union that we have today and I agree with this, but now it is the chance to vote.
OK this is not a referendum, but this is the vote that will give us the possibility to have that referendum.
So if people do not go out and vote, and vote for the party that will actually deliver the referendum, they will not be able to complain in the future.
Eastleigh News would like to thank Marta Andreasen for taking some time-out from her busy schedule, to speak to us this evening.