My work as a Member of the European Parliament covers a wide range of issues from violence against women to EU rules on harmful chemicals, but above all I am mindful of ensuring that my constituents get a good deal out of the EU and that European rules work to the advantage, not the detriment, of local businesses.
I suppose that some of this rationale comes from my background as a small businesswoman. What always astounds me at the European level – and it may well be the case at the national level too – is that both mandarins and legislators alike do not have sufficient experience of the business world. Some eurocrats have very little experience outside the Brussels bubble and that is as far away from real world experience as you can get!
One of the issues which I am concentrating on at the moment is trying to ensure that sugar cane refiners, including London’s Tate & Lyle factory which is the largest refinery in the EU, are not unfairly disadvantaged by complicated EU agriculture rules governing the sugar market. I have been disappointed at the European Commission’s rigid adherence to the rules it has set down rather than the flexibility to adjust them to current circumstances. In business this is something that companies need to do all the time. And worst of all the Commission’s inflexibility is costing jobs: over 4,000 across Europe with many highly-skilled manufacturing posts threatened in London.
A number of other battles which I have fought for my constituents have proved that the EU is not business-minded when it comes to rule setting and SMEs in particular suffer from over-zealous interference by Brussels. I think the EU interferes too much in UK employment legislation and I welcome efforts to reform our relationship with the EU in this area. One of my major achievements in my 3 years as an MEP was when I blocked the proposed EU Maternity Leave Directive. The legislation would have granted women twenty weeks of maternity leave on compulsory full pay. The costs of the plans to UK economy would have been £2.5 billion a year and they would have made young women less employable.
One of the committee’s on which I sit is the women’s rights committee and, while motivated by best intentions, its measures to improve the lives of women often end up doing exactly the opposite. Members of the committee have moved proposals for full employment for women, ignoring the fact that many women make the choice to stay at home to be with their families. When I was running a small business I was also raising three children, but being a small business owner gave me the flexibility I needed to care for my family. In the UK we see how government measures such as the single-tier pension help stay-at-home mums while extending childcare to three and four year-olds support those women who want to – or increasingly have to – go out to work.
I was pleased to author the European Parliament equivalent of a private members’ bill on Women and SMEs. 150,000 start-ups would be created each year in Britain if women started businesses at the same rate as men. My bill included proposals for the mentoring of women as well as better access to finance.
But if women do set up small businesses these companies need to be protected from overly-intrusive EU legislation. One area that I am working on at the moment is the EU’s chemicals directive, which has a one-size fits all policy which is placing undue burden on SMEs. I have met with the EU Chemicals Agency, but as with most encounters with the EU bureaucracy, I am engaged for the long-haul!
If the Single Market is to work, we need those who make the regulations to be more mindful of how rules affect real people, real companies. I and my fellow Conservative MEPs are working to engage Europe, to change it from within. Our hard work often pays off and it certainly makes more of a difference than carping from the side-lines.
Find out more about Marina at http://www.marinayannakoudakis.com or on Twitter: @MarinaMEP