Last week the European Council agreed a new European budget that will, for the first time, see a cut in the amount of money that the EU spends.
Liberal Democrats at Westminster and in the European Parliament have made clear that the EU needs to live within its means. We are in favour of a sensible and realistic deal that reflects the tough economic times that ordinary people are facing. Some MEPs see things differently and oppose the idea of a degree of fiscal restraint in Europe.
People who oppose the cuts in the EU budget that have been put forward are perfectly entitled to their views. To be clear, there are legitimate debates to be had over the terms of the deal that was announced last week. We need, for example, to ensure that the money we are spending is delivering for the UK, helping us to create the stronger economy and fairer society that we all want to see. We also need to look at how we can give the European Parliament the flexibility to manage a smaller budget more effectively.
What is wholly illegitimate is the idea that these debates – and subsequent votes in the European Parliament – should be conducted in secret. Voting on the next EU budget is one of the most important decisions MEPs will take in this mandate. Scrutinising the terms of the deal that has been put forward is a key part of our work. It is vital that we are open and transparent in our decision making.
Politics is all about debate. The European Parliament accommodates MEPs who hold a diverse range of opinions on a wide range of issues. What is critical is that MEPs have the courage of their convictions. As elected representatives we have to take responsibility and account for the decisions we are taking and the votes we are casting.
It has been reported that that MEPs of the European Peoples Party, which is one of the largest centre-right groupings in Brussels, could seek to force a secret ballot using procedural rules. This is an idea that Martin Schulz, the socialist President of the EU Parliament, has also backed.
As the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons on Monday, the idea of a secret ballot is an extraordinary concept. Transparency is something that is absolutely central to our democracy. It is absolutely wrong that MEPs who are elected to represent the views of their constituents should seek to hide their votes in the manner that is being advocated by some in Brussels.
Since this first came to light, Liberal Democrat MEPs have made our views clear. We do not support a secret vote and will be working hard to persuade others that this approach is fundamentally wrong headed. For a secret vote to go ahead, 151 MEPs would need to sign up. No Liberal Democrat MEPs will be in that number and we will resist this anti-democratic measure.
* George Lyon is Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland and Vice President of the European Budget Committee.