Monday, December 13, 2004

Going all the way

Not so very long ago, many of us were taking the view that the opposition to the euro was narrowly focused to a dangerous extent. For, while the then business "Yes to Europe – No to the euro" campaign was building the ramparts against the single currency – with the generous help of Gordon Brown – the tide of integration was sweeping round it.

It was then that we dreamed up the picture – I don’t know who thought of it first – of the resistants being the ill-fated Maginot line, holding firm while the panzers of integration swept through the Ardennes.

And once again, or so it seems, the panzers are on the march – if they ever stopped, this time with another clever little scheme cooked up by the EU commission: the "Euromortgage".

Reported by The Scotsman website today, under the startlingly candid headline of, "Euromortgage Plan to Integrate EU Homebuyers", the commission is proposing that house-buyers should be able to shop around in the 25 member states for the best loan deals available.

This is the brain-child of the Forum Group on Mortgage Credit, set up by the commission, which argues that an effective single European market for mortgages could mean cheaper loans for all.

This would mean streamlining the EU-wide home loans sector to take away the potential pitfalls of borrowing abroad, with the idea being sold on the benefits to consumers of more choice and financial savings, as well as opening up a single market for lenders.

But it would also mean serious inroads into the monetary sovereignty of member states, who rely on being able to fine-tune interest rates to cool over-heated housing markets, and damp-down consumer spending when it threatens to get out of control.

This is an option lost to those member states which have already joined the single currency and the prospect of its loss is one of the most persuasive factors in the argument for not joining. With a single market for housing loans (and surely other loans would follow), even non-euro members effectively lose control of monetary policy.

The net outcome of such a move – and many others like it – is that euro refuseniks gradually lose many or all of the advantages of being outside the euro, while gaining none of the slender benefits of membership. The balance of the argument thus shifts, and the case for staying out is weakened.

Anti-euro campaigners will thus look out of their armoured forts one day and see the tanks parked up behind them, their guns pointing towards their exposed rears, leaving nothing else but to run up the white flags.

That is the trouble with partial campaigns. To mix metaphors outrageously, once you cuddle up to the tar baby, you have to go all the way. Like the impossibility of being a bit pregnant, as far as the EU is concerned, there is no such thing as a little bit of integration.

The gloves are off

Following the refusal of the EU to lift the arms embargo on China, the gloves are really coming off.

In an extraordinarily strident piece which abandons any pretence of diplomacy, the China Daily, has launched into a vitriolic attack against the US, reminiscent of the worst days of the Cold War.

Headed, "Why is the EU refusing to lift the arms embargo against China?", the answer China Daily gives is: "Because Uncle Sam objects. The USA, in its anti-communism myopia that has reined since the McCarthy era, still sees itself as protecting the world from the evils of anything that does not look, smell or taste like its brand of democracy."

Continuing in this vein, it adds:

The US has not learned the appropriate lessons available during the 20th century and hence perpetuates its foreign policy mistakes into the 21st century. The US has learned nothing from Korea, Viet Nahm (sic), Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau. Now the US insists that Iraq and Afganistan become US style democracies. The US is anti-Cuba but fails to see the hypocricy in its Taiwan stance.
Not pulling any punches at all, it adds vitriol to vitriol, storming:

Why is the third world rebelling and attacking US targets? Because the third world is tired of US intervention in internal affairs, just like the US threatening reprisals against the EU if it lifts the arms embargo against China. Once again the US meddles in China's internal affairs, judging China's human rights by the US standards it imposes on the rest of the world. And the US sells arms to Taiwan. Japan declares Beijing a military threat, also probably under pressure from its US benefactor.
Then for the really dirty blow, so far below the belt that future generations are threatened: "Bin Laden is just a natural human reaction to US superiority complex and moral arbiter of the world", says the paper. "If the US truly wants to end terrorism, it must get out of everyone's business and clean up its own environment."

And all this because the US does not want the EU to export high technology weapons to the peace-loving Peoples' Republic of China. This is really the country with which the EU wants to do business?

Welcome to the world of diversity…

In the land of diversity, conformity is compulsory. That is what several thousand Cypriot truck drivers are finding out; and they do not like it. According to the news agency AFP, they went on indefinite strike today, blockading the island's two main sea ports in Limassol and Larnaca.

The truckers are complaining about EU harmonisation laws which prohibit the issue of operators' licenses to individual trucks but require them to be issued to companies, preventing them being sold on after owners retire for a fee that can reach up to 120,000 dollars with the vehicle.

They are also angry at the introduction of costlier modifications, tougher professional examinations and plans to phase out at least 1,000 old lorries from the roads.

Still unaware of how the system works, they are now demanding amendments to the rules which they say the government had promised them during a previous week-long crippling strike in October 2003, estimated to have cost the Cyprus economy about 200 million dollars.

Long lines of trucks are now blockading the ports and industrial areas, with two cargo ships already stuck at Limassol unable to unload bricks and iron and containers piling up at the dockside. The action, by members of unions representing the island's 4,500 truckers, could have dire consequences on the economy.

"Today we find ourselves at a deadlock, and the only solution out of this deadlock is for a declaration to be issued for the postponement of these harmonisation laws," said a statement from the Cyprus small business union, the main body representing the truckers.

If a solution is not forthcoming, determined truckers are saying that they wil take wider militant action and block key transport routes. There is also concern that a prolonged dispute could lead to shortages in construction material, foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.

"Unjustified, illogical and pre-determined," is how government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides described the action. "The damage that will be caused to various sectors of the economy will be especially tough." The employers federation also called for dialogue to avoid economic crisis.

Dialogue hardly seems appropriate. Someone needs to remind the truckers that, on 1 May they joined an organisation called the European Union which, while sporting its motto, "Unity in diversity" (or in Latin if you prefer: In varietate concordia), demands conformity in all things.

One size doesn't fit all

Where are the Europhiles storming in to justify this latest bit of lunacy? Silent as always they are, when there is a real problem with their beloved construct.

This one, the ports directive, has been hanging around for a while, having been first introduced in 2001 and "torpedoed" by the EU parliament in November 2003. Now, it has re-emerged with a vengeance and its the subject of a report in today's Daily Telegraph.

Actually, the new proposal was made on 13 October by the commission - and was one of the last acts of the outgoing commissioner for transport, President Loyola de Palacio, who had been trying for some years to get her "market access to port services" legislation on to the law books.

Like all community initiatives, it is dressed up in high-flown language, set out in the aims. The proposed directive thus "aims at boosting the competitiveness of EU ports and contributing to reduce congestion and environmental pollution by promoting inter alia maritime transport." De Palacio, in the leaden language of her ilk wants to create a "clear and transparent framework" for port services.

So what is it all about? In essence, the directive seeks to impose rules governing the right to provide cargo handling services within a port, licensing operators to provide such services to as yet undefined "competent authorities" for limited periods. Licences would be for a maximum of eight years where no investment is required; 12 years where the licensee invested in "movable assets" such as fork-lift trucks; and 30 years where it paid for "immovable assets" such as new warehouses.

It sounds like a good idea in principle – as they so often do – but then listen to David Ord, managing director of Bristol Port Company. He calls of Palacio's "last act of retribution", condemning it as "simply bureaucratic", doing nothing to improve the competitiveness of UK plc.

He is not wrong. The point as issue is that the directive makes partial sense on the continent, where the big ports are state-owned, run by comfortable cartels which can set their own charges and conditions, seeing off competitors and stifling free-enterprise and innovation.

What the commission is trying to achieve is "intra-port competition" (competition between providers of a same port service within a port), whereas, in the UK, the industry is structured differently.

We have already gone through our denationalisation and have a network of private ports, such as Mersey Docks, Associated British Ports and Hutchison (the owner of Felixstowe), which compete with each other for business. And with that larger network of ports, there is healthy competition already, between ports.

John Dempster, director of the UK Major Ports Group, which represents the big port companies, said the new directive could force a port such as Felixstowe or Bristol to split off its cargo-handling activities and periodically put them up for tender. This, he says, could "lead to a situation where the existing operator was forced out," he said.

According to The Telegraph, he also questions which "competent authority" would award licences, believing the process could become bogged down at the Office of Fair Trading. David Ord says that, as the owner of the port, it wis "outrageous" that "assets I am buying today, I would potentially lose control and ownership of".

He adds that no industry could allow this, even if the EU did envisage some form of compensation. "If I build a factory and I kit it and I employ the people who are working in it, are you telling me it's fair that after 30 years someone else can come through and claim it? It's like a Soviet economy," he says.

Dempster is equally forthright, stating that the EU is trying to address the problem in continental ports where it is alleged there are cosy cartels operating services. “The trouble is it's 'one size fits all' and we are the innocent victims in the cross-fire," he declares.

And there you have it. So often do we meet this situation, where the UK is the odd man out, but we have to go along with the flow, just because the "colleagues" need to deal with their own problems. How longs is it, one wonders, before the penny drops and our political masters realise that the UK simply does not belong in a political construct designed for the very different circumstances of a continental economy and society?

Missing the point... again

To celebrate what has been a productive year for regulators, The Daily Telegraph is launching the Regulatory Creep of the Year award.

On reading this, we immediately thought of Boris Johnson. But them we saw that the paper was asking for nominations "for the central or local government agency associated with the most mind-bogglingly frustrating piece of red tape during 2004."

The worst offenders, it says, will then be named and shamed in the newspaper next Monday, with the biggest loser receiving the first ever red tape award.

Perhaps, the Telegraph adds, it could be Gordon Brown or Patricia Hewitt's Department of Trade and Industry. Not content with introducing 21 major new pieces of employment law since 1997, the DTI issued new disciplinary and dismissal regulations in October. They were meant to make it easier for an employer to safely sack a member of staff while at the same time clearly stating the employee's right to be treated fairly.

The supposedly three-stage process turned into a 13-stage minefield for employers during the drafting. It was so complicated that the DTI wasted more than £200,000 sending out a million leaflets that aimed to explain the rules but gave the wrong information.

It continues: "But many other government departments and agencies are likely to challenge the DTI to this year's top spot. The Environment Agency's decision in July to reclassify everyday items like computers and fluorescent lights as hazardous, but slash the number of sites licensed to deal with such waste from 182 to 14, was a corker. Then to cap it all, the agency then attacked business for fly tipping."

"The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the EA, has also been busy. New regulations affecting farmers - the so-called cross compliance rules - were only sent out on December 6 but from January 1 will determine whether farmers can apply for subsidies or not."

"According to the National Farmers Union, the regulations now give Secretary of State Margaret Beckett the right to tell farmers whether they can harvest their crops or not. This performance meets two important Regulatory Creep award criteria: being ill conceived and poorly timed."

We are told that the trophy, 20 cm high (8 inches in real money), has been created by Glasgow Arts School sculptor Andy Knowles, using EU-approved resin and UK standard red electrical tape. It complies with all known health and safety, employment and environmental regulations. We must point out, says the Telegraph, that, if dropped, it could hurt someone's foot.

All jolly good fun, but it misses the point - the "elephant in the room strikes again". Much of the legislation to which the paper refers is produced by our government over the water, in Brussels. The British departments are only implementing it – albeit with the occasional bit of gold plating. Award nominations, therefore, should include departments of our true central government – the EU commission.

For the sheer scale of stupidity of its imposts, we nominate DG Environment. It, not the Environment Agency, was responsible for reclassifying everyday items like computers and fluorescent lights as hazardous, and it produced the legislation that required the number of sites licensed to deal with such waste to be slashed from 182 to 14.

Nominations should be sent to Richard Tyler, which you can do from this link. We invite you to join us in nominating DG Environment, Brussels.

Thoughts of a European security expert - 1

[In order to make this posting more readable, it has been broken up into two parts, which do follow each other. The EU Defence and Security White Paper will be discussed separately.]

American commentators who are interested in the relationship between the United States and what they designate as Europe have been asking what “Europe” and the “Europeans” will do in return for Bush displaying a readiness to talk and negotiate. He has gone along with European suggestions on the next step in the Middle Eastern peace negotiations, though clearly his instinct was to wait till the Palestinian elections are over and the new leader (whoever he may be) shows himself in control and interested in negotiating. Those instincts may yet prove to be correct.

President Bush has also announced through Secretary of State Powell that he is coming to Europe in February to discuss the various problems that have cropped up in trans-Atlantic relations. What are the Europeans doing in return? Well, very little is the obvious answer, because what is described as “Europeans”, that is the enarquiste representatives of what is considered to be “European attitude” but is really a crystallization of the supranational thinking that affects these people, are not interested in sorting out differences. They want to see the vulgar Americans who insist on voting the way they see right and defending what they see is right, vanquished and the new, post-democratic, post-religious, ideologically statist politics to triumph.

At the last meeting of the European Parliament Defence and Security Committee, the discussion was about an EU Defence White Paper, presented by an “independent task force”, that is, the European Union Institute for Security Studies, based in Paris. So independent is this body that its existence was brought forth by a Council Joint Action and “has the status of an autonomous agency that comes under the EU’s second ‘pillar’ – the Common Foreign and Security Policy”.

The Institute is very proud of the fact that it defends no particular national interest:
“Its aim is to help create a common European security culture, to enrich the strategic debate, and systematically to promote the interests of the Union.”
Those of us who would like to see a genuine debate on the future security of Europe and the West would say that this “independent” and “scholarly” institute starts with a certain view and looks for academic and political arguments to promote it, all using money from the European Commission.

The Committee that produced the White Paper (more on which in future postings) comprised all sorts of experts on European security, none of which were in doubt on what the future should hold. But, just to prove its independence, the body was chaired by Nicole Gnesotto, Director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (ISS-EU), who also presented the White Paper to the Committee. Further discussion was led by the Rapporteur, Jean-Yves Haine, who happens to be one of the Senior Research Fellows of the Institute.

According to Gerard Batten UKIP MEP, who sits on the Committee and, unlike many MEPs, seems to take his job seriously enough to listen to what is being said and to take notes, Mme Gnesotto announced that EU member states no longer had any political or ideological opposition to the ideas expressed in the White Paper (though she did not specify who had actually seen or discussed the document), only operational ones. These, she admitted were serious enough, to make putting the ideas in it into practice, rather difficult.

M Haine outlined five scenarios for possible EU military action, all of which seem to go beyond the old ill-defined Petersberg tasks:

1. Large scale peace support operations, the weakness here was the current inadequate troop levels in the EU.

2. High intensity crisis management, this requires rapid political decision making and a rapid deployment capability.

3. Traditional regional wars, e.g. the Gulf. The issues here were about armaments, deployment, locations of HQs and working with other, e.g. the USA.

4. Pre-emptive strikes, e.g. for countering Weapons of Mass Destruction. These operations require Special Forces and there was a problem with numbers.

5. Homeland defence (civil protection rather than military operations).
Interestingly enough, all five are the very actions and proposals that, when voiced by the United States, evoke shrieks of horror. Furthermore, none of them seem to have any direct relation to straightforward defence and security.

Thoughts of a European security expert - 2

Interestingly, Mme Gnesotto, Director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies and Chairman of the Committee that wrote the proposal for an EU Defence White Paper, expressed her views quite forcefully about “Europe” and America in an editorial for Le Figaro on November 8. Presumably it had taken her several days and several tons of smelling salts to get over the shock of the presidential election result.

Our readers must bear in mind that her thoughts are not those of a random journalist but of a woman who through her position exerts a great deal of influence on the defence and security thinking in the European Union.

Her starting point was that rather odd one that we have noted before: apparently various soundings and opinion polls have shown that a very large majority of the world’s citizens voted for Kerry. (To be fair, Mme Gnesotto or the editor of Le Figaro put the word voted in quotations marks.) George Bush’s comfortable victory left these people angry, bewildered, disturbed.

How on earth do the world’s citizens (whatever that may be) vote for the American president? Most of them do not even vote for their own governments, particularly not in those countries that the French government, for some unaccountable reason is particularly friendly to. Presumbaly, what Mme Gnesotto means is that she and her like on the international conference circuit liked to think that they would have voted for Kerry. (Why she thinks John Kerry’s foreign policy would have been any different is anybody’s guess.)

It is clear to Mme Gnesotto that it is the American people who are out of step with the world. Those who voted for Bush, she explained confidently, were not interested in the war in Iraq or in economic problems. They were voting entirely for moral and religious reasons, enacting a kind of a modern morality play. These benighted individuals perceived the war against terrorism as a war of Right against Wrong. (How different from the sophisticated French politicians who manage to support terroists abroad while introducing draconian rules to deal with anyone suspected of even saying something wrong in their own country. No right and wrong here.)

America, by electing Bush, has isolated herself even more from all democracies. Then again, Mme Gnesotto seems to think that other democracies means the European Union, a questionable definition. As an additional argument she produces the notion that the very ideas that served to elect Bush, served to disqualify a possible European Commissioner: “social intolerance, religious fundamentalism, an apology for inequality among the sexes”.

One rather wonders whether Mme Gnessotto has paid any attention to the religious diversity in the United States and the number of women who are in high position in business and politics. (She was not to know that the new Secretary of State would be female, but the possibility was discussed from the day of Bush’s re-election.)

Furthermore, the open election of the American president is a tad different from the somewhat sordid, secretive deals that create the European Commission.

Mme Gnesotto shows herself to be seriously disquieted by the evident preference of the Bush administration to conduct bilateral relations with European countries, but she is hopeful that realism would overcome ideology and, presumably, the opinions of the great and the good will be deemed more important than democratic accountability.

Where she gets into a muddle and her Gallic logic fails her is whether the division in Europe over Iraq has weakened or strengthened the Union. On the whole, she feels, it has not harmed the process of integration, the ultimate good in European politics: the commons security and defence policy is going ahead as planned (without the common interests), the constitution was signed, there is no sign of political disintegration.

On the other hand, America has suffered from the European division over Iraq, because it has meant that the European allies have not given as much help as was expected. For some reason, this fills Mme Gnesotto with delight. Apparently, this has resulted in America’s isolation in Iraq, which is rather curious since a division would imply that some (most, as it happens) European countries must have supported American action and joined the coalition.

The likes of Mme Gnesotto are, as I have said, not interested in trans-Atlantic deals. They want an acknowledgement that America is in the wrong, and particularly in the wrong for not following instructions so clearly issued by the European elite (instructions that the people of Europe do not follow all the time, either). And one can see what it is they are really afraid of: that the notion of accountable democracy will undermine the integration process and that, possibly, the American administration, which does not see any advantages to that process (and why should it, since it is full of hostility towards the United States?) will help that along by refusing to deal with the EU as a political union.

I do so fear that President Bush’s advances will be rebuffed at the very least in France. The important thing is, surely, not to accept the establishment of that country as the self-appointed spokespersons for the whole of the varied continent of Europe (not to mention the islands off its shore).

Sunday, December 12, 2004

How others see us

It would be almost trite to observe that immigration is a "hot" issue in the UK, to say nothing of the rest of Europe, other than as an introduction to the thought that there are two sides to every coin and that it is sometimes interesting to see the issue from a completely different perspective.

That perspective was brought to us yesterday by The Times of India in an article entitled "Iron curtains across EU". Its writers observe that a new immigration law comes into force in Germany in less than three weeks time, which sends a message to "Indian techies" thinking of heading for the Fatherland.

"Ponder long, consider hard," say The Times writers, "Germany 2005 may be difficult territory to colonise with our skills. So also Holland. And France. And Italy. And who knows, Britain too, may one day soon, be pulling up the cultural drawbridge and barricading itself against the non-European barbarians at its gate."

Continuing on their theme, they quote Churchill, admitting that he never meant it in quite this way: "Churchill's ‘iron curtain’," they write, "is once again descending across Europe."

Then it sealed off the ancient cities of Eastern Europe but today that iron curtain is draped across Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris and Rome. It enfolds other, smaller cities and towns. Its tassels fall untidily everywhere. It screens off minds from the 'other'. For, "multi-kulti" has gone out of fashion. Hard-won European tolerance to a fault has suddenly become an outsize cheque that bounced badly, dashing hopes of a sizeable future pay-off.

"How else", asks The Times, "to read the remarks of Germany's opposition leader Angela Merkel, when she announced that the very idea of a multicultural society was flawed? And what to make of Holland's chant, "normen en warden" (Dutch norms and values), even as it embarks upon one of the largest deportations of foreigners in modern European history?"

Why else would France ban conspicuous religious symbols such as the Jewish yarmulke, Muslim hijab and Sikh turban in state schools? And how to justify the UK's tough new measures to repatriate rejected asylum claimants? Italy, meanwhile, has promised it will never repeat the amnesties granted to illegal immigrants.

Right or wrong, but everyone seems to know why the continent is falling under the hypnotic spell of the mono-culturalism mantra. European Muslims are seen to be too many and too unreconstructed for white Christian Europeans to suffer, post-9/11.

Holland has seen the ugly murder of film-maker Theo, great-great-great nephew of Vincent van Gogh, for daring to be rude about living Islam. Berlin has heard a secret recording on television of an imam telling the faithful the Germans would "burn in hell" because they were unbelievers. And Britain has discovered that Muslim-dominated parts of its cities might very well be in deepest Pakistan.
The article concludes, addressing its Asian audience, by asking: "Should we care?". "Yes," it responds: "because when multi-culturalism is discredited, it affects us all. There may be no watchtowers, no tangible Checkpoint Charlie, no Berlin Wall to pull down. The curtain might almost be invisible in politically-correct Europe. But the heavy drapes insidiously muffle all sound, including the pleasing tapping of keyboards as Indian techies get going in Europe."

Not a lot you can add to that, but I certainly have a vision of babies being flushed down the drain with the bath water.

Is it a state? Is it a region?

Normally this is something one asks about the EU. While giving itself all the appurtenances of a state, it also sets out its stall as a region in what it sees as the future, regionalized world politics.

Now, it seems, the EU’s rather sorry example is being copied in South America. Representatives of 12 South American countries met in the ancient Inca city of Cuzco to create an economic and political union that would give these countries a strong voice against America, Europe and Asia.

By America they mean the United States and problems have arisen about that already. The more left-leaning countries like Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela want to see the block as a counterweight to the great neighbour in the north. Others are worried about bilateral relations and do not exactly trust the likes of Venezuelan President Chavez.

In any case, the presidents of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador did not bother to attend but sent ministers, which raised the inevitable question of just how committed are they to the enterprise. The Foreign Minister of Paraguay, Leila Rachid, was not planning to sign any documents and indicated that her country was not interested in any blocs. All they did, according to her, was to create bureaucracies and South America has enough with Mercosur. Sounds a reasonable politician.

This is the third meeting of the South American leaders since 2000 when Brazil invited them all to discuss projects to link the countries through a network of highways, railways and rivers to boost trade in the region. Not much has come of that, although Peru and Brazil have now signed an agreement to finance a highway that will connect the southwest of Brazil to Peru's Pacific ports of Matarani, Ilo and Marcona.

On the whole, creating political blocs and signing ringing declarations is easier than negotiating detailed agreements that would actually raise economic productivity and living standards in that potentially very rich continent. After all Mercosur and the Andean Community, the two regional trade blocs have been unable to come to any kind of an agreement on lowering tariffs and opening up trade. In fact the two organizations cannot agree on common tariffs for their own members. So the politicians have decided to go for the other option – an economic and political bloc that would give them the right to throw their weight around in the world and never mind the people of their countries.

Then again, there is word that there will be a pan-American free trade area agreement signed some time next year. How will all these regional blocs and power-hungry politicians fare then?

An ironic transparency

Given the amount of publicity Germany has attracted in the past over its failure to meet the Growth and Stability Pact rules – and the fact that, for three years running it has been in breach, with a fourth in prospect – one might have thought that news of a sly little deal between German finance minister Hans Eichel and newly appointed EU economic commissioner Joaquin Almunia was of some interest.

And indeed it is. From an announcement in the German news magazine Der Spiegel yesterday, we learn that the Spanish commissioner has agreed with Eichel that the plan he has cooked up is sufficient to enable the commission to avoid having to take action – even though the chances of Germany actually achieving the required 3 percent target on its current account deficit is next to nil.

But what is particularly interesting is that the only English-language version of this report currently available has not been posted through any "normal" news channels. The only source we have found is Xinhuanet, the official state news agency of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Thus, the only way we get to hear about the doings of the "transparent" and supposedly democratic European Union is through the press agency of a totalitarian state.

Ironic or what?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Lord Pearson again

[Health warning: this posting is going to be nice about somebody.]

Opinion polls come and opinion polls go. It is always a mistake to place too much reliance on them and it is certainly a mistake to think that a campaign can be conducted entirely by pointing out that all the opinion polls are on our side. For one day they might not be. Then what will the Vote – No campaign say? (Woops, no, they were not the ones I was going to be nice about. Anyone who wants to attack me because of my lack of friendliness towards the Vote – No campaign, feel free to do so.)

Another ICM poll, conducted for the European Foundation (I shall be nice about them when they stop repeating the mantra about what a good thing the Single Market is. It is not.) shows that 58 per cent of the country would like to see the existing EU treaties re-negotiated and turn them into simple trade and association agreements. (No, dear, the Single Market is not simply a trade and association agreement.)

Apparently, this percentage is even higher among young people, rising to 68 per cent in the 18 to 24 age group. That, of course, is not all that surprising. When you think about what it was that made people of some generations support Britain’s involvement in the European project, none of those conditions apply to the younger generation.

To them Europe, especially western Europe, is not glamorous or exciting. France is the place you go to for the week-end if you can think of nothing more interesting to do. Spain is where most of one’s friends go on holiday every year. School-leavers, taking a gap year before deciding what to do next, head off to the United States, Australia, China, India. The world, not the EU, is their oyster.

Nor are they too worried about a possible war between France and Germany, the likely cause of much of that integrationist ideology. To most people under the age of fifty it is impossible. Therefore, the idea of creating an ever more complicated and oppressive raft of regulations in order to prevent a war that is never going to happen must seem plain daft.

Before anybody jumps on me about being too optimistic about the unlikelihood of a war between France and Germany, let me go into a short historical peroration. The three wars that destroyed Europe, and whose results we are still living with (witness the mess in Ukraine and Belarus, not to mention Russia and the former Yugoslavia) all took place within the space of just over 70 years, from 1870 to 1945. The period since then has been almost as long. Since 1945 many other international problems have emerged. So why are we still going on about that brief historical interlude and using it as a spring board for future plans? Clearly, people in their twenties are not going to be interested in that.

Radio Free Europe quoted the opinion poll and interviewed a spokesman for UKIP, rightly explaining to the international readership of its website, that voters have been deserting the Conservative Party for UKIP because of the former’s rather incomprehensible stand on matters European.

RFE also interviewed Lord Pearson of Rannoch, now an independent Conservative peer. Readers of this blog will recall that he, together with Lord Willoughby de Broke, a member of one of the most illustrious Tory families, and Baroness Cox, whose work on behalf of many suffering people in the world has been tireless, were deprived of the whip in the House of Lords, after calling on people to vote for UKIP in the European elections.

Being deprived of the whip may not sound too much. But the peers in question did stand up to some rather nasty treatment from their own party and certain other europhile peers. People who are about to rush in to comment about those wonderful highly paid Conservative MEPs (no, I am not going to be nice about them either) might like to recall that these did not stand up to the slightest frown on the party leader’s face.

So, there we are, this posting is being nice about the peers who have stood up for their beliefs and principles. And just to add to the general feeling of Dickensian good will, let me quote a couple of paragraphs from the interview with Lord Pearson:
“I think the European project was an honorable project at the time. I think the people who invented it thought they were doing the best thing to prevent war in Europe. But it excludes the people from the decision-making process, and I think you are beginning to see signs of great discontent. The whole European project should be abandoned. Europe should be a Europe of collaborating democracies, trading freely and linked through NATO. That way lies peace and prosperity.”

“All of our industry and commerce, all of our social and labour policy, all of our environment, agriculture, fish, and foreign aid, are already decided in Brussels, completely bypassing the national parliaments. The national parliaments are a rubber stamp for all those areas. And, furthermore, if the governments agree unanimously a new law in Brussels, in common foreign andsecurity policy, and in justice and home affairs, Parliament again has to rubber-stamp it.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.

In praise of anger

Health warning: this is not a concise piece

A couple of angry pieces we (all right, I) wrote recently evoked sharp rebukes from a few of our readers (and only a few), suggesting that: a) we were being unkind to the subjects of our wrath and; b) we were falling short of the standards we had set ourselves on this Blog, in terms of measured reporting of events.

This small chorus has now been joined by the squeaking of "Toby", over on the Europhile “Straight banana” Blog who is rapidly shifting his allegiances to North Sea Diaries, which he considers is a really rather good eurosceptic Blog (and indeed it is). He thinks it is rapidly supplanting "old favourites" like EU Referendum because it has the three cardinal virtues of logic, civility and conciseness.

However, while the Tobys of this world can sit in their ivory towers, and declare that it is legal to sell a pint of shandy in a pub (it isn’t – but Toby, typical of the Europhile breed, does not even know his EU law), we down here at the coal face have daily to deal the growing impact of the construct he so loves – and knows so little about.

And, believe me, the tax collectors and the bailiffs are not at all civil when they come with their hands out, demanding money to keep the likes of Toby in the comfort and style which they so clearly does not deserve, and neither are the court officials, the custody officers and the prison warders. But they, and the serried ranks of surly officials – with their final resort to state violence – underpin the system about which Mr Toby would like us to be so civil.

In fact, the only rational response - to the malign effect this dire, undemocratic, bureaucratic machine has on the lives of good people, to the increasing restrictions on our freedoms it imposes, and on the massive waste of money it encourages – is anger. Inevitably, some of that is, occasionally, going to spill over on to this Blog.

But, as some readers have noted, our ire is not confined only to our enemies in the EU – and make no mistake about it, they are our enemies – but also those who would seem to be our friends, not least the self-appointed “Vote No” campaign that has set itself up to fight the referendum.

Apart from anything else, we object to the "Yes-Noes" because their campaign, in its current guise, it is hoovering up donor money, to fritter away on worthless projects (the cinema ad cost £100,000) and poorly researched literature, while more worthy organisations like the CPS (under Ruth Lea) and the IEA - to say nothing of the Bruges Group - are struggling for funds.

The Bruges Group is a particular case in point, which is now unable even to afford producing any more of its pamphlets. All of these organisations lay the drying up of funds at the door of "Vote No", which is spending most of its resources on fund-raising, without any clear idea of what it wants to spend the money on.

Yet, other organisations are needed to take part in the "no" campaign and their activities will be essential to give as broad a base as possible to the argument. In that context, the "Vote No" campaign exerts a malign influence, by running a poor campaign in its own name (while purporting to represent us all) and robbing others - which could do better - of funds to do their job.

Weighing the "Vote No" campaign in the balance, therefore, I continue to believe that it is a net drain on the resources of the "no" campaigners, and we would be better off without it, as it is currently structured.

But another part of the reason why I am so quick to attack "Vote No" is because I hope to force it to change its ways. I tried the polite, diplomatic and reasoned way, and that was ignored, so it is now full-frontal. At this stage, I think moulding the campaign is more important than fighting it.

This could have been avoided if the personalities in the "Vote No" campaign had been more responsive, and had been prepared to consult more widely and listen to what many people have been saying. They clearly were not prepared to do this and the consequences were as inevitable as they were predictable.

Obviously, as the referendum moves further up the agenda, our emphasis will change - by which time I hope I will have achieved some of my objectives (i.e., a more effective campaign). Either way, I will have to bite my tongue, but not just yet.

As for the more recent pieces that excited our readers’ attention, on was the piece on Boris Johnson, about whom I was so rude.

What triggers pieces like this, though, is a sense of outrage. We get excited about Blunkett stealing £180 from the state to fund his mistress’s (first class) travel – and so we should. But what about our Boris – paid well over twice the national average from state funds, at about £57,000 a year, a handsome pension when he retires, and an average of £118,000 in annual expenses. This is for him to do a job, a job which he so lamentably fails to do. Which is worse: Blunkett stealing £180 or Boris wasting £175,000 a year?

Much the same goes for Daniel Hannan who, while pursuing a lucrative career as a journalist, also happens to be on the state payroll as an MEP, his net cost to us all being £1.2 million a year. A "nice lad" he might be, but what has he done to justify that sort of expenditure?

And let me remind you dear readers – we are not given the option of paying for these people. In the final analysis, if you do not cough up, you will have people at you door and, if you ignore them, you will have the police following them, using force if necessary, to take you to their kangaroo courts, from which you go to prison.

Yet Mr Toby wants civility? He should actually be thankful that all he is getting is anger. Many more sanguine voices than mine cautiously predict that, if this continued encroachment on our liberties continues, the result will be akin to, if not actually, civil war.

Check this out!

This you have to see. Szamuely tells me that the Russian comment at the bottom says: "It's good to know we are not the only ones to do things in a different fashion."

A prize to the reader who can offer the most imaginative EU link!

A curious lack of news

One of the chores that we willingly undertake in compiling this Blog is the routine monitoring of newspapers, broadcast media, agencies, specialist journals and websites.

We also subscribe to several (expensive) news databases, which give us access to sources not generally available to the public, and occasionally benefit from "insider" tips from our readers and supporters. From all of this generally, we are able to provide a constant flow of new material for the Blog.

Strangely – or perhaps not, if you think about it – the job is much harder when there is little news around, and it was sometimes a real struggle through the summer finding anything at all worthy of posting.

We had thought that, as the summer and its concomitant "silly season" wore out, and we got into the political season, things would pick up. By and large, they have, but not by any means to the same tempo that we have seen in previous years.

In fact, there seems to be a strange listlessness, a curious lack of political depth and an absence of substance – as if everyone is going through the motions, but is not really engaged.

We have remarked many times on how the media seems to have given up reporting real news and now concentrates on "soap opera" politics, of the Brown, Blair, Boris and Blunkett variety, immersed in its own tiny, self-regarding bubble

Today, I had hoped, perhaps to be reporting on the media response to yesterday’s transport council approval of the Galileo project, but apart from one, thin piece in the Daily Telegraph, I could find no mention of it.

You would have thought that the two great Europhile papers, the Independent and the Guardian, might have been quick to parade this EU "triumph" but not a word about it can you find.

There are some other stories grumbling about, not least the continuing Airbus drama, where Airbus industries are taking on Boeing once more, by producing an equivalent to the long-range, medium load airliner, the 7E7, in addition to producing their alternative to the Jumbo, the A380.

Considering that the Airbus projects are fuelled with generous state loans, most of which are never repaid, this is definitely one we will follow but, at the moment, it remains on our "watching brief" file.

Turkey grumbles on, but that will come to a head on the 17th when the European Council meets, so we will not trouble you with it yet, and there are a few fishing stories going round, but we thought we would spare you from too much on this, until the fisheries council meets on the 21st December.

One further subject we thought of covering was the story by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph, who has moved away from reporting the EU today, to report on the exodus of the white, middle-class Dutch from their home country – refugees from a failed experiment in multi-culturalism.

We offer it without comment except to remark that, while the EU preens itself on how keen countries outside the Union are to join, the peoples inside the Union are voting with their feet and getting out. This may be too simplistic a view, but you can never accuse us of missing the opportunity of making a cheap jibe at the "project".

We also have to note that "Houdini" Berlusconi has managed to escape criminal conviction in the Italian courts, and express ritual outrage at the "continental crooks", while noting that at least Berlusconi was accused of giving money away (in bribes), rather than stealing from the state, as in the case of l’escroc Chirac.

So, with that, we finish as we start with the observation that there seems to be a curious lack of news, resorting to the final, desperate ploy of a Blogger bereft of something new to write about – that of lifting from someone else's Blog.

Have a look at Fainting in Coyles, where you will see an infuriating story of how the EU parliament spent €50,000 of our money, celebrating its approval of the EU constitution. Nice spot Gawain.

If you have nothing else to do, read the piece in Tech Central Station on Eurobloggers. EU Referendum gets a favourable mention. Preen, preeen! In the meantime, I have the day job to do. Let me know if you find anything worth reporting.

A stark warning for Eurosceptics

The Guardian today picks up on the Eurobarometer poll issued yesterday, which conveys what some feel should be a stark warning to Eurosceptics. In glaring contradiction to the bulk of opinion poll evidence over the past two years, almost half of British voters favour a European constitution.

This latest half-yearly Eurobarometer poll, carried out for the EU commission, surveyed 1,310 UK adults, finding that 49 percent of Britons favoured the constitution, with 29 percent against and 22 percent undecided. This compared with an overall 68 percent support among the 25 EU members as a whole.

However, there is a "health warning" in that the support is expressed in terms of support for the concept of a constitution. It is not an assessment of actual constitution proposed or an indication of voting intentions.

The UK findings were immediately dismissed as "ridiculous" by the "Yes-No" campaign, with the Lord High Chief Executive of the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign, Alex Hickman, arguing that it contradicted other polls which, on average, suggested a 2-1 vote against the constitution in the proposed referendum.

He cited a poll carried out for ICM in November, which showed British voters casting 69 percent against the proposed constitution, with 24 percent in favour and 7 percent undecided.

If Eurobarometer is an accurate poll, however – and I am not qualified to say, one way or another, then it is indeed a stark warning for Eurosceptics that there is a hard battle ahead and a majority "no" vote is far from a foregone conclusion.

Some will argue that this should mean that Eurosceptics should unite behind the "Yes-Noes" for the good of the common cause, although we maintain that, as long as the "Vote No" campaign continues to display its current tactical and strategic ineptness, any "no" vote will be won – if it is won – in spite of, rather than because of their campaign.

The one consolation is that early polls in the North East, before the campaign for an elected regional assembly got going, polls showed high levels of support for the concept. But once people started to focus on the issues, as we know, support plummeted.

It is also the case that the "no" voters were very much guided by "anti-politician" sentiments and, if this same feeling can be captured nation-wide, the Eurobarometer poll is not perhaps such bad news after all.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Still no proper accounting system

The Commission has announced that it intends to spend “a further €7 million (£4.84 million) in humanitarian aid for people made vulnerable by the Middle East crisis”. No, since you ask, it is not going to help people who have been victims of terrorist violence or, for that matter, victims of any violence doshed out by Javier Solana’s friends, Hamas and other suchlike organizations.

The money is meant to help the poorest Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza as well as used to “to help rehabilitate the shelters of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria”. The money will be channelled through ECHO (European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office.

This will bring the amount the EU has spent in the Palestinian territories this year up to €37 million (£25.6 million), not a cent of which has been accounted for. This rather large sum of money appears to have had an entirely negative effect.

The intifada (started by the late unlamented pet of the EU, Chairman Arafat) has reduced the Palestinian people to the lowest level of poverty so far. The security barrier, put up by Israel to prevent terrorist attacks, has kept people away from the only sources of work and healthcare in the area, Israel. (Although it has prevented brainwashed and pressurized Palestinian children from blowing themselves up.)

One can but hope that Arafat’s death will lead to a new beginning for the unfortunate Palestinian people and they will no longer have to live in shelters, rehabilitated or otherwise.

In the meantime, could we have some accurate accounts of the money pumped into that rather troubled part of the world?

Why cannot the Minister answer a simple question?

This is getting tiresome. Surely the Minister can do better than change the subject to ad hominem attacks whenever a question is asked that is in some ways critical of the great European project?

On December 7 Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked whether the Government was satisfied that the new Commission was “suitably composed to act as the initiator and executive of European Union legislation”. Given the Commission’s unique position as the initiator of all EU legislation as well as the executive body and given the somewhat shambolic start to the Barrosso team’s tenure, this is not an unreasonable question.

Nor was the response unreasonable, just plain mad. Baroness Crawley for the Government replied:

“My Lords, yes. The Government have every confidence in President Barroso's Commission. We can only applaud the new Commission's focus on delivery, reform and better regulation. We look forward to working with it to face some of the great common challenges—Africa, climate change and European economic reform—during our presidency next year of both the G8 and the EU”
Absolutely nonsensical. The question was about specific points – the Commission’s make-up and its legislative role. What on earth has Africa and climate change to do with it, even if the Commission or the EU could do anything about either. Contrary to popular opinion Canute did not actually command the waves to recede in any belief that they would do so but to prove to an overzealous courtier that they would not. The Commission and Her Majesty’s Ministers appear to think that they can stop climate change, something that has happened with monotonous regularity over the centuries.

As for Africa, well, do they actually have a plan beyond a wish list?

So we come to economic reform. That must be the wretched Lisbon process again. As long as the EU and its officials believe that free markets consist of score cards that governments and businesses have to tick off, so long the idea of economic reform will be dead in the water.

Unabashed, Lord Pearson proceeded to enumerate all the various things that have already gone wrong with the new Commission:
“My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that admirably succinct reply. But is she aware that the new Commission contains six former communists,an agriculture commissioner who benefits from the CAP, an anti-fraud commissioner who has been tried for fraud, Monsieur Barrot who was found guilty of fraud but who was pardoned by President Chirac, for fairly obvious reasons, not to mention that fine example of British political probity, Mr Peter Mandelson?

Does the noble Baroness further agree that the Latvian candidate did not make it on to the Commission because she favours member states retaining their tax systems and that Signor Buttiglione was excluded because he is a good Catholic and a thoroughly decent man?

In those circumstances, can the noble Baroness tell the House why Her Majesty's Government are happy to see most of our new laws largely controlled by such people, as they now are?”
As it happens, we should all like to know the answer to that. But did Baroness Crawley give an answer? Did she heck. She went on about Lord Pearson’s record as an arch eurosceptic and the fact that he would never say anything good about the Commission but neglected to reply or to acknowledge that actually his comments were mostly accurate (I reserve judgement about the lady from Riga).

In this extraordinary activity she was aided by Lord Richard (himself a former Commissioner but because of the peculiar rules of the House not required to declare his interest) and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is an MEP and also not required to declare that little fact.

From the sublime to the ridiculous…

With the world crashing around us, UKIP has once again captured some headlines, this time with the shattering news that its deputy Mike Natrass is going to stand in the general election against Bill Cash MP, doyen of the Eurosceptic movement.

Mr Cash is not everyone's cup of tea but no one can dispute that he puts a great deal of work into pursuing the anti-EU agenda, so his absence from the Parliament induced by UKIP splitting the vote would be serious blow to the cause. One wonders, therefore, what UKIP thinks it is playing at.

However, I hugely enjoyed – in an ironic sense – UKIP leader Roger Knapman (aka "the invisible man") defending his party’s decision on Radio 4’s "World at One", when he claimed: "We’ve got a real input into politics".

Even many members of his own party may not be agreeing with this, given the recent saga of the UKIP draft manifesto, published briefly on the UKIP website and then hastily withdrawn after it was rejected by its NEC on Tuesday.

Not the sharpest knives in the drawer, even the NEC members were embarrassed by the puerile naivity and lack of political nounce displayed by the document, which could not have been worse if it had been written by a seminar of primary school kids.

If you want to sample the toe-curling embarrassment for yourselves, it has been republished on another site here. If you want to follow the full ghastly saga of UKIP’s attempt to pretend it is a grown-up party, have a look at UKIP Uncovered.

On the home straight?

In a burst of triumphalism, the Commission has just announced that Galileo – its rival version of the GPS system is "on the home straight".

Following the Transport Council meeting, held last night and continuing into today, the commission is crowing that the system "will definitely become operational in 2008: a decisive stage has just been completed which will allow the Galileo programme to be fully completed, despite the obstacles along the way."

The council today confirmed the technical characteristics of the system, in particular with regard to the services being offered and has "decided in favour of moving on to the launching (2006-2008) and operational phases of the project" It has also confirmed that the EU (i.e. the taxpayers of the EU member states) will contribute to the funding of those two phases.

All of this has prompted M. Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, rejoicing in his humble post of transport commissioner, to chortle: "Galileo is without a doubt the most wonderful European technological project. We are now on the home straight: next year will see the launch of the first satellites".

Barely able to restrain his enthusiasm, he adds: "Galileo will be as much of a technological revolution as mobile telephony. This venture shows how capable Europe is of making a united effort in pursuit of a common goal."

This, of course, flies in the face of the recent House of Commons Select Committee Report which cast doubts on the economic viability of the project, cautioning the government that it should not "let itself be bullied into jumping." That just goes to show how influential our Parliament is when it comes to EU matters.

Amid rumours that transport secretary Alistair Darling was going to attempt to block the deal, it also perhaps suggest that, once again, the UK has caved in on a point of principle.

We are now informed by the commission that the programme will continue through its four phases: the first was the definition of the project, which was developed between 2002 and 2005, with a total cost of € 1.1 billion.

It now enters its deployment phase, from 2006 to 2008, at a cost of € 2.1 billion (of which one third will be from the public and two-thirds from the private sector). This will be follwed by the operation and exploitation phases.

Exploitation costs are estimated at €220 million a year with an exceptional contribution of the public sector for the first few years of €500 million. Thereafter, the commission claims, these costs will be entirely covered by the private sector.

Amid all this triumphalism, however, the commission is strangely quite about that could be a significant set-back, with reports of India about to withdraw from the project, taking with it €300 million of funding. All it has to say on this matter is that "the Commission is continuing to negotiate co-operation agreements with third countries."

A useful reinforcement

Trailing in the footsteps of this Blog - which has been watching the incremental progress of EU Defence integration with growing dismay – comes a paper, "New Frontiers in Defence: Between Global Opportunities and Continental Policing", written by an anonymous senior foreign and security policy official, published by the New Frontiers Foundation think-tank.

Muddled, verbose - its 74 pages betraying the fact that it was rushed into print more with a view to establishing Dominic Cummings’s place in a debate which had started without him - it nevertheless makes a contribution to the debate and has triggered some useful additional publicity in The Times and The Sun.

The points made by the paper are in fact better summarised in the Times piece, which states that Britain is increasingly "paralysed and bewildered" as it tries to respond to differences between Europe and the United States over defence.

The report continues, elucidating the New Frontiers Theme that the government is putting its defence links with America at risk in order to enhance its credentials with the EU and particularly France, which is keen on a superpower alliance with China.

We are told that the anonymous author of the paper has said. Britain should reject attempts to turn the EU into a defence bloc that opposes US foreign policy in principle, adding that "Britain's defence strategy has been confused by the lack of a coherent vision and the desire of political elites to be part of the European project."

In particular, the official "reveals" a "new risk" to transatlantic relations over the development of Galileo, the EU’s space-based navigation programme "which has been poorly thought through and practically ignored", an odd claim seeing as how much the Galileo issue has been the subject of a Bruges Group paper last June, and over 25 postings on this Blog, which in turn have fuelled numerous newspaper articles, not least in The Sunday Telegraph, The Business and, latterly The Daily Telegraph. One would be more charitable about the New Foundation paper if it had acknowledged previous work instead of trying to claim it had just invented the wheel all by itself.

Nevertheless, it is helpful that the official should reinforce the message that the Americans are rightly concerned about the consequences should a future adversary get control of the system, for which collaboration with China is being proposed – exactly the issue raised in the Bruges Group paper.

The paper's central failing, though, apart from its limited grasp of military technology – for instance, treating Network Enabled Capability (NEC) and the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) as if they were different things, when they are the same, then wrongly describing FRES as "Future Combat Vehicles", which completely misunderstands the nature of the project – is that it understates the degree to which technical integration is already underway, to the extent that we are already deeply embedded in the EU defence machine (see also here).

Despite this, the paper is worth a read and, with luck, it will trigger something of a further media response, in which case the debate can develop and the further issues can be explored.

The march of integration continues

European integration is to take another lurch forward in the New Year when the fledgling European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) – the EU's very own coastguard service – will charter its own emergency oil spill vessels, covering most of Europe's sensitive coastline.

Initially, EMSA plans to hire private sector vessels on standby contracts, operaing in four areas: the Baltic Sea, the western entrance to the Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean. With only a modest budget as yet available, amounting to € 18m ($21.7m), it is looking to use bunker or supply vessels, which will be fitted with anti-pollution equipment.

The idea us that the ships will go about their normal business but will be available to EMSA, on request from a coastal state, for emergency oil spill operations in the event of a major oil spillage. Yet experts admit that the coverage provided by these vessels will be limited and EMSA has originally wanted a budget of €20m to give improved coastal coverage,.

Nevertheless, even this modest and largely ineffective provision represents a major victory for the stealthy progress of EU agencies, which include the Fisheries Control Agency, with which the Commission intends to take over control of all fisheries enforcement in the waters of EU member states.

The EMSA owes its existence to the Commission's successful exploitation of two major shipping disasters which affected member states, the first on 12 December 1999 when the tanker Erika, carrying approximately 30,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, broke in two in heavy seas off the coast of Brittany, spilling some 14,000 tons of oil were spilled and polluting more than 100 miles of Atlantic coastline.

Within days, Loyola de Palacio, then Vice-President for Transport and Energy, had rushed out pre-prepared proposals for an EU coastguard service. By June 2002, the commission had set up EMSA, originally with limited responsibilities, confined mainly to providing technical and scientific assistance to the commission and member states on matters relating to the proper implementation of EU law on maritime safety and pollution by ships.

Then, in November 2002, the second disaster occurred, when the tanker Prestige, carrying 77,000 tons of fuel oil, broke up in heavy seas off the Atlantic coast of Galicia, destroying one of the most beautiful and richest areas for fishing in Europe.

Although the disaster was caused almost entirely by the incompetence of the Spanish authorities, MEPs joined in the calls for an EU coastguard service, to which a willing commission responded. In December 2003, EMSA thus given additional tasks by the European Council related to oil pollution response, ship security and training of seafarers, beginning operations in February of this year.

This is a classic example of the "beneficial crisis" at work, where the commission makes its plans and then waits until there is some sort of disaster or crisis, which it then exploits. And, while the current provision for oil-spillage vessels is largely token, this is yet another opportunity for the commission to blow its own trumpet, all in the interests of promoting even more integration.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Keeping "Europe" off the agenda

Following on from Helen’s posting about the possible postponement of the Referendum Bill until after the election, this should come as no surprise to any close student of the relationship between EU and UK politics.

Essentially, British politicians, either side of the divide, prefer to fight general elections on domestic issues, and are very uncomfortable when the wider world – and especially "Europe" - intervenes.

Even when the enthusiastically Europhile Ted Heath held the 1970 general election – when there was only 15 percent of voters were in favour of joining the EEC and nearly sixty percent were against – "Europe" hardly featured in the campaign.

Sixty-two percent of Conservative candidates made no reference to the EEC in their election addresses and only two percent declared strong support for British entry.

Heath devoted only three percent of his speeches to the Common Market and, for a prime-minister-to-be , who just two weeks after he was elected was to pack his foreign secretary off to Brussels to start entry negotiations, his Party manifesto was remarkably low-key. It contained only a one-line promise: "…to negotiate, no more, no less," - one of the more egregious of Heath's lies.

In television and radio coverage, the Common Market did not even feature among the top 12 issues.

Prior to the 1974 election however, when Wilson suddenly went to the country in October, the Common Market was certainly threatening to become an election issue. However, Wilson, having first resisted the idea, included the option of a referendum in the Labour Party manifesto, thus neutralising the issue electorally.

Subsequently, our current prime minister saw first hand the baleful effect "Europe" could exercise on electoral fortunes. As a lowly candidate for Sedgefield, Tony Blair joined his leader Michael Foot in committing to withdrawal from the EEC, writing in his electoral address:

We'll negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC, which has drained our national resources and destroyed jobs.
That pledge was included in the 1983 general election manifesto – described then as "the longest suicide note in history". Margaret Thatcher gained a landslide victory.

It was unsurprising, therefore, that Blair would be uncomfortable with the idea of fighting on EU issues when, in 1997, he made his bid for the premiership. And, with James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party rampant and threatening to make real electoral gains, he successfully defused "Europe" as an election issue by aligning himself with the Tories and committing to a referendum on the euro.

Against that background, as the pressure for a referendum on the EU constitution built up through the early part of this year, there was never really a question of whether Blair would agree to one. It was more a question of when, and the timing was determined primarily by his need for damage-limitation, preventing the June euro-election becoming too much of a rout for his party.

Had he not agreed to a referendum then, Blair would most certainly have announced one at some time before the forthcoming general election, for the very same reason that Wilson promised a referendum – to take it off the electoral agenda.

It is in that context that the threatened postponement of the Referendum Bill must be seen. Having taken "Europe" off the agenda by the promise of a referendum, the last thing he would have wanted to see was a high-profile debate in the run-up to the that election. Neither, for that matter, would Howard be at all enthusiastic, so there would have been a ready accord to delay the debate.

That much is so obvious that one wonders why Times political commentator Peter Riddell cannot see it. But he clearly cannot, as evidence by his piece in The Times today, when he suggests that the lesson of the three-to-two victory for the "yes" side in the French Socialists' ballot is that "intensive campaigning round the country will be required over the next 18 months, rather than just a short-term media offensive."

Equally, the Independent columnist, Steve Richards – already overtaken by events - writes in today’s edition (subscription only) that:

Senior ministers have finally realised the issue cannot be ignored until the election is safely out of the way. Almost certainly the bill that gives the go-ahead for a referendum will be debated in the Commons next month. This will be one of the few occasions when a parliamentary event attracts wider interest.
All that just goes to show how wrong the political commentators can be. In fact, the political classes will go to great lengths in their attempts to make sure that the EU stays way down the political agenda until the election is over. Nevertheless, they may not succeed.

Another summit – this one is a biggie

Poor old Colin Powell. He still thinks that if he is friendly to “Europeans” (as opposed to European countries), they will be friendly to him and the United States. All this despite the mauling he had from France before the Iraqi war and the present refusal by the European members of NATO to do anything at all to help either Iraq or Afghanistan.

He has made various statements during his discussions with the NATO foreign ministers on the need for trans-Atlantic co-operation and the importance of friendly collaboration between Europe and the United States. Secretary of State Powell is, of course, on his way out. His successor, Condoleeza Rice, is an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe. It will be interesting to see whether she will be able to find her way round those rather pesky State Department advisers who keep insisting that there is such a thing as a “European opinion” and that it is best represented by whatever the French President, backed by German, Spanish and Luxembourg politicians happens to say.

Still, he did mention one fact: President Bush will be visiting Europe on February 22, a month after his inauguration. He will be having a summit with all the NATO leaders and all the EU leaders, which will be separate occasions, one hopes. He will also be having meetings with separate European leaders and that might be ultimately more fruitful.

Referendum Bill may be postponed

Business managers of both Houses of Parliament are worried that they will not have time to push through the EU Constitution Referendum Bill before the next election, still most likely to be in May.

They are anxious that the Conservatives (and, even more importantly, members of the House of Lords) will produce what they wryly call “a Maastricht scenario” that will drag out and take time away from other rather controversial measures such as the introduction of internal passports a.k.a. ID cards or the setting up of a Serious Organized Crime Police Force (dubbed the British FBI by those witty wags in the newspapers).

What the business managers or the usual channels, as they are sometimes described, do not mention is another fear, but one can almost hear it in their voices. The Maastricht debates in both Houses (and let us remember that with all his faults John Major did not guillotine what was indisputably a constitutional Bill) became a wasting disease. As the endless debates dragged on, the Conservative government bled slowly to death. This is not likely to happen to a government with a majority of the size this one has, but a wasting disease is not wanted just before a general election.

The likelihood is, therefore, that the Referendum Bill will be introduced immediately after the election, though it may well be published in January when we are also going to find out what the question will be and whether it will ask about the treaty or the constitution itself.

Lucy Powell of Britain in Europe is still insisting that there will be no messing about with the question. It will be simple and straightforward, just as the Prime Minister’s office is promising us. The Vote – No campaign, capable of making a statement since this is really rather straightforward, is fussing over the difference between “a treaty to establish a European Constitution” or “European Constitution” tout court. Both would be technically correct.

It remains unclear when the actual Bill to amend the European Communities Act, that is to add the new treaty to British legislation (subject, for once, to a referendum vote) will be debated. Will that, too, be left till after the election? That could cause problems, as there will not be a great deal of time between that and the British Presidency of the EU. Surely, Tony Blair will not want a “Maastricht scenario” while he is wining and dining his colleagues from the other member states.

China still in the waiting room

Of the 160-or so recent reports on the EU arms embargo drama, listed on Google, perhaps one of the best is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s, in the Daily Telegraph. Clearly, the subs were not up to butchering this one, in the manner they do so often.

Thus, writes Ambrose, the EU, after all, refused a Franco-German request to lift its arms embargo on China amid fierce disagreements over the country's human rights record and military ambitions.

Furthermore, the EU has also refused to recognise China as a "market economy", a badge coveted as proof of Beijing's acceptance on the world stage and needed to blunt trade disputes.
Bernard Bot, the Dutch foreign minister, speaking for the EU presidency, said the time was "not right", while the summit communiqué pledged to "continue to work towards lifting the embargo", though no date was set.

Clearly, some of the most principled opposition has come from the Swedes, with Cecilia Malmstrom, a Swedish MEP, saying that the EU should not sell its soul. "China may be a nice business opportunity, but it is still the world's biggest dictatorship," she added.

France, meanwhile, took some much-deserved flak from the campaigning group "Human Rights Watch", which accused Paris of "cynical realpolitik." "France and some other EU members have made it clear that they no longer want to let human rights stand in the way of making money," it said.

Interestingly, Ambrose also reports that: China has already won favoured status as a full partner in the EU's Galileo satellite project, designed to challenge America's GPS monopoly in space, adding:

While ostensibly civilian, the technology can easily be switched to military purposes. The US Defence Department has threatened to blow the satellites out of the sky if American lives are put at risk.
The message is getting through. Now, we await the outcome of the Transport Council, meeting tonight and tomorrow, when we will hear whether the Galileo project is to be fully funded.

Cripes! Blimey! I’m a pr*t!

Boris Johnson – need I say more? The man-child is in full flow this morning in The Daily Telegraph, sounding off about the infamous "part P" amendments to the Building Regulations.

These are the ones that require most electrical work in domestic premises to inspected by local council building control, unless carried out by a certified electrician.

But in little Boris’s foetid excuse for a brain, these are a manifestation of Labour’s "profligacy and waste. This, he opines, demonstrates that we "need a new approach to government, which doesn’t foist this kind of regulation on people, with all its fiscal consequences".

How ironic that the man-child should have used the words "new approach", because this is precisely what these Regulations are about, as we reported on our Blog on 7 November.

They are part of the EU's "new approach" to harmonisation, whereby when an EU standard is promulgated though either of its standards bodies, CEN or CENELEC, member state standards bodies are obliged to adopt them, whence they are incorporated into law. And, of course, whether we had a Labour or Conservative government, both would be obliged to put them into effect.

It doesn’t help of course, that the likes of the BBC deliberately keep the population in ignorance of EU involvement (see link) but one might expect that our highly-paid legislators should know something about how our laws are made in this country – especially in this case, when Boris is being paid an extra bundle of dosh to write in the Torygraph.

But, as usual, Boris would rather parade his vacuous ignorance, than actually spend the time learning anything – perhaps he should start reading this Blog, although he is far too grand to do anything so constructive.

Such is the calibre of the man that he believes that the two "golden rules of politics" are: "repetition" and "repetition". They might hold good if you have anything worth saying in the first place, which Boris clearly doesn’t. But then, what do you expect from such a dimwit.

For the record, I have three "golden rules of politics". My first is: "Don’t f**k with North"; the second, "make the right enemies"; and the third is "never trust a Tory". In respect of our Boris, that applies in spades.

Democracy Swedish style

Having got their fingers thoroughly burnt in the euro referendum last year – with 56.1 percent voting against and 41.8 percent in favour, on a turnout of 81.2 percent, the Swedish political élites are determined not to suffer the same bruising experience again.

Giving the game away is leader of the Moderate Unity Party, Fredrik Reinfeldt, one of five "non-socialist" parties which, with the ruling government party, are all in favour of the EU constitution. He has found out that "it would not be possible to describe the new EU Constitution as popular with Swedish voters", so he and his political allies have done the obvious democratic thing – and decided not to have a referendum.

Instead, the Riksdag (Swedish parliament), with its built-in pro-constitution majority, will approve it for their reluctant constituents, the vote being scheduled for December next year.
In the meantime, the parties have agreed to use this year to "stimulate extensive debate about what we really want from the EU," says Lars Danielsson, the prime minister's right-hand man.

"This won't just be about the Treaty but also what the EU should do and should not do in the future: how big can the EU become, should Russia join and similar questions," he insists, adding: "We believe it is important that this debate is as wide-ranging as possible."

To aid the debate, the (pro-constitution) government has set up a new organisation called the "EU 2004 Committee", which will "compile more information on the new constitution" for distribution to the frenzied masses. Then all of the pro-constitution parties will try to organise their own debates around the country.

They will invite their largely sceptical countrymen (and women) to air their differing views of the Union", making sure they are not able to express those views in the ballot box, and then the MPs can toddle off to their Riksdag and cast their own votes in favour of the constitution.

Aren’t the Swedes lucky that they live in a democracy!

Waiting for that question

Despite assurances given by the Financial Times yesterday, it would appear that the question for the referendum is still being decided. Or so the spokesman said for Prime Minister Blair, but what does he know.

Lucy Powell, Campaign Director of Britain in Europe has said scornfully that she believed that the question will be simple and not loaded. Of course not.
"Opponents try and claim the public will be duped or that lots of money will be spent on this by the government, which is a total falsehood," Powell told Reuters. "This shows the government, as we are, is confident in its arguments," she added.
The lady doth protest a little too much, but, in any case, how much money can be spent on the question itself. What those dastardly opponents say, Ms Powell, is that a large sum of money will be spent on propaganda, especially as the government will be allowed to use taxpayers’ money to go on publishing rather slanted and inadequate information throughout the campaigning period.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A calm and measured response

Only two days ago this Blog was railing at the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, with its report - then unpublished - on fishing.

From what we had then seen, it looked very much as if the Commission was ignoring the "elephant in the room", making recommendations to the government on fishing policy which is, in fact, controlled by the European Union.

Discerning readers might have noticed a subtle shift in direction the following day, when we placidly observed that the BBC, in featuring the Commission's report, had introduced the subject, with the opening announcement, "British fisheries policies are failing ..."; yet another example of the "elephant in the room".

With the temperate, calm, deliberation for which we have rightly become famous, we also noted that we did not have a British fisheries policy, labelling the BBC - with somewhat surgical precision, even though we say so ourselves - as "stupid, ignorant, blind people".

At the time, the Commission's report was still unpublished and we were relying on the BBC in particular for our understanding of the main recommendation which, as the BBC reported, was that the sea "should be treated in the same way as endangered areas on land".

The BBC then gave airtime on the Today programme to Sir Tom Blundell, chairman of the Commission, who argued that "We need to take positive steps to allow the environment to recover. Marine reserves should be created to protect 30 percent of the UK's seas from fishing."
But now we have the report, all 497 pages of it. If any reader feels inclined to wade through it, the link is here.

And having read it – yes, dear reader, we have read it... well... some of it – we see that we were in fact over-generous in our calm, temperate approach to the BBC. Call me pedantic if you like, but the Commission did NOT recommend closing down 30 percent of British waters. Its exact recommendation was (and, as always, bear with me on this one - the point will soon emerge) that:

...the UK government should: develop selection criteria for establishing a network of marine protected areas so that, within the next five years, a large-scale, ecologically-coherent network of marine protected areas is implemented within the UK. This should lead to 30 percent of the UK’s exclusive economic zone being established as no-take reserves closed to commercial fishing; and develop these proposals in consultation with the public and stakeholders (para 8.69).
Now, note the bit we marked up italics: "this should lead to... etc.". This has to be read in conjunction with the recommendation in para. 8.101 where the Commission says that

Changes are needed both at the UK and European level, where the UK government should be prepared to make the case for a new EC Directive for the designation of large-scale MPA networks protected from the effects of fishing.
This brings us to the meat of the issue. The Commission did not ignore the "elephant in the room" (most humble apologies).

Recognising the obvious, that the UK government has no power to close down 30 percent of UK waters – thereby excluding a large tranche of the "European" fishing fleet - the Commission's actual recommendations were that the UK government should do the preparatory work, and then go cap in hand to the EU commission and ask it if it would, ever so kindly, consider...

And did we get any hint of that from the BBC? Or, for that matter, from any other media source? I think not. But what the headlines should have read was, to the effect that the Royal Commission had recommended our government to ask Europe for permission to close its own waters ... to save fish stocks from collapse.

That is fantasy, we know, but that is the standard against which you can measure the total inadequacy of the media in reporting the facts - and the size of the "elephant in the room".

Furthermore, if you buy into the Royal Commission's own fantasy, that closure of vast areas of the UK fishery is urgently necessary, this is a damning indictment of the impotence of our government, and a graphic demonstration of quite how much power has been given over to Brussels. So powerless is it that the Commission did not even suggest that the government should close its waters – merely that it should go cap-in-hand to Brussels.

Oddly enough, this actually reverses the balance of the argument on the Tory policy of repatriating the CFP. Critics say that, in order to do this, we have to have the agreement of all the other 25 member states. “And what if they say ‘no’”, the argument goes.

In this case, we have a situation where the government is being enjoined to go to Brussels to ask if it can close off some of its waters. And what if they say “no”? The answer is brutally simple: we cannot do it.

But, if the CFP has been repatriated (and I can reveal that the Tory policy pre-empted the Commission report by proposing permanent closed areas – although by no means as extensive as is suggested), then the Commission would have been talking directly to the government and, if it was so minded, the government could implement the closures without undue delay.

Ah, you might say. But this government could ignore the EU and go ahead with the closures anyway. Indeed it could. And so could a Tory government go ahead and repatriate the policy. The difference is that, even though there is not a snowball's chance in hell of the EU agreeing to the closures, this government will not act independently.

While the EU wonders what to do ...

Turkey is going to put a severe strain on the EU’s inflexible attitude to its neighbouring countries, more so, in fact, than Ukraine, where Solana has been rushing around to no good purpose.

The problem, as we have mentioned before (once or twice), is that the EU, for all its much vaunted common foreign policy, common security policy, common this and common that, has no policy towards other countries. It can build up structures for itself and it can propose sending peace-building troops (if it can afford them) to create structures in other places. It does not have any substantive policies because it has no common interests (the most important commonality) or common ideas. Gesture politics and empty structure-building can be very dangerous.

With neighbouring countries there are only two options: either they become members or … well, we are not quite sure. We’ll give them some money and ignore them. Had a new policy been inaugurated with the East European countries as soon as they had broken out of the shackles of communism, the EU would not now be in the mess it is in with regards to Ukraine and, especially, Turkey.

Having insisted on membership for the ones that have already come in, it cannot offer anything else to the countries still outside. But Turkey’s membership is impossible for all sorts of political, economic and social reasons. We have reached stalemate.

During the next European Council Summit in Brussels on December 16 – 17 a decision will be taken for a date to open membership negotiations. Perhaps. Even if the date is set, those negotiations will go on for another ten years at least. Who can possibly tell what sort of a predicament will the EU be then?

Meanwhile, President Chirac insists that even when all the negotiations and tortuous agreements have gone through, France must have a referendum on Turkey’s membership. Why France specifically? Well, who knows. Why any member state, in fact, since the new Constitutions is meant to abolish finally all these petty little distinctions? Now you’re asking.

Another problem has emerged, or, rather, come into the foreground again: Cyprus or, to be quite precise, Greek Cyprus, which is the one that is a member state, though it did not vote for the UN peace plan, while Turkish Cyprus did. Confused? Read on.

The Dutch Presidency has asked Turkey to extend its 1963 association agreement with the then EEC to include all ten new member states, that is (Greek) Cyprus, as well. Turkey, in turn, reminded the Dutch Presidency that it was not Greek Cyprus that voted for the plan but the Turkish one. Cyprus (that is Greek Cyprus) is threatening to veto Turkey’s application for membership and, it seems, the Dutch Prime Minister’s negotiations with the Cypriot President have not come up with any solutions.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the meantime, has announced that Turkey has done everything in its powers to qualify for membership and all these additional demands are unfair.

Needless to say, there is an extra complication. Another country has been paying a great deal of attention to all these goings on: Russia. President Putin, who has been travelling round the world, went to Turkey as well. This was a spectacularly high-powered visit. He took several ministers, including Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister and Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister (both, incidentally, from the group of siloviki, that is former security services operators). He was also accompanied by the Presidents of the Autonomous Republics of Tatarstan and Ingushetiya, who are uneasily eyeing the spreading conflict (or bloodbath) of Chechnya.

So Putin met President Ahmed Necdet Sezer in Ankara and while we do not exactly know who said what to whom we do know the result: a wide-ranging agreement between the two countries on matters of mutual interest. Some of these have to do with supposed anti-terrorist co-operation; others with energy. Recently, Moscow and Ankara signed an investment protection protocol and gas transportation co-operation accord between Gazprom and Botas. These will boost natural gas exports from Russia via the Black Sea and the projected Trans-Thracian pipeline. It is worth noting that Gazprom is a more or less re-nationalized company that is gradually asserting its control over the whole of Russian gas production.

Naturally, problems between the two countries will remain, not least over Turkey’s relations with the Muslim and oil-rich former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucasus. It would like to have a more active role in the troubled Transcaucasian region, while Russia feels that any independent activity on the part of the former Soviet republics is somehow a hostile act towards Russia.

One wonders whether the EU is watching these developments.