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Posted by Richard Sunday, February 13, 2005

For a change, Booker’s picture story in his column today has nothing directly to do with the EU, although there is a delicious, EU-related link with the Metric Martyrs judgement. It concerns a fight-back against the growing scourge of “fixed penalties” issued by an increasing number of public authorities, invoking the Bill of Rights. It is, therefore, well worth reading.

Of equal interest is Booker’s second story, which concerns what the Government describes as “a small, technical and non-controversial” Bill now being nodded through Parliament.

This will give the equivalent of diplomatic immunity to the employees of a range of ‘international organisations”, mostly organs of the EU. The “privileges and immunities” it grants will be enjoyed not just by staff members of these bodies, but to all members of their families and ‘households’.

Although questioning of this curious Bill has been led by the tireless Eurosceptic Lord Pearson of Rannoch, it has raised the eyebrows of even such a committed Europhile as Lord Wallace of Saltaire. He was surprised to discover that, since his wife is a director of the Robert Schuman Centre, part of the European University Institute, he will share her “immunity from domestic taxation” and other privileges, as her “dependent spouse”.

The danger of this Bill, according to Lord Wallace, is that it will create “two classes of people- those of us who are subject to domestic law and pay our taxes and parking fines, and an increasing number of people who do not”. While insisting he is a “strong supporter of the further development of the European Union”, he regards “the powers, privileges and status of the Commission and many of its agencies with mixed feelings”, fearing that “there is a real danger of a popular backlash against the emergence of this privileged elite”.

The significance of this is that, as Lord Wallace himself pointed out, there are ever more of these EU bodies whose staff enjoy privileges above national law. In response to a question from Lord Pearson, the Government itself only named 28, ranging from the European Railways Agency and the European Plant Variety Office to the European European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia, although the Foreign Office concedes its list will have to be updated “as new bodies are added”.

What the Foreign Office would never explain, however, is how these fast-proliferating organs in many ways now represent the true government of our country. Just why therefore the privilegentsia which works for them should be granted the immunities traditionally accorded to diplomats of a foreign power is likely to inspire not just puzzlement but, as Lord Wallace suggests, very great resentment.

For his third story, Booker recounts how, in cranking up its propaganda campaign for the EU constitution, the EU commission has opened up a new section of its website under the title “Get Your Facts Straight”.

This is dedicated to countering all the dreadful lies about the EU peddled by journalists in the British press.

A typical "Euromyth", claims the Commission, is that the EU plans to ban famous advertising slogans such as "Guinness is good for you". Typical Eurosceptic lies, it says. “Slogans like ‘Guinness is good for you’ will still be with us. In fact the EU has no plans to introduce any new legislation at all”.

Martin Callinan MEP, a Tory who sits in the relevant committee of the European Parliament, sends me the text of a regulation currently going through the system which states that “beverages containing more than 1.2 percent by volume of alcohol” shall not “bear health claims of any kind”. It will become illegal for any “food or nutrient” to make claims implying that it provides “general non-specific benefits” or promotes “overall good health and well-being”.

In other words, it is perfectly true that to use the slogan “Guinness is good for you” is to become a criminal offence - and when the Commission says this is a ‘myth’ what it really means, as on so many other issues, is the precise opposite.

The final story has absolutely nothing to do with the EU. It cones under the heading: “you couldn’t make it up”. Writes Booker:

Doctors in Essex have been startled to receive from the ‘Essex Public Health Resource Unit’ a booklet entitled ‘Information Pack’. When they open it, they find its 34 glossy pages are blank. When the GP who sent it to me enquired what was the purpose of this gift, he was told it was “for making notes”. It is good to know that all those billions of our money devoted by Gordon Brown to the NHS are being so wisely spent.
Actually, I though it might be an EU commission publication, giving all the reasons why the organisation is democratic.