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Posted by Richard Thursday, March 17, 2005

"And for all of those that say, if you look at the last thirty years, we have lost power to Brussels, actually it isn't true. In the last, certainly in the last eight years, as we, the Labour government, have been more involved in Europe, so we have become more powerful and more prosperous, better able, literally to implement a patriotic case for the European Union."

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary
BBC Today Programme, 9 February 2005


Apparently not in the online edition (hence no link) Ambrose Evans-Pritchard runs a story in the business section of The Daily Telegraph today headed: "EU will scupper plans to raise duty-free allowance".

Gordon Brown’s budget breaches EU tax rules, he writes, and will almost certainly have to be dropped or modified, officials in Brussels said last night.

The chancellor said he planned to offer travellers a boon by raising the duty-free ceiling on goods entering the EU from £145 to £1000 per trip. Mr Brown had "notified" the commission of his proposal, giving the impression that it was merely a formality.

In fact, Ambrose says, any increase in the EU’s import duty threshold requires a formal proposal from the commission, followed by a unanimous vote by all 25 EU member states, a reminder of how much power has already been ceded to Brussels in economic policy.

A spokesman for Lászlo Kovács, the tax commissioner, said last night Mr Brown's plan had no chance of winning support. One official said the Eastern Europe was certain to block calls for a large increase in the ceiling, fearing a loss of vital customs revenue from travellers entering from Russian and the Ukraine.

"Try telling them that £1000 is peanuts and it won't go down very well", he said. The EU's duty-free allowance has not changed since 1992.

Writes Ambrose, there were suspicions in Brussels that Mr Brown was picking a fight with a policy that faced certain EU rejection to burnish his credentials as a Eurosceptic.

Thank you Mr Brown. How very useful to have a chancellor demonstrate to us how much more powerful we have become since the Labour government became more involved in Europe.