Sunday, June 12, 2005

Booker

The media last week were filled with Alistair Darling's plans to impose a system of road tolls, using satellites to charge motorists between 2p and £1.34 a mile for using our roads. The BBC, showing a picture of the US global positioning satellite (GPS) system, assured us the technology was all in place to make our transport minister’s scheme viable, and that it would help cut congestion on Britain’s roads and was altogether wonderful.

Booker, in his column today looks behind this story and reports – as indeed have we on this Blog - that there is a hidden EU agenda.

"What neither Mr Darling, the BBC or anyone else bothered to explain," he writes, "was that his plans are only part of an EU-wide scheme planned for several years, using the EU's own planned satellite system Galileo, and that an important part of its purpose is to provide the EU with an independent source of income worth billions of euros a year."

Detailing the story, Booker comments that it is "this deliberate practice of concealing how many national policies are now dictated by 'Europe' which gave rise to the description of the EU as 'the elephant in the room': a presence so vast that everyone pretends it is not there."

In an ironic twist, though, Booker refers to the the technical doubts about the system and, on the basis that the "practical complexities likely to beset this hugely ambitious project" raise questions as to whether it can be made to work at all. He thus dubs the scheme: "the white elephant in the room."

Actually, the more I think of it, the idea of keeping track of over 30 million vehicles, recording every journey, raising charges for each and every one of them and collecting the money, is such a stupendous task, that even if the technology worked perfectly (and when does it ever?) it would be hard to see how a system could be devised. Perhaps, taking Booker's cue, it ought to be called: "the mad elephant in the room".

For the second story, Booker quotes Jack Straw in the Commons on Monday: "Let me make it clear that there is no plan, proposal or intention to slip elements of the constitutional treaty through by the back door," in response to the charge that many provisions of the treaty are already being implemented before it is ratified.

Straw was then asked by Bernard Jenkin MP why, in that case, the EU had already set up its European Defence Agency, "a central provision of the constitution", only to get the reply that: "the defence agency is not in the treaty."

Yet there, in black and white, is Article I-41.3 of the constitution giving legal authorisation for the setting up of the "European Defence Agency". This, without waiting for the constitution, was launched last January to play a hugely important role in planning and co-ordinating an "EU defence identity".

The truth is that, on all sides, implementation of the constitution is busily rolling forward, obviously on the assumption that there was no need to wait until the treaty became law. Caught out by the French and Dutch "no" votes, ministers and officials have no recourse but to indulge in hopelessly disingenuous prevarication, as Mr Straw did with his subsequent claim that the defence agency was somehow authorised by a vague aspirational clause in the Maastricht Treaty committing the EU leaders eventually to frame a Common Defence Policy.

As a lawyer Mr Straw must be aware that a vague aspiration is not the same as a legal authorisation. Similarly, last Wednesday, when EU ministers held a "Space Council" in Luxembourg to plan "a European space policy", they were acting illegally, in that the only authorisation ‘to draw up a European space policy’ is contained in Article III-254 of the Constitution.

In other words, writes Booker: "they had no legal power to do what they were doing, by which they are committing EU taxpayers to spend 10 billion euros (£7 billion) a year. This is twice the size of the UK budget rebate which President Chirac and others are so keen should be taken off us because the EU is so strapped for cash."

"When ministers are caught acting illegally in this way," he asks, "what do we expect them to do? Come clean and admit they have made a mistake? Or just lie about it?"

You've guessed it: It is much easier to take the second course. But whether it is wise to base our system of government on such institutionalised dishonesty is another matter.

Story three is a tale about where power really lies in this country. We have a junior transport minister in this government called Karen Buck. When she was asked to help out on a matter which involved the EU, she lived up to her name – and passed the buck. Booker asks why, if she admits that, as a minister, she no longer has power to do the job she is paid for, why is she paid at all?

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