Saturday, November 19, 2005

Slaughter of the innocents

I have had several phone calls asking me whether I was involved in the shooting of the two police officers in Bradford yesterday… I cannot imagine why.

Rather sourly, however, I note that there is rather less of an outpouring of grief for the 20 percent rise in deaths involving police vehicles, the figure now reaching 44 last year, up from 17 in 2000-1. And the current figure includes four entirely innocent pedestrians, including an 18-year-old woman, slaughtered by police cars responding to emergency calls.

Driving of a different sort is on the mind of the Irish Independent, which headlines today, "The EU has driven us to war... virtually". It is reporting that the EU is running a war game next Tuesday for 10 days, a virtual war fought out in computer generated form on an "imaginary" island of Atlantia. The exercise is based on the rapid deployment of troops in a "fictitious crisis scenario". Known as Milex 05, the military exercise will test how the EU's newly created command structure would work in the event of a crisis.

The Irish Independent notes a curious similarity between "Atlantia" and the Emerald Isle, where a conflict scenario between two ethnic groups has been set up to test the mettle of 450 EU military planners. That, at the moment, is 450 more than the number of troops the EU is able to field.

Meanwhile, in what passes for the real world, next Monday defence ministers of the EU member states will meet to agree a voluntary code of conduct on equipment procurement. This formalises the agreement reached in October, at RAF Lyneham, ostensibly opening up the $35 billion a year trade in European defence equipment.

The deal will be made at a meeting of the European Defence Agency's steering board in Brussels, when all the EU member state defence ministers apart from Denmark are expected to sign up.

Nick Witney, chief executive of the European Defence Agency happily burbles that this will be a landmark decision. "The desire to inject competition into this hitherto protected market has been something that has been recognised as hugely beneficial for decades, but we haven't found a way to do it," he says.

Behind this initiative is the shadowy figure of the EU commission, which has threatened to propose legislation, redefining the defence exemptions encapsulated in Article 296 of the Treaty. It has now promised to hold off until it sees how the code of practice works.

Meanwhile, Joachim Wuermeling, the German MEP who drew up the EU parliament's response to the commission's green paper on defence procurement, is claiming that greater competition in the industry would "save taxpayers' money, make the European defence industry more competitive and help create a European defence identity." Presumably, he has not heard of the Luftwaffe plans to lease US-built C-130s.

Nevertheless, it is, of course, the creation of the "European defence identity" which is of greatest interest to the EU but, as long as the "colleagues" confine themselves to virtual war games, sorting out ethnic groups in "Atlantia", no great harm can come. The slaughter of innocent civilians can be safely left to the police.

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