Thursday, March 16, 2006

Another potpourris

A gift from the EU? - yours to wearLast week, as an experiment, we picked up some of our loose ends in a single posting with no common theme, to make a compendium piece. This seems to have been well received (thank you to all those who responded), so we're repeating the exercise today.

First off the blocks is a piece that is actually right up-to-date – a complaint from French MEP Adeline Hazan that EU arrest warrants are not being honoured.

Never mind the thieves – it seems there is little honour amongst European law-enforcers. The warrants are not being used because of disagreements among countries and red tape. Most of all, though, there is a growing distrust among EU member states with national courts unsure that suspects named in warrants will get adequate treatment in the arresting nations. And, surprise, surprise, language barriers are also a problem.

Also hot off the presses, so to speak – even if we're not into dead trees – readers no doubt are aware that local government officers are not happy bunnies, over attempts to reduce their gold-plated pension rights, and in particular there privilege of being able to retire early on full pension.

This is due to the so-called "85 rule" where, if your calendar age plus years of service add up to 85, you can pack up your rule books and live the life of luxury. So incensed after the officers at the though of having to work until they are 65 that they are now planning a major strike in 28 March, slated as the largest since the general strike of 1926.

But what gives this an EU dimension is that the government is claiming that it is forced to make the change in part to implement the European Employment Directive 2000/78/EC which "establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation".

The unions deny that this is the case, claiming that it is solely a cost-cutting exercise and so, oddly enough, does the EU commission. This came up in January in Scotland, but the government still has not changed its tune.

Here we have a wonderful example of the government using the EU as an alibi when it wants to implement an unpopular policy. No wonder the commission is hacked off. But, perhaps they should claim credit. The rest of us are highly delighted at the idea of our oppressors suffering.

Something not strictly EU-related, but still to do with local government, is the tale of former independent councillor Rose Thompson, erstwhile Mayoress of Keighley, who has been stripped of her title for the heinous sin of joining the British National Party.

Jorg HaiderIn a small way, though, this has echoes of the year 2000, when Jorg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party and the People's Party joined to form a coalition government, whence the heads of government of the other fourteen EU members decided to cease co-operation with the Austrian government, Such is the paranoia about "right-wing" parties that the rights of perfectly legal political parties are discarded with a will in a society that calls itself "democratic" and espouses free speech.

Taking of free speech, the Paktribune on Sunday recounted how the Pakistan federal minister for religious affairs, Ijaz-ul-Haq, had concluded a "highly successful" visit to Brussels and has held out assurances that Pakistan, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and European Union will jointly table a resolution in the United Nations "in a bid to stonewall recurrence of tragic incidents like publication of sacrilegious caricatures."

"Freedom of expression has some limitations and we will take action against Denmark's dailies in line with Copenhagen established rules and regulations," says Ijaz-ul-Haq, signalling that the issue of cartoons publication would be taken to the Denmark courts with the co-operation of Copenhagen Muslim community.

You will be pleased to know, however, that he regretted that torching of some western embassies in Islamic countries in this connection "had affected the image of Muslims". So now you know.

The Muslim "free speech" theme was also taken up by Reuters which retailed how Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the European Union risked damaging its image worldwide if it did not do more to protect Islam against insults. "The laws are already there but they should cover all religions," Gul said, referring to existing European laws to protect religions from insult.

"People should not think that respect of religions, respect for others' identities, is not part of the European values," Gul said. "If they think like that, the image of Europe is damaged." He added that he would regret any negative impact on the EU's standing as it would affect Europe's "soft power".

Still on free speech, in the UK, entirely unreported, apart from the BNP website is the news that the Muslim Action Committee (MAC) is to meet here in the UK to decide whether to take the BNP to court for distributing half a million pre-election campaign leaflets depicting one of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. The MAC is asking for government assistance in taking the case to court.

Only yesterday, however, did we finally learn that the Metropolitan Plod Service, six weeks after the event, has finally arrested five of the estimated 450 demonstrators who, on 3 February paraded outside the Danish embassy with a variety of offensive placards. Goody! That only leaves 445 to go.

A Hellfire-armed Predator UAV - on the Plod's shopping list?However, we can be assured now that the plods have our safety uppermost in their minds, pace a recent Sunday Times article that tells us that the Mets are to buy three high-speed helicopters to transport rapid reaction teams "to the heart of terrorist emergencies". Elite firearms officers from the Metropolitan police will be transported to incidents at speeds of up to 150mph before they abseil into crowded city areas - ready to shoot the occasional electrician. Next on the agenda, one supposes, will be helicopter gunships - or even missile-armed drones - just in case some concerned citizen reports a shop selling golliwogs.

For something completely different, which I meant to do at the time but never got round to it, early this month, Reuters and others reported that China was to accelerate defence spending in 2006, increasing it by 14.7 percent to $35.3 billion. This is something to which, no doubt, we will return, now that the EU is China’s “strategic partner”.

Finally, a subject to which I will return in more detail but will refer to it here, as this story has been hanging around in my "to use" file for three weeks now. The EU is suggesting that car registration tax should be phased out "in a bid to ensure a true EU single market for vehicles". This is from taxation commissioner Laszlo Kovacs, who wants it replaced by an "annual circulation tax."

But the real agenda is a Europe-wide road charging system based on the EU's Galileo GPS satellite. Since 2005, the Germans have a system up and running for lorries and it is apparently working well. It is only a matter of time before we will all have to have black boxes fitted to our cars, telling the authorities exactly where we are at all times. Big Brother is on his way.

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