Friday, April 30, 2004

Wrong England?

On page 16 of the Conservative party European election manifesto, there is a colour picture of three fishing boats moored at a jetty, used to illustrate the Tory policy on agriculture and fishing (reproduced above).

At first sight, it looked as if congratulations were due for the Party's diligence in finding enough boats to photograph from Britain's dwindling fleet. However, on close inspection, it turns out that these are not British boats. Nor indeed are they from any EU member state.

In fact, the boats are almost certainly, from their unique rigging, North American, and not just any old part of America. They are from New England. Has the Conservative Party got the wrong England, or does this signal Mr Howard's intentions for when we leave the CFP? I think we should be told.

Check it for yourself, here.

EU fisheries control agency

Source: Commission Press Release [IP/04/556]

There as been much talk about the weakness of the commission and some pundits are claiming that the "Monnet method" of gradual integration is dead.

If any evidence to the contrary were needed, this is it. Quietly, though its agency programme, the commission continues to extend its powers. Step-by-step, it is extending its remit from simply proposing laws and leaving Member States to enforcement, to taking a direct hand in enforcement.

Make no mistake, this is a quantum leap in the power of our new government. Particularly sinister is the establishment of an EU fisheries monitoring centre. control is slipping out of the hands of the Member States.

Text as follows:

The European Commission has proposed the creation of an EU Fisheries Control Agency, to improve compliance with the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The agency will strengthen co-ordination and enforcement efforts by pooling national fisheries control and monitoring resources. It will organise the deployment of surveillance vessels, aircraft, vehicles and other equipment as well as inspectors, observers and other staff.

Joint deployment plans will be agreed by the agency and the member states concerned on the basis of identified criteria, benchmarks, priorities and common inspection procedures. Multinational teams will be set up for onshore and at sea inspection in identified areas, and on identified fisheries and fleets at given times.

The agency will provide support to the member states in meeting their responsibility not only in EU waters, but also in relation to fisheries agreements concluded with non-EU countries.

It will be active on the high seas under international control and inspection schemes agreed within the framework of Regional Fisheries Organisations such as the North-west Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) or the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).

Other tasks include the training of inspectors, provision of equipment and services for control and inspection, and co-ordinating the implementation of joint pilot projects to test new control and inspection technologies.

To help the agency in its tasks, an EU fisheries monitoring centre, using satellite-tracking technology to provide information on the movements of EU vessels, will be established.

UKIP to spend £2 million

Press Release

UKIP is set to spend £2m on its campaign for the European Parliamentary elections after a MORI poll showed the potential vote for the Party’s position on withdrawal from the European Union running at up to 35 percent.

The Party spent £400,000 in the last race for the European Parliament and got 8 percent of the vote. Its leader, Roger Knapman, noted that “we have already spent upwards of £700,000 of which more than half was for the billboards that will run through June. We expect to spend a total of £2 million, five times what we sent (sic) last time.”

In its survey, MORI asked 1,947 voters whether they would be more likely to support a moderate, democratic Party which advocated withdrawal from the European Union and an end to unlimited EU immigration. Forty percent of respondents said they would.

MORI then told voters that the UKIP was advocating such policies, and if it were the only party to do so, how would they vote on June 10th? The results were Labour 27 percent, Conservative 18 percent, Liberal Democrats 15 percent, UKIP 35 percent and Others 5 percent.

UKIP Chief Political Strategist Dick Morris said, “The purpose of this poll was to establish the maximum boundaries of UKIP support given its opposition to the EU. The survey establishes that the UKIP could, in theory grow substantially and I believe it will certainly substantially exceed its 1999 vote total.”


This note has been issued by Lib-Dem MEP Bill Newton Dunn concerning Roger Helmer:

"For those who enjoy challenging his weird views, he is scheduled for a live phone-in on BBC Radio Nottingham in the morning of Friday 7th May".

Helmer has responded in his typically robust style:

"Perhaps your Euro-realists would like to know that anyone who believes in democracy, sovereignty or the independence of their country is considered 'weird' by East Midlands Lib-Dem Bill Turncoat Dunn".

Helmer 1, Bill NewtonDunn 0?

For Europe’s sake…


A nice bit of rhetoric from The Telegraph leader… “For Europe’s sake, we must vote no”. But the writer, nevertheless, is getting himself (herself?) into a muddle over the status of the constitution and the treaty. He refers to the claim that this “Constitution for Europe” is established by a treaty which has allowed its advocates to claim that it is not a constitution at all, hence cannot create a superstate.

This, in fact, completely misses the point. As early as 1977, the European Court of Justice confirmed that the Treaty of Rome amounted to the ‘internal constitution’ of the Community, which member states were bound to obey (CJEC, opinion 1/76 of 26 April 1977, ECR 741). To that extent, the EU already has a constitution and, by like measure, the Treaty of Rome and subsequent treaties have become part of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

If these facts are not terribly helpful to the cause of those who would wish to present the draft constitutional treaty as something special and different, so be it. But, as it stands, the treaty which establishes the constitution is indeed a treaty, and has exactly the same status as the earlier treaties. Therefore, should Parliament remove its assent, and decide specifically that this and other treaties should no longer apply, that is the end of the matter. And, in that sense, Parliamentary sovereignty survives intact.

By raising the issues that it does, in the way that it does, therefore, The Telegraph does us no particular favours. The Europhiles have long complained that we view the EU as something which “them over there” do to us, instead of accepting that the EU survives because of the assent, and continuing permission of Member State governments.

The EU is not being imposed on us, as such, and neither will be the constitution. It will apply because our own elected representatives permit it to apply. The responsibility, therefore, lies not in Brussels but in Westminster. Many MPs hide this from us and themselves would like us to continue focusing our attention on Brussels. It would be helpful, occasionally, if they were reminded of their own personal liability, not least by The Daily Telegraph.

To read the editorial, click here.

And whose fault is that?

So Daily Telegraph has now discovered that, on “Europe” it is a matter of “Don't know, don't care”. Its YouGov poll shows that 76 percent of respondents knew little or nothing about the draft constitution, with a further four per cent who did not know whether they knew anything about it.

But whose fault is that? For many years, the media and politicians have conspired to avoid talking about “Europe”, dismissing it as “boring”, while resorting to banal inanities and slogans instead of addressing the real issues. The many people who have been shouting from the sidelines about the importance of the issue have been dismissed as “nerds” or extremists.

To a very great extent, therefore, the chickens are coming home to roost. After years of neglect, when the referendum vote is of vital importance, the bulk of the British public have switched off.

However, this may also be because the referendum will not be for at least eighteen months, with people deciding that they are not going to get excited about something that is in the distant and indeterminate future. They are content to leave it to the “nerds” and the “clever-dicks” for the time being.

Nevertheless, there is some comfort in the poll which also finds that that, if the referendum were held now, 51 per cent of those questioned would vote “no” and 23 per cent “yes”, with 21 percent of “don’t knows”. But the more crucial finding is that those who plan to vote against appear less willing to change their mind than Yes voters.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, argued that the antipathy towards his treasured “Europe” is not because of any "entrenched Europhobia" among British people. It represented a failure to put the positive message about the EU and the constitution across.

Better informed people outside the Westminster village know different. “No” campaigners tend to be better informed than the “yes” camp. What this survey shows, therefore, is that those who are better informed are less likely to change their minds. In other words, contrary to the Europhile’s assertions, the more you know, the less likely you are to be in favour. Bring on the campaign!

For the full story, click here.

Well, thank goodness for that …

It seems that Joseph Stalin is not going to be, even posthumously, an EU citizen. The city of Budapest has said so. Stalin had been given honorary citizenship on November 7, 1948 in supposed gratitude for the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary in February 1945 but more because the Communist Party, backed by the Red Army, was gearing up for its final push for power that was accompanied, inevitably, by a great deal of bloodshed.

At about the same time a huge statue of the Great Leader was put up in one of the leafy avenues of Pest. As one of the first acts of the 1956 Revolution the people pulled down the statue and danced with joy on it. Oddly enough, the boots remained for some years, and even when they were taken down the two hoops, where the boots had stood were still visible.

But what no-one had realized is that Stalin’s honorary citizenship of Budapest had also remained. This year, on April 4, anniversary of Hungary’s liberation in 1945, a demonstration of several hundred people pelted with stones and eggs the memorial to the Soviet soldiers-liberators. Their argument was that the “liberators” imposed another bloody tyranny, which then lasted for 40 years. Some people are never satisfied. (In parenthesis one may point to certain changes in Hungarian life: when the political order imposed by the liberators was at its strongest there were no eggs to eat, never mind pelt memorials with.)

Earlier this week the City Council of Budapest met and solemnly decided to strip Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin of his honorary citizenship, so that, even posthumously, he could not accompany the people of Hungary into the EU. Some have objected to this act, saying that history is history and cannot be re-written.

One honorary citizen will be there with the Hungarians posthumously: Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, who saved thousands of Jewish children from the Nazi camps during the war and was later arrested and spirited away to presumed death by the Red “liberators” was awarded that honour last year.

The marching morons

(with apologies to C M Kornbluth)

After the sterling contribution by Anthony “Ant” Costa, a member of the boy band Blue, to the fund of human knowledge (see “Great Debate” item), stand by for another story. One is tempted to say, “you couldn’t make it up”, although somebody just did. The Scotsman has retailed a story about a OneTel survey, which found that half the people quizzed (40 percent) were “completely clueless” as to which ten countries are to join the EU on Saturday.

Worse still, however, the online poll asked people to select the countries they believed are set to join the EU on May 1 from a shortlist. But the list of countries contained a red herring, Luvania, which not only did 8% of people think was a country, but also that it is to become an EU member.

So delightful is the story, I have reproduced the rest, unedited (apologies this time to the Scotsman). But the piece also makes a serious point. Says the report author, “People aren’t generally aware. They’re more involved in their day-to-day lives rather than the bigger picture of what is going on in the EU.” The story continues…

Surprisingly more over-50s plumped for the mythical Luvania (11%) than any other age group casting to wind the theory that political apathy and ignorance are strongest among the young. In fact, the section of the population with the best knowledge of which countries are joining the EU was 18 to 29-year-old men living in London – just 4% picked the red herring.

London was found to be the area in the country most clued up on the EU with just 5% who claimed Luvania was joining. Worst, according to the survey, was Scotland where 19% of people decided none of the countries on the list were joining and 9% opted for Luvania as a new member.

Women fared particularly badly with nearly a quarter (23%) deciding that none of the listed countries are to become EU members compared to 60% of men who guessed all the countries correctly. And women aged over 50 and living in the South were found to be the least knowledgeable group of all about the matter with 11% choosing Luvania.

The survey of 2,500 people also found that 15% of respondents thought Austria will be joining on May 1 – despite the country being a member for nearly 10 years, since 1995.

Carol Barnes, spokeswoman for One.Tel who carried out the research to see if demand for international calls would rise after the new countries join, said people’s apparent lack of knowledge about Europe was shocking. She said: “Everyone knew new countries are coming on board but no one is too sure which ones and some people picked one that doesn’t even exist so that was quite surprising.

“We don’t believe the actual countries that are joining have been particularly well presented and the UK public has not been particularly well educated on it. “People aren’t generally aware. They’re more involved in their day-to-day lives rather than the bigger picture of what is going on in the EU.”

To see the comment-free article, click here.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The navel of Europe

Offered without comment.

(AFP) When the EU expands eastward on May 1, its new geographical heart will be 7 degrees 35'50" east longitude, 50 degrees 31'31" north latitude, according to French researchers.

In other words - Kleinmaischeid, in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, 12 miles from Koblenz, on the edge of the A3 autobahn near the Cologne-Frankfurt high speed train line.

"We are the navel of Europe," said Horst Rasbach, mayor of the village of just 1,300 residents, happily basking in the sudden attention.

All in a spin

Times says Britain could be forced out of EU

In an online report of the Chirac press conference (see earlier Blog), Times reporter Charles Bremner (or his headline writer) claims that Britain could be forced to leave the European Union if its voters reject the proposed new constitution in a referendum – according to President Chirac.

However, the story does not immediately bear this out. Bremner goes on to write that Chirac actually stated “that if any state failed to ratify the constitutional treaty then none of the other members would be able legally to ratify it either - scuppering the whole project”.

Only then, apparently, did Chirac refer to “proposals aired in Brussels and Berlin that would require member nations to ratify the constitution or leave the EU”. On these, he commented that this could be a "positive solution". "I am not against the idea of using methods of friendly persuasion with countries that are refusing the constitution, because that blocks all the others," Bremner reports him as saying.

So that is the meat of the story: if the British vote "no", there could be “friendly persuasion” for Britain to stand aside and let other countries adopt the constitution. This is a far cry from what the headline claims, but I suppose it is headlines that sell papers. Expect a lot more of this – but as with treaties, when you see the headlines, it pays to read the small print before you jump to conclusions.

If you want to waste your time reading the full story, click here.

Number of EU Regulations

European Commission Spokesman's Briefing for 03-02-12 click here.

There is often controversy about how much EU law there actually is, with many different figures being quoted. Actually, I suspect that even the Commission does not know, but it does at least know how many pages of legislation there are. Here is the definitive source (see link above, courtesy of Christopher Booker, who obtained it from the Commission web site). I have posted a permanent link under “EU documents” – see left – for future reference.

05] Commission launches major initiative to simplify and streamline EU legislation

The European Commission has adopted a Communication setting out an ambitious and detailed Framework for Action to simplify, streamline and improve access to the body of EU law, known as the acquis communautaire. This is the latest stage in the Commission's Better Regulation initiative, a key part of the objective set at the Lisbon summit in 2000 of making the EU the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010.

The initiative aims to establish a reliable, up-to-date and user-friendly body of EU law for the benefit of citizens, workers and businesses across Europe. As a first contribution, the Commission now proposes immediate removal of obsolete legislation amounting to over 1,000 pages of the Official Journal.

Through a concerted programme of consolidation and codification, it is estimated that the volume of legislation could be reduced by as much as 35,000 pages by 2005.

At the end of 2002, the body of binding secondary legislation adopted by the European institutions amounted to 97,000 pages of the Official Journal. The Commission now looks to the European Parliament and the March European Council to endorse its approach.

Chirac refuses to commit on referendum

Sources: Financial Times, AP, AFP and others

Despite expectations that he would announce a referendum on the EU constitution today, Chirac resisted the pressure, saying that any decision was “premature”. He told a press conference in the Elysee Palace that he would not be rushed into a decision. "For me, it is premature to decide on one or the other option [to ratify the constitution]”.

He refused to comment on Blair’s decsion to hold a referendum but, echoing Gicard’s statements in this morning’s Today interview, he added, "I don't imagine that England could find itself in the situation of having to leave Europe."

Hedging his bets for the future, he noted that “The British are in a different situation,” pointing out they did not have a written constitution. Nations can either hold a referendum on the constitution or allow their parliaments to decide, he said.

He called for a strong vote in the Euro-elections to give French euro-deputies the mandate to defend the country's interests at the EU's parliament (as if they needed any urging – ed).

UK “can vote no and stay in EU”

Sources: BBC and The Independent

Interviewed on the Today programme this morning, Valery Giscard D'Estaing agreed that a “no” vote in the referendum would not mean leaving the EU. Instead, said the UK would be left on the margins, away from the main decision making.

Pressed about what actually a 'no' vote would mean, Mr Giscard D'Estaing said: "It's not a question of saying yes or no to Europe. "It's a question of making Europe function. Of course if someone says we do not accept the way that Europe functions, it will have to assume the consequences of its own choice."

If 300m out of Europe's 455m people say yes, then those who say no will have to decide "how to progress by themselves ... elsewhere". "If finally the British say no and the other Europeans say we want to go, then they will have to find an accommodation," he said. "It's true in that case Britain will not be in the core of the system but in the margins of the system."

Michael Howard, responding later in the programme, said Giscard had given the lie to Labour suggestions that a "no" vote would take Britain out of the EU.

Meanwhile, according to the Independent newspaper, Chirac talked on the telephone to Blair last night, to protest about his decision to call a referendum. Predictably Downing Street refused to comment on their conversation, but it is clear that Blair’s decision has put unwonted pressure on Chirac to honour his own referendum commitment.

And European Parliament president (although not for much longer) Pat Cox is clearly getting nervous. “Although a referendum may be 18 months away”, he has warned, “ministers must start campaigning now if they want to secure a ‘yes’ vote”.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "When I look at the state of the public opinion polls and a large number of the Euro myths that seem to abound, I recall Norman Tebbit's phrase, 'Get on your bike'. It is not a time to hang about."

On this last point, we cannot help but agree.

The Party’s over – before it’s begun

In the op-ed in The Times, Anatole Kaletsky reviews the enlargement issues. Making a refreshing change from the gushing rhetoric that we have already and are about to suffer, he paints a less than rosy picture. In this passage, he notes, for instance:

“In many of the new member countries, enlargement could produce an even deeper disillusionment with the EU, since most of the economic benefits of joining have already accrued, while the costs will start to be paid only next week.”

This is something most commentators have missed. Much of the fabled “structural funding” was paid out in advance, to sugar the pill of accession and the money is now spent. And, with the mean-spirited settlement on the CAP, where accession countries are paid only a quarter of the subsidies other member states receive, most of the new states will be net contributors to the Community budget.

Small wonder, Kaletsky concludes: “The ten new members could prove a disruptive presence in EU councils, demanding a say out of all proportion to their economic power and unyielding in their defence of national interests, as their sometimes unruly electorates perceive them. This enlargement will make the EU an even more argumentative body".

This does not auger well for the success of the IGC in June. The party may already be over.

To see the full article, click here.

The Great Debate?

Last night saw the Foreign Office "bash" to celebrate enlargement, with a galaxy of celebs helping Blair usher in this "momentous" event. But The Times perhaps captured the flavour of the event, with a quote from Anthony “Ant” Costa, a member of the boy band Blue, with his Greek-Cypriot father.

Asked what he thought of EU enlargement, he exhibited a deft grasp of current affairs: “I don’t know. It’s good and bad — everything is — but where will it stop? Do you know what I mean? Can anyone come over to another country and work and live?”

It that is any indicator of the general level of comprehension of EU issues, we do indeed have a problem. And if Blair thinks that recruting celebs to help promote the cause - or for that matter the "no" campaign, perhaps it is time for a rethink.

Prodi worried – Chirac pressured

Sources: Reuters and Financial Times

Prodi says he is worried about Blair's decision to hold a referendum. "It is difficult to give an optimistic interpretation," he told LCI television on Wednesday. "I am pessimistic because this referendum comes at a time when all surveys point against Europe. It gives me some additional worries."

Nevertheless, he was optimistic that EU leaders would manage to seal the constitution at their summit in June. "Yes," Prodi said when asked whether he believed a deal could be reached then. "Because the positions are closer and also, after (the attacks of) Madrid, Europe has suffered a lot from terrorism, and there is a sense of solidarity."

Meanwhile, Chirac is facing a press conference today, where he will be asked whether France will also hold a referendum. The pressure has multiplied after Blair reaffirmed his commitment yesterday to putting Britain at the "centre" of Europe in a front-page column in Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, in which he explained his decision to hold a vote in the context of needing to lance the boil of Euroscepticism at home.

Chirac will be questioned on why he has backed away from a 2002 election pledge to hold a referendum. Meanwhile, Alain Juppé, chairman of the centre-right UMP and Chirac's closest political adviser, has said that other countries should think carefully before copying Mr Blair's "rather personal and, perhaps I should add, ultimately British initiative".

The view from Ireland

In this letter Anthony Coughland of the National Platform in Dublin addresses the subject of the proposed ID cards and their possible connection with developments in the EU

Trinity College Dublin

Wednesday 28 April 2004

Dear British Friends,

As an interested oberver of the British scene, may I express the hope that the Conservative Party and all true "liberals" (with a small "l") will have the good sense to oppose Home Secretary Blunkett's scheme for compulsory ID cards, with everyone having to get fingerprinted and eye-iris-photographed at £70 a time during the next few years.

Talk about Nanny State!

The impulse behind this is surely in large part the pressure towards EU "harmonization" and making Britain part of a common EU police and justice area. Then in due time everyone's intimate particulars will be fed into the EU police computers in Wiesbaden.

If this proposal succeeds in Britain, ID cards will inevitably be imposed on us here in Ireland in due time. ID cards are quite unnecessary in this day and age and any positive impact they may have on detecting terrorism is wholly marginal, as the Spaniards, Russians and others have found out. They open the door however to a significant increase in bureaucratic and police interference in people's daily lives.

I would have thought that Tony Blair and Co. lay themselves wide open to political attack for this kind of proposed "Big Brother" interference in the lives of British citizens, and that there should be rich electoral dividends for the political party or parties that oppose it.

Yours faithfully

Anthony Coughlan

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

An epidemic of rhetoric

Sources: PA, Czech news agency, CTK

Stand by for an unpleasant weekend as assembled statesmen, politicians and other worthies seek out new heights of rhetoric in their search to applaud the wondrous European Union and the largest enlargement in its history.

As an example of things to come, Blair gave a “passionate” speech tonight at the bun-fight organised by the Foreign Office in London, although he failed to avoid the usual hackneyed clichés which have marked this coming event.

Enlargement was a “historic moment of opportunity, change and progress for these countries”.

He added that the new Europe was the result of fighting off the “forces of darkness” of the past. “These are countries whose desire for freedom and independence is measured in the blood and sacrifice of countless millions of people.”

Talking to a Czech journalist, Guenter Verheugen, the German commissioner responsible for enlargement, earlier struck a sourer note. He believes that 1 May should be a day to remind people of the basic reasons for enlargement. Nevertheless – and we can certainly warm to this sentiment - he thinks there is sometimes a feeling that the basics have already been said too many times.

“Europeans”, he maintains, “are very talented at forgetting rather quickly what we have achieved. The enlargement that will now take place is one of the most important policy achievements since World War II, and it will contribute to guaranteeing peace, stability, and security in an area from the Baltic to the Black Sea,”

With a certain sense of finality – or even wishful thinking - Verheugen then stated, “All difficulties are secondary compared to that. My advice to politicians in the current and future member states is to explain the fundamentals to people. They will understand.

Don't worry, Mr Verheugen. We will.

Daniel Hannan's Euro-briefing


Tony Blair's referendum announcement has understandably driven other European stories off the news pages. But, now that we know we shall have the chance to vote, it is worth standing back and taking a look at how the EU actually works. After all, there is no better way to judge an institution than by its record.

Here, then, are three separate items which, in a quieter week, might have received rather more media attention. Considering them collectively, we can infer a good deal about how Brussels operates.

First, there is the amazing case of Hans-Peter Tillach. Mr Tillach is a respected German investigative reporter, who has been working for some time on the Eurostat affair. Diligent readers of these bulletins will know that Eurostat is at the centre of gargantuan corruption allegations, involving the apparent loss of millions of euros from Commission accounts.

Last week, Mr Tillach's flat was raided by the Belgian police. He was taken into custody and his notebooks, files telephone and computer seized. He was denied a lawyer and questioned for ten hours. Even his private bank statements were impounded.

Needless to say, no such treatment has been meted out to the accused fraudsters. In the looking-glass world of Brussels, it is those investigating sleaze who are harassed and bullied. A clear message has been sent out to the entire press corps. Stick to copying out Commission press releases and you'll be well looked after. Make trouble and you'll end up in a police cell.

Next, consider the case of an Austrian MEP, confusingly called Hans-Peter Martin. Mr Martin recently scandalised the European Parliament by revealing that he had been keeping a record of which Euro-MPs signed the daily attendance register and when. On top of all their other perks, MEPs are entitled to €250 a day simply for being on parliamentary business, whether in Brussels or on an official visit. To claim it, they must sign in.

Longer-standing readers may be thinking that, next to some of our expenses, this is pretty small beer. None the less, Mr Martin had noticed that a number of MEPs were in the habit of arriving late at night, signing on, and then signing on again in the early morning on their way to the airport. It struck him as unreasonable that so many people should be clocking in when they were plainly not attending meetings.

Needless to say, MEPs saw it rather differently. Mr Martin has made himself the most unpopular man in Brussels since... well, since my own article about MEPs' expenses in The Daily Telegraph. One Labour MEP even knocked him over on his way out of the room where the central register is kept.

Finally, my friends, contemplate the strange case of the Commission censure vote. I and a group of MEPs had put down a mildly critical motion, bemoaning the Commission's failure to get to grips with the Eurostat scandal. Our motion never had the slightest chance of success: the federalists in the big groups were bound to vote it down. But, rather than accepting this mildest of rebukes, Commissioners and the leaders of the big groups went into overdrive, menacing and cajoling anyone who had signed. Some MEPs were threatened with de-selection as candidates if they kept their names on the motion. In the event, around 30 people removed their signatures, although there were just enough of us left to force the motion to be debated.

What all these incidents have in common is the EU's utter inability to accept reproach. In each of the three cases, criticism was coming from broadly pro-European quarters. Hans-Peter Tillach is a paid-up Europhile. Hans-Peter Martin might conceivably qualify as a sceptic by Austrian standards, but would be a Euro-fanatic by anyone else's. And, while many of the signatories of the censure motion were established troublemakers like me, a fair number were principled Euro-zealots who were angry that continuing corruption is jeopardising the federalist project.

Yet in every case, the establishment reacted to the criticism by ad hominem attacks. When Mr Tillach addressed a press conference, he was heckled by a Danish MEP who told him: "Don't give any more ammunition to the anti-Europeans or you will lose all credibility". Note the use of the word "anti-Europeans". In Brussels, any criticism of the system, even on grounds of financial probity, is taken as proof that you secretly hate foreigners.

This is, of course, a very reassuring thing for Europhiles to think. Someone is attacking the Common Agricultural Policy? It shows that he must be racist! A newspaper says that the Commission needs reform? It obviously has a xenophobic agenda! By dismissing all their critics in this way, Eurocrats are able to avoid self-scrutiny.

And, of course, they can always buy themselves more favourable coverage from other sources. Several Brussels correspondents are prepared to boost their salaries by accepting positions as editors of EU-funded newsletters, consultants on media issues and so on. On top of which, the Commission often funds the media directly.

If you've stayed in a hotel in Europe recently, you will probably have come across a channel called "Euronews". It is a perfectly respectable news station, available in six languages. In general, its reports are measured and disinterested. But, when it reports on the EU, all pretence at impartiality goes out of the window, and we are treated to Soviet-type items about grateful workers getting higher standards thanks to the Commission.

I found such items hard to reconcile with the channel's claim to be "totally independent", so I put down a question asking the Commission whether they gave it any money and, if so, how Euronews could call itself independent. The reply I got from Romano Prodi was beyond parody. He did give it subsidies, he admitted, but such grants "in no way restrict the editorial freedom of the beneficiary, who must, however, respect the image of the European institutions and the raison d'être and general objectives of the Union".

Accustomed to such coverage, Eurocrats simply do not know how to handle criticism. They are so used to getting their way that, on the rare occasions that they are checked, they react like spoilt children.

These, remember, are the people to whom we are being invited to entrust with a large measure of our governance under the new constitution. It's worth bearing in mind.

Stitch-up in progress?

Giscard "in town" so Blair meets him

Sources: AFP, No 10 Press Briefing

Tony Blair met Valery Giscard d'Estaing privately today at 10 Downing Street. Giscard was “in town”, so the prime minister “will receive him," the prime ministers official spokesman (PMOS) said. "They agreed to meet up. It is just a private meeting."

Asked why the official spokesman had not informed journalists that the meeting would be taking place, the PMOS said that it wasn't our policy to brief on every single meeting which the Prime Minister had during the day. “We tend to brief on those which we thought would be of significant interest to the media”.

When it was put to him that a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe would obviously be of interest to the media, the PMOS pointed out that the Convention had now completed its work and was therefore no longer in existence.

Asked if that meant that they would not talk about the text of the Constitution, the PMOS said he had no doubt that the issue would be raised. However, this should be seen as a routine meeting and was nothing out of the ordinary.

That is the official line. Giscard just happened to be in town, so he popped in to see Tony, who no doubt made him a cup of coffee and let him use the loo, after which they had a little chat about this constitution thingy. And if you believe that, you will believe anything.

Commission intervenes on Italy’s deficit

Source: Bloomberg

Demonstrating how the EU is increasingly intruding in domestic tax affairs, the European Commission has warned Italy that its attempts at cutting its budget deficit are not sufficient to avoid it breaching the stability pact limits.

Berlusconi had promised income taxes cuts of 6 billion euros but the Commission is calling on Italy to cut spending or raise taxes by 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, or about 7 billion euros, in 2004 and make similar savings in future years.

Italy plans to fight the Commission on this, which again puts Prodi and Berlusconi head-to-head, as they vie for poll position in the forthcoming election.

Nevertheless, while Italy's budget gap is forecast to be 3.2 percent of GDP in 2004 and 4 percent the next year, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti is claiming that Italy will “respect” the EU deficit limit and still reduce taxes. He may find that the EU has other ideas.

Parliamentary accountability – EU style

Helen Szamuely

A motion of censure on the Commisison for its refusal to take political responsibility for the fraud and misappropriation of funds in its statistical office (Eurostat) will not succeed because the two main groupings see such an action as being against the spirit of the European Project. The European Parliament is not there to hold the Executive to account but to further the building of the European Union. The national parliaments have been completely side-lined and the new constitution spells out their role clearly: they are to be informed and allowed to complain that some EU legislation breaks the subsidiarity rules but final decision on their complaint will be taken by … the Commission.

The European Commission is about to be embarrassed during the last stretch of its mandate. Well, mildly embarrassed, since nothing much will come of it. 65 MEPs led by the Conservative Chris Heaton-Harris and the chairman of the Europe of Democracies and Diversities (EDD), Jens-Peter Bonde, have signed a motion of censure over its handling of the Eurostat affair.

The Eurostat affair is, as ever, one of fraud and misappropriated funds in the European Commission’s statistics office and the motion wishes to punish the Commisison for not taking political responsibility for the mess. (Not us, guv. They told us they were honest.) The support comes from a wide range of parties and groups but not from the two main ones: the European People’s Party (EPP) or the European Socialists (ES), which means the motion will not be adopted as that requires a two-thirds support.

Spokesmen for the two main groups are incensed. Helmut Kuhne of the Socialists thought that those who signed the motion made themselves look ridiculous. For some reason he assumed that an outgoing Parliament censuring an outgoing Commission meant that all the newly appointed Commissioners will have to be sent home. Perhaps he meant that the present Commissioners (those who have not fled back into national politics) will go home with a flea in their ears. Who knows?

Inevitably, this minor fracas and the curious reaction of the large parliamentary groups, brings to mind the famous occasion when the Parliament got together solemnly to call to account the Santer Commission for fraudulent and other illegal activity. Who can forget the sight of all those Socialist MEPs, led by the then redoubtable, now unknown, Pauline Green grimly voting to support the Commission? We have only just stopped laughing.

These ludicrous sagas do serve a purpose: they remind all of us that the European Parliament sees itself as part of the project, not as a body of democratic representatives, whose role it is to call the executive to account. That concept does not exist in EU thinking. Though there is an attempt at separation of powers (not, incidentally, something that exists in Britain) the structures, as usual, do not achieve their aims because the content is missing.

Democratic accountability, as opposed to the rather phony concept of transparency, does not and has never existed in the European Union. That explains the apparently incomprehensible fact that the more power the European Parliament acquires the less people vote for it. The fact is that the more power it acquires the more it becomes, not the organ of democratic representation of the peoples of Europe, but another part of the remote and dirigiste European Union.

Where does that leave the national parliaments who have been steadily losing power to the central EU structures? Nowhere really. They, though elected by the people of each country, have lost the right of initiating legislation or regulation over most of the political scene. The incoming countries will recognize this as they adjust to their new status. The best national parliaments can hope for is having enough time to scrutinize the legislation before it is put through the EU machinery. Even that is usually denied them.

Ah yes, we shall be told by the supporters of the EU constitution but there is now a Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union in the proposed document. So there is and it is full of provisions for informing national parliaments, not for allowing them to legislate or to hold the EU executive to account. As trade unions in the Soviet Union, the national parliaments are seen as a counduit of information between the state and the people. Not quite what John Hampden had in mind.

Then there is the Protocol on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality. So far, let us remember, neither of these principles has returned even a smidgeon of legislative power to national parliaments. The new Protocol instructs the Commission to consult widely before proposing legislative acts, unless there are cases of exceptional urgency. But what if a national parliament, representing the people who elected it, really does not like some proposed legislation?

Article 5 of the Protocol allows any “national Parliament of any chmaber of a national Parliament of a Member Staty … within six weeks from the date of transmission of the Commission’s legislative proposal, [to] send to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission a reasoned opinion stating why it considers that the proposal in question does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity”.

Article 6 tells us that “[t]he European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission shall take account of the reasoned opinions issued by Member States’ national Parliaments or by a chamber of a national Parliament”.

Then a certain amount of jockeying for position will follow after which votes will be counted. “Where reasoned opinions on a Commission proposal’s non-compliance with the principle of subsidiarity represent at least one third of all the votes allocated to the Member States’ national Parliaments and their chambers, the Commission shall review its proposal.” Goody-goody, you might say, until you read the last sentence of Article 6: “After such review, the Commission may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw its proposal. The Commission shall give reasons for its decision.”

And that is that.

More Bananas

Sue Doughty

A personal comment

Mr Blair has latched onto a line that the banana directive is nonsense when lambasting us on the folly of opposing the EU constitution. We don't want to go taking any notice of that, what silly people we must be to doubt his wisdom.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 2257/94 of 16 September 1994 is nonsense, he clearly implies. The quality standards applicable to bananas falling within CN code ex 0803, excluding plantains, fig bananas and bananas intended for processing, are laid down in Annex I thereto.

These standards shall apply to bananas originating in third countries at the stage of release for free circulation, to bananas originating in the Community at the stage of first landing at a Community port, and to bananas delivered fresh to the consumer in the producing region at the stage of leaving the packing shed.

It stresses that this Regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States and entered into force on 1 January 1995.

The following defects of the fingers are allowed, provided the bananas retain their essential characteristics as regards quality, keeping quality and presentation. This list begins with - defects of shape.

So Mr Blair is right, we are to be allowed to have bent bananas and anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense.

The fact that there is an organisation entitled to spend British tax payers money on writing a banana directive, and that this edict from a foreign power is now binding on the UK is cause enough for me to vote No to any European referendum on every given occasion. I thank him for reminding us of it so eloquently.

I do not want to have the right to tell the good people of Finland or Portugal how their bananas shall be allowed to be, I do not want a share in their sovereignties or their national responsibilities either.

And that is not nonsense, nor was that wisdom paid for by taxpayers.

Mr Blair goes to Europe

Well, France to be quite precise but it seems that France is seen as “Europe” these days and French opinion is generally quoted as European opinion, as in “the differences between American and European opinion are growing”. This usually means that some French minister has made another anti-American statement.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has decided to take the fight where it counts: the pages of Le Monde. In a front-page article, written and/or translated, one assumes by the FCO, entitled My Europe, Mr Blair explains his decision to let the British people have their say on the constitution. It is about time, he says.

Furthermore, he adds, the new entrants will energize the modernization of the EU. This is rather an odd way of putting it, since it is generally agreed that the new entrants have suffered rather badly from fifty years of a politically oppressive and economically backward system. But ten years of freedom and reform has clearly given them the edge.

There is no word yet on whether President Chirac will decide that it is time for the French people to have a say on the constitution. Historically, the people of France have had interesting ways of dealing with governments that did not pay attention to their opinions.

Survey confirms trend

The most encouraging aspect of the survey published in the Times and other newspapers this morning on business attitudes to the constitution is that it simply confirms a trend.

Readers of the Blog will recall the London Chamber of Commerce survey published in the Evening Standard on 22 April which reported that 55.9 percent of the 423 companies quizzed said they did not back the constitution.

Then there was the FSB conference motion last month, where members rejected the constitution by a massive 104,178 votes to 5310 - a 95 percent majority.

Today’s report in the Times - commissioned by the New Frontiers Foundation - has almost two thirds of businesses (59 percent) opposing the constitution, beleiving that it would surrender “crucial powers to a failing EU”, with only 18 per cent disagreeing.

This is entirely consistent with earlier findings and demonstrates a healthy opposition to the Blair project. It and does indeed, as The Times asserts, deal a severe blow to his hopes of building a broad coalition to fight a referendum campaign.

One almost has to admire the pluck of “yes” campaigner, Lucy Powell – she of Britain in Europe – who claimed that when the myths surrounding the constitution were dispelled, its popularity would grow. “It’s hardly surprising that the constitutional treaty appears to be unpopular as anti-Europeans have been peddling scare stories for months,” she said.

“I am confident that when business people come to consider the facts and realise that the real risk is not this treaty but the consequences of a ‘no’ vote - pushing us to the margins of Europe - they will deliver a resounding vote in favour.”

Despite Powell’s confidence, it seems British business has already made up its mind. If the “yes” campaign can only resort to the tired old argument about “isolation” – the same line it took in the 1975 referendum – it is hardly likely to claw back any significant support.

He is “our” terror master now

Helen Szamuely

The EU thinks President Muammar Gaddafi is now a good friend because of his apparent co-operation over arms and support for terrorists. He, on the other hand, feels that all this friendship can get a bit cloying without the sharp addition of a threat. Perhaps he, too, thinks that all one has to do is threaten West Europeans and everything will be granted.

The European Commission welcomed President Gaddafi of Libya in Brussels on April 27, allegedly, because he has worked hard and made great progress in opening up his country to some weapon inspection, promising not to go on developing arms and supplying terrorists around the world and settling two of the cases – the PanAm and UTA airliner bombing - to some people’s satisfaction. Libya has also been instrumental in passing on information that led to the uncovering of the Pakistani nuclear secrets scandal.

The United States has considered it to be sufficient to encourage commercial links as a reward for good behaviour but not to develop the diplomatic ones. Not so the European Union (or Mr Blair for that matter, who rushed off to shake hands with the man immediately after attending a service for the bomb victims of Madrid). Muammar Gaddafi was welcomed with all pomp and circumstance in Brussels, shown round the Commission by Romano Prodi himself and then went on to a formal banquet with the Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (whose main political aim, as our readers will recall, has been the destruction of the successful opposition party, the Vlaams Blok).

Romano Prodi said something odd, though. During a grandiloquent welcoming speech he let slip the comment that he has been working for this moment for five years. How does that square with the careful propaganda that Gaddafi was being welcomed for his good behaviour? It sounds like the European Commission, as is its wont, was trying to be extra nice to one of the world’s leading terror masters.

Unfortunately, President Gaddafi remained insensitive to the high honour being accorded to him. In his long and rambling speech he referred to the weapons he supplied to terrorists and the training camp he had set up for them all over the world as a justified use of arms. He also pointed out that while at the moment he was being a good boy and proud of his achievements in disarming and coming to various agreements with the West, all this could change.

"I hope we shall not be prompted or obliged by any evil to go back or look backward," he said. "We do hope we shall not be forced one day to go back to those days where we bomb or put explosive belts around our women, so we shall not be harassed in our bedrooms and homes as is taking place in Iraq and Palestine."

Romano Prodi appeared to be embarrassed by his new best friend but whether but what he said or by the inordinate length of his comments is not clear.

We have a deal – for the moment

Helen Szamuely

Russia and the EU seem to have agreed on the wording of their statement about extending Russia’s friendly attitude towards the new accession members. But, as usual, the EU had to pay.

It seems that the EU and Russia have achieved some kind of a deal over the EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Russians have apparently accepted that the partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA) should extend to the new members as well, though it has never been really clear what the agreement does and does not allow for.

The Russian negotiators had been making all kinds of noises over the the plight of the Russian minority in Estonia and Latvia but, as predicted in the Estonian newspapers, they were ready to abandon those minorities if they could get a better deal over the Kaliningrad enclave. And that is exactly what happened. The EU agreed to reduce customs barriers for goods from Kaliningrad into the EU; it has also agreed to lower some of the tariffs and increase the quotas on Russian steel (a long-standing problem between the two) and to ease various anti-dumping regulations.

In return Russia has made various statements. In particular, it has agreed to the protocol that simply says that the EU and Russia welcome the Baltic countries’ membership of the EU and view it as a guarantee of rights for national minorities.

The agreement points forward to further negotiations for a special deal over Kaliningrad, possible EU support for Russian application to the WTO and probable pressure by the EU over Kyoto. The latter may turn out to be harder than all the other problems put together. The Russian government is adamant that they will not sign the Kyoto protocol as it has no scientific basis and is, in any case, harmful to the Russian economy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Who are we?

We shall miss Romano Prodi and his antics when he retires from the European Commission this summer. He has once again annoyed all concerned by comments he made at a gathering of left-wing parties.

Referring to the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq because there is no sign of the UN taking over the running of that country (one of the better things that has happened to the Iraqis recently) he said that this brought Spain “into line with our position”. Our position? We were not aware that the European Commission had a position on the subject. Actually, he was talking about the left-wing grouping that has been calling on Italy to follow suit.

Signor Prodi has clearly decided that his role as a candidate in the forthcoming Italian elections is more important than the Presidency of the European Commission, which makes one gag a little when the said Commission chides national governments for pursuing their own national interests.

It has to be added that several of its members have already abandoned the ship in favour of obviously more important positions in their own national governments.

Poland to join the referendum gang

Sources: Financial Times, and others.

Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski says his country will “probably” call a referendum on the constitution, rather than risk defeat in a badly divided parliament. “Can the constitution be sold in Poland? I think yes," he told the Financial Times. "In my view we can turn to public opinion, which is strongly in favour of the European Union."

On the other hand, Kwasniewski was doubtful about whether parliament could marshal the necessary two-thirds support to endorse the constitution. But public acceptance would depend on the negotiating the compromise of a "emergency brake" mechanism, under which the proposed voting system could be set aside for issues of vital national importance. "The proposed safety elements, in my opinion, could be enough for Polish public opinion," said Kwasniewski.

However, the Polish president's faith in voters may be misplaced. With the collapse of the ruling left-wing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), forcing prime minister Leszek Miller to resign as of May 2, the Eurosceptic Self-Defence party is leading in some opinion polls. It could take Poland in a entirely different direction to that planned by the political elite.

German journalist’s office is raided by Belgian police …. Again

The hapless Hans-Martin Tillack, Brussels correspondent of Stern magazine has had his office raided again just a month after it had happened the first time. Since the first raid on March 19 he had kept most of his files in sealed boxes. On April 21 the Belgian police (that had spent rather a long time finding, arresting and charging Marcel Dutroux, whose trial is now dragging on) brought in a locksmith to break open a sealed-off cabinet and extract hundreds of pages of notes. Then they confiscated some other notes and Herr Tillack’s laptop computer, which had already been in police custody.

Herr Tillack apparently could have avoided the second raid if he had given the police at least one of his contacts’ names, despite the fact that all human rights and press freedom agreements, to all of which the EU and its members enthusiastically subscribe, allow for protection of journalists’ sources.

Letters of protest have gone to OLAF (the EU anti-fraud agency) chief Franz-Hermann Brüner, the Belgian prosecutor overseeing the case and Diemut theato, chairwoman of the European Parliament budgetary control [sic] committee.

The investigative journalist insists that EU topics will continue to be investigated. “We will not let them scare us.” Just as well, perhaps, that not all member states have implemented the EU arrest warrant.

Voting ‘yes’ is rewarded after a fashion

Cyprus remains divided and only the Greek government will be represented in the EU, though it was the Turks who voted in favour of unification, as they had promised.

Even the EU has decided that it was unfair. So, after lambasting the Greeks and expressing sorrow, as our own Jack Straw did, they decided to give the Turkish Northern Cypriots some money. £172 million to be precise. This will supposedly go on designated projects to help the economic development in Turkish Cyprus.

The best way the economy could develop would be for all the restrictions to be lifted and for the international community to recognize Northern Cyprus. But it is not clear whether that will happen.

No, it will have to be specially designated projects and, of course, the inevitable EU office that will now open in Nicosia, bringing in foreign officials and their hangers on and distorting the local economy through their much higher salaries and spending power. One wonders how much of the £172 million will be spent on that.


I am reliably informed that there are still Europhiles out there - Blair included - who doubt the existence of the "Banana Directive".

Actually, it is a regulation but, that apart, its title is Commission Regulation (EC) No 2257/94 of 16 September 1994 laying down quality standards for bananas.

For the convenience of all, I have created a link (see left) directly to the Commission web site, so that anyone who wants a copy or needs convincing, they can refer direct to the oracle.

French want a referendum

Sources: AP Worldstream and EU Observer.

At least we have something in common with the French – the French people, that is. According to a CSA poll released today, some 74 percent want a referendum on the EU constitution, instead of letting parliament make the decision. Only 24 percent felt the French parliament should decide.

Chirac has already said he is undecided on this issue – despite giving an election pledge that he would hold a referendum – but with Valery Giscard d'Estaing also speaking out in favour today, the pressure on the president is building.

Giscard, in particular, makes an especially powerful point, when he argues that all Constitutions that have been adopted in France have been adopted by referendum". On that basis, he concludes that "to consult the French people on this subject is a reasonable and positive risk and it is right to take it".

Giscard himself may not be taking too much of a risk. According to the CSA poll, in which 956 voters were interviewed by telephone, 57 percent of those responding would back the constitution. Only 25 percent would oppose it, while 18 percent would abstain.

EU is 'chaotic and leaderless'

Matthew Davis
BBC News Online

It is quite remarkable that the BBC should publish this story - it is quite damning about the "project". Look at the comment in the last paragraph. It goes a long way to explaining why the enlargement countries have joined the EU.

Diplomats and leading experts are warning that the "chaotic" European Union is ill-equipped to cope with the biggest expansion in its history.

Finnish ambassador to the UK Pertti Salolainen, who said he was speaking in a personal capacity, said: "The EU is chaotic, it has no vision, no leadership and it seems it will have no constitution." Mr Salolainen - who helped negotiate Finland's entry to the EU - says the union urgently needed a period of calm to "digest" its latest changes.

The EU becomes the world's largest trading bloc on 1 May, but there are concerns over potential paralysis in decision-making, the wealth gap between old and new members and the lack of a single vision of where Europe is heading. Some authorities are warning that the integration of the 10 new states will be "a very bumpy ride" for months and years ahead.

Quentin Peel, world affairs editor of the Financial Times, said: "Some fear - or hope - that it is the end of the EU as we know it." The EU's dramatic shift eastwards takes in new members like Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states.

Mr Peel added: "Clearly the wealth difference is perhaps the most fundamental thing. Catch-up is going to take a very long time. "[Another key difference is] the sheer newness of the democracies coming in. "The challenge of EU rules and regulations is taking up a tremendous proportion of new member states' bureaucratic and judicial capacity."

Supporters of enlargement say this is a historic opportunity to unite Europe peacefully after generations of division and conflict. They say it will extend the stability and prosperity of current member states to a wider group of countries, making Europe a safer place.

Mr Salolainen, speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, echoed these sentiments, calling the EU "the best peace movement in Europe". But the diplomat said his key, personal concern was "the lack of vision for Europe". "We are left with the old tools to deal with a new, expanded European Union," he later told BBC News Online.

Dr Aleksander Szczerbiak, a lecturer in contemporary European affairs at Sussex University, said the new members would bring new uncertainty to decision making. "Debates are going to be difficult, processes unpredictable," he said.

But he warned against what he said were misconceptions of what the priorities of the new members would be. "There is an assumption that they will be in favour of a large EU budget. "But the ability to benefit means states must find matching funding themselves, and good projects to fund." He added: "It is wrong to see the new members as a united bloc of 'New Europe'. "They are much more of a mixed group."

But for the new states these are "abstract concerns" compared to the historic importance of simply being members, Dr Szczerbiak said.

Treaty to test the strongest constitution

Buried in the Times business section today (page 28) is a long article on the constitution by Rosemary Righter. It is a compulsive read and deserves careful study.

In the article, she conceded that Blair “is never on better form than when he is asking voters to believe six impossible things before breakfast”. “But”, she writes, “he cannot simultaneously say this treaty will have little bearing on what is left of parliamentary sovereignty, and that the vote will be as momentous as he now paints it… On Europe he is not trusted”.

“His bluff having been called, Mr Blair’s new strategy is to put the frighteners on the electorate by presenting the referendum as a vote for, or against, EU membership. This treaty is not an add-on to other treaties; it supersedes them. Since other countries could conceivably, if meretriciously, argue that the British had, by rejecting it, effectively voted themselves out of the Union, this line of argument could make influential converts, not least in the City”.

Business leaders, she warns, “could be tempted to stay aloof from the constitutional battle, thinking that, unlike the single currency, this is not their fight”. “It is very much their fight”, she declares. This treaty, the Treasury opined last June, “could have far-reaching consequences for the future performance of EU economies”. Most of them will be malign…”.

To see the full article, click here.

Update on EU Constitution negotiations

TEAM Briefing Paper

The EU Summit in Brussels on March 25-26 agreed to restart the negotiations on the EU Constitution after the collaps of the talks in December last year. The Heads of Governments have agreed to reach a compromise on the Constitution at the next Summit in Brussels on June 17-18. According to media reports, around 20 to 30 topics remain to be solved before the Summit in June. In this TEAM Briefing Paper a general outline is made of the main topics, its consequences, and the current positions in the negotiation process.

To see the full paper, click here.

Czech president says EU stifling freedom

Agence France Presse, 27 April 2004

Three days before his country joins the European Union, Czech President Vaclav Klaus warned in a newspaper interview published Tuesday that the bloc was stifling freedom with rules and bureaucracy. Klaus, a known eurosceptic, said people expecting something new on May 1, when the Czech Republic and nine other countries will join the bloc, would be disappointed.

He said the historic enlargement from 15 to 25 member states merely served to underline the victory of international socialism.

"The original European idea was clear and logical: to secure lasting peace after World War II by opening up the continent," he told the German business daily Handesblatt. "That is also my vision -- I want to live in freedom, in an open society. This vision is seen differently by us, who were imprisoned for 40 years, than by many in Western Europe.

"But the EU reality is something else. It is not freedom and openness, but bureaucracy, interventionism, regulation and harmonisation. "State intervention will be strengthened on an international level at the price of freedom."

Klaus, a frequent critic of EU decision-making, repeated his argument that member countries were losing their sovereignty, a tendency he described as a victory for international socialism. "Socialism is obviously more successfull at influencing the international organisations such as the EU than at national level, precisely because voters do not make the decisions in Brussels. "That is the real democratic deficit in the EU."

Of mushroom and crises

In a perceptive piece in the Daily Telegraph today, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes about the detail of the constitution, drawing attention to the “niggling problems” in the text “that could escalate into crises if Brussels ever chose to exercise its powers aggressively”.

He calls into question whether our oil industry is really secure from EU interference, whether the national veto over issues of tax fraud and tax evasion really do protect our tax freedom, and even whether our rebate is safe. In all, Blair’s “red lines” begin to look no more secure than a chunk of meat in a tank of piranha.

To read the full article, click here.

Wrong enemy?

From UKIP's "candidates briefing"

...the Tories are our biggest threat, in that their position will be to confine the argument to merely saying that this constitution is not acceptable to the British people, whilst conveniently ignoring the bigger and real issue of the UK's membership of the EU. Their attempt to hold that position will serve to further confuse the issue in the EU elections, and we must keep exposing the ludicrous nature of the Tory position.

More on the ratification question

Excerpt from memo from the National Platform EU Research and Information Centre, Dublin.

Article IV-8 of the "Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe", to give the proposed new EU Treaty its proper title, provides that it must be ratified by all the EU Member States "in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements" in order to enter into force. This is the usual formula governing the ratification of EC/EU treaties. It means that ALL 25 Member States of the enlarged EU must ratify the proposed Treaty/Constitution and it cannot come into force for any of them without coming into force for all.

A Declaration - which is a political statement that is not legally part of a treaty and is therefore not legally binding - is attached to the Draft Treaty, entitled "Declaration In The Final Act of Signature of the Treaty Establishing the Constitution." This reads: "If, two years after the signature of the Treaty establishing the Constitution, four-fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council", that is, the Council of EU Presidents and Prime Ministers.

If one or more States are unwilling to ratify, however, there is nothing legally that the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the other EU States can do to make them change their minds. All EU treaties are treaties between States that are constitutionally and legally equal, which is why they must be ratified unanimously.

In theory the Member States that wanted to be ruled by an EU Constitution could go off and found a different and separate EU among themselves, with a different euro-currency and a different Commission, Council, Parliament etc., leaving the non-ratifying States with the present EU, and all its resources, institutions, including the existing euro, and its network of international treaties; but that is not a realistic option.

There is no mechanism for expelling a State or States from the EU because they are reluctant to repeal all the existing EC/EU treaties and found what is politically, legally and constitutionally quite a new EU, with legal personality for the first time, based on its own State Constitution, and give that Constitution primacy over their own Constitutions and laws, as is done in Article I-10 of the Draft Treaty. Any attempt to do or threaten this by EU States and interests that desire to push through an EU Constitution, is just so much bluff.

The political reality is that if a small State like Ireland or Denmark votes No to an EU Treaty, its own Government in conjunction with the governments of the other EU States will put its citizens under massive pressure to vote again and "get it right" a second time around. If a Big State votes against, that is politically the end of the matter, for its Government would not dare put exactly the same Treaty before its voters again, and its voters would jib at being bullied by other EU States and the EU Commission.

As the demand for more referendums on the proposed EU Constitution spreads across Europe it is clearly important that this should be coupled with the call that if voters in any EU State, Small or Big, say No to refounding the EU on the basis of its own (State) Constitution, their verdict will be respected and that will be the end of the matter.

There must be no more concerted bullying of electorates reluctant to abolish what is left of their national democracy by eurofanatical EU Governments, hand-in-glove with the EU Commission and the international European Movement, as occurred during Ireland's second Nice referendum and in last year's Accession Referendums in most of the 10 new EU Member States.

Woolly thinking from UKIP

In a letter to today’s Times, Roger Knapman, UKIP leader, is still claiming that six member states must fail to ratify the constitution for it to fail.

For this he relies on a Declaration in the draft which states “If, two years after the signature of the Treaty establishing the Constitution, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council”.

From this, Knapman believes that the Council could then impose the constitution on dissenting states, but nothing could be further from the truth. No nation can be bound a treaty unless it consetns to it. That much is spelt out by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Knapman and his advisors, therefore, fail to understand is that the passage quoted has no relevance to the entry into force of the Treaty. It actually means what it says. If after two years, current five member states have not ratified, the matter will be referred to the European Council – no more, no less.

And what then? As happened after the first Danish referendum on Maastricht, and again after the Irish referendum on Nice, the European Council will discuss the matter, and attempt to seek a political way forward.

If they cannot agree, then the Protocol in Article IV-8 to the Treaty applies, viz:

The Treaty establishing the Constitution shall enter into force on… provided that all the instruments of ratification have been deposited, or, failing that, on the first day of the month following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by the last signatory State to take that step.

Spelt out, with no room for doubt, therefore, is the absolute requirement for all signatories to ratify the treaty. If one fails to sign, the treaty cannot enter into force and the constitution falls.

Accountability? Whose accountability?

The European Commission is starting an open consultation with the public (who?) on whether rules should be tightened up and harmonized across the Union, making executives responsible for their companies’ financial statements. So far as anyone can tell, there is no proposal to make the Commission or its individual members responsible for completely shambolic EU budget, which has not been passed once by the Court of Auditors since the latter’s existence.

The EU has an action plan on corporate governance. It has action plans on many things, all of them consisting of more regulations and every increasing harmonization. As part of this action plan, the Commission has launched an EU-wide consultation on whether executives of companies should be directly accountable for their companies’ financial statements.

Most EU member states consider it to be sufficient to have board members collectively responsible for the reports. The United States has passed stricter legislation in the wake of the Enron scandal.

The Commission thinks the member states’ legislation is insufficient and, in any case, wants to harmonize matters of corporate governance. The open consultation, which will run till June 4 on is not precisely open-ended. In the introduction the Commission states: "The recent scandals have shown that the existing rules are not satisfactory. They should be clarified with a view to reinforce existing rules."

Strangely enough, there is no suggestion that the Commission and its members should be responsible for those extremely dodgy financial statements, the annual EU budget, which the Court of Auditors has not passed once in its existence because of the amount of money that is not accounted for.

For more details, click here (Commission web site)

The EU’s ‘ethical’ foreign policy

Helen Szamuely

The main principle of the European Union’s common foreign and security policy, due to be strengthened and institutionalized if the constitution is adopted, is supposedly the protection of democracy and human rights, wherever that is needed in the world. This image is getting somewhat tarnished, as the EU, led by France and its present close cohort, Germany, shows itself to be all bluster and little action. When it does act, it supports the terrorists of Palestine and does deals with brutal and oppressive regimes like Russia and China.

We are in for another bout of self-congratulation: the EU is about to make various agreements with Russia in the wake of eastward enlargement. There will be some tut-tutting about Russia’s appalling human rights record in Chechnya and Putin’s growing authoritarianism in the rest of the country. There may even be some mention of the remarkably high incidence of sudden deaths among politicians and investigative journalists. But, by and large, all will be sunshine and happiness. Or will it?

Russia is not happy with the idea that the EU should lift the arms embargo imposed on China after the massacre on Tiananment Square. France and Germany, anxious to expand into new markets, have been explaining to all and sundry that the embargo is out of date. Just to make sure, both Chirac and Schröder have warned Taiwan (a strongly developing democracy) should not challenge the People’s Republic of China too much.

Russia is becoming somewhat annoyed that, while its own human rights record is always being examined and held up to criticism, the EU is ready to do a deal with China, arguably a far worse dictatorship. Only someone as hypersensitive as the Russians could see themselves as being pilloried by the very mild criticism occasionally expressed by European (including British) leaders.

There is another side to the story. Russia is, at present, the largest exporter of arms to China and she is reluctant to see any competition there. She is fairly safe with the United States, whose incomprehensible moral stance precludes arms sales to China but with the EU, who is always trying to occupy the high moral ground, one cannot be so sure.

France is already routinely breaking the arms sanctions. A few weeks ago France and China staged joint naval exercises in Quingdao. It has been obvious for some time that the modernization of the Chinese navy is being carried out with a great deal of French help. Many of the weapons and tools of communication on the ships are French made. A recent Pentagon report to Congress on Chinese military modernization concluded that France is assisting the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) build its advanced submarines. What the French would like is to be able to do all this much more openly with EU support.

It seems unlikely that any agreement will be reached with China in the very near future but that extends no further than the next couple of months. Before many more days are out we shall hear France and Germany demanding that we should leave our cold war mentality behind and start selling arms to the last powerful Communist tyranny. After all, it will annoy the Americans.

The trouble is, it will also annoy the EU’s latest best friend – President Putin. The CFSP will then consist of trying to reconcile the two separate interests of two powers, who are inimical to western liberal democracy and human rights. As well as not being particularly reliable trading partners.

Unfortunately, if the constitution is adopted, the common foreign and security policy will have to be adopted by all member states.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Compare and Contrast

This message presents an interesting contrast to that posted below from Anthony Coughlin. Both from Ireland, they illustrate the extent of the yawning chasm between the sides. As always, though, the Europhiles combine lofty rhetoric with a lofty contempt. Eurosceptic arguments are “tabloid logic”.

According to the Scotsman, European Parliament President, Pat Cox, called for an end to a period of introspection. “The time has come politically to give the green light to the Constitutional Treaty and to equip the new European Union for its new challenges and aspirations. “It is time to draw a line under more than a decade of introspection.”

He was speaking at the invitation of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume to invited guests from the political and academic worlds at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Londonderry.

Speaking about the UK referendum, he added that the decision had triggered a crucial debate for Britain and the EU. Echoing the line taken by Blair, he claimed: “People will be obliged to reflect on realities and not just on myths, they will be obliged to look at interests and not just emotional populist argument. If tabloid logic is confronted with real substance, I refuse to be pessimistic about the outcome.”

Welcome to Our Prison House of Nations

Below is a edited version of a statement from Anthony Coughlan, Director of the EU Research and Information Centre, Dublin, and his colleagues, issued to mark the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 Members on 1 May.

"As everyone is well aware, in a few days our State will cease to exist as an independent sovereign entity."

President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, Mlada Fronta Dnes, 22 April 2004

Like inmates in our EU prison, we welcome new companions. We can be confident the new arrivals will in time help us to break down our political prison walls. At the same time we do not wish on the 10 new Accession countries the loss of national democracy and political independence they now face.

Last year's referendums on their Accession Treaties were travesties of democracy. Public funding, the mass media and the referendum rules were grotesquely unbalanced in favour of EU accession. The EU Commission, ever anxious to increase its own power, interfered massively in favour of the Yes-side - almost certainly in breach of EU law, which gives the Commission no competence in treaty ratification. The result was that voters in the Accession countries went to the polls in virtual total ignorance of the undemocratic, power-hungry, institutional monster they are joining next weekend. All the more bitter will be the inevitable popular disillusionment in these countries.

The 10 Accession countries have got a thoroughly bad deal economically and politically. They are required to take into their domestic law the 80,000 or so pages of EU directives and regulations adopted by the EC/EU since 1957, which they had no part in making, even though many of these are quite unsuited to their different circumstances.

The collective imperialism of the EU 15 is shown by their insistence that each of the 10 new members must agree to abolish their national currencies and adopt the euro in due time as a condition of their joining the EU, even though Britain, Denmark and Sweden are not abolishing their currencies. When the East Europeans were client states of the USSR, the Russians never required them to adopt the rouble. Yet the EU 15 is insisting that the newcomers commit themselves to adopting the euro as a condition of their joining the EU.

EU membership transforms Government Ministers from Executives subordinate to Legislatures at national level into supranational legislators at EU level. Instead of having to obtain the support of their national parliaments in order to pass laws, they can now make these laws or directives for 450 million Europeans behind closed doors as one of an oligarchy of 25 persons on the EU Council of Ministers, and responsible as a collective to nobody. This is a huge increase in their personal power.

The political dynamics of a 25-Member EU will be fundamentally different from a 15-Member one. The new members will strengthen the international movement to restore democracy to the nation states of Europe. This week's enlargement of the EU is almost certainly the beginning of the end of Euro-federalism. Let us rejoice at that.

British Ministers on the Defensive

Source: Agence France Presse

Jack Straw has defended Blair’s decision to hold a referendum on the EU constitution, telling his EU counterparts in Luxembourg: "It's for each country to make its own decisions about how constitutional changes are ratified."

Europe Minister Denis McShane claimed that he was confident the referendum, seen as a huge political gamble, would ultimately pay off. "It will allow us to have a debate based on facts not myths. It will allow everybody who is in favour of Britain being strongly in Europe to come together," he said.

The referendum would "encourage everybody finally to make the case for Britain being in Europe... and defeat the isolationist, anti-European xenophobes and the prejudice and the myths of the anti-European forces. "I'm confident that the British people will not vote to isolate themselves from Europe," he added.

Here we go again

Helen Szamuely

The Foreign Ministers of the EU member states have decided that talks on the EU constitution should re-start on May 17 to end on June 18. Perhaps they should read some history: they have made Waterloo Day the deadline for an agreement on the EU constitution.

The Foreign Ministers of the EU member states have spoken in Luxembourg. They have decided to restart negotiations on the EU Constitution on May 17. This will give them a month to fudge the issues, I mean, to iron out the differences, in time for the June 18 deadline. As every school child ought to know but does not, June 18 is Waterloo Day. Is that a good omen or bad for the European integrationists?

The assumption is that Poland has changed its mind about being fractious (or has been bought off) and the new Spanish government will be more amenable to EU “reason”. It is worth noting that all Spanish governments have been amenable as long as they could see some advantage in whatever was being proposed to themselves.

Jack Straw has proclaimed that the British “red lines” will remain in place. They are: foreign policy, taxation, social security, defence and euro-budget. It is as well to remember that list, since the chances are the government will not. In fact, it is an odd list altogether.

The principle of common foreign and security policy, which includes defence, has been accepted by Britain already – it is the practice that eludes the EU. While the basic strategies have to be decided unanimously, more detailed activity can go to QMV even now. Much of the matter that surrounds taxation is decided by majority voting already. That leaves social security and the euro-budget. So far we have not heard of the British government exercising its veto in either of those fields.

One wonders how many of the details of social security may find themselves in other sections. We all remember how the Working Time Directive became part of health and safety rather than the Social Chapter from which John Major had negotiated an opt-out at Maastricht.

Meanwhile Tony Blair has been lambasted in a letter, carefully leaked to Reuters News Agency, by 52 former British ambassadors, high commissioners and governors for not wielding sufficient influence with the Americans in the Middle East. Of course, if Britain spent less money on, let us say, the Foreign Office or the European Parliament, and more on defence, she might be able to carry more weight in international affairs.

The high panjandrums of diplomacy seem to think that everything done by the Anglo-American alliance and coalition troops in the Middle East has been wrong. They quote unsupported figures on the numbers killed in Iraq and avow that the whole enterprise is a disaster. Bush’s support for Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza but keep some of the West Bank is also a disaster according to the great men.

There is an interesting twist to the analysis that comes either from the high panjandrums or the Reuters journalist who reports the letter: “It comes as Blair faces deep discontent among voters for backing a US-led war that most Britons had opposed and for endorsing a Washington-driven policy that has put London on collision course with allies in Europe.”

None of that, in particular not the last phrase, are substantiated but there will be many neat little twists like this in the media in the next few months on subjects seemingly unrelated to the EU constitution.

Euro MP silent

By Ross Smith,
Newcastle Journal

A Euro MP silent? Now there's a thing!

A leading North Euro-MP has become caught up in a extraordinary row with an Austrian counterpart over parliamentary allowances.

Footage emerged over the weekend of North-East Euro MP Gordon Adam in an altercation with Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin in the normally sedate setting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Dr Adam yesterday refused to explain the picture of him standing over Mr Martin, who is lying on the floor of the parliament building.

Dr Martin had been trying to film Dr Adam, alleging he was claiming a daily payment of £175 on Friday - a day when the Parliament does not sit. Mr Martin claims to have video evidence of many MEPs claiming their attendance allowances only to leave Parliament minutes later.

There are no rules to prevent the practice. One Sunday newspaper alleged that Dr Adam had tried to first grab the Austrian's video camera, then Mr Martin himself, who subsequently fell over. Dr Adam was reported as denying Mr Martin's allegations and referring to the Austrian as a "disgrace."

But yesterday Dr Adam refused to say if he had ever claimed an allowance and then left the Parliament building straight away. He referred all questions to a statement made by European Parliament President Pat Cox last week, in which former investigative journalist Mr Martin's methods of spying on his colleagues were described as "reminiscent of another time and another place".

Mr Cox said: "It appears to me that there has been no attempt to use the normal procedures of this house, which have been bypassed in a grotesque attempt to maximise personal publicity." And on the question of allowance claims, he said: "On the basis of what was sent to me there is zero evidence to support the claims of wrongdoing or a breach of the rules."

Yesterday, at his converted farmhouse home on Tyneside, Dr Adam said: "I'm not prepared to say any more than that.

"While he (Pat Cox) has been president, he's tried to eradicate some of the little problems we have. There is no evidence at all that anything the President said is not correct. Obviously, the matter has been looked at very carefully."

Dr Adam will not stand in this year's postal ballot. But he plans to play a prominent role in trying to secure the re-election of his Labour colleagues Stephen Hughes and Barbara O'Toole.

Yesterday Ms O'Toole also attacked Mr Martin's methods, saying: "When MEPs sign into the House they are usually doing Parliamentary work that day.

"That can be any sort of Parliamentary work, from dealing with emails, office work, case work, working in committee. When an MEP signs in, you can safely say that day they are working on behalf of their constituents. What he (Martin) seems to have done is interpret the role of the Parliament in a very novel way."

Currently MEPs can claim attendance allowance on Fridays at Strasbourg - even though the Parliament sits from Monday to Thursday. This is on top of their annual salary - £55,000 for UK representatives. Mr Martin believes this is immoral and claims to have records of 197 MEPs - including 36 from the UK - signing on for their allowance and leaving the Parliament building within the hour.

Neil Herron, a leading anti-EU campaigner and one of Sunderland's `metric martyrs', said: "We are aware that all an MEP has to do on the day is sign on to get his allowance. "This is not an abuse because members are quite entitled to claim the allowance, but there is no scrutiny of this, which is not acceptable."

Mr Martin could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Insight into that constitution

23 Apr 2004 : Column 576

Mr Marples: The German constitutional court gave that short shrift in the Maastricht case, stating that, if international conventions impose binding obligations on Germany

"which require internal implementation in a way which would infringe guaranteed constitutional rights, then the measures providing for internal implementation are 'subject to review in full by German courts. In this respect the protection of basic rights provided by the Constitution is not displaced by supra-national law that could claim precedence.'"

The judgment in that case continues:

"the resultant legislative instruments would not be legally binding within the sphere of German sovereignty. The German state organs would be prevented for constitutional reasons from applying them in Germany. The Federal Constitutional Court will review legal instruments of European institutions and agencies to see whether they remain within the limits of the sovereign rights conferred on them or transgress them."

In France, there has been a similar case in the Court de Cassation, which is the supreme court.

In the so-called "metric martyrs" case here, Lord Justice Laws reiterated the position that there is nothing that the European Union could do that would take away Parliament's right to change the law—in other words, to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, or for that matter any other law, even if it put us in breach of the treaty. However, counsel for a United Kingdom public authority—admittedly, it was only Sunderland borough council—argued that Parliament could not do that.

Here we have a lawyer for a United Kingdom public authority arguing that the British Parliament cannot repeal EU legislation, or cannot repeal the foundations of such legislation. What concerns me is that we are in danger of moving much further in that direction by calling this measure a constitution, and that the European Court of Justice will certainly suggest that it can override domestic constitutional arrangements—it has done so already, and article I-10 will give it far greater power and reason to do it.

I suggest to hon. Members that a constitution is conceptually different from other law, although it is difficult for us to understand that because we do not have a written constitution. Law is made pursuant to a constitution while a constitution is an organic measure. From it, other things flow. I am concerned that, by calling this measure a constitution as opposed to just another treaty that changes the powers. In one way or another, we are opening the way for courts in member states—and perhaps, eventually, even in our own country—to do just that.

Pull out of Europe, said Mr Blair

Home front
Philip Johnston

From today’s Daily Telegraph, reproduced by kind permission of the author. This is an important piece, which deserves careful reading.

Question: which party leader, by profession a barrister, stood for parliament committed to pulling Britain out of Europe? A clue: it was not Michael Howard. Twenty-two years ago this month, in the middle of the Falklands war, a fresh-faced Tony Blair, then aged 28, fought a forlorn by-election campaign as Labour's candidate in the true-blue Conservative heartland of Beaconsfield.

To say he was on a hiding to nothing is an understatement and he was duly trounced, losing his deposit. The following year, Mr Blair entered Westminster as MP for Sedgefield and the rest, as they say, is history. But in view of the Prime Minister's comments accompanying his announcement of a referendum on the European constitution, it is a history that merits revisiting.

In the Commons last week, Mr Blair, at his most portentous, called for "battle to be joined" between the forces of Europhile light, led by himself, and those of Eurosceptic darkness, represented by the Tories.

"It is time to resolve once and for all whether this country wants to be at the centre and the heart of European decision making or not; time to decide whether our destiny lies as a leading partner and ally of Europe or on its margins," he said. "Let the Eurosceptics, whose true agenda we will expose, make their case."

Yet in that by-election nearly a quarter of a century ago, Mr Blair was content to follow the official Labour Party line, which was to withdraw from the EEC. Indeed, he made it one of his main themes of the campaign. He did not openly dissent from the policy, which would have been politically courageous.

But neither did he just keep quiet about it, as some of his Europhile contemporaries did. In an article for the local newspaper, the South Bucks Observer, on April 10, 1982, he supported the "Labour Party's present leadership" on all important matters including "withdrawal from the EEC (certainly unless the most fundamental hanges are effected)".

Mr Blair's election leaflet said: "Above all, the EEC takes away Britain's freedom to follow the economic policies we need." That and the cost of the "indefensible" farm policy "are just two of the reasons for coming out. Only a Labour government will do it."

During the 1983 election campaign, Labour's anti-EEC policy was reaffirmed in a manifesto famously described as "the longest suicide note in history". Once again, Mr Blair supported this position. His election address said: "We will negotiate withdrawal from the EEC which has drained our natural resources and destroyed our jobs." This sentence appears in a long list of party policies headed "Labour's Sensible Answers".

Evidently, Mr Blair did not really believe in the policy, although he was presumably old enough to make up his own mind. Others who strongly opposed Labour's anti-EEC stance, such as Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams, had done precisely that and left the party.

Mr Blair, we are assured, was really always a strong European but was unable to show his true colours in a party in thrall to the Bennite socialists. He says he voted Yes in the 1975 referendum on keeping Britain in the EEC (unlike Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who were leading lights in the No campaign).

But let us move on a bit to 1986 when Mr Blair was required to take a position on British membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, the precursor of the euro. At a time when Europhiles in the Cabinet, such as Geoffrey Howe, were urging Margaret Thatcher to join the ERM, Mr Blair was making a powerful case for staying out.

He described it as "essentially a Deutschmark bloc. It could be said that we would be putting Herr Pohl of the Bundesbank in 11 Downing Street." He was also concerned that British economic policy would need to be directed towards maintaining a certain exchange rate that might not suit the country, precisely the case made today by opponents of Britain's membership of the euro bloc.

By 1989, however, Mr Blair was for the ERM and, in 1992, he was describing himself as "a passionate European". By 1997, however, he was less sure. He told the Sun: "I know exactly what British people feel when they see the Queen's head on a £10 note. I feel it too. There's a very strong emotional tie to the pound which I fully understand." In the intervening years, we are led to believe, he would have liked to have taken Britain into the euro but Gordon Brown would not let him hold a referendum on the subject.

What are we to make of all this? More than 20 years have passed since Mr Blair invited voters to back a patently barmy manifesto, so why should it count against him today when he has done so much to shed Labour's Left-wing baggage? But it is important if Mr Blair is now seeking to misrepresent the motives of those in the Tory party - and in his own - who have consistently supported Britain's membership of the EU but who object to its accretion of the trappings of a state.

Throughout his political career, Mr Blair has shown himself to be opportunistic on the issue of Europe, while many whom he now condemns as Eurosceptics have retained a principled opposition to the sort of Europe that is being created, without anyone being asked what they want. It is one of the distinguishing features of New Labour that it has shed the party's previous hostility to membership and embraced the idea of the "European dream".

But if the Prime Minister wants us to give him the benefit of the doubt for the extraordinary position he adopted 20-odd years ago, then he should treat the concerns of those who oppose the constitution with the respect they deserve, and not turn the referendum debate into a spurious argument over whether they have a hidden agenda for withdrawal.