Saturday, July 31, 2004

It’s a deal… I think

First you've got your head round G20 – the developing countries – and the G90 "group of developing and least developed countries (LDCs)". Then there is the NG5, which is the non-group of five countries – so-called because they have nothing in common except having nothing in common – which appears to be the same as the FIP (five interested parties).

Now you're almost ready to understand the WTO.

It seems the FIP (or NG5 if you prefer) have been running the show all week, except that the five suddenly became four when two of them decided that they were really running the show. So the one screamed about the two, joined by another one, with the G90 screaming like blue murder, and ditched the talks at the absolute eleventh hour.

However, it wasn't the eleventh hour after all because they all decided there were actually twenty five left, even though they said there wouldn’t be any more time.

Then is seems that the one pushed the two of the five into giving away more, helped by the other one of the five who led the G20 into agreeing, which meant that another 25 – who didn’t seem to have a "G" - got stuck into another ten, who also didn’t have a "G", and seemed to agree that they wanted to agree.

By this time everybody was so knackered and confused that they had forgotten what they were agreeing about, or disagreeing, and just wanted to go home, so they all decided to agree, except the G90 who hadn’t really understood what was happening anyway. But since no one was listening, the NG5 and the G20 and the 25 without a G all agreed that they had agreed something and they went off to catch their planes.

So there is a deal. God knows what it is, but the only certainty is some one, somewhere got screwed – and it wasn’t in a brothel. I suppose there might be some more detail in the papers tomorrow, but I’m not sure I want to read it.

What a surprise!

The WTO talks broke up in disarray last night, with the developing countries, led by India, rejecting a deal stitched up between the EU and the US. However, the deadline is being extended another 24 hours to see if an agreement can be reached.

Brazil and India had expressed serious doubts about parts of the text, but it was believed that both countries were simply holding out for a better deal as the minutes ticked away to the Saturday night deadline. "The US and the EU were broadly happy, but the developing world is in uproar," one observer said.

Indian officials said the document pushed through by the US would have allowed it to get away with a lower reduction of subsidies and at a slower pace. At the same time, the US had insisted that India should commit itself to reducing its aggregate support for agriculture from five per cent allowed now to nil.

The split had developed on Thursday, when India broke away from the group of five key players comprising itself, the US, EU, Brazil and Australia. The group, called in the arcane vocabulary of the WTO talks NG-5 (Non-group-5), described as such because of their conflicting interests, is dominated by the US and EU. India felt that they were seeking to railroad developing nations into accepting a poor deal.

Celine Charveriat, of Oxfam International, said of the compromise draft that it was unacceptable because it failed to meet the needs of developing countries. "Presented as a breakthrough", she said, "the text on agriculture does little to address the problem of export dumping, instead introducing dangerous loopholes for yet more subsidies, especially from the US."

However, our very own trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, is trying to persuade developing countries that a deal is in their interests. It is going to be a long day – for her at least.

Well, diddums

Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero has announced that the visit by HMS Tireless, a nuclear submarine to Gibraltar in early July was the incident that displeased him most in his first 100 days of office. He can but hope that nothing worse will happen to him in the next few years.

Meanwhile the newspaper El Mundo has reported that the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, intends to visit Gibraltar on August 4, as it celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Rock’s capture by the British. Since the Gibraltarians consider themselves to be British and since they have demonstrated over and over again that they wish to remain so, for them it is a celebration.

The Spanish government is, however, intending to lodge a diplomatic protest on grounds that are hard to discern. Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega has said that relations between Britain and Spain "are those of allies and friendly nations", but she said Spain considered the visit "inopportune".

Actually, we were all under the impression that the relations between Spain and Britain were those of members of a union that everyone seems to be denying but let that pass. Why exactly is the visit inopportune? The celebrations are in the coming week. When would Hoon’s visit be opportune if not now?

What a cock-up

The fact that the EU’s waste policy is creating disastrous problems for member states has finally gained official recognition – by the EU Commission itself.

The Directorate General for the Environment commissioned the German Institute for Environmental Strategies, Oekopol, to carry out a study on "the definition of waste recovery and disposal operations", which it started in October 2002 and completed a year later.

The Commission has now released the executive summary of the report and, although it is couched in measured terms, it is a damning indictment of the EU’s waste and recovery policy.

The report concludes that, as waste technology has developed, it has become increasingly difficult to class an operation as only recovery or only disposal. This is because many processes will recover at least some waste whilst disposing of the rest.

Another considerable stumbling block in developing waste policy is establishing at what stage of recovery waste no longer poses an environmental risk and therefore should no longer be defined as waste. The report claims that the absence of EU environmental standards for recovered waste makes it impossible at the moment to judge when risks are neutralised.

Crucially, the report also identifies how the EU law complicates recycling by issuing recovery and disposal definitions that are "asked to play competing roles in EU legislation". For example, "recovery" is used in a narrower sense when setting environmental targets than it would be to define internal market waste shipments.

This is leading to the anomalies of the type described in this Blog, where national authorities have made a mess of distinguishing between waste and recyclable material. This has led to recovery operations being prohibited because the materials used are treated as waste, with the insane results that the burden of disposal is being increased while recycling is being prevented.

The Commission has welcomed the report's findings and agrees that waste definitions should become easier to apply, and that methods and standards were needed to establish when products "stop carrying the waste stigma" and no longer pose an environmental risk.

There are, a spokesman says, "number of options" for resolving the problem of defining waste in different legal areas. He confirmed that the commission had not taken a position yet, "but at least the problem has been defined", he added.

And how long before the problem is sorted? The problem that should never have arisen in the first place, and represents yet another cock-up by an organisation that shouldn’t even be trusted to run a bath.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Monti dumps on France

One of the politicians expecting to continue his term in the EU commission was competition commissioner Mario Monti. He had been promised by Berlusconi that he could stay on for a third term after turning down an offer as finance minister in the Italian government.

But politically weak Berlusconi was forced by his coalition partner, the Christian Democrat UDC, to replace Monti with its own favourite, European affairs minister Rocco Buttiglione.

The jilted Monti only found out he had been replaced from the media and he has come back spitting with fury, giving an unusually candid spitting assessment of his own government and some of its EU partners in an interview in the Corriere della Sera.

In particular, he took a swipe at France and Germany, accusing them of representing "a brake on integration." But he was especially scathing of France, which he slammed for favouring the short-term interests of some big national companies to the detriment of EU economic development in general.

"France has become a problem for itself and for Europe", he said. "It cannot handle its successes, and often it doesn't see them, and attributes its setbacks, which are often imaginary, to Europe."

Subsequently, almost as if to prove Monti’s point, France has blocked an accord amongst EU member states over the draft WTO agreement which must be finalised tonight.

At a scheduled meeting to give Lamy authority to agree to the deal on the table, Jan Brinkhorst, minister of economy for the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency, "asked if anyone had a problem with the substance". The only minister to raise a hand was from France.

According to ministers present, the French representatives then raised multiple procedural matters, rather than dealing with substantive points. They then insisted that an agreement could only be made by a unanimous vote, running the meeting out of time without the EU position being finalised.

We wait now to see whether France’s manoeuvres finally sabotage the talks. If they do, Monti may permit himself a knowing smile.

And the record plays on

Peter Mandelson, the recently nominated British Commissioner, has spoken out on how he sees the next five years (we need not fear that he will be sacked in Brussels, where his financial peccadilloes will be regarded as very small fry, indeed).

I want a Europe that is pursuing economic reform, new jobs and protection from terrorist and other security threats, not a Europe that is over-regulated, bureaucratic and centralised.

This will only work if there is a change in the regulatory culture in the Brussels system.

Well, gee. Have we not heard all this a few hundred times? As, indeed, the wish, also expresed by Mr Mandelson, that the Commission take tougher action to prevent over-regulation in the European Union, thus stifling its economy. Presumably, said tougher action will take the form of more regulations, initiatives and score-boards. Oh, and more officials in Brussels and in the member states to administer.

In other words, normal service will not be interrupted.

Nice one

The current edition of Eurofacts points out that the USA, 3,000 miles away, not an EU member, having to pay tariffs on its exports, and not even having a free trade agreement with the EU, manages to sell more to the EU than Britain does.

In 2002. US exports (goods, services, income) to the EU-15 were $340.6 billion while UK exports to the EU-14 were a mere $204 billion.

Perhaps, since so many jobs in the USA depend on trade with the EU, the new president – whoever he might be – should consider getting in his application to join sharpish.

The rabbit in the headlights

A few days ago, my colleague, slightly apologetically, offered some observations about the Conservative Party.

In a Blog entitled "EU Referendum" we, of course, are slightly restricted in the scope of our material if we are to remain true to our original objective of discussing issues arising in relation to the UK referendum on the constitutional treaty. This is a mixed blessing, as it does relieve us – thank goodness – of any obligation to comment on the broader (or narrower) political issues of the day.

Nevertheless, the referendum, when and if it happens, will not take place in a political vacuum and, as some serious political scientists have observed, the result will be affected as much by broader political considerations as it will the specific issues relating to the constitution. (That, indeed, is why many sensible people are opposed to referendums in the first place.)

Therefore, the broader political environment is relevant to this Blog and, as such, we will continue to comment on issues as they arise, albeit that they may be peripheral to the issue of the EU constitution.

In that context, we note with dismay the opinion poll reported in today’s Daily Telegraph and the commentary by Prof. Anthony King. In fact, the headline gives the flavour of the situation, proclaiming: "Verdict on the Tories: Out of touch, stuck in the past, lacking leadership and a sense of direction".

The dismay comes not through any great love for the Tories, but from the fact that a healthy, vibrant party is essential for a successful referendum campaign, and a Tory party reeling from defeat at the next general – which now seems almost certain – will add considerably to the difficulties in winning the campaign.

Anyhow, the poll is from YouGov, showing that Labout is in the lead, with 34 percent, the Tories are on 33 percent and the Lib-Dems come in at 23 percent. And the "others" which includes UKIP, take 11 percent.

As always, the devil is in the detail, which can be found in the online report, but King’s summing up is that both major parties are held in low esteem and that there is widespread indifference about them, the voters failing to make any real distinction between them.

One would not expect King, however, to draw any conclusions that challenged his own beliefs – the man himself is a notorious soft Europhile, and veers away from any serious critique on EU issues. But my discussions with no end of Conservative and former supporters – and fraught, despairing conversations with constituency party chairmen – all point to one cause, that the Tories are failing to give any lead whatsoever on the EU.

It is not so much what they do say, as what they don’t. In a press conference on environmental policy this week, trailed by Booker in his column last Sunday, in which Howard and Yeo were supposed to come up with a robust new policy on wind farms, the outcome was a damp squib. All Yeo managed was a damp commitment to review planning law changes introduced by Labour, which make it easier for developers to install these accursed things.

Had he come out robustly with a condemnation of wind farms and a policy to suspend any further development – which is what he was advised to do – he would have walked away with front page headlines and a million votes in his pocket. But to do so would have meant confronting our EU obligations under the Kyoto protocol, which Yeo was not prepared to do.

Similarly, as the growing waste crisis mounts, the issue is crying out for some robust common sense, and a statement from the Tories that they will sort out the raft of insane legislation pouring in from Brussels and restore sensible controls would have won them instant applause. But all we get from Yeo is a demand that fly-tipping, the inevitable consequence of the insane laws, is made an arrestable offence.

And, on the subject recently introduced in the Blog, Hoon’s "Future Rapid Effects System" (FRES) the Tories have been totally silent as to whether it should go ahead, and on the political implication of the system. To challenge Hoon would require robust questioning of European defence integration, something which the closet Europhile shadow secretary of state for defence, Nicholas Soames, is not prepared to do.

Given that so much UK policy is now decided at EU level, what has been happening is that the Tories, having decided to treat the EU as a no-go area – have progressively closed down the issues they are prepared to discuss, effectively leaving them only with "schools ‘n’ hospitals", the strong ground already occupied by New Labour.

In other words, what King does not say is that the "dead hand of Europe" continues to cast its spell on the Tories, emasculating them and turning them into political zombies. They cannot come up with any clear blue water between them and New Labour because, to do so would means that they would also have to confront EU policy, and risk the infamous "Tory splits". Howard and his party therefore, are like the proverbial rabbit frozen in the headlights of an approaching car – and the outcome is going to be the same.

Effectively, until the Conservative Party comes to terms with "Europe", it is not going to win a general election and, just as worryingly, it will be heavily compromised when it comes to fighting the EU referendum.

The Russian angle

It is always instructive to hear how the subjects that preoccupy one are viewed from a slightly different angle. Yesterday evening I heard the eminent economist and historian Philip Hanson, Professor Emeritus in Russian and East European Economy at the University of Birmingham, talk on Russia now and in the future.

While most of his fascinating and well-balanced talk together with the discussion afterwards are beyond the scope of this blog, he did raise a couple of interesting points to do with the European Union.

Speaking of the agreement between Russia and the European Union proclaimed in June (and discussed in this blog) he reminded his audience that the EU had undertaken to support Russia’s application to the WTO. Apparently Pascal Lamy at one point pronounced grandiloquently that said membership would tie Russia into a stable, transparent and liberal economic and political system.

Professor Hanson thought that was going too far. Look at the other members, he said. He did not even want to discuss Italy, but Moldova? Kyrgyzstan? These are stable, transparent, liberal systems? That is surely a chapter from Tales of Porcine Aviation.

Asked about the agricultural sector, Professor Hanson touched on the fact that there had been agricultural reforms in Russia and though the situation was messy and inadequate, the country, almost for the first time since the early Soviet years is exporting wheat. In fact, it is exporting wheat without starving its own population, as it did before the revolution.

The trouble is that its natural trading partner is Europe and Europe, said the professor, is stagnant at best and protectionist and stagnant at worst. He returned to that theme later on when quoting another economist who was trying to forecast the economic future (always a risky business).

It seems that according to this forecast in a couple of decades we shall reach a situation when the world will be divided up economically. America will do services, China industrial production, Russia energy and Europe? Europe will do stagnation. There was no disagreement in the audience, not even (or especially not) from other economists.

Time to listen?

Statements deploring excessive EU regulation from British industries, and even now the CBI, are almost a ritual part of the political scene – as indeed are the ritual, but empty, promises by politicians to do something about it. We learn to listen and shrug our shoulders. Nothing will ever happen.

But when the Director, Brussels Office, Verband der Chemischen Industrie (German Chemical Industry Association), Dr Reinhard Quick, starts moaning, perhaps it is time to listen. In a letter to the Financial Times, he takes issue with the recent analysis of economist André Sapir, who had argued in the pages of the FT that "Higher growth should be Barroso's priority". "Unfortunately", writes Quick:

…he forgets to mention that the next Commission should simplify and streamline - say deregulate - existing European laws rather than making new legislative proposals. If President José Manuel Barroso will be judged on the success of the Lisbon agenda, the new Commission must learn to say no to the regulatory activities of some commissioners.

In 2001 the Commission decided to reduce the 97,000 pages of European Union law by 25 per cent, yet it failed bitterly and became a champion in over-regulation. It was typical of the Prodi Commission to make bold statements on industrial policy, competitiveness and better regulation. Yet these statements contrast with 403 finalised legislative acts and 86 finished conciliation procedures, most of which were proposed by the same Commission. These acts increase costs and delay the entry of new products into the European market.

Even if one were to believe - which I do not - that these acts were necessary in order to achieve societal goals, the Commission needs to understand that European companies do not live on an island isolated from international competition. Markets decide, not the Commission. The Commission can set the right framework for companies to compete and to prosper; it can also, unfortunately, contribute to de-industrialisation.

We are faced with the situation that companies turn their backs on Europe and innovate elsewhere, although Europe could be a world leader in new technologies, such as gene technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology.
To conclude, Dr Quick offers a suggestion that we would all heartily endorse:

Rather than debating whether we need to introduce a "greening" of the Lisbon agenda, I would suggest to President Barroso that he economise on environmental and consumer protection. During the Prodi years the business side of the sustainability concept has been bitterly neglected.
Whether Barroso will - or can - take any notice is another matter. The standard advice from this Blog applies: don’t hold you breath.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

FRES – the political implications

Following our Blog on Hoon’s wonder-child, the "Future Rapid Effects System" (FRES), further study and discussion has brought to the fore the considerable political implications of this new military system.

In short, we are looking at 21st Century technology for what now seems to be rather quaintly called our "warfighting community". It amounts to a series of armoured fighting and support vehicles, all based on a common module. Each vehicle is equipped with an extraordinarily sophisticated electronics, the whole forming a fully integrated network so that all the units can communicate instantly with each other, share information, and transmit it back to the command echelons.

So much for the technology, but what makes this important politically is that the system is so hugely expensive that it is beyond the capability of the UK to fully find and develop it on its own. It must either tap into an existing programme – and the only other game in town is the US "Future Combat System" (FCS) - or collaborate with European partners.

Seemingly, without there having been any open debate on the issue – and certainly none that we can see in Parliament – a decision seems to have been made that we will throw our lot in with the Europeans, which means that the US and EU member states will be developing rival systems.

Several issues devolve from this. The first is one of inter-operability – whether the two rival systems can work alongside each other, and whether even they can communicate with each other. Again, there seems to have been no open debate on this issue either but, if the systems cannot be integrated on the battlefield, it means that British forces can no longer operate alongside US forces in any meaningful way. Multilateral operations will be only be possible alongside forces with similar – i.e., compatible – equipment, which would mean that we are locked into working only with our EU partners.

Secondly, although our forces will be almost reliant on highly sophisticated equipment, we will not have total control over its manufacture, or even critical sub-systems – such as the satellite navigation and positioning systems – on which the operational system depends. Nor indeed will we necessarily have control of critical components of the system itself, such as the software codes that makes it work.

As an indication of the sophistication of these types of system, the US FCS is estimated to require 34 million lines of software code, five times more than the Joint Strike Fighter, which so far is the largest defence undertaking in terms of software to be developed.

An analogy is buying a desktop computer – which has an operating system like Windows – but having no access to the operating system and being unable to repair it if it goes wrong. That is fine if you can get a "man" in to fix it, but not so good if it drives combat-critical systems which are under the control of other national political systems, which may or may not allow the release of vital data – or hardware – when it is most needed.

One must no forget, in this context, that the Belgians refused to supply ammunition to British forces during the first Gulf War and, while we were able to circumvent that bit of unpleasantness, it is wholly a different matter when we are relying on unique source codes of huge complexity that can only be obtained from one source.

In short, reliance on our European partners for this technology – albeit on a collaborative basis – could mean not only that we can only operate with their forces, but also that we lose our ability to operate independently, if our partners disapprove.

All of this – without a single debate on the implications – seems to be bringing Mr Monnet’s dream of European integration to fruition in a manner that he could not even have imagined. When, in 1950, he persuaded French foreign minister Maurice Schuman, to launch the European Coal and Steel Community, his idea was that by integrating the two industries (then) essential to making war, he would deprive individual member states of the independent means of making war.

Over fifty years later, dream seems to be coming true, as the equipment different armies of the EU member states is becoming so integrated, and nations so dependent on each other for that equipment, that no single member state will have the ability to conduct military operations without the permission of the others.

That may be all very well and good, but should not we have had at least a debate about it before Hoon committed us to yet another massive round of European integration?

Europe and America reversed

Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune, reporting the start of the Democratic Convention in Boston, carried a big headline on its front page: "In Europe, passionate cheering for Kerry". "Really?" – I thought. – "Says who?" Well, says Timothy Garton Ash, Director of the European Studies Centre at Oxford and a leading perestroika europhile.

According to him Bush’s perceived unilateralist approach to international affairs has caused a "wrenching confrontation" between Europe and America, has plunged the world into crisis and made this election "formative" for the world.

May we suggest that Garton Ash, a supposed expert in the subject of European history (wot dat?) actually reads The Great Deception, as well as a few other pieces, including some on this blog, that show detailed evidence that one of the aims of the European integration and, particularly, of the common foreign and security policy has been a wrench between America and Europe (or, to be quite precise, the European Union as envisaged largely by French politicians)?

It might also be useful for Garton Ash and his colleagues and co-thinkers to acknowledge that more European countries supported the war in Iraq than opposed it and to look a little more closely at the motivation of those who stubbornly refused to see that there might be a problem with Saddam Hussein.

We have, of course, been here before. Or, rather, the American people have, since, no matter what Garton Ash and his like think, it is Americans who elect an American President, not some international cabal of the great and the good.

When it first became obvious that John Kerry would be the most likely Democratic candidate, he announced that he had had various assurances from leaders of many countries that they wanted to see him as President instead of the terrible Bush. When challenged by the understandably curious media to produce names and evidence, Kerry retreated.

So, who else is passionate about John Kerry (a most unlikely state of affairs, but let that pass)? Well, there is an unnamed West European diplomat in Washington, who is quoted by the Trib in the article that is reprinted from the Boston Globe:

There will be a sense of relief in Europe if Kerry is elected. He has a very different style than Bush [sic], and a very different instinct as an internationalist.

And in diplomacy, style is substance.The foreign policy establishment in the Democratic Party is not substantively different from that of the Republicans, certainly not in the Middle East. But with Kerry the feeling is that there will at least be a dialogue, an attempt at understanding.

This is actually much more revealing than Garton Ash’s grandiose waffle. No wonder the diplomat refused to be named.

It might be a good idea for all those perestroika europhiles, who think that one reason the EU is not going the way they think it should be going is American intransigeance, to remember that there are unlikely to be many changes in American foreign policy after the election, whichever way it goes. As far as the Americans are concerned, the issue is not foreign policy or international relations but the fight against terror, and in that it is substance that matters, even if style is the most important aspect of diplomatic dinners.

Interestingly, the article does not quote any of the Europeans who are going to be anti-American, no matter what, or any of those who are basically supportive, while perhaps diverging on details, of the war against terror. But we do get a few statements from that other great perestroika europhile institution, the Centre for European Reform.

What all these grand intellectuals demonstrate is a certain lack of understanding of real, as opposed, to seminar politics. They have not noticed, for instance, that Kerry's great weakness, as far as the American electorate is concerned, is his attitude to the war either against terror in general, or in Iraq, in particular. He has flip-flopped as political expediency dictated and has not come up with any coherent strategy.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of indication that what matters to Americans, as to all other people in all other countries, is domestic policy, in particular the economy and whether the upswing will continue. Bush is relying on that, while Kerry is trying to discount it, and Edwards makes mawkish speeches about poor little girls without winter coats (name and geographic position of little girl unspecified).

Those Europeans who are, supposedly, passionate about Kerry seem not to have noticed that he and Edwards are campaigning on a largely protectionist ticket. This plays well in some parts of the country, though they might find it hard going in those states, which rely on international trade.

The point is that far from being internationalist in his views, Kerry seems to be intent on cutting down imports, banning foreign investment and foreign expansion of American firms. Most probably, he will not succeed, even if he is elected, or will give up all those ideas, as Clinton did. But if he is elected and if he does turn his electoral promises into policies, there will be trade wars, the American economic upswing will stall and with it, any hope for an end to the extended recession in the world.

Possibly, Kerry will accompany it all with Clintonesque touchy-feely rhetoric, though it will come rather oddly from a man who has been compared unfavourably to Herman Munster. But his "passionate" European fans ought not let their hearts rule their heads.

Little Europeans

Although it is some little time since we did our last "myth of the week", normal service will resume in due course and, as soon as we have completed twelve of them – the same number as the stars that grace (if that is the right word) the EU national flag – we intend to publish them in a pamphlet.

In our endeavours, however, we find we have been given some help from an unexpected source, none other than the Guardian. In today’s edition, Martin Jacques - a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics Asia Research Centre – has written a piece headed "Face it: no one cares", with the strap, "Europe is no longer the world's top dog, but our hubris blinds us to our insignificance".

Shorn of some of the polemics, and a comment about the French role in attempting to block US intervention in Iraq – with which we could hardly agree – the piece would serve remarkably well as a "myth" entitled: "The nation state is dead".

That beguilingly simple statement is, after all, at the heart of the integrationalist doga of the European Union, one espoused by Monnet after his experience in the League of Nations during the 20s, and the driving force behind the whole federalist movement. Nation states, so the mantra goes, are a nineteenth-century (failed) construct, the ultimate causes of war and the reason why Europe has failed to prosper.

What Jacques does in his piece is point out that, for centuries, Europe was the world's most outward-going and expansionist continent – which incidentally coincided with the heyday of the nationalist ethos in Europe. Now, after fifty years of the integrationalist experiment, Europe has become inward-looking and self-absorbed. "From being the place to view and understand the dynamics of the world", Jacques writes, it no longer provides such a vantage point".

As anyone with the glimmerings of an internationalist perspective would readily agree, Jaques points out that "the engines of change have moved elsewhere" – not that the "Europeans" - including the British - recognise this. "They still think that Europe, the US apart, is the centre of the world". In fact, what Jacques is identifying is a phenomenon on which we ourselves have remarked. While the Europhiles so easily brand Eurosceptics as "little Englanders", they themselves are the "little Europeans".

Thus does Jacques write, "Europeans are still largely unaware of this slippage in their global importance is itself powerful confirmation of the growing provincialism of our continent". He continues:

The integration project, which has dominated the life of Europe for almost half a century, has served to reinforce and accentuate this sense of introversion, even at times acted as the author of it. This is not surprising. It has been a huge, difficult and novel undertaking. It has commanded the energy, brains and focus of the continent, directing them towards the nature, boundaries and arrangements of Europe rather than the wider world. The result has been self-absorption…
The decline, Jacques diagnoses, is "in reality" the decline of the European nation state, which is a regional rather than global phenomenon.  On the other hand:

For the majority of nation states, products of colonial liberation and for whom an independent nation state is an entirely novel experience, the opposite is the case. For them, the building of a strong nation state has been the central objective. The results have inevitably been varied, but if we take the instance of east Asia, home to a third of the world's population, then the project has been hugely successful: the vast majority of nation states have seen a steady accretion of power - the opposite to the European experience.
"The era we have now entered", he adds, "would be more appropriately described as the moment of the nation state". After living in east Asia and witnessing the extraordinary historical transformation over there, Jacques has been "taken aback by the sheer ignorance of what was happening - how Europeans had not understood its significance - not least for themselves - and by their provincialism (in which the elite is no exception)".

And he is not optimistic about the future. "European self-absorption will surely continue", he concludes. "Europe will remain preoccupied and troubled by the integration process for a long time to come, not least because the project is bureaucratically driven - as it must be - in a continent which is historically the home to democracy and popular sovereignty, a contradiction that lies at the heart of the project and always will".

There we have it. Those who think that "Europe" is the way forward, the vision of the future, should look outside their own narrow parochialism and see what is happening in the rest of the world, where the nation state is alive and thriving. It is Europe that is dying, the Europe of integration, bureaucracy and the suppression of democracy. Thank you Martin Jacques – and the Guardian – for pointing that out.

Pity poor Señhor Barroso

The man who has been grudgingly (though predictably) accepted by the European Parliament as the President of the Commission was an also ran in the tortuous nomination process. (Presumably the highly moral and sophisticated Europeans will continue to point the finger at the "laughable" and "ridiculous" American process of choosing a President. All in the open. It’s, like, so last century.)

Now Barroso has the unenviable job of creating 24 jobs in the Commission, one for each Commissioner, and allocating them in such a way as not to upset anyone. The big countries will want big jobs for their boys and girls, the small countries will be watching carefully to make sure that their interests are not trampled on. It is, of course, true that Commissioners have to promise to do their duty regardless of their nationality and country of origin but this has never bothered any Commissioner, except, perhaps, the British ones, whose view of what is in Britain’s interests is idiosyncratic.

On top of that, Barroso cannot choose his ministers. They are sent to him by the individual member states after various shenanigans and pork-barrel politics deals.

Some are staying on. The Swedish Margot Wallström, who is responsible for some of the worst pieces of environmental legislation, is having another term, as is Günther Verheugen of Germany. Chancellor Schröder wants him to have a "super" Commissioner's portfolio in charge of economics, in order to put life into the wretched Lisobon process that is meant to make the EU economy the most dynamic in the world by 2012. As Deutsche Welle put it wryly: "So far the effort has produced meagre results."

The newcomers from France and Spain, Jacques Barrot and Joaquin Almunia will probably stay on, with France eyeing the economic or the internal market portfolio. Other Commissioners are beginning to appear. Poland is sending Danuta Hübner, a European negotiator and minister of some experience.

Italy, as we have said before, is sending Rocco Buttiglione as part of a deal between Berlusconi and the junior coalition partner, Union of Christian Democrats. Britain, as is well known, is sending Peter Mandelson for no other reason but that he needs a job and cannot be brought back into the government after two scandalous resignations. Who says we are not good at this sort of game?

Barroso has said that he will not have a tiered Commission. All Commissioners are equal. He has also said that he wants more women. There are now seven and Austria may send the eighth one. He has not said, because that is pointless, that he wants intelligent, knowledgeable, honest politicians. He will not get them.

It seems, however, that he will not be another Romano Prodi. The polite way of describing Prodi’s stint was that he gave freedom to his Commissioners. The less polite way was that he was completely useless, though he knew very clearly what the Commission was for. All those pronouncements about the power and future role of that body, which so irritated commentators in Britain, were quite accurate.

The Commission is the de facto government of the European Union, as guardian of the treaties, sole initiator of legislation and the executive arm, all in one.

Solana shows his mettle

Javier Solana, the future foreign minister of the European Union, has, as readers of this blog know, announced that in order to protect its citizens the EU will have to act outside its borders. It has security interests all over the world, according to him. Curiously enough, it is precisely statements like this, made by President Bush and others in the American government that have made certain European politicians (President Chirac, Chancellor Schröder et al.) preen themselves at being more sophisticated and nuanced in their attitudes to the world.

Recently Solana has shown in practice what he means by his cryptic comments. As our readers may remember he went on a fairly extended tour of the Middle East about the time Gaza, which is now becoming an independent entity, erupted into serious problems of violence and lack of security.

Javier Solana did not visit the area. Since then the Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Chairman Yasser Arafat have kissed and made up with the latter promising for the umpteenth time that the security forces will be reformed and he will relinquish control of them. This has never happened in the past and is unlikely to in the future.

The tense and unpredictable situation in Gaza does not seem to concern Mr Solana. Does this mean that the area is not one of those where the EU has security interests? How could one even ask such a thing? Mr Solana made up for his reluctance to say anything about Gaza and even greater reluctance to criticize Arafat by having a major row with the Israeli government.

When he arrived in Tel Aviv he was greeted by angry Israeli ministers, who wanted to know why the EU’s member states all voted for the UN Resolution that recommended the removal of Israel’s defence wall. Was the EU not bothered by terrorist attacks? Solana clearly was not. As far as he was concerned it was Israel that was making difficulties, in particular by not taking the EU’s interests seriously.

“Europe”, he announced, has strategic interests in the Middle East and would persist in participating in the peace process, whether Israel liked it or not. This is a little odd, surely. After all, Israel, too, has strategic interests in the Middle East and has some say in who is involved in the peace process. Come to think of it, what are the EU’s strategic interests in the Middle East (apart from the lucrative business deals that France has in Syria)?

Surely, in the present situation our strategic interests are to deal with the threat of terrorism, wherever it may arise. Is wilful blindness to instability in the Gaza the best way of dealing with that? Is deliberate support for a man who is either unable or unwilling to deal with the terrorist gangs on the territory he rules with an iron fist conducive to a solution?

Given what, despite obstructionism by the UN, we are beginning to find out about the food-for-oil scandal and various European politicians’s involvement in it; given the fact that many of these were the most vociferous opponents of any solution to the Saddam Hussein problem; given that EU aid to Palestine has been known to disappear faster than you could say Chris Patten, is it not reasonable to ask what is it that the EU, Javier Solana and many others are afraid of? Why do they hang on in there grimly supporting Yasser Arafat against all political and moral arguments, against the needs and wishes of the Palestinian people, against all possibilities of a peaceful solution? Is there something about that relationship that we ought to know?

Drone, drone

And so the WTO talks drone on, with the news of the day exactly the same as on previous days.
The EU is covering its back, warning that the talks will fail unless everybody else agrees with them.  It is focusing particularly the US, which is under pressure to cut its subsidies, even though the EU hands out four times amount of aid, none of which it is prepared to reduce.

The US, on the other hand is trying to exempt its farm payments from the talks, leaving the EU’s chief negotiator, Pascal Lamy to making cheerful noises about being "positive" about the latest state of play, despite there being no progress at all.

The less-developed countries – as we must now call them – are bitching about being stitched up (with some justice, as they always are) and the NGOs are consuming forests by the square mile, churning out vacuous press releases to justify their presence to their wealthy donors.

While the smaller players shout loudest, the EU and US delegation are working on the small-print of the draft agreement to make sure they don’t have to cut the subsidies to their farmers after all, mainly by calling them something else.

The dealing goes on in the hotel rooms, restaurants and corridors – and probably the brothels, if there are any in Geneva - with these players juggling for position, which they hope will bring them to conclude a deal on Friday.

And that’s it. My heart goes out to all those journalists – the foot soldiers of history - fortified by nothing more than their expense accounts, who have to hang around the conference centre with nothing at all to report. However – look on the bright side. Only one more day to go.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

NuCons on the march?

As readers of this blog know, we take no political side as far as parties are concerned. My colleague dislikes them all and I remain wary of their machinations and despairing of their political silliness. However, that does not mean that we take no interest in what they are up to.

One story seems to have been making its way round much of the media in the last few days: that of the new Conservative Notting Hillbillies.

Briefly the story runs like this: there is a group of young(ish) glamorous Conservatives - some blue-blooded, others not so – in politics, behind the scenes, in the media, who all live close to each other in Notting Hill Gate (though as one who knows the area well, I’d say the definition is somewhat lose), socialize with each other and are making their way through the Conservative Party in the same way as the Islington mafia of Blair, Brown and Mandelson with assorted hangers on made their way through the Labour Party in the early nineties.

The old-timers are complaining but the NuCons care not. They have positioned themselves to be the next wave of … well, what exactly? The analogy breaks down rather quickly. The most important thing about the Islington NuLab mob is, after all, that they made the Labour Party electable. The NuCons, if, indeed, they are influential in the highest reaches of the Conservative Party, have turned the Michael Howard of the sudden surge in popularity at his election as leader into a man who is unelectable.

In itself the notion that the Conservative Party needs new blood, new ideas or, indeed, any ideas is hardly radical. The shock-horror outcry of the old timers leaves one cold. These are the people who have given us the two most catastrophic electoral results of the modern Conservative history. Their political ideas are of little interest.

Nevertheless, one is entitled to ask what exactly is the story here. Are there new ideas percolating from the Notting Hill NuCons through Rachel Whetstone, Howard’s political adviser and a member of the mob? If so, what are they? According the to the business journalist, George Trefgarne, also a supposed member of the mob, they are largely eurosceptic, small government and socially liberal. All a bit vague but possible. The trouble is that there seems to have been a break-down in communications between Trefgarne and supposed company, Whetstone and Howard, as the latter has not actually mentioned any of this.

Other commentators say that the group has no particular ideas or policies but just likes sitting around in chic wine bars and each other’s kitchens discussing their bright future. They are using their undoubted personal success to advance any political idea that might win the election. Again, there must have been a break-down in communications: the Conservative Party at present seems to have no chance of winning the parish hall tombola.

Again we ask: what is the point of these political non-stories? Is there really nothing else to write about? When and if the NuCons come up with coherent ideas and show themselves able to develop policies that are taken up or could be taken up by their elders if not exactly betters, well, let us hear about them. In the meantime, may we suggest, respectfully, of course, to the ladies and gentlemen of the media that they should start paying some attention to real news? And may we, equally respectfully, remind the ladies and gentlemen of the Conservative Party that their time is running out? They should put away their childish toys and start paying attention to reality.

Want to put Hain right?

Nice to have Hain coming out of the woodwork, as he has done today, with an article in the Guardian. He is always good value and a positive asset to the Eurosceptic movement.

Hain’s thesis this time is that the "Eurosceptic climate" in Britain will never be eradicated as long as Brussels remains outside of proper democratic scrutiny in this country. He admits that Parliament was neither properly holding to account UK ministers on EU issues nor the European commission "with the mass of documents pouring out from Brussels".

"It is absolutely crucial that the British parliament, which is the cockpit of democracy, acts as a proper link between Europe and British citizens, and that is not happening now," he says. Reform is vital "if we are to create a climate, and change attitudes in this country so that we can really put Britain at the heart of Europe".

But, as a measure of where Hain is coming from he claims that the Commons European scrutiny committee "does an excellent forensic job".

Yes, maybe – but does it make a difference? Of course not. Ministers regularly ignore it, documents are passed to the committee too late for it to do its job and, in any event, the Council can outvote British ministers even if they act on the advice of the committee.

What a pity Hain does not read this Blog - he might learn something. But you, dear reader, can consult our article on the subject (click here) to see precisly how much guff Hain is spouting

Does someone want to write to him and put him right?

Another blunder of Eurofighter proportions

There was something particularly revealing about Javier Solana’s comments (recorded in this Blog) that "the US must treat the European Union as a full partner in an effective and balanced partnership", and "The European Union has to show the US that it is worthy of that title."

This yet again illustrates a mindset in the EU – despite its inherent anti-Americanism –the intense jealousy of the US. And the outward manifestation is an almost child-like determination to prove that "Europe" is at least as good as, if not better than, the US, in every possible way.

It is that ethos, as much as anything, that has driven the EU to commit £3 billion or more to the Galileo satellite navigation and positioning system – despite the provision by the US of their "free-to-all" GPS system. Much the same thinking drives the determination of the EU to maintain its own space programme, and to fund Airbus with such generous subsidies.

But this thinking is also driving the EU military procurement programme, to the extent that anything the US has, the EU must have too. This is most obvious in the pursuit of the A400M large military transport aircraft, despite the availability of proven US designs, which are undoubtedly cheaper and in many respects better.

However, this drive to match the US now seems to be pushing the EU – and the UK in particular - into making another blunder in military procurement, of Eurofighter proportions in expenditure terms, and drive UK defence up a cul-de-sac from which it may never recover.  That "blunder" is called FRES, standing for "Future Rapid Effects System".

Nevertheless, although it seems to have formed the centrepiece of defence minister Geoff Hoon’s recently announced Strategic Defence Review, very few people know anything about FRES. All we know is that Hoon is relying on it as the technological fix that will enable him to cut back on human resources – like soldiers. By this means, he thinks he will have bundles of cash left to give Gordon, to spend on the bureaucrats running schools 'n' hospitals, to say nothing of the 3,500 office chairs in the Department of Defence, at a cool £1,000 each.

That so few people are aware of what FRES actually is can hardly be surprising. Two years ago, Gregory Fetter, a senior land-warfare analyst at Forecast International/DMS, observed that it was "too early to try to figure out what FRES will look like …It's like trying to grab a cloud of smoke."

And, as late as March of this year, Nicholas Soames, shadow defence secretary – in a debate in the Commons on defence policy - noted that defence contractors had been "anxiously awaiting a decision from the Government on the future rapid effects system battlefield vehicle that the Chief of the General Staff requires to be in service by 2009, but for which there is not yet even a drawing".

Small wonder that, in the report of the defence select committee published today, the committee expressed concern that the proposed in-service date of 2009 "will not be met".

So what is FRES?

The quote from Soames actually give some clue. He calls it a "battlefield vehicle", but it is more than that. It is a whole family of vehicles which are intended for the Army of the 21st Century, equipping it for its role as a rapid reaction force. It will enable it to deal quickly and effectively with trouble spots around the world, with maximum efficiency and the minimum expenditure of manpower. At least, that is how the propaganda goes.

For that, the government is preparing to sink around £6 billion into buying 900 vehicles, with an estimated budget for the total costs of ownership over the expected 30-year service life of almost £50 billion. That is a staggering £6.7 million average cost to buy each vehicle and an unbelievable life-time cost per vehicle – yes, each vehicle - of £55.5 million. To say that it would be cheaper to drive our troops into battle in a fleet of top-of-the-range Rolls-Royces hardly begins to illustrate the extravagance.

Whatever the merits of the vehicles – and these will be discussed shortly – the point is that FRES is not a British, or even European idea. It is copied from a US military programme known as FCS, or "Future Combat System". This is an armoured vehicle family designed as a "system of systems", operating in a network, fully equipped with the latest in electronics, combat systems and weapons, all inter-linked through satellite communications. And because the Americans are having it, "Europe" must have it as well.

Furthermore, although Hoon is highlighting it in his own defence review, FRES has very much become a "European" project. Such are the vast development costs that no single European nation can afford them, so it has become another of those joint programmes of which the Eurofighter project is the model.

Already, the European skills at designing just what is needed are coming to the fore. A fore-runner of FRES was the tri-nation programme to develop what was known as the MRAV – the " multi-role armoured vehicle", funded by the UK, German and Dutch governments and managed by the European armaments agency, OCCAR (Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation).

In a mirror image of the Eurofighter project, the French were also originally involved, but they pulled out to produce their own vehicle called the VBCI. Perhaps this was just as well for, after the expenditure of untold millions, the tri-nation consortium produced a prototype which they named the Boxer, only to find that at 33 tons, it was too heavy for airborne rapid deployment.

But the European involvement has not yet ended – not by any means. Despite honeyed words from the DoD to UK manufacturers, the leading contender for building FRES is a German firm, Rheinmetall DeTec. Should its designs be accepted, the outcome will undoubtedly be the formation of another European consortium to build it, as national sensibilities would not allow British forces to be equipped with German-built machines. And, with costs already escalating, we have another Eurofighter in the making.

So where does this leave us?

Here the political element comes in. Effectively, we are committing ourselves to enormous expenditure to buy "state of the art" but wholly unproven equipment, primarily to allow British armed forces to take part in what will almost certainly be an EU "rapid reaction force". The bulk of our new spending on procurement for the Army is being designated to that end. Effectively, to play a leading role in this force, we must have FRES. That is solely because FRES is what the US "rapid reaction force" will have and if the Americans have it, we (the Europeans) must have it too.

However, no one seems to be addressing the question as to whether FRES is actually a good idea – or necessary. Certainly, it may be suitable for the US, which is wealthier and can afford both new technology and maintain its existing force levels. Here, if we have to cut back out forces, in order to buy the technology – as Hoon is doing – we may have the worst end of the deal.

But even in the US, there are serious voices being raised, warning against the over-reliance on military technology in battle zones, noting that doctrine and tactics are equally important, if not more so, and that the human element is the vital factor.

On the UK front, we are getting into an even more serious situation where the costs of military "assets" is now so huge that we cannot afford to use them in combat zones where their loss might be threatened. Where an Iraqi insurgent can buy an RPG7 in a Baghdad bazaar for $20, it is a brave military commander that will risk a machine worth nearly £8 million, when it can be taken out with one round loosed off by a teenager.

Not for nothing, it should be noted, are US forces now patrolling the streets of Baghdad in Vietnam-era M113 armoured personnel carriers. They might not afford as good protection as the proposed FRES – or its US-equivalent – (although neither will protect from an RPG7) but at least they are affordable, and available.

Whether the Europeans will learn this lesson is debatable, and unlikely. Certainly, it looks like Hoon has bought into the European dream – that anything the US has, we must have too. Furthermore, he seems willing to bankrupt our forces to pay for it. There seems nothing now that can stop us lurching into another blunder of Eurofighter proportions.

Letter from another planet

In The Times today there is a ghastly story about foreign home owners in Valenca. They are being systematically ripped-off by developers who are exploiting new property laws which enable them to expropriate land and charge for the privilege.

But what caught our eye was the comment of Charles Svoboda, a former head of intelligence for the Canadian Government, who has made his home in Valencia and is fighting to protect his property from what he calls "a form of legalised or semi-legalised theft".  "The Spanish", he declares, "don’t respect any laws until they get caught, and they do anything they can to wriggle out".

Enter right on cue, the EU commission with its 2004 "Fisheries compliance scoreboard", reporting – as the title would indicate – on the degree of compliance (or non-compliance) – with CFP rules over the preceding year.

And heading of the list for non-compliance are three countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and… you guessed it: Spain. All three were slapped down for having breached quotas in 2003 and other fisheries rules in practices which, the commission says, are threatening some species altogether. In some cases, the breaches of quotas ran to 76 percent.

Commenting on the result, fisheries commissioner Franz Fischler said: "Despite some progress, much remains to be done. Member states committed themselves to ensuring more equitable, effective and uniform enforcement. They must now deliver."

Now, is this the same France Fischler who in January of this year announced the award of the EU Fisheries Control Agency to the Spanish, to be located in Vigo, known informally as the European centre of illegal fishing? And is this the same Franz Fischler who proudly declared that the location of the agency in Vigo would "boost enforcement"?

We are not sure quite which planet Fischler was speaking from, but sure as hell, it wasn’t this one.

The appetite increases

Not content with its so far limited military adventures, the EU must look further afield. So said Javier Solana, the EU foreign minister, speaking in Rome yesterday to an annual conference of Italy's 140 ambassadors at the invitation of Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.

The EU must be able to act outside its borders if it is to ensure the security of its 450 million citizens, he told the diplomats. Europe was "confronted with a situation in which the security of our citizens requires that we act outside our borders". And, of course, to do so, it needed to re-examine its institutional framework.

"The Constitution seeks to answer this demand," said Solana, adding in impenetrable "Eurospeak" that the document reflected agreement on "a higher level of ambition the EU should have as an international actor".

What this presumably boils down to is that the EU should have a fully-fledged foreign policy, backed by its own military forces, but the real objective is similarly coded. Europe's partnership with the United States was "irreplaceable", said Solana, but "The US must treat the European Union as a full partner in an effective and balanced partnership. The European Union has to show the US that it is worthy of that title."

There you have it. The EU "level of ambition" is to match the US as an "international actor". Some target. But here in Yorkshire, we would say that Solana’s appetite is bigger than his belly.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Aren’t we a little confused?

It is interesting that very few Europhiles run their own Blogs. But one who does is the press officer for Richard Corbett, labour MEP and former political assistant to Alterio Spinelli. The man goes by the name of "Toby" and is particularly keen on exposing Eurosceptic "myths", hence the name of his site, straight banana.

But unlike his master, who has a reputation for being highly knowledgeable about the EU parliament, our Toby sometimes gets a little confused.

In one of his more recent Blogs, he notes a Huddersfield Daily Examiner report that the BNP is "considering taking legal action after Barclays froze up to six of its bank accounts… BNP chairman Nick Griffin said the bank's move broke European human rights laws".

"I'm sorry? Excuse me? It broke what?!", splutters our Toby. "Isn't Mr Griffin aware of his own party's uncompromising policy on Europe? How on earth can he demand British withdrawal from EU if he's happy to appeal to legal rights that come from Britain's membership of the EU?"

Er… sorry Toby. European human rights laws derive from the European Convention of Human Rights, signed on 4 November 1950 under the aegis of the Council of Europe. It is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

As such, it has nothing directly to do with the EU and our adoption of certain parts of the convention does not depend on our membership of the EU, and nor would we need to be a member of the EU to subscribe to it. In fact, as can be seen from the date of signing, the convention predates the EEC by seven years.

Not made here

According to the Wall Street Journal Europe "[t]he EU head office withdrew a proposal for a regionwide compulsory ‘Made in the European Union’ label, on lack of interest".

How very interesting. Several points occur to us immediately. The obvious first one is that there has been a certain dearth of information in the UK about the fact that this 'Made in the European Union' label was going to be compulsory. No, of course, they do not want to turn it into a state (let’s not get hung up on the 'super' part of it). They are just making every possibly effort to make it appear as such.

Secondly, there is the rather curious reference to the European Commission as head office. The WSJE, together with large chunks of the British media, seems reluctant to accept that what the Commission is and wants to have confirmed is a government.

On the other hand, the WSJE is right in a somewhat unexpected fashion. There is no doubt but that the EU, just as New Labour, wants to take politics out of politics. The aim, already achieved to a very great extent by the EU, is to make government managerial rather than political.

Politics is really rather messy, and involves the question of accountability and democratic responsibility; management, on the other hand, is, at least in theory, straightforward and needs little account of popular opinion. Since this business is envisaged in the light of a complete and single corporation with no outside shareholders, management is perceived to be fairly easy. Head office may not be a bad way of describing this particular form of government.

But the most interesting part of that comment is "the lack of interest". Businesses are not there for their health and they are not to be won over by spurious semi-political arguments. They know that 'Made in the European Union' signifies dross produce that no country wants to claim. They do not want the label except when they are trying to sell dross. Presumably, no Canadian or American firm would want 'Made in the Americas' stamped all over its produce.

Our guess is that the Commission or "head office" will be back with that proposal. It is very important to them that production in the EU should be noticeably labelled as such.

Kilroy not to stand?

Despite media speculation that Kilroy-Silk will be the UKIP candidate for the Hartlepool by-election, it is now almost certain that he will not be standing. Party officials are already looking for another “high profile” candidate to front their campaign.

What is not certain is whether Kilroy-Silk jumped or was pushed, although it is known that Party leaders were reluctant to call on the charismatic former TV presenter, for the very reason that he might win. Kilroy-Silk as UKIP's first MP would be in such a powerful position that he would be able to dominate the Party and sideline its present leadership.

If there had been a serious expectation that he would stand, the Party in any event did not seek to encourage him. Already, the core of the campaign team has been set up in Hartlepool, without consulting Kilroy-Silk, who is currently "on holiday" in his Spanish home. Yet it has already been reported that Kilroy would have made choosing his own team a condition of his candidature.

Furthermore, it is not exactly a coincidence that, while the assembled media were – and still are - waiting for a statement from UKIP on its candidate for the Hartlepool by-election, the Party should come storming out with a statement... about its strategy for the general election.

Writ large in The Times today, and followed up by the BBC, was a story headed "UKIP will not stand against anti-EU Tories" describing how UKIP had promised to give a clear run at the next election to Conservative candidates who back withdrawal from the EU. All they have to do is sign a letter supporting the UKIP's policy of pulling Britain out. "We are going to give Michael Howard one hell of a headache," said Nigel Farage, leader of the Party's EU parliamentary group.

This demonstrates clearly that the Party focus is not – and never has been - on Hartlepool, but is set on more distant objectives. In fact, in the absence of Kilroy-Silk at the helm, senior party officials have already abandoned any ambitions of winning the Hartlepool seat.

The lack of enthusiasm for staging a high profile fight also reflects the fact that Hartlepool is traditionally a Labour seat, where the Conservatives would expect a poor showing. For, while UKIP presents itself as anti-EU, it is, as this Blog has previously observed, primarily an anti-Tory grouping. With no Tory "scalp" to win, the party is more interested - using its own terms – in "making mischief" in the Tory Party.

It also explains why the Party was reluctant to fight the recent by-elections at Hodge Hill and Nottingham South, which were also held by Labour.  Even the chance of a Westminster seat, giving UKIP and the Eurosceptic movement a voice in Parliament, holds little appeal, especially when its representative would be difficult to control.

Not for the first time, therefore, UKIP seems to be putting its own internal party interests above those of the cause it purports to represent.

A very dangerous development

On this Blog, on 22 July 2004, I drew attention to the EU's new law, rejoicing under the title "The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive", which required, as of 21 July, impact assessments for every type project listed in the directive.

What I found most disturbing about this directive, and hence the reason for writing the Blog, was the fact that it gave gives special status to what are termed NGOs – Non-Governmental Organisations, more familiarly known as pressure groups. They have to be allowed actively to participate in the SEA process and public authorities are obliged to take their views into account.

I ventured the opinion that this might be good for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, et al, but it is actually very bad for representative democracy. There is no similar provision for either local elected councils or even parliament to be consulted, so these bodies are effectively marginalised. Officials speak directly unto the people, and are effectively represented by the unelected NGOs.

This particular piece of legislation, however, is only one indication of how influential NGOs have become, and to what extent they are shaping and even controlling the political agenda. Another indication is their active role in the WTO talks currently in progress in Geneva, where they are highly active in promoting their views.

It is timely, therefore, that Tech Central Station should have produced on article by Alan Oxley, former Ambassador of Australia to the GATT (the predecessor of the WTO), entitled "Song of the Idle Rich", excerpts from which are reproduced here with the permission of TCS.

In his piece, Oxley examines the role of NGOs more closely. He notes that "among the more noticeable developments" since the failed Seattle WTO meeting has been "the significant increase in activity by the NGOs that have consistently opposed the WTO and the idea of development through free trade".

"Even more noticeable", he writes, "has been the emergence of NGOs claiming to speak as third world voices. Both Western and 'third world' NGOs actively agitated last year at Cancun to stall the WTO".

What Oxley then does is pick up on the work of independent Washington-based economic analyst Greg Rushford, who has revealed that these "third world" NGOs have received significant funding from US foundations.

With an element of understatement, he observes that the source of funding of the Western NGOs has not always been clear. In fact, their funding is notoriously opaque. Some of it comes from North American foundations, from organised labour and (paradoxically in Europe and Canada), official aid agencies.

Rushford, Oxley says, has found that all of the major "third world" groups - Martin Khor's Third World Network headquartered in Penang, Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi, Waldon Bellow's Focus on the Global South in Bangkok and Yash Tandon's SEATINI in Zimbabwe - receive significant funding from US Foundations.

He gives other examples of Rushford's findings, all pointing to a shadowy network of financing that comes significant political strings, with such organisations as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Development Foundation heavily involved.

With a US slant to the article, however, Oxley does not look at the European dimension, but it has long been known that a number of environmental NGOs receive money directly or indirectly from EU funds. The WWF, for instance, receives some finance through participation in EU-funded programmes, although it is highly reticent about declaring just how much it receives. But it is also obvious that, in much of its rhetoric, it and the EU commission are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Oxley rails against those who argue fair trade means rich countries cut trade barriers, not poor countries. He writes that they seem unconcerned that they are also giving gravitas to the position of the Western NGOs that poor countries should also have higher (and more expensive labour standards). These, he says, are recipes for continuing poverty in developing countries. The cashed-up foundations are calling the tune. "It is the song of the idle rich", he writes.

But, despite the merit of Oxley's work, he is only presenting half the picture. In that the NGOs are assuming a more authoritative voice in political affairs, yet are wholly without an electoral mandate, they represent an attack on the very fabric of democracy. Furthermore, in EU affairs, they seem to be being used as a Trojan Horse to undermine traditional representative structures in pursuit of the more general agenda of European political integration.

Altogether, they are a very dangerous development.

Doha – ever-decreasing circles

In an entirely predictable development, yesterday the assembled foreign ministers of the EU tried and failed to present a united front for today's WTO talks in Geneva, on what is hoped to be the decisive stage of the Doha round - see previous Blog.

They managed to cobble together something of a statement "endorsing" Lamy's negotiating position, but so bland was it that leaves him with no firm instructions on which to operate.

And while France continues to be the major blockage, she has attracted the support of Italy, Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Poland, all countries wedded to protectionist agricultural policies, who have lined up against Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, countries which, to a greater or lesser extent, are more disposed towards free trade.

Time will have to be made, however, for a further round of talks between the ministers of EU countries, who want to meet on Friday to discuss any deal before Lamy is allowed to close.

Under such a tight leash, he will find it difficult to make any concessions on agriculture that would need any fundamental changes to the CAP. Much, therefore, depends on how the US will react and, in particular, whether it will agree to throw its food aid programme into the ring, as being equivalent to the EU's export subsidies.

Everyone, therefore, is banking on the appearance of a new draft agreement which will be published tomorrow, following which there will be round-the-clock negotiations until the "drop-dead" deadline for agreement of midnight on Friday.

Meanwhile, pressure groups defending poor countries are displaying their unease at what appears to be a stitch-up in the making between the EU and the US. Oxfam has been particularly critical, its spokesman saying demanding that the rich countries "get their heads out of the sand and fulfil their promises", while the British-based group Action Aid has accused rich countries of "continuing to bribe, bully and threaten developing countries".

On the other hand, farmers groups from the EU, Japan and Canada are demanding that a level of protection is maintained, to allow farmers "to meet society's food security and rural concerns for sensitive products", and protection for farmers who incur high costs in order to meet society's concerns about food safety, the environment and animal welfare. They do not want their trade to be "undermined by imports which do not meet the same standards."

Whether all these disparate views can be reconciled by Friday is very much in the balance but the signs are not good. The EU's main emphasis seems to be how to blame the collapse of the talks on the US, while American negotiators will be considering the same strategy. All in all, the talks seem set to go round and round in ever decreasing circles. We all know what happens then.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Yet another benefit of EU membership

Today’s Northern Echo offers a story headed: "Abandoned vehicles continue to increase", in which it lists some of the areas in the North East that are affected by this new epidemic.

Chester-le-Street registered a 400 per cent increase in the number of vehicles abandoned last year. Derwentshire, a neighbouring council, registered a 148.3 per cent rise. Hartlepool recorded a 164.4 per cent rise, Middlesbrough 96 per cent and Richmondshire 157.6 percent. Sedgefield, in County Durham, recorded an 11.1 percent rise, while Stockton recorded a 378 per cent rise.

Yet this is not solely a Northern problem. The story is replicated up and down the country, as local newspapers pick up on the consequences of yet another disastrous EU policy.

But what is fascinating is the way that the issue has been picked up by the Europhile Lib-Dems, with its environment spokesman, Norman Baker, claiming that the scourge is "a direct consequence of the absurd decision to make the final owner of the car foot the bill for its disposal, rather than the manufacturer, as is standard practice throughout the EU''.

This rather typifies the way that the Europhiles, on being confronted with an EU-made disaster, still can see no wrong in their beloved Union. Instead, they adopt two stratagems: first they blame the inadequacy of their own government, and then praise European countries, who always seem to get it so, so right.

But, as one might expect from a Europhile – and a Lib-Dem to boot – the situation is not as simple as Norman Baker makes out. For a start, it is by no means common in the rest of Europe for manufacturers to pay the bill for the disposal of their cars. In "green" Germany, for instance – according to the Lib-Dems’ favourite newspaper, the Guardian:
…car makers were so opposed to the idea of adding to the price of new cars to pay for the scrapping of old ones that the idea was abandoned. As in Britain, the government forces the last owner to be responsible and, if necessary, pay a dealer to take it away. But Germany avoids most of the problem of the 2m cars their owners no longer want by exporting them to eastern Europe or other parts of the world, such as Africa, where old cars still find a ready buyer. So instead of millions of cars to be scrapped, Germany has to dispose of around 200,000 a year - less than are dumped at the roadside in Britain.
So Germany dumps its old, polluting cars on the third world, and under-developed eastern Europe, leaving some of the poorest communities on the planet eventually to dispose of the wrecks. So much for Mr Norman Baker’s grasp of the realities.

But if Germany has rather neatly got round the problem, that still leaves other countries dealing with a messy and somewhat intractable problem, which is indeed one of the EU's making.

The proximate cause is being blamed on the End of Life Vehicle Directive (2000/53/EC), the so-called "ELV". This has two main aims: the prevention of waste arising from motor vehicles and vehicle components that have reached the end of their life-cycle; and the promotion of reuse, recycling and recovery of ELVs and their components. In addition, the Directive seeks to improve the environmental performance of all 'economic operators' involved in the life cycle of vehicles, particularly those involved in the treatment of ELVs.

According to the Directive, from 1 July 2002, producers of vehicles had to meet all, or a 'significant' part of the cost of scrapping and recycling for vehicles put on the market after this date, and should meet all the costs for all vehicles from 1 January 2007. However, the UK – together with other member states – have found it extremely difficult to implement the precise terms of the Directive.

As a result, the UK, as well as France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Finland, which all failed to meet the deadline, were referred to the ECJ by the commission on 8 April 2003. To avoid a court hearing, the government rushed out the End of Life Vehicles Regulations 2003, which came into force in November 2003.

Although the law now applies to new cars (i.e., those produced after 1 July 2002) these form only a tiny percentage of vehicles currently scrapped, so the Directive can hardly be responsible for the current disaster. In fact, on the face of it, there should not be a problem at all: current prices for scrap steel are at an all-time high owing to enormous demand from China. Some countries are even making laws prohibiting the export of scrap steel, to protect their domestic industries.

What is happening, therefore, is something different. The core of the problems is that steel in cars is being progressively replaced by other materials – particularly plastic – which dramatically increases the costs of dismantling, and thereby reducing the margins of scrap handlers. This means that car wreckers are producing material for which there is no market for recycling, and which must be disposed of separately.

Here, our old friend the Waste Framework Directive comes in to play, which we have highlighted earlier on the Blog click here and here.

It is that which is responsible for shutting down a massive number of landfill sites, and for increasing the costs of landfill, as well as creating uncertainty as to whether the waste will be classified as "hazardous". All of which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to dispose of surplus material and makes scrapping cars prohibitively expensive.

When the ELV Directive does come fully into force, it will make life inestimably worse. At the moment, two million cars are scrapped each year in the UK and, currently 72 percent of cars, measured by weight, are either reused or recycled. Under the directive, the minimum percentages to be reached from 2006 onwards are 80 percent for reuse and recycling and 85 percent for reuse and recovery. By 2007, the recovery rate will have to rise to 85 per cent.

Thus, even more plastic will have to be salvaged from the old wrecks because most of the metal, the majority of the weight, is already recovered. Yet no one has created a market system that values the plastic greater than the cost of recovering it.

The result will be that costs will rise even further, and a new mountain of unwanted plastics and other materials will be created. Nor will it be possible to incinerate the surplus – the other permitted option - as the capacity simply does not exist. And with more stringent "environmental" requirements, combined with onerous licensing and recording requirements, only a few vehicle dismantlers will survive. These will have to charge substantial sums before they can accept scrap cars.

Those costs will fall on the least wealthy fifth of the population, who own one third of all the cars that are over ten years old – i.e., of an age at which they are likely to have to be scrapped in the coming years.

The results are only too predictable. Three years ago, some 350,000 cars were abandoned each year and, as the Northern Echo story indicates, the number is already spiralling upwards. At a conservative estimate, some authorities are predicting the number will rise to 500,000. At the moment, it is already left to local authorities to clear up the mess, at an average cost of £350, which comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets. The problem can only get worse.

As this Blog has observed before, how lucky we are to have the benefits of EU membership.

Spain "ayes" February

After initially promising a referendum in November, the Spanish government is now planning on February for the event. It proposes to ask the question, "Do you approve the treaty instituting a constitution for the European Union?", and expects a resounding "aye".

This might be helped by the fact that both the governing Socialist Party (PSOE) and the main opposition Popular Party (PP) are behind the constitution.

Whether the Spanish population will be so keen, there is no clue, although the government probably needs to get the referendum out of the way before its people realise how much money they are going to lose when structural funds are cut as a result of enlargement.

As with many net recipient countries, pro-EU sentiment tends to dominate but, in a country known for its mercenary attitude to cash handouts from Brussels, this may be more a matter of "cupboard love" than enthusiasm for political integration. An early referendum, therefore, may be the only chance the government has of winning the vote.

Hartlepool will be pivotal

I do not as a rule take much notice of Rachel Sylvester’s column in The Daily Telegraph. Known as a New Labour "luvvy", she was appointed by Charles Moore in the expectation that she could provide an insight into the doings of the Blair camp. In fact, she has proved more of a kite-flyer for Blair, either testing out the latest "spin" or floating ideas to see the reaction from the natural right-wing Telegraph readers.

In her latest missive from No. 10, therefore, headed "Mandelson's mission is to put the PM at the heart of Europe", one must wonder whether indeed she is kite-flying, or is on to something more substantial.

Her thesis is that the Mandelson’s appointment is part of a "hidden message". Blair intends to make "Europe" the major theme of his presidency for the next five years. So, while his ministers may be unveiling their five-year plans for health, education, crime and transport, Blair's "unpublished plan" is to mount an all-out campaign to persuade the British public to love their continental neighbours.

It is for that reason he is sending his most trusted ally to Brussels, to prepare the ground for a third term that will, in his view, be dominated by a battle over Europe, starting with Britain's presidency of the EU next summer.

In this scenario, it seems Blair is looking at the referendum as a springboard for a much wider fight about the nature of Britain's relationship with the rest of the world. So forget public services. After the election, he hopes to capitalise on a new bout of Conservative in-fighting, mounting a crusade to persuade the British people to love Europe and thus cementing his place in the history books.

If this is indeed Blair’s strategy, then many in the Eurosceptic movement will welcome a "full frontal" on "Europe", but before Blair commits himself – if he has not done so already, he had better read Rees-Mogg’s column in The Times.

This one, headed "Third time unlucky with Peter Mandelson" has me worried – as I always worry if I agree with him, so consistent is his reputation for getting things wrong.

But Rees Mogg does do us a service in reminding us of the state of play in Hartlepool, where the by-election will prove to be of more than marginal interest. He points to the UKIP result in the Euro-elections, where Labour did come first, but with only 32.5 percent of the vote, compared with the 59.2 percent of the vote in the 2001 general.

But UKIP came second, with 19.8 per cent; Hartlepool was its best result for in any of the three regions of the North of England, leaving the Conservatives trailing in third place with 17.0 percent of the vote, and the Liberal Democrats in a poor fourth place, with 13.4 percent.

Most of UKIP’s support came not from the Tories but from previous Labour voters and Rees-Mogg believes that this must be attributed partly to Mandelson’s role as the leading Labour advocate of European integration. If Kilroy-Silk stands in the by-election, he could draw further support away from Labour, and possibly win. That would be a disaster for Labour, which could open the gate of the next general election to UKIP and to the Conservatives.

Whether it is possible to reconcile the disparate strands of these two articles is a moot point. From within the Sylvester "bubble", one gets the sense that Blair feels that all he needs to do to win the "Europe" argument – not least the referendum - is to apply himself to it, with the support of his mate Mandy on the inside. From the Rees-Mogg "bubble", UKIP – and in particular Kilroy Silk – represents a powerful force which could grind the Blair dream into the dust.

Whoever is right, it suggests that this Blog’s prediction that the by-election in Hartlepool will be pivotal is close to the mark. But that depends on whether UKIP can get its act together. And, in the longer term, what will also be crucial is whether the Tories can confront the "Europe" issue head on, or whether they will continue to duck it and leave the ground to UKIP.

How lucky we are…

Foreign ministers of the 25 EU member states meet in Brussels today in a last-ditch attempt to finalise their "common position" on WTO negotiations.  These enter their final phase when 147 ambassadors meet for talks in Geneva on Tuesday.

The WTO meeting is scheduled for completion by Friday and is part of the so-called "Doha round" of talks, launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001 in the hope of kick-starting the world economy, reeling from the 9/11 suicide attacks. The idea was to give a multibillion-dollar boost to global commerce and lift millions out of poverty.

The talks already have a chequered history, having collapsed last September in Cancun, Mexico, when a number of EU member states, led by France, refused to allow the commission negotiator, Pascal Lamy, to make concessions on farming subsidies, which would have cemented a deal.

And once again, we are re-visiting old ground. In the run-up to the talks, the Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, is accusing Chirac of again blocking a deal. The French president is claiming that the draft agreement on the table is "profoundly unbalanced and contrary to EU (i.e., French) interests". He will not even accept the proposal as a basis for negotiation.

The draft, drawn up by Supachai and General Council Chairman Shotaro Oshima of Japan, includes the total elimination of farm export subsidies, although it makes no firm proposals on other aspects of farm support, particularly on U.S. programmes.

Also in the draft is a proposal to allow market access for certain sensitive products – such as sugar and cotton - produced by developed countries. Additionally, it attempt to draw up an "equivalence" between EU export subsidies and other support mechanism, such as food aid, which the US more commonly relies on. It is this areas that Chirac claims is "unbalanced".

Other countries, and particularly the developing countries such as India, are also unhappy about the draft, but are prepared to do a deal. But France is expected to veto any attempt by the EU to reach an accord that will enable negotiations to continue. Even though France is isolated in its stance, it is pressuring Lamy – who is also a French commissioner – to follow the French line.

This leaves the EU in "game-playing" mode, making a conditional offer to eliminate its export subsidies on agriculture products, but only if all other countries do the same. This is seen as a tactical manoeuvre which will enable it to duck the blame if the talks fail.

Zoellick is worried about failure and sees the Geneva talks as the last chance. Their collapse would create "a serious question about when or how or if one would be able to get the Doha negotiations revived", he says. WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi echoes that sentiment, saying that failure could lead to a stalemate that could last for years.

As for the British interest, ours are best served by trade liberalisation, enabling us to buy cheaper agricultural products from many of our Commonwealth partners – including Australia and India – without the swingeing tariffs and quota restrictions imposed by the EU.

But, as always, since the UK has handed over its trade policy to Brussels, we will find ourselves falling into line with France – which traditionally dominates the EU negotiations - and paying more for our food, all the interests of protecting French farmers. How lucky we are to have the benefits of EU membership.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Pointing the finger

It is quite remarkable how the BBC insists on trotting out Michael Heseltine as the great sage, whenever it feels that the Conservative Party needs help on how to win elections.

But in a week when Hoon’s defence cuts have dominated the headlines, it is also remarkable that no one seems to be putting two and two together, and apportioning the blame for the financial disasters that are besetting the Department of Defence. And that blame, as we pointed out in an earlier Blog, lies to an enormous degree with Michael Heseltine and his enthusiasm for that disastrous European project, the Eurofighter.

That the Eurofighter is at the heart of our problems is at least acknowledged by that other "great sage", the former Europhile Max Hastings, who in an article in the Sunday Telegraph calls for boots rather than bombers.

However, instead of focusing on the progenitor of the project, the egregious Heseltine, Hastings picks on Hoon, noting that in the defence debate last Wednesday, he "dragged a cloud of obfuscation over the greatest scandal of all - the continuation of the £18 billion Eurofighter programme". "Ministers", Hastings writes:
…say there is no escape from this nonsense. Britain is supposed to buy 232 copies of an aircraft less relevant to the nation's modern defence needs than HMS Victory. Job losses would be frightful if the programme was scrapped, they claim; British Aerospace would be ruined; the bills would have to be paid anyway. Yet what a shocking commentary it is upon our procurement policies, that 14 years after the Berlin Wall came down, it is deemed unavoidable to persist with this wholly redundant programme, while infantry numbers are cut.
But it is not our procurement policies that are primarily at fault. The fault lies with the deal Heseltine signed with our European "partners" which makes it impossible to pull out of the project without incurring massive financial penalties. Cancellation would mean that we would end up paying almost as much as we are doing, but we would have no aeroplanes at all to show for the expenditure.

Thus, it was all very well for shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames to describe the defence spending review as a "moral and political betrayal", but the actual betrayal came 14 years earlier when Heseltine locked us into an insane contract, and all because of his enthusiasm for all things European.

Yet this is the man, according to the BBC, that is best equipped to tell the Conservatives what they need to be doing. So, while Heseltine preens and pontificates, it is the Poor Bloody Infantry that are going to pay the cost of his obsession. It is a pity that media and other commentators do not point the finger at their real betrayer.