Tuesday, November 30, 2004

How do they do it?

Oh good, I thought. An article in the Daily Telegraph about the UN and the ridiculousness of its pretensions to being the world’s saviour. The UN must sort itself out before it can take on the world by Anton La Guardia, a seasoned journalist foreign and war correspondent, will be, I assumed, of some interest.

How easy it is to overestimate the British media. Mr La Guardia talks of the new report by the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change about the problems with the UN, American dissatisfaction with it and various half-hearted suggestions for reform.

He comes to the entirely predictable conclusion that despite all the difficulties and inadequacies, the UN is something we all need and the United States more than anyone. Without coming up with any specific proposals he seems hopeful about useful reforms.

Well, well. A whole article about the UN and its problems without a single mention of the oil-for-food scandal, the way it reveals the corruption at the very heart of that organization and the way it is engulfing the Annan family. How do they do it?

Yet again one thinks of that wonderful little verse of Humbert Wolfe’s:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God, the British journalist.
But seeing what the man unbribed will do
You have no occasion to.

How true, how very true.

Part of the problem…

If there is a phrase that is in danger of becoming over-used on this Blog, it is "elephant in the room", which we tend to use to describe the phenomenon whereby diverse commentators try to diagnose the ailments of society without recognising – or even noticing – that huge, brooding presence, the European Union

However, today in The Times, our growing frustration with the inability of apparently intelligent people (and I do say "apparently") to recognise the "elephant" is further intensified by someone who really should know better – political columnist Anthony Howard, so much so that again we are driven to use the phrase.

Howard writes a comment piece headed: "The real culprit behind the death of Parliamentary drama", in which he discussed why the standing of Parliament (the UK institution) has suffered a decline and, in particular, why there has been an erosion of the position the House of Commons, which once occupied the focal point of the nation.

For his diagnosis, though, the great political sage offers, amongst other things as the cause of the ailment, the introduction by the "modernisers" of "family hours". The House nowadays sits after 8pm only one night a week and, as a result, all the drama has gone out of the sittings.

To an extent, he is partially right, but only partially so. For what is entirely, completely and utterly missing is any mention of the "elephant". Yet, we now have a situation where, variously some 70 percent or our laws are promulgated by the EU.

They cannot be influenced by Parliament and many are implemented by way of Statutory Instruments on negative assent, where not even a perfunctory debate is required and where there is no chance of MPs setting them aside.

A graphic example of this is to come on Thursday, when there will be the annual fishing debate in the House. Traditionally, it has always been held in December, over a full day, a means by which MPs could give the fisheries minister a negotiating mandate for the December fisheries council, when the annual allocations of national fish quotas were decided, from which a raft of regulations would then be drawn up.

In days gone past, especially during the last Conservative administration (remember that?), these used to be highly charged affairs, and heavily reported by the media, with well attended, angry sessions running late into the night.

But, progressively, MPs – and the media – have learned that the debates are a waste of time. The House cannot bind the minister, and whatever the minister tells the House he will do can be overturned in Brussels, presaging a humiliating retreat. All too often this results in the minister returning home claiming a "victory" for British fishermen, hoping that no one will notice how much he has given away - yet again.

So, when it comes to Thursday, the debate has been scaled back to three hours. It is to be an adjournment debate, so there will not even be a vote. And this year, the fisheries council is unusually late – on 21-22 December – so the commission proposals are not even ready this week. MPs will be debating blind, with no knowledge of what the minister – Ben "Rear Admiral" Bradshaw – will be proposing.

In substance, therefore, the debate will be empty – a vapid, fruitless waste of time. It will achieve nothing, and can achieve nothing. As a result, it will be poorly attended, uncovered by the media and generally ignored all but by a few trade papers like Fishing News.

That is the effect of the "elephant in the room" and Mr Howard should have recognised it. He of all people should recognise that many of the traditional functions of the UK parliament are redundant. That is why so much of the drama has gone out of the Parliament, and if Howard cannot see it, he should be sacked.

As it stands,though, this rather pompous, patronising, complacent little man is part of the problem.

The true cost of the European Union

According to the recently published 354-page annual report on Competitiveness, produced by the EU commission and available on the Europa website, "suffocating red tape" is blamed for much of Europe's sluggish performance. The commission also states that the EU could raise overall GDP by 12 percent through adopting an American-style "regulatory burden".

This startling finding is buried an article published in today's Daily Telegraph, written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, which focuses mainly on "China's lightning advance into the production of cars, computers and high-tech industry" which is posing "a serious threat to Europe's economic base".

So swiftly do you pass by the 12 percent figure that it barely registers. You have to do a double-take before the enormity of the sum hits home. In round figures, the GDP of the EU member states is £5 trillion. That is another of those enormous figures that is difficult to comprehend. With all the noughts, it comes to £5,000,000,000,000.

Now, 12 percent of £5 trillion is £600 billion – more than half the UK GDP which stands at around £1000 billion – or one trillion if you prefer. By that reckoning, "red tape" in the EU is costing us all £600,000,000,000 a year.

Hey! £600,000,000,000. And that's by the EU commission's own estimation. Bugger the €100 billion budget - £60 billion in real money. The true cost of the EU, and its 101,811-plus regulations, is ten times that, according to the body that runs it.

Sheepishly, the commission goes on, in an attempt to justify its imposts, stating:
regulations exist in order to correct distortions, guarantee the basic economic rights and to promote objectives such as consumer protection or the quality of environment. At the same time though, it concedes, regulations limit the choices which individuals and enterprises can make, and compliance with regulations usually involves costs.
It then cites an academic study that finds that "entry regulation may be acceptable if it leads to higher consumer welfare in terms of factors such as product quality, water pollution, death from accidental poisoning or the size of the unofficial economy."

However, the study concludes that the opposite seems to hold: the empirical results, it says, "are broadly consistent with the public choice theory that sees regulation as a mechanism to create rents for politicians and the firms they support." That is what we get for our £600,000,000,000: "rents for the politicians and the firms they support".

And guess what? The story was buried in the Business section, and you have to work out the cost, in figures for yourself. Why wasn't £600,000,000,000 spread across the front page? Silly me… Mr Blunkett and his "paternity battle". The political soap opera is so much more important, don't you think?

More money going to Sudan with little result

The European Commission has announced that it will be handing over another 51 million euros (£36 million) to aid the victims of violence in Sudan. About 31 million euros (£22 million) will be going to Darfur, where it has been announced that aid agencies and workers are returning to the fray.

So far this year the Commission has donated 248 million euros (£174 million) in aid to Sudan, of which 215 million euros (£151 million) went to Darfur. The situation either in the country as a whole or in Darfur particularly does not seem to have improved.

We ask again (and probably again and again): what has the money gone on? Does anybody know? Can we at least find out whether it has not gone into the pockets of political leaders and their thugs?

Back to the oil-for-food scandal

Not that it has ever gone away. In fact, unnoticed by the British media and stolidly ignored by most of the European one, the scandal rumbles on and on, threatening to engulf the whole of the UN.

After the various complaints that the UN has been obstructing the several committees of enquiry set up by Congress, comes the news that Kojo Annan (son of Kofi) was paid by the Swiss-based firm Cotecna Inspection Services SA for several years longer than it had been admitted before.

Cotecna had been given the contract to monitor the oil-for-food programme in 1998 and finally stepped down in 2003 when the UN handed the programme over to the Coalition Provisuional Authority. By a strange coincidence Kojo Annan was employed or, rather, paid by the company for the same period of time.

In fact, the latest information is that he last received money as recently as February 2004, again by coincidence the month when the first articles about the way the programme had been subverted and used as a colossal fraud appeared in the Baghdad newspapers.

Neither Mr Annan Jnr nor Cotecna deny the story. Mr Annan’s spokesman insists that the information had been given to Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, who now chairs the inexplicably quiet UN enquiry into the whole mess. Cotecna, on the other hand, insists that Mr Annan was employed on West African projects and the dates of his employment are purely coincidental. There were no clashes of interest, they say, rather disingenuously.

Cotecna has been refusing to answer journalists’ questions, having received a gagging order from the UN Secretariat. So there seems to be no explanation why the normal non-competition post-employment payment to Mr Annan went on for five years instead of the usual one or why it stopped abruptly when those stories started filtering through.

As Claudia Rossett, who has been writing up the story as it has unfolded, shows in a recent article in the New York Sun, Kofi Annan’s role throughout the saga was to deny all knowledge of everything, particularly his son’s or the younger man’s employer’s involvement.
“At every turn, the saga of the secretary-general's family ties to Cotecna raises questions about Kofi Annan's handling of potential conflicts of interest. Even if Mr. Annan cannot be held responsible for the decisions of his son, his job does entail responsibility for the actions of the U.N. Secretariat. As the oil-for-food scandal has unfolded, it has become clear that U.N. secrecy and lack of accountability evolved, in effect, into complicity with Saddam's scams and influence-buying. By now, between congressional and other investigations, there are allegations that Saddam, on Mr. Annan's watch, under U.N. sanctions and oil-for-food supervision, scammed and smuggled some $17.3 billion in oil money meant for relief, using some of that money to fund terrorism, import weapons, and buy influence with Security Council members France, Russia, and China.”
It is time, most people think, for the UN to start cleaning up its house, in the first place by lifting the gagging order on the various employees and contractors to do with the oil-for-food fraud. If it does not do so, it may find that outside forces will do the cleaning up a good deal more radically than that self-important organization would like it.

The EU’s hidden subsidy

Up for the first time on the EU commission’s website last night is a "clarion call for the public to help compose themes for future EU research".

This is the launch of a public consultation "to allow the various stakeholders to shape the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), by suggesting thematic domains for future research."

It is also the start of a mad dash by academia for a pile of gold, as they rush to frame outline proposals that will eventually fill its coffers with euros from a research fund that will be pump-primed by the commission to the tune of €35 billion of taxpayers’ money over the five years starting in 2007.

However, while the rush for Euro-gold gathers place, few people even begin to realise that this programme (with double the FP6’s €17.5 billion budget) represents a massive hidden subsidy for the European Union, adding substantially to its declared official income.

Some clue of this can be gleaned from the stated requirements for the research programme, given by the commission. In order of priority, projects must as contribute to EU policy objectives; foster the European research potential; and generate "European added value".

The first of the requirements actually gives the game away, in that the primary purpose of the programme is developing or supporting EU policies. And it is in this area that academia provides enormous support to the commission, carrying our research programmes which support the need for legislation, developing detailed models for its legislation and, sometimes, even preparing draft legislative proposals for it.

It is this which party explains how the commission manages to run such an enormous legislative programme, and produce such a huge volume of technical reports to back it up.

Despite constant claims by the likes of Richard Corbett MEP, who even in his latest arguments for the constitution, makes the claim that the EU cannot be a "superstate" because the Commission has fewer employees than Leeds City Council (which we addressed in one of our "myths") , if you really think about it, an organisation that size could not actually deliver the amount of paperwork it does.

And, of course, it does not. It out-sources the work, and has thousands of willing academics ready and waiting to take the EU’s euros, in return for producing its new laws.

But the really interesting bit is in the third requirement, the need for projects to generate "European added value". The commission website elaborates on this, stating that there must be "a strong need for additional public funding and for such intervention to be at a European level."

The programme, in any event, is what is known as "co-funded" which means that the commission generally pays only a proportion of the costs of each project – typically 50 percent, which means the rest must be found by the applicant. If an academic institution applies, this is very often taxpayers money from the member states. But what the commission is also saying is that the more "co-funding" a project attracts, the more likely it is to get EU money.

On that basis, at the very least, by putting in €35 billion of our money into the pot, the commission stands to gain at the very least a similar amount directly from member state taxpayers, without it being declared in the EU budget – and it gets a great deal of (to it) useful work into the bargain.

This is one of the many ways by which the EU manages to extend its own disposable income, so that the real expenditure under the control of the commission is vastly greater than the €100 billion or so that appears on the bottom line of the publicly declared budget – all of which means that, in addition to our annual "contributions", we are paying a massive hidden subsidy to the EU.

Monday, November 29, 2004

A lovers’ tiff?

Shurely shum mishtake…

The Financial Times is telling us that Denis MacShame, our very own minister for Europe, is accusing the European Union of trying to "punish" us for having a flexible and successful labour market.

Yet it does seem to be true. The egregious MacShame is having what looks perilously close to a lovers’ tiff with the object of his dreams, complaining to EU ambassadors that there was a determined effort to contain Britain in a "made-in-Brussels straitjacket".

FT reporters much have been choking on their Perrier water as they wrote of "strident comments" emanating from a minister who often criticises colleagues for "bashing Brussels". But now we see the passion ebbing away from the love affair and the FT tells us this throbbing swain is now frustrated by a love who is so critical of the British labour market.

The wounded MacShame, no doubt with tears flooding from his eyes, pleaded with the ambassadors to stop punishing him, hinting at the darker sadistic tendencies of his love, when he spoke of his surprise at "the desire of so many in Brussels to punish Britain."

All they were after was "rigid labour markets", he wept, and some even wanted "straitjackets", thus painting a pictures of torrid love and strange bedroom practices, the like of which we could scarcely imagine.

And even that was not all. His lover was imposing "bureaucratic inflexibility" and preventing workers to shaping their working hours that suit individual needs of employees. Mercifully we were spared the handcuffs and whips.

All MacShame wanted, he told the ambassadors between sobs, was for them to tell their governments of the need to "say goodbye". What, a parting of ways, do we hear? A final divorce? Sadly, no. He wants them to bid adieu to "out-of-date thinking", so he can ride off into the sunset with his lover and seek "a flexible route into the workplace."

Whatever that is, it sounds painful. But, if it keeps him happy…

The Greeks are in trouble again

This Wednesday the EU Commission will begin former infringement proceedings against the Greek government. Well, to be quite precise, it will send a formal letter (delivered by the god Hermes, perchance?) to the Greek government, castigating it for presenting incorrect statistics in several annual budgets.

The Greek government will then have two months to reply but one can guess that part of the response will be: wasn’t us, guv, it was the other lot, the nasty socialist one. Which, of course, it was.

The previous Greek government, as we have mentioned before, had a curious way with the budget, forgetting to add certain items such as defence procurement. And, of course, there was that rather large item, the Olympic Games, that have now been billed as the most expensive ever. Not very helpful when you are told that you must keep within the designated deficit rule, 3 per cent of GDP.

At the moment the Greek government is promising to scrape back the deficit from the present 5.3 per cent to 2.8 per cent in the next year without, one assumes, any more EU hand-outs in the shape of various structural funds. And the porcine air force will take to the skies.

However, it does not matter what happens. Nobody has ever ended up in court because of breaking through the permitted deficit barrier or for lying about statistics in order to end up in the euro. As long as France and Germany roam free with ever higher deficits, it is unlikely that little Greece will be punished. Of course, we could give them the Olympic Games for ever and ever. That’ll learn ‘em.

This posting appeared first on the UKIP London Assembly blog.

It’s how you tell ’em (2)

Following the extraordinarily loaded piece in the Independent yesterday about the EU's REACH directive the same newspaper is at it again today, with an article headed "Will French Socialists kill EU reform?"

This is a long piece about the forthcoming internal referendum in the French Socialist party to decide whether to support or oppose the EU constitution in the national referendum, due next year. (We have covered this extensively in the Blog, not least from Independent copy.)

But what particularly grates is the "spin" attached to the story, where the newspaper positions the EU constitution as "reform" and takes it from there. Once again, EU activities are cast in glowing, positive terms and the opposition is given a negative dimension.

This subtle – or not so subtle - propaganda pervades the whole piece, with the strap line announcing that the Socialists "could skewer the reforms Tony Blair has backed". By this means, it sets a highly pejorative framework for what is a factual account of how, as The Independent puts it, "the Socialists will decide the future of their own party and, quite possibly, the European Union."

For its factual content, the story is worth reading (link above) but once again the treatment illustrates how any specific issue can take on a wholly different resonance, depending on how it is presented.

To complete the circle, this Blog’s own "take" on the situation – i.e., our "spin" – is that the Frogs have got it hopelessly wrong in that they are fighting the constitution because it is too "liberal", whereas we oppose it (correctly) because it is dirigiste.

To be fair though – and why not, just occasionally? – the Independent is only conveying what the Socialists think, which in itself, I suppose, is a contradiction in terms. After all, if they could think, they would not be socialists.

Sarkozy gets the UMP ... and loses finance

Nicolas Sarkozy, the man generally admitted to be President Chirac’s biggest rival, has been elected as Chairman of the ruling Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). Wary of his rival’s rise, Chirac has insisted that, unprecedentedly, Sarkozy would have to resign as member of the cabinet. Clearly, Sarkozy has decided that becoming leader of the party was “worth a mass”, that is his high profile as Finance Minister.

Chirac has immediately appointed a close ally, the former Agriculture Minister, Hervé Gaymard, who, as news agencies have pointed out, is part of the political establishment to a far greater extent than Sarkozy ever was.

Gaymard is an Enarque, that is a graduate of the high-powered, highly selective and (eat your heart out Charles Clarke) elitist to the nth degree, Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA). Sarkozy had always presented himself as a self-made lawyer, who had as little time for the establishment as they for him. One must also add that Sarkozy is unusual in that so far there seem to be no whispers of nefarious dealings of any kind. Perhaps, as a man of Hungarian origin, he just hides them better. Or perhaps, he really does have clean hands.

Sarkozy had come to his office eight months ago with a reputation of being something of a free-marketeer – at least among the wishfully inclined Anglo-Saxon media. In fact, he proved himself every bit as interventionist and protectionist as all his predecessors.

His latest budget proposal is a tough one, slashing public spending to reduce France’s deficit to within the supposedly permitted 3 per cent of GDP. However, President Chirac promised some tax cuts in his last election campaign. It will be interesting to see how M Gaymard will square the circle (or not).

In the meantime, M Chirac might like to look at other countries’ modern history (though as a true son of France he probably does not like doing too much of that). It is not always the high profile ministers who win political battles. All too often victory goes to the man who is in charge of the party and, consequently, the cadres.

Defence co-operation – French style

Hailed as the supreme example of European co-operation, the troubled Eurofighter project now seems to be revealing crack in the façade of European solidarity which bodes ill for future projects, to say nothing of EU commission ambitions for closer defence integration.

At the heart of this rift – as ever – are the illustrious French, who have been banned from taking part in export sales promotions for this aircraft. The reason, to put it bluntly, is that no one on the Eurofighter sales team trusts them not to use the information gained in sales negotiations to push their own rival, the Rafale fighter.

That is the situation revealed by The Business, yesterday, which reports that the procurement ministers of the Eurofighter partner countries – UK, Spain, German and Italy – have put the block on the French because they believe they are undermining Eurofighter’s export potential by putting their national interests - and products - first.

Although France is not a partner in the Eurofighter project, the situation arises because it is involved in the programme through EADS, one of the industry partners making the aircraft, as well the Rafale. The ban means that only German and British nationals associated with Franco-German EADS, Berlin's partner, can work on export sales.

Rumours in the industry of French perfidy have, in fact, been circulating for some time and this is by no means the first instance of this type of behaviour. An aircraft engineer working on the Anglo-French Concorde project once told us bitterly how French engineers had used the opportunity of this co-operative venture to copy advanced British technology and apply it to their own products in order to compete with British equipment.

The current unpleasantness has exacerbated tensions between the UK and France, the latter having been pushing a merger between EADS and the defence contractor Thales, which is a major contractor for a number of UK defence contracts, not least the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers. The British government believes Paris is trying to engineer French dominance of the European defence industry, something London fiercely opposes.

All of this is an inauspicious start to the EU’s grand project of getting a European Defence Procurement Agency under way, with the ambition of creating a Europe-wide defence complex to rival the power of the US defence giants. The fly in the ointment, it seems is that, in the eyes of Paris – as always – “European” means French.

Forty per cent Mr Brown?

Gordon Brown has been giving his own version of what he thinks Britain should be like, to Newsweek. This is generally seen as another attempt on the Chancellor’s part to bid for the Labour Party’s leadership and, as it seems at the moment, the premiership. Why he should choose to do so in an American weekly, is a mystery. Perhaps, he did not think anyone will publish him here.

Well, it is a little difficult to take his comments seriously:

"It is by rediscovering our intrinsic strengths - our British values that include our belief in liberty, enterprise and civic duty," Brown said.

"And by celebrating them and by making investment in skills, science and enterprise our priority that the coming decade can be Britain's decade - making Britain one of the new global economy's greatest success stories."
This from a Chancellor, who is universally acknowledged as the man who has piled more taxes on British business than any other in recent history, makes rather queasy reading.

It gets worse:
"The long-term choice we must make is to learn from America, rigorously introduce the right incentives and rewards for risk, and make the changes in the school curriculum and in our colleges and universities necessary to create a revolution in attitudes toward enterprise and wealth creation," he added.
True enough but are we going to get to the interesting fact that most of the legislation that holds back British business is merely implemented by the British parliament, by the civil service and by those wretched agencies?

Ah yes, here it comes:
"And with 40 percent of new regulation coming from Europe, we will continue to resist inflexible barriers to job creation from whatever source they arise," Brown said.
Forty per cent Mr Brown? FORTY PER CENT? We always knew your maths was shaky but this is ridiculous. It is now acknowledged by all (except maybe governmental websites) that something like 70 to 80 per cent of all legislation and regulation comes from the EU and none of it can be rejected by any branch of the British government. One wonders why Mr Brown is so anxious to become Prime Minister.

Western Europe and terrorism

Two interesting articles in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal Europe (yes, indeed, it was Thanksgiving Day) addressed this subject and came to a very sad conclusion. The main problem, as most of us have realized, is a lack of will to fight the scourge. Worse, there has been a tendency among the leaders of west European countries to appease terrorists, terror masters and, while we are on the subject, dictators.

It is crucial that we examine this issue. We are told endlessly that the problem in Europe is lack of co-ordination between the various countries and poor exchange of information between the national police organizations. This alleged weakness has been the excuse for ever tighter and more oppressive legislation (those of our readers who have not done so, might like to read the Queen’s Speech and ponder over the raft of dictatorial legislation it outlines) and, of course, more and more integration in matters of security as seen in the Hague Programme, otherwise known as Tampere II.

Yet, what use are all those internal passports (a.k.a. ID cards), that centralized EU police force, all those many harmonized regulations administered from Brussels or the Hague, if our leaders openly hand over money and shake the hands of terrorists and dictators? What happened to the EU’s supposedly moral attitude and desire to spread democracy, freedom and human rights all over the world? Whom will those rapid deployment groups go in to support in the various countries unfortunate enough to excite Mr Solana’s attention?

First, let us look at the editorial: The Accidental Prime Minister. It seems that Spain’s Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told Time Magazine in September that he did not want to be a great leader. Well, he has certainly been successful so far.

His panicky withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq looked like a desperate appeasement of terrorists rather than a principled stand. And all for what? It is quite clear that the Al-Quaeda cells have been operating in Spain since before 9/11 and the Madrid explosions had little to do with Iraq. Furthermore, he has not bought the country peace: there have been attempted and thwarted attacks since then. The fact that the Spanish police force has managed to prevent further outrages says much about their ability and little enough about Zapatero’s.

Zapatero’s anti-Americanism, anti-westernism are driven by old-fashioned ideology, which impels him to demand that the EU’s sanctions against Cuba be lifted and links with the Venzuelan thug Chavez be strengthened. He is, indeed, a man of modern western Europe.

As the WSJE puts it:
“Mr Zapatero is entitled to his views. But the Spanish people would be justified in asking just what do they get out of their leader appeasing terrorists,coddling up to dictators and whittling away Spain’s global standing?”
The problem is that we could say that about most west European leaders in general. There is no question, for instance, but that the EU’s principled though belated stand on Ukraine came as a result of the unequivocal American attitude and pressure from the new member states of Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Long before Donald Rumsfeld made his famous comment about new and old Europe, it was obvious to those of us who have looked at the subject that, while the structure and the economic order will not change with EU enlargement, the so-called common foreign and security policy will. Or, at the very least, it will experience quite serious strains and stresses.

The other article in the WSJE is by Ewa Björling, a conservative member of the Swedish parliament’s standing committee on foreign affairs. It is entitled Aiding the Palestinians and deals with the disgraceful way in which the Swedish government (just like the EU and the various member states) continued to supply the Palestinian Authority with money, though it became increasingly more obvious that the money was diverted from its true purpose, that is help for the Palestinian people, into private accounts and aid for terrorists.

Among other things she tells the story of Professor Sune Persson’s report:
“In 1997, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (Sida)commissioned Sune Persson of Göteborg University, an internationally known expert on Middle Eastern affairs, to provide a status report on the Palestinian Authority and its relationship with the citizens under its jurisdiction. His conclusions were unequivocal: ‘To continue to support Arafat and his corrupt regime is indefensible. As regards support for the peace process in the Middle East, Arafat’s dictatorial one-man show is becoming an embarrassment.’

Prof. Persson’s closing recommendations were that ‘Swedish aid to the West Bank and Gaza should be cut back. Aid to the Palestinian civil society should continue. No Swedish development funding whatsoever should be given directly to the corrupt Palestinian Authority.’

A few days before this report was to be presented, it was classified as secret. It has long been unclear who ordered this step or why. The present minister for development co-operation insists that it sas Sida’s decision. Other sources claim the foreign ministry was responsible. Due to this uncertainty, a colleague in parliament and I took the matter to the Swedish parliament’s committee on the constitution for scrutiny. What we have long suspected, however, has now been confirmed by the author of the report: that the decision was taken by ‘someone’ in authority at the foreign affairs ministry.

The decision is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that shortly afterwards, despite the conclusions of the Persson report, Pierre Schori visited Arafat in Ramallah, promised a further 158 million crowns (€17.6 million, £million) in aid to the Palestinian Authority, and invited him to visit Stockholm. Until recently, Mr Schori was Sweden’s ambassador to the UN; at the time, he was the minister responsible for development co-operation.”
Dr Björling struggles in vain, trying to understand what motivated her government to suppress a reliable and authoritative report and to continue to pour money into the coffers of a corrupt and oppressive organization, led by its corrupt and oppressive Chairman, who channelled much of the money to terrorists and used some of the rest to buy support in the world. (Sounds familiar, by any chance? What about the oil-for-food scandal?)

Arafat’s death, according to Dr Björling, and, indeed, according to many commentators, should be a new beginning. If the European governments do want to play a significant and positive role in the Middle East, they should look carefully at what has been done so far by them – a destruction of any possibility of peace, support for tyranny and terrorism, much of it in order to oppose, as usual the United States – and think through their future policy.

As Dr Björling concludes:
“The donor countries must as a matter of urgency refocus their aid. Other channels must be created, and the aid must be conditional upon promised reforms being implemented. Further resources should be withheld until this condition has been met. A new approach to Palestinian aid on the part of the donors is one of the most important instruments we have for helping to resolve the conflict in a constructive manner.”
And, of course, for weakening terrorist organization. The trouble is that, without knowing what Sweden will do, we have already seen the EU’s attitude. Far from looking at its past record, it has been congratulating itself on finally managing to play a real role in world affairs, citing, for reasons known to Solana and his journalistic henchmen alone, the Middle East as an example. Self-criticism and analysis do not exist in these people’s vocabulary.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The start of the battle

The Business today, has an entertaining romp on the general subject of regulation, written by John Blundell, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs – Maggie Thatcher’s favourite think-tank.

His thesis is: "the more laws change, the less they achieve", from which starting point he tells us that he is still working on the formal enunciation of "Blundell's Law". It may one day be more precisely expressed as an equation perhaps, he writes, but today it simply states: "All new laws and regulations create the opposite of what was intended."

The immediate "hook" for his piece is the Queen's Speech, and the raft of new proposal introduced by this Labour government. It represents, according to Blundell, "a fairly sinister body of proposals that are designed to enhance the powers of the state and its budget."

This gives him the opportunity to tilt at EU Bill which, in Blundellesque terms, "gives formal consent to a huge raft of regulations from the commission in Brussels." This is not exactly how I would describe a Bill putting into effect the EU constitutional treaty but never mind. The next few points are sound enough, and need shouting from the roof-tops. Writes Blundell:

This is still referred to as a liberalising process yet the EU is now no longer a common market but rather in reality a common bureaucracy. It will authorise a referendum for us all to agree to the creation of a federal Europe. The extraordinary growth of euro regulations is deemed to strengthen Europe. Does it? My appreciation is that most people are either utterly bamboozled or repelled by the thick undergrowth of euro rules. Powers to boost Europe may well be the very poisoning that will ruin it.
He then makes the point that neither people nor businesses are static. They all respond to new rules or taxes. Rarely do firms comply meekly. They simply adjust their behaviour. Just as we all know we have tax avoidance and evasion, so we have regulatory avoidance and evasion.

The Blundell antidote also has some merit. "Benevolent intentions are not good enough," he writes:

The theme common to the Queen's Speech is a belief that benign purposes emerge on to the statute book as nourishing virtuous or obedient behaviour. We British are more cussed than they think. As businesses and individuals, we adapt to respond to new impositions… What we need, as ever, is a less omnipresent state, forever asking us to prove who we are and pay taxes at every move.
If he is right, and I believe he is – although you would never get that impression if you listened to the BBC, or read either the Independent or the Guardian – then the anti EU case makes itself. The Union is all about the omnipresent state, one which believes being “in your face” is good for you.

Mind you, even when we have defeated that monster, the list of new laws which the government proposes reminds us that there is another monster waiting for us at home. It is a daunting thought that, for those who see as an objective, leaving the EU, success will only be the start of the battle, not the end.

It's how you tell 'em

The same issue, viewed from opposite sides of the great divide, today provides a graphic insight into the way any issue can take on a completely different perspective, depending on who reports it, and how.

The issue is the EU's proposed "Reach" directive (the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) and it is covered today in the Independent and in Christopher Booker's column in The Sunday Telegraph.

The Independent report is priceless, managing to combine the story with anti-American propagandising and an attack on "big business", all the time projecting subtle pro-EU propaganda, projecting the Union as this loving caring organisation that is trying to save the world from evil capitalists who are trying to poison us.

That much, with some skill, comes over even in the headline which, to say the very least, is loaded. "Powell in chemical reaction as US resists EU pollution drive", proclaims the newspaper and already the stage is set.

Note here, the description of what is generally agreed as a cumbersome directive, so laden with bureaucracy that it verges on insanity. The Independent labels it as an "EU pollution drive", claiming the moral high ground – who could possibly be against "pollution" – and then painting the US as the baddies, by the artful use of the word "resists".

Past the headline, the text really lays it on. "Colin Powell, the outgoing US Secretary of State," it declares, "is leading determined lobbying against the European Union's plans to control potential chemical threats to human health and the environment."

Once again, the language is poisonous. The phrase "determined lobbying" invites dark images of the practitioners of the dark arts exercising their malign influence on Mr Powell. And we know it is dark and satanic because the Independent tells it is up against the saintly EU which is planning to control "potential threats to human health and the environment". Poor Mr Powell doesn’t stand a chance, and this is only first paragraph of the story.

What Powell is worried about, of course, it that the directive will require the cumbersome and expensive registration of some 30,000 chemical preparations, affecting virtually all American exports to the EU, worth more than $150bn (£79bn) in 2003. Too damn right he is lobbying. He would not be doing his job if he wasn't.

But just in case you might begin to have some sneaking sympathy for the US, as the Independent reveals the extent of US worries, up it comes, citing its favourite bunny huggers, Greenpeace, who invoke the greatest Satan of them all, "the Bush administration". It is attacking Reach "vehemently, in one of the most aggressive foreign lobby efforts ever to influence a proposed piece of EU legislation."

Game set and match to the Independent or, more like, a heavily biased readership that has now had its prejudices well and truly confirmed. Informed as well, you ask? Forget it.

Now to the opposite end of the spectrum with Booker's piece, entitled "EU diktat on chemicals will give tanners a drubbing".

Booker starts off describing how, last week, EU trade ministers and European commissioners gathered in Brussels for a two-day "Competitiveness Council".

Their theme was one of the EU's longer-running farces, known as the "Lisbon agenda": a solemn pledge by EU governments in 2000 that by 2010 the EU would be transformed into "the most competitive, dynamic and knowledge-based economy in the world". Since then the EU, already the most uncompetitive economic bloc in the developed world, has slid even further down the league table.

So far, a mixture of fact and opinion – strong on fact and the opinion well-founded. Few would disagree that the Lisbon process is a farce.

Then we have more fact: "The chief reason for this, it is generally agreed," Booker writes, "is the ever-growing mountain of regulations, the one area in which EU productivity is second to none." With light irony he then notes the "measure of the determination brought to bear on this problem", with the EU's laughable attempt at "deregulation", by contemplating amending a mere 15 of the 101,811 directives and regulations issued by Brussels between 1973 and 2002.

And now to the meat. With a mere 15 for the chop, the EU continues to churn out new directives and regulations at a rate of 3,500 a year - one of which, also on last week's agenda, is the Reach directive. Even the EU commission has accepted that its initial cost to the EU economy would be £22 billion and one of the sectors that is particularly affected, because chemicals account for a sixth of its costs, is the European leather industry.

In the EU, this uses about 6,000 chemical substances to process, soften and colour the 400,000 tonnes of leather a year that go into furniture, footwear, clothing and fashion accessories.

Booker then recounts how industry representatives at a conference heard that, on small volume production, the costs of registration could add 200 per cent to chemical production costs. For Europe's 2,800 tanneries, Reach could add up to 6 per cent to the price of finished leather, which for many, in a tight market, is more than their existing profit margin.

The most devastating effect would be on Europe's smaller leather producers and manufacturers using leather dependent on subtle combinations of chemicals. Even if a substance is in common use, it would still have to be tested and authorised again each time it is used in a new combination, making most of them wholly uneconomical.

The consequences would be a drastic reduction in choice and a significant proportion of Europe's leather production, along with many thousands of jobs, exported outside the EU, not least to China, which is already the world's largest leather exporter. This, Booker concludes, this time invoking a wicked irony, is a "most valuable contribution to that dream of making the EU, within six years, "the most competitive, dynamic, knowledge-based economy in the world".

You could scarcely credit that Booker was writing about the same Reach directive that so exercised the Independent. How could they be so different? I suppose it's how you tell 'em.

More than half a lifetime…

Large numbers hold a particular fascination to some people but, I suspect, for the majority of us, they are meaningless. A hundred pounds in your pocket is a measurable sum. Buying a car for £10,000 has some meaning. Valuing a house at £300,000 also has meaning. It is a sum our brains can cope with.

But how do you visualise £1.5 billion? That, in stark terms, is £1,500,000,000. The mind refuses to comprehend the sum.

Take a million pound coins though. If you set yourself to count them, at an average rate of one per second, foregoing eating, sleeping and all other essential activities, it would take you just over eleven days to count them. Now stack up £1.5 billions-worth. My calculator tells me it would take 47 years – yes, 47 years, dear reader – to count them. More than half a lifetime just to count the things.

So why this fascination with £1.5 billion?

Well, that is the sum, according to today’s Sunday Telegraph, that Mr Gordon Brown, possibly the worst chancellor we have ever head, squandered between 1999 and 2001, by selling 395 ton of the nation’s gold, at the rock-bottom discount price of $275 an ounce, in order to buy up euros.

At the time, gold was at a 20-year market low. It has now risen to more than $450 an ounce. Had he waited, he would have raised a little over £3.77 billion, a difference of more than £1.47 billion.

In more prosaic terms, that equates to £58.41 for each household in Britain. Currently £1.47 billion would fund 50,840 new policemen, 58,480 new teachers or 57,640 new soldiers – although why one would want to spend the money on more policemen, heaven knows; the ones we have are neither use nor ornament.

And, as was widely canvassed at the time the sales took place, the chancellor's decision to part with what amounted to half of Britain's gold reserves was entirely motivated by political rather than economic factors – a preparatory step towards joining the single currency.

Strictly speaking, this cannot be laid at the door of the EU, as it is a measure of the ineptness of our chancellor, but it is another facet of the baleful effect the "project" has had on our body politic. I suppose it is a small amount compared to what we have to pay just to belong to this accursed construct but, when the reckoning comes, this adds more than half a lifetime needed to count the cost.

Would Wellington have called this a strategy?

Last week Eurofacts published an article by the chief executive of the self-appointed Vote-No campaign. At the time my colleague analyzed it while I wrote a response for the magazine.

Unfortunately, "lack of space" has prevented the editor from publishing it. So, not wishing to waste a perfectly sound article (even though I say so myself) and at the risk of boring our readers I reproduce it here. It may start a healthy debate.

Let me get this straight.

The strategy of the self-appointed Vote-No campaign is to think of a divisive slogan and demand that everyone line up behind them; assume that the government will not win a referendum because it has lost the support of middle England because of Iraq (only people who spend their days and nights in political organizations can think Iraq is more important than taxation, education, law and order, you name it); ignore the core supporters in favour of the waverers whom they will entice with the confused message of vote no in order to stay in the EU and reform it; win the referendum; get Blair to resign and assume that whoever takes over will march in there and negotiate reforms to make "Europe" (I assume they mean the EU) more democratic.

I don't exactly know what Wellington or Monty would have said but I assume they may have noted that this “strategy” underestimates the enemy, alienates soldiers and supporters and is rather confused in its aims. At least, there is no proposal to invade Russia.

At the moment the "yes" camapaign is in disarray. That need not last. The Vote-No campaign assumes that they won over the euro and, therefore, need not bother with new ideas for this battle. Over the euro, the important thing was not to have a referendum and the man who won that was Gordon Brown. That was a cold war, this will be a hot one. Gordy will not be on our side.

Then the slogan: no to the constitution, yes to Europe. It is dishonest as they are really saying yes to the EU. How are they going to explain to those wavering voters who, presumably, are not well informed of the nuances of EU governance, that voting ‘no’ in order to stay in the EU and reform it, is, somehow different from voting ‘yes’ in order to stay in the EU and reform it?

It is a divisive slogan. Most eurosceptics will refuse to work for an organization who says that. We shall, of course, vote no in the actual referendum but few of us will go out to campaign, to speak, to persuade voters that discarding the constitution will mean a new hopeful departure for the EU.

Nor is the electorate in tune with that message. Mr Hickman mentions the North-East referendum, implying that it was a similar message that brought out the votes. Alas, it was Neil Herron and his determined, anti-EU volunteers who won that battle. Come to think of it, why does Mr Hickman not mention another phenomenon: the haemorrhaging of votes to UKIP? No matter what happens inside that rather difficult party, people are flocking to vote for it? Why? Well, Mr Hickman, they send a simple and effective message to a disenchanted electorate. The Vote-No campaign squirms and wriggles like the Conservative Party.

The aims are confused. EU reform? What's that? When Mr Hickman says he and his colleagues want a more democratic EU, what does he mean? Union-wide parties? Directly elected Commission? Less money to the regions?

How are those negotiations going to be conducted? Which of the many EU institutions will be instrumental in bringing about the reform? The European Council, another IGC, the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament, the ECJ? Does Mr Hickman know about these institutions and the difference in them? Does he know that they are all committed to further integration and all attempts at even the slightest reform have failed because there is no way to democracy in an inherently undemocratic, unaccountable organization, as it was always intended to be?

We must, of course, win this referendum. But it will be merely one battle in a long war. The war's aim is an independent and newly democratized United Kingdom and, if possible, a newly refashioned European structure of free, democratic states, living and working together. We must not be afraid of saying this.

Unless, by the time of the referendum, we have managed to convince a large proportion of this country’s population that being outside and even without the EU is not a frightening prospect, we shall have failed, even if the vote is no. The European oligarchy will go away and return with a changed constitution or another treaty that will have tinkered at the edges. What will the self-appointed Vote-No campaign say then?

What are MEPs good for?

In the Sunday Telegraph today, Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for the South East Region, asks: "What are we MEPs good for?"

Darling of the Eurosceptics, he might well ask, and he does so in the context of the Barrot affair, giving a first-hand witness account of the response to Farage’s revelations in the EU parliamentary chamber.

He is honest enough to admit that he holds no brief for the Faragistas. "They are doing Blair's work for him," he writes, "by dividing the Euro-sceptic vote." "But," he adds, "the way MEPs reacted to Farage's revelation was horrible."

One by one they rose to threaten him with legal action. The Liberal leader, Graham Watson, likened him to the football hooligans who had disgraced Britain in Europe. A fomer colleague of Barrot's, Jacques Toubon, rushed up and down the aisle, apparently looking for someone to punch (Robert Kilroy-Silk, recognising him as the minister who had tried to ban the English language from French airwaves, told him mischievously that no one would understand him unless he spoke English, which sent him into a choking fit). All this because Farage was doing the job that the rest of us ought to have done.
Hannan then invites us to consider the Commission's other personnel change - one that has been largely overlooked as a result of the Buttiglione and Barrot affairs. The Latvian candidate, Ingrida Udre, he says was withdrawn as a candidate because she told MEPs that she favoured tax competition. Her inquisitors were scandalised, and Mrs Udre was duly replaced by a Hungarian apparatchik.

"There you have it", writes Hannan. "As far as MEPs are concerned, it is all right to have supported a totalitarian regime, to have been convicted in a corruption case or, indeed, to be an evident dullard with no knowledge of your portfolio. What is not all right is to support the supremacy of national parliaments. Dolts, shysters, reds and retreads are welcome. But someone who believes that nations should set their own taxes? That would be going too far."

So, Mr Hannan does not think MEPs are up to much. And he is right. But, just to inject a sour little note, Mr Hannan has a poor attendance record in the EU parliament. He rarely speaks in debates, or in committees, but manages to find time for two day jobs, one as leader writer for The Daily Telegraph and another writing the column in which he has slammed MEPs.

Clearly, these jobs, on top of his full-time salary as an MEP, are well-paid enough to allow Mr Hannan, on the rare occasions that he visits Brussels, to stay in one of the most expensive hotels in town. And this is the MEP who twice has raised principled objections to joining the federalist EPP in the parliament, only twice to swallow his principles and sneak into the group when the chips were down.

So, if Hannan asks "what are we MEPs good for", including himself in the question, perhaps he won't mind too much if we ask what specifically is Mr Hannan good for?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

It’s the arms sales… stupid

On the back of the transport select committee report on the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system, which we reported in this Blog, today The Daily Telegraph has belatedly covered this issue, albeit in the business section - proving once again that this is the only grown-up section in the newspaper.

Headed, "MPs attack deficiencies in Galileo", Edmund Conway writes that "Europe's planned €3.5 billion satellite project is likely to cost taxpayers far more than expected, and could end up as an 'orbiting Railtrack', according to a parliamentary committee report." The "orbiting Railtrack" is a nice phrase, and one I missed in my original review of the report. Worth remembering, I think.

Anyhow, Conway also tells us that the transport select committee has said it is not yet clear how the Galileo project will benefit European states or the companies using it. It questioned EU assumptions that the project would be more than half-financed by the private sector, and warned that the public-private partnership (PPP) which will build and maintain the satellite may have to be unduly supported by the state.

Elsewhere in the business section is a long feature on Galileo, also by Edmund Conway, which does not seem to be posted on the online Telegraph.

At last the issue is being covered but, unfortunately, the piece is incoherent and unfocused, not least because, like Dunwoody’s select committee, it does not really take on board the military applications of the system. Like Dunwoody, Conway does not see the economic justification for Galileo, and thus suggests that when Alistair Darling goes to the EU’s transport council next month, "he should take one small step for Europe, and quietly let Galileo go."

That is not to say that Conway ignores the military applications. He notes that the EU, failing to attract enough finance from its own resources has sought "other members outside Europe", including China, India, Russia and Ukraine. This, he writes, has brought a response from the US, which has produced "a device which allows to jam the Galileo signal in times of military crisis".

But he does not properly explain why the US should want to do this. He fails to tell us that France, in particular, and Germany are agitating for the EU to lift its arms embargo on China, so that their manufacturers can sell vast quantities of expensive, high tech kit to the PLA, using GPS technology. It is those arms sales that make Galileo an economic proposition, to France and Germany at least, as long as we also help finance the system without demanding a payback, and it is that which is evoking the response from the US.

Furthermore, Conway does not explain that such kit would be useless if it relied on the free-to-users Navstar because the Americans would be able to shut it off if there was a risk that an enemy might use it against them. Thus, while the prospect of billions of euros-worth of arms sales have the "colleagues" slavering in anticipation, Conway fails to tells us that this prospect can only become a reality if the EU can provide a system independent of the US.

Thus, in the first instance, Dunwoody’s committee, in ignoring military applications and their economic potential, has been hoist with its own petard, in failing to see the economic justification of the system. Conway now trails in its wake, half understanding but failing to explain fully what is going on.

Next month, when Darling does go to Brussels, he will meet with formidable pressure to approve the scheme, with any reluctance on his part being cast as another example of Britain being awkward. And there will be no mention of military application. In fact, the denials will continue.

A better piece by the Telegraph would have picked all this up and Conway would be shouting from the rooftops, "It's the arms sales… stupid".

Give them a stick…

Give the BBC a stick, and it will grab it wholeheartedly from the wrong end, with the lack of professionalism and impartiality for which it is fast becoming a by-word.

This is amply illustrated by its reporting on latest developments in the ongoing saga about the multi-national fusion research project, known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

When we started covering the story on this Blog , the project, described as the largest global research and development collaboration ever undertaken, had first been pencilled in to go to Japan. Then the EU had put its foot down, demanding that France should be the beneficiary, pledging to finance 40 percent of the €10 billion budget.

Understandably, the Japanese – with US support – demurred and, as the story developed, the EU – in a remarkable display of petulance – threatened to pull out of the project all together, and develop its own, independent project at the French site, while – amazingly - still expecting Japan to contribute to its costs.

Now, with the issue still unresolved, the EU has upped the ante. Still demanding that the project be established in France, it has told its potential partners that it wants "a political agreement before the end of the year,"

French research minister, Francois D'Aubert, then has the nerve to say: "This is not an ultimatum…" adding, "If the negotiations do not come to a rapid conclusion, the commission has the possibility to choose a different path."

Tellingly, the EU is making no public claims about the superiority of the French site, whereas the Japanese are adamant that theirs is the best candidate, and are upset by EU's bullying tactics, accusing it of being "high-handed". "It is extremely regrettable," says Takahiro Hayashi, deputy director of the Office of Fusion Energy at Japan's energy ministry. "We hope that the EU will handle this matter appropriately and honestly."

The office's director, Satoru Ohtake, was slightly less diplomatic. "The two sides have different ideas, and therefore we should take time to have good discussions," he said, adding: "The fact that they are setting a deadline for their rival to make a concession is something like a declaration of war."

All this, however, the BBC news website covers, but gives the story the heading, "EU gets tough on fusion reactor". At least the Guardian was more honest, proclaiming in its version of the story, "EU 'declaration of war' over fusion", more than Channel 4 News could manage. Alluding to US support for Japan, it described the story in terms of the plucky EU battling against the prejudice of the Bush presidency.

As we said, give them a stick…

Friday, November 26, 2004

The EU reaches for the stars

In a small way – but with potentially huge consequences – a piece of history was made yesterday, when the EU held its first "Space Council" in Brussels - ignored, as always by the mainstream media.

Reported on the European Space Agency website, it dealt with an issue rehearsed many times on this Blog. (See, for instance: here, here, here and here), this first Council was lauded by the ESA as "a major political milestone for Europe in Space".

It purpose was to offer ministers representing the 27 European Union (EU) and/or European Space Agency (ESA) Member States "the first opportunity to jointly discuss the development of a coherent overall European space programme."

But the most sinister aspect is that it pre-empts the EU Constitution, which defined for the first time "space" as a shared competence of the Union, with the Space Council acknowledging "the importance of space activities for a wide range of European policies."

In yesterday’s meeting, according to the ESA release, ministers also recognised

...that it is essential to utilise the available resources in an efficient and effective way so that the supply of space-based services and infrastructures can meet the demand from users, such as the European Union's policies, Member States' policies and for the benefit of all European citizens.
Adding fuel to the fire, the German minister for education and research, Edelgard Bulmahn, current chair of the ESA council at ministerial level, said:

This meeting was a great step forward for Europe's ambitions in space. Europe must federate its space efforts in order to better exploit the potential of space technologies for the well-being of its citizens. The European Space Programme will significantly strengthen Europe's role in this area of great economic and political importance.
Europe "must federate its space efforts…." Well, well, well. And that, of course, includes the militarisation of space in support of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy, not least through the EU's Galileo satellite navigation system.

In that light, the comments of the Dutch Minister for economic affairs Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, current chair of the EU Competitiveness Council, are more than interesting. "Today”, he said,

...was a memorable day for European cooperation in Space. With the first EU-ESA Space Council Europe made a major step in the direction of a strong and coherent European Space Programme. Space technologies and applications will help Europe to reach its common goals in the field of i.e. competitiveness, environment and security. I am confident that our joint efforts will contribute to a strong and independent position for Europe in the global arena.
Added the commissioner for enterprise and industry, Günter Verheugen:

Today's first Space Council may not yet be a giant step for mankind. But the fact that we are drawing up a joint European Space Policy is a huge leap forward. Space is an area where the added value of a joint and coherent policy on the European level is very clear. The industrial dimension of space is key to increasing the competitiveness of European industry.
And still more from ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain:

The European Space Agency has long-standing experience of providing Europe's citizens with space-based solutions meeting their requirements. We are prepared to take up the new challenges that the future European space programme will ask us to accomplish.
A second "Space Council" meeting is planned for Spring 2005 "to define general governance principles, identify priorities as well as the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and establish industrial policy principles."

And you can bet the EU military planning cell will be taking a very keen interest in the proceedings.

L’affaire Barrot – fini?

At least we got something right. As flagged up in our previous posting, it now looks as if the wheel is not going to fall off the Barrot. The transport commissioner is going to keep his job.

After the Socialists in the EU parliament kicked the issue into the long grass, referring it to the parliamentary lawyers, it was almost certain that l'affaire was going nowhere, and so it has come to pass.

Now the parliament's legal service has stated that Barrot "cannot be blamed of any misconduct for not having disclosed a conviction", on the basis that he had been given an amnesty by the French authorities. This left EU parliament president Josep Borrell, with obvious relief, to announce that: "This opinion confirms that legally nothing can be held against Mr Barrot".

Informed opinion in the parliament suggest that the key lay in the French socialists (as we surmised) and it appears they did not have the stomach for a fight – not least because they have too many skeletons in their own cupboards.

That has not stopped UKIP's Nigel Farage from trying to get the matter raised formally in the EU parliament but, as the party's site attests, he has got absolutely nowhere, leading to accusations of a "stitch-up".

The only option Farage had was to get the Conference of Presidents of the parliament to agree to set aside time for a debate. This body, made up of the heads of the political groups, decides the agendas, and – led by an undefeatable axis of the socialists and the EPP - has blocked his request.

(Oddly enough, Farage refers to the "Council of Presidents" and you would think, after all his many years in the parliament, he would by now know the name of its ruling body.)

Anyhow, unless Farage can drag up some more dirt on the commissioner, that seems to be the end of the matter – for the time being – although we can rest in the comfort that the EP is quite happy with one of the EU commissioners being a convicted fraudster. This will come back to haunt them.

All these phobias

As the Ukrainian crisis unfolds and as the West (or some of it, anyway) sensibly declares that it supports the pro-Western parties and politicians, other voices are beginning to be heard.

One of the first of the mark is the Serb nationalist Srdja Trifkovic, writing in Chronicles. According to him this is all the fault of the ultra-nationalist Viktor Yushschenko, the western government and agencies who are intent on building a new world order (shum mishtake shurely – either it is the nationalists or the new world order builders who are the problem) and the George Soros sponsored NGOs.

As it happens, I have already heard comments of that kind expressed to me privately, some by people who have just come back from Ukraine. According to some of them, only the Soros-sponsored oppositionists carried out electoral fraud. To which one might say: what’s the matter with Kuchma? Lost his touch?

Let us set aside the whole problem of George Soros, who excites passions but who is not quite as powerful as either he or his friends (if he has any) or his enemies think. Witness the fact that he managed to lose many millions trying to unseat President Bush and succeeded merely in proving that you cannot buy democracy.

Let us also accept that what is happening in Ukraine is a largely internal battle for the direction in which that country might go in the future rather than a simple fight of democracy against authoritarianism.

What interested me in Mr Trifkovic’s article is the following comment:
“The myth is virulently Russophobic. It implicitly recognizes the reality of Ukraine's divisions but asserts that those Ukrainians who want to maintain strong links with Russia are either stupid or manipulated. This view has nothing to do with the well-being or democratic will of 50 million Ukrainians. It is strictly geopolitical, in that it sees Moscow as a foe and its enemies (Chechen Jihadists included) as friends.”
A fairly simplistic view of the world from a man who pretends to be more sophisticated than the commentators of the American Enterprise Institute (not that their analysis was particularly useful). The Chechens are not all Jihadists and Russia has been singularly unhelpful in the West’s own fight against terrorists, demanding that her behaviour in Chechnya be accepted with equanimity and even praise while refusing even to stop the sale of arms to difficult states.

Mr Trifkovic has written equally “sophisticated” articles about events in the Balkans according to which the wicked West supported all the evil opponents of Serbia. He did not mention that the people of Serbia did not exactly benefit from Milosevic's rule or his foreign adventures.

What interested me particularly was the word Russophobic. In fact, it is President Putin and his rather large ambitions that are viewed with some suspicion in the West (though not, I may add, by the EU, which is still anxious to be very nice to him). It is also President Putin’s henchmen, the siloviki, former and present members of the security forces who are gradually taking over political and economic life in Russia, that are regarded in an unfriendly way. The people of Russia do not come into it. Indeed, the people of Russia are losing the freedom they acquired when the Soviet Union collapsed. Surely, true Russophobia is supporting Putin and his policies.

So why Russophobia? We shall hear more of it as our euromasters manoeuvre for position, worrying about outcome in Ukraine and reluctant to seem to be too tough with the ever more dictatorial Putin.

This is a deliberate confusion between the politics and the people. Have we not heard it before in other circumstances? What is a person who does not like the EU and its politics? Why, a europhobe, of course. Somebody who hates Europe rather than just a slyly imposed and generally unsatisfactory political structure.

What is a person who does not like certain politicians who are trying to overcome the liberal democracy of Europe’s nation states? Silly. A xenophobe, of course. None of us are allowed genuine political arguments. We are merely full of phobias.

Losing the plot

Today, The Daily Telegraph runs its YouGov monthly poll. It reports that, three years after the Conservatives had suffered one of their worst-ever election defeats, winning only 33 percent of the popular vote, they are no better off than they were then. In fact, according to the poll, their support has actually fallen slightly to 32 per cent.

Anthony King, writing the commentary, observes:

Conservatives these days must envy Sisyphus. That poor fellow was doomed to spend all eternity rolling an enormous boulder up a hill only to see it roll back down again as soon as it approached the summit. Today's Tories are even worse off. They seem unable to push their boulder within sight of the summit.
He then goes on to remark that the Queen’s speech and the Conservatives' ferocious parliamentary attack on it have evidently made little difference. Labour's lead over the Tories has narrowed from four points last month to three points now.

As a result, the beneficiaries of the Blair Government's unpopularity combined with the Conservatives' inability to take advantage of it are the Liberal Democrats, currently on 23 percent, and a variety of minor parties led by the UK Independence Party, now on five per cent.

The comment about the Queen’s speech is interesting because, despite favourable comment at the time in the Telegraph, eye witnesses in the Chamber were cringing with embarrassment at Howard’s performance. "He lost the House", one told me, the ultimate indictment of a parliamentary leader.

By all accounts, Blair, despite his reputed distaste of standing at the dispatch box, was on top form, launching into a familiar attack on the Conservative Party, as recorded by Hansard:

We start with fantasy tax cuts; we then have fantasy spending; we then have fantasy savings and now we have a fantasy country. Then, of course, we have the Tory policy on Europe. We remember the words about leading from the centre; back comes the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) into the shadow Cabinet. The Tories have now ditched 30 years of policy on engagement with Europe in favour of renegotiation, a policy that even Margaret Thatcher would not entertain. We know that the right hon. Gentleman has boasted that the unilateral renegotiation of our membership of the European Union is "easy".
Howard then intervened with a question that had some of his backbenchers cringing: "Can the Prime Minister explain how Margaret Thatcher got the rebate without renegotiation?" Talk about walking into an elephant trap of your own making, Blair was ready for him, and swatted him down with consummate ease:

She did not get it through renegotiation. [Interruption.] Of course she did not. The financing terms of the EU had to be agreed, and she agreed the rebate as part of that. Indeed, the very reason we were able to get the rebate is that the EU had not agreed its financing terms.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has to explain how he will renegotiate things that the Government have already entered into. That is the difference. In order to renegotiate terms that the Government have already committed themselves to—on fisheries, on social policy, on the social chapter, on the common agricultural policy—and which other countries have already agreed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have to get the agreement of every one of the other 24 countries. Where are the other countries that are going to agree? They do not exist, so now we even have a fantasy European Union to go alongside the fantasy country.

Fantasy policies are amusing for a fantasy Government, but supposing that Government became a reality, then the fantasy becomes a fraud on the British people and is no longer amusing but dangerous.
Howard has already said, on fishing, that if the "colleagues" did not agree to repatriation, then he would act unilaterally though an Act of Parliament so, to bring up the issue, in this context, was an "own goal", allowing Blair to make a cheap jibe which Howard could not adequately counter.

Effectively, this all builds on the broader picture, where the general consensus is that the Tories have "lost the plot", a view shared by Mary Ann Seighart in The Times today, where she remarks on the Tory ambivalence on the ID card.

It is no wonder that UKIP is building up to a five percent support, and while the Tories take comfort on the current disarray in that party – which is far too tedious to report here – on this too the Tories have lost the plot.

People, even if they do know anything about the turmoil in UKIP, are not in the least concerned. They are not voting for UKIP, but against the Tories, and their inability to capture the high ground on the European Union. Thus, even if EU issues are not always centre-stage, the baleful influence of "Europe" continues to cast its shadow over the Conservative Party.

Not even the wildest optimist now can see any prospect of it regaining power at the general election.

They’re getting worried

According to the Financial Times, former finance minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn - leading Europhile and one of the French Socialist Party's most senior figures - is warning of the possible "breakdown of Europe" if his party's members reject the EU constitution in an internal vote next week.

This follows hot on the heels of the l’escroc Chirac’s warning last week that the Socialists were on the brink of voting "no", putting the whole project at risk.

Now Strauss-Kahn is taking up the baton, saying: "I believe there would be unspeakable consequences: a break with the history of the Socialist Party; a split from other European socialist parties; and then, above all, a breakdown of Europe."

Revealing what is clearly worrying the Euro-élites, he adds, "We should then have to wait a very long time before arriving at a new consensus allowing us to end up with a new treaty. We would fall very much behind, just at the moment when the voice of Europe should be asserting itself on the international stage."

Readers will recall that the "no" campaign in the Socialist Party is being spearheaded by Laurent Fabius, the former prime minister, who has argued that Europe is becoming too economically liberal.

Strauss-Kahn, predictably, rejects this argument, saying the constitution also sets objectives for full employment, anti-discrimination, and social welfare. But then, so did the Lisbon agenda, and that really made all the difference, didn't it?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

It’s not cricket

It was fascinating to hear Commons leader (and former Europe minister) Peter Hain condemn Mugabe’s "murderous rule" today, and his frank admission that he did not believe the England cricket team should be visiting Zimbabwe.

And, for such a senior member of the government, he was remarkably outspoken, describing the situation in Zimbabwe as "outrageous", saying President Mugabe’s power was "tyrannical". But he then continued: "We are opposed to this tour, we wish it hadn’t happened but the England Cricket Board is not a department of the government and it’s free to make its own decisions."

However, as always, Hain is being a more than a little disingenuous. The problem for the ECB is that is it contractually bound to fulfil its international fixtures, on pain of a substantial penalty - unless prevented from doing so by force majeur. But that force could include a government ban on nationals travelling to Zimbabwe, in which case the ECB could have called off the matches without penalty.

So, if Hain is so convinced that the tour should not go ahead, and he is clearly an influential member of the government, why did he not press for such a simple and attractive solution? After all, it was the sports ban on South Africa which is widely credited with breaking the grip of apartheid in South Africa.

The answer, is seems, is also remarkably simple. The UK no longer has the power to dictate its own foreign policy over Zimbabwe. Under the terms of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the UK government has agreed to a "common position" on Zimbabwe which, once agreed, prevents any member state from taking unilateral action.

The only the way that the UK could now take any action to prevent our cricketers being used by Mugabe as a "political tool" is with the permission of the EU – which has not been asked for, probably on the basis that it would not be given. Thus, poor little Hain, despite his enthusiasm for "Europe", is left squawking impotently on the sidelines.

Had we still the freedom to act independently, perhaps a better option might be to send in a battalion of paras – Mugabe’s regime is so rotten that it would probably collapse at the first sight of a red beret.

But we can’t afford this, I hear you all cry! Well, an infantry battalion costs something like £10 million a year. We have 78 MEPs which cost us £1.2 million a year each – just over £90 million, or nine infantry battalions. Simple really – we ditch the MEPs. And which would bring us more influence on the international stage: 78 MEPs or nine infantry battalions? Another no-brainer.

Unfair, cries the Chairman of the Electoral Commission

Sam Younger, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, who, let’s face it, made some very strange decisions during the campaign in the North-East, has come out and said it: the spending rules are unfair.

Speaking to an academic seminar yesterday, he gave his opinion that ministers should be banned from promoting the EU Constitution for at least 10 weeks before the actual vote, bearing in mind that they do so, using taxpayers’ money. Well, of course, everything ministers do uses taxpayers’ money, so, perhaps they ought to call an occasional 10 week moratorium on all their activity? Just joking.

The rules on spending in the last 10 weeks, as stated in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, are reasonably straightforward:

The main group (decided according to rules devised by the Electoral Commission and incomprehensible to everyone else, though that is not how the Act puts it) can spend up to a total of £5 million.

Other organizations that are registered as “permitted participants” can spend up to £500,000 each. Whether the European Commission comes under this or some other, unspecified, category is not clear.

However, the Government can spend an unlimited amount of the above mentioned taxpayers’ money on pro-constitution leaflets and advertising until the last 28 days of the campaign.

Mr Younger said that his Commission has already complained about this anomaly but nothing has been done so far.

A Bill to pave the way to a referendum on the EU Constitution is expected to be published in the next few weeks, though the referendum is likely to be next spring. The government’s timing is constrained by the fact that from July 1 to December 31 2005 the UK will have the rotating EU presidency. Therefore, those six months are out as far as the General Election or the Constitutional referendum are concerned. They have to come either side of what is likely to be a fraught presidency in any case.

Mr Blair has until June 2006 to call and election and until end of that year to call the referendum. If, as expected he will go to the country this spring, incidentally incinerating most of the proposed legislation, March 2006, ten weeks or so after the expiry of the presidency, is more or less the earliest time he can have the referendum

This posting appeared first on the UKIP London Assembly blog.

"What's done is done and cannot be undone"

So said Lady Macbeth to her husband as he intimated that he was beginning to feel certain twinges of conscience after murdering King Duncan. On the whole, Lady M is not the most admirable of role models and, if memory serves me right, ends up walking in her sleep, perpetually washing her hands and, finally, committing suicide.

Yet she does seem to be the presiding genius for EU officials, who feel that there can be no going back, unravelling, changing or altering on anything that has been decided in however unsatisfactory a fashion. In particular what cannot be changed, altered or unravelled is the draft Constitution.

All this came up because of the ongoing rumble of complaints about the absence of Christianity from that document. What with that and the saga of former Commissioner-designate Rocco Buttiglione, there is a feeling of beleaguerement among the very many believing Christians of Europe.

A Christian coalition has collected 1,149,000 signatures across Europe for a petition that is being delivered to all the EU leaders, asking that the Constitution be published with a different preamble by each country with God mentioned in it if desired. They claim that all references to Christian values were blocked by France, which may be true as the battle between church and state in that country has been long and bloody and is not yet over.

The current version of the preamble talks in a vague and woolly fashion of “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”. The reason this meaningless form of words was decided on is because it has become remarkably clear that there is no all-embracing European culture or European outlook on the world. (More of this in another posting.)

However, the one thing all European and probably other officials have in common is a fear of having to admit that they were wrong and of reviewing what had been done. As one EU official muttered:
“These Christians could at least have the good grace to accept that they lost the argument.”
Might not the Emperor Nero have used those very words?

Galileo: Select Committee report

The House of Commons Transport Committee has now produced a report on Galileo, the EU’s proposed satellite navigation system. And interesting reading it makes – available on the Parliamentary website here.

The executive summary notes that the project "has the scope to provide real improvements in the world’s satellite navigation systems" "and the UK’s strengths in satellite technology… mean that we are very well placed to participate in this exciting venture."

"However," it continues, "we believe that Parliament and the public are not sufficiently aware of Galileo’s costs and benefits, which in some cases appear to have been poorly articulated, and insufficiently assessed."

That is something of an understatement, as the coverage in the media has been abysmal, to the extent that the bulk of the population – and even otherwise well-informed people – are scarcely aware of the existence of one of the EU’s most expensive and ambitious projects.

Inevitably, therefore, the Committee concludes:

Important questions need to be addressed before the European Union Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council makes final decisions on the programme. They involve the value for money of the project, the date when it is realistic to expect the Galileo system to be operational, the commitment to the Public-Private Partnership proposed for the deployment and operational phases of the programme, and the mechanisms by which the civilian status of the Galileo project is to be secured.

The United Kingdom Government also needs to assess far more clearly what use it will make of Galileo, and which services it will require.
Gwynneth Dunwoody, chairwoman of the committee, added, "Signing up to the next stages require a huge leap of faith," but she need not have bothered. The only media report I have seen so far is on the Bloomberg press agency. As they have done so many times before, the mainstream media have ignored the issue.

Nevertheless, Dunwoody pursues her point, saying that the EU has not yet proved the need for the programme, while her committee says that it doubts the reliability of the programme's estimated costs as well as the size of the market the Galileo would tap. Dunwoody concludes, "We don't think the government should let itself be bullied into jumping."

The issue will be considered by the EU's transport council in December and, despite our transport committee's reservations, it is likely to go ahead. And the reason why it will do so is because of the vital role of Galileo in underpinning the EU’s security and defence policy as, whatever the EU commission might say publicly, the system has important military applications.

The problem with Dunwoody and her committee, in questioning the financial viability of the project, is that they have virtually ignored the military applications. The have fallen for the commission and government "spin" that it is intended to be a civilian project, even though they received no assurances that it would not be used for military purposes. Yet, it is the defence market - and particularly in selling hi-tech weapond and systems to China, which need an independent GPS system - where the money is really to be made.

Neither has the committee established that there are proper control mechanisms in place to prevent the system being used for military purposes, leaving the whole military issue unsatisfacorily resolved.

In our view, this is one of the most important issues of our time, primarily because of those undisclosed military applications and the sale of the system to China, which almost certainly intends to use it for military purposes. That we are involved in the project means this will have – and is already having – a serious impact on our special relationship with the US.

Much to our surprise, we find we have published no less then 25 postings on this subject. For those of our readers who are new to the Blog, if you wish to follow the whole sorry saga through from the point when we took it up, we have provided the links below, in chronological order. Happy reading.

Posts: 01; 02; 03; 04; 05; 06; 07; 08; 09; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 22; 23; 24; 25.