Monday, January 31, 2005

Democracy to die for

We were thinking of writing a piece on the Iraq elections, noting how all the doomsayers and faint-hearts, like the EU’s Solana, are having to eat their words – very grudgingly. However, we cannot do it better than Diplomad.

We do note though that, despite threats of bombing and executions, the turnout was significantly higher than in the Euro-elections.

Maybe the government has got it wrong in trying to make it easier for us to vote, with its postal votes and all that. Perhaps if it threatened to execute us if we voted for the MEPs, turnout would increase.

Better still, if it promised to execute the MEPs we elected, I am sure turnout would soar.

The real reason for ignorance?

Forget the constitution. According to Mr Dudley Curtis, writing to the Financial Times today, things are pretty dismal when it comes even to general knowledge about the existing EU.

Ask your average Spaniard, German, Belgian or Pole what is meant by "the Lisbon Strategy", he writes, or ask for an explanation of the functions of the Council of the European Union, European parliament and European Commission, and the response will probably be similar to those given by members of the British public to Mori researchers recently commissioned by the BBC's governors.

This is the survey which accompanied the Wilson report on BBC bias on the EU, which is also available on the BBC site.

The fact is, he writes, most people in Europe are largely ignorant of the workings of the EU and the real impact of European legislation on their lives.

So far so good, but then Mr Curtis argues that the EU itself must shoulder part of the blame. It has an abysmal record of communicating with "Europe's citizens", he says.

And it gets worse: "No one understands this better than Margot Wallström, the Commission's vice-president responsible for sorting out the mess", he adds. In her European parliamentary hearing in September she said: "It can seem a long distance between what is decided in Brussels or Strasbourg and what actually happens in the places where most Europeans live."

Mr Curtis thinks that while the BBC, and other European public-service broadcasters, obviously have a key role to play in explaining the complexities of EU affairs in an accessible way - the job surely starts with the EU itself.

Clearly, Mr Curtis himself knows very little about the EU, otherwise he would know that the organisation is inherently incapable of communicating with ordinary mortals, while its apologists seem to spend most of their time concealing its real agenda, or denying it exists.

But, he nevertheless raises a good point about the general state of ignorance about the EU and the fact that it is Europe-wide. This, in my experience, extends to politicians from all sides, and especially includes many MEPs, who seem remarkably ignorant of the institution they serve.

But what was especially interesting about the Mori survey was that the more informed people were about the EU, the more distrustful the seemed to be, both of the BBC and the EU. Perhaps that is the real reason why neither the BBC nor the EU go out of their way to keep "citizens" informed.

The biter bit

Three days ago, China Southern Airlines Company signed an agreement with Airbus for the purchase of five A380s, marking the first commitment placed by a Chinese carrier for the recently unveiled largest aircraft in the world.

Says the China press agency, "The agreement is seen as providing a boost to Airbus in its battle with US rival Boeing for dominance in the crucial Chinese market".

But, on the same day, the same China press agency also reported that the China Aviation Supplies Import & Export Group (CASIEG) and six Chinese airlines signed a frame agreement here Friday with the Boeing Company to buy 60 new 7E7 Dreamliners (now renamed the 787) with a list price of $7.2 billion.

This, it stated, "is the biggest agreement in terms of aircraft quantity and value that Chinese airlines have ever signed."

Now, courtesy of The Business, we also hear that Boeing is going to produce an advanced version of the veteran 747 which, says the paper, will be seen as a spoiler for the new Airbus A380 superjumbo and retaliation against Airbus. Last December, the European firm unveiled plans for the A350 mid-sized aircraft to go head to head with the Boeing 787.

All’s fair in love and war, I suppose. Who said anything about business?

European Week

Kings College in London is this week hosting a "European Week" covering a range of subjects from "European Identity" (tonight) through enlargement (tomorrow) to "the transatlantic relationship" on Friday.

The programme starts at 5pm each day and your two editors are well represented. Helen is speaking tonight and I am set for tomorrow.

Full details of the programme and the venue can be seen here. All are welcome.

Undermining national sovereignty

It has to be one of the central tenets of sovereignty that citizens, or subjects, of a nation state are bound only by the laws of that nation. They should hold no fear of being rooted out of their beds by the boys in blue for any action on their part which is not specified as an offence in their own country.

It is, therefore, profoundly disturbing to read the report in The Daily Telegraph today which tells us that "ministers have been criticised for backing EU plans to allow police to raid the homes of people not suspected of breaking British law."

It appears that a "Labour-dominated committee of MPs" – i.e., a House of Commons select committee (why can’t they say so, instead of adopting these childish circumlocutions?) - has described the proposal for a European evidence warrant as "deeply disturbing".

It says the warrant could be used against a person accused of committing an offence in another EU country even if no British law was broken.

We are told that the proposal is still being negotiated in the EU and is not expected to become law for some time. But, says the Telegraph, the Home Office has angered the Commons European scrutiny committee by disclosing that it is not opposed to the principle of the police executing a search warrant in connection with conduct that would be legal in Britain.

The European evidence warrant follows the principle of the European arrest warrant, which came into force last January.

One of the most controversial aspects of the arrest warrant was that it generally abolished the principle of "dual criminality" - the rule that someone could be extradited only for conduct against the law in the country seeking extradition and against British law.

Now, we find that the European evidence warrant would also abolish dual criminality. Nevertheless, we understand that the proposal as it now stands would allow Britain a five-year exemption before that safeguard would be removed – as if that made it any better.

In a report last week, the committee said: "We found it disturbing that a person's home might be entered and searched at the request of a foreign authority for the purpose of obtaining evidence to prosecute conduct which is not criminal in this country."

The MPs raised the issue with Caroline Flint, the Home Office minister dealing with European evidence warrants. In a letter sent before Christmas she conceded that she was not opposed to the abolition of dual criminality.

According to the DT, she told the committee: "The application of the principle of mutual recognition to orders to obtain evidence is fundamental to improving the existing mutual legal assistance procedures, without resorting to extensive harmonisation of procedure." She also said dual criminality was not necessary in relation to search warrants "because mutual recognition is founded on the principles of equivalence and trust in each other's judicial systems".

It was left to Bill Cash, a Tory member of the committee, to say how the plan illustrated very clearly how British law was being undermined by Brussels. But it does more than that. It undermines the very basis of national sovereignty.

REACH for your passport

Responding to the fragrant Margot’s latest Blog, in which she mentions the proposed REACH directive, which will impose draconian new controls on the production of chemicals, Tim Worstall writes:

…there are only so many tens of thousands of pages of regulations and directives that a three man company can read through before we decide to flee the Continent.
He gives a personal example of how damaging this legislation would be to his innovative three-man firm and concludes that this directive is one of the reasons why the EU will never move closer to the goals of the Lisbon Agenda.

Worth a read.

An interesting thought

Obviously, we, on this blog, do not know how many of our readers bother with Sunday newspapers and to what extent. There is even a split in our own ranks as to what constitutes the most interesting part.

My colleague devours the news sections, reads the business reports and discards the rest. I concentrate on the reviews, then the business sections and glance perfunctorily through the main part, having already read any interesting news on the internet. And, at times, like yesterday, realize that what Sunday journalists consider news had been blogged a week or ten days previously. (The British media has not yet woken up to the possibilities of the internet and the blogosphere.)

Thus it came about that I read Lord Lawson’s review of Sir Samuel Brittan’s collection of essays, Against the Flow: Reflections of an Individualist. Some wag of a sub-editor entitled Lawson’s piece Brittan stays in Europe.

Lawson is largely positive but cannot understand how a clever economic and political writer, who, moreover, sees clearly the disadvantages of Britain joining the euro, can possibly go on supporting the project.
“Why Brittan should ssume that any future European Federation would be likely,let alone guaranteed, to be based on limited government and effectively functioning markets is baffling.”
After all, points out Lawson, the nation state and the market economy grew almost simultaneously, and that is not an accident, though, wisely, he does not apportion cause and effect.

Lawson’s explanation is that for some reason Brittan considers the alternative to a European Federation, “separate self-governing nation states” as unenlightened. If true, and there is no reason to disagree with this analysis, Sir Samuel has clearly fallen into the structures are more important than content trap.

There is another problem with Brittan’s analysis of the wider political situation. He writes robustly on the need to stand up to the terrorist threat but does not face up to what has been described as “Americans from Mars, Europeans are from Venus” attitude.

Lord Lawson writes trenchantly:
“… the real reason is surely that ‘Europe’ is doomed to be Venusian, for while people can be persuaded to fight and die for their country, they will never do so for Europe.”
It is entirely possible to think that it is quite a good idea not to try to persuade people to fight and die for anything particular. That would be a rational though unrealistic point of view.

However, that is not the “European” attitude. It is part of the project to build up a defence and, indeed, attack structure that will rival and, if needs be, oppose the Americans. This they want to do sans money, sans proper equipment, sans any kind of emotional support. It is, as Lord Lawson rightly points out, doomed to a costly and dangerous failure.

Making the Revenue shiver

One of the more egregious lies uttered by Denis MacShame in his letter to the Telegraph on Saturday, extolling the virtues of the EU constitution was that "it would also shut the door on tax, welfare and economic harmonisation."

Taking on board the specific claim on tax harmonisation, this Blog has reported many times on how the commission, in conjunction with the ECJ, has been pushing the tax agenda and how it has been using existing treaty provisions, without needing the constitution.

And my colleague has drawn attention to the speech of Baroness Noakes who outlined in her House of Lords speech just how far the process of tax harmonisation had gone.

Now, in two separate articles, one in the Financial Times and the other in The Times today, we see further confirmation of how far the tax sovereignty of the UK (and other EU member states) is being eroded.

The immediate causus belli is a case taken by the retail conglomerate Marks and Spencers which goes to the ECJ tomorrow, starting what is considered to be one of the most important tax cases for years – so much so that the FT story is headed: "Taxing problem assumes colossal importance".

The case concerns the government's denial of tax relief for business failures in other parts of the EU and it has the potential to cost the government hundreds of millions of pounds in tax revenues and have a ripple effect throughout the EU.

The FT believes – as do we – that it could also trigger far-reaching changes in the tax laws of most European countries, which could be forced to harmonise their tax treatment of the losses from domestic and foreign subsidiaries. Many businesses are concerned that governments may remove tax privileges from companies operating in their home market as a short-term move to protect their tax revenues.

As an indicator of just how important this case is, the High Court judge, Mr Justice Park, the Chancery division's acknowledged tax expert, who referred it to the ECJ, declared: "It is to me self-evident that the issue in this case is hugely more important than a multitude of issues which I have seen referred to the European Court."

He added: "I don't know how many other companies are queuing up behind M&S. But the amounts involved make me shiver, and I'm sure they make the Revenue shiver also."

And indeed "the Revenue" is shivering, witness the times report which has it that "worries" treasury officials are in secret talks with leading multinationals over the issue, and have been make confidential soundings among tax chiefs at Britain’s biggest companies about potential remedies if the ECJ goes with Marks and Spencers.

Says The Times, an almost unbroken series of successful taxpayer challenges in the European Court of Justice suggests M&S is likely to win its argument. It is claiming just £30 million but some 60 UK and foreign multinationals are preparing a class action to follow M&S, claiming reimbursement of billions of pounds because they were denied group relief for losses incurred in other EU states.

We learn that confidential discussions with FTSE 100 finance directors suggest that civil servants are even looking at radical steps, such as scrapping group relief, in order to defend the UK tax system from what some tax experts call "tax harmonisation by the back door".

However, it may be six months or more before we get a result from the ECJ – which could put it bang in the middle of the EU referendum campaign, but already the Treasury is having to reassess corporation tax and prepare for a Finance Bill in 2006.

The head of taxation at a leading energy company is saying that nothing less than a complete rethink was necessary and that the Treasury will have to restructure the entire corporate tax system. But such wholesale "reforms" as might prove necessary could damage the UK at a time when the covernment’s ability to raise funds from company profits is being questioned.

Bill Dodwell, a tax partner at Deloitte & Touche, reckons Britain has a lot to lose if it gets it wrong. "The UK raises more proportionately from taxing company profits than other EU countries," he says.

And there we have little MacShame bleating from the sidelines that the constitution would "shut the door on tax… harmonisation." It will do no such thing.

Security woes put £2bn at risk

A British investment of £2 billion in the US-built joint strike fighter - is being put at risk owing to American reluctance to share key technology which will make it operable.

First flagged up by the Blog last June, British defence officials are increasingly worried by the difficulty in getting access to the vital "source codes" which control the software which enable the complex JSF to operate.

With the aircraft now set to move into the production phase, with the UK having committed over £2 billion to its development and production, dealings with the US over this issue are getting "thornier".

Lord Bach, Britain's defence procurement minister, stresses that the UK is "looking forward" to the technology transfer that will be need to support and operate the aircraft and has admitted that this will "test the boundaries of the US national disclosure policy."

This is disclosed by the Financial Times this morning, which identifies the core of the problem as US arms export laws, that mean the US will only disclose technologies only once Britain needs them.

During the development phase of the JSF, this has not been an important problem but, next year, however, the British government has to decide whether to buy the aircraft, putting as much as £2.6bn ($4.9bn) for 150 aircraft at risk.

Since the aircraft will not go into service until early next decade, Britain will not know for years whether the US will eventually grant it access to the core software codes it says it needs.

British officers are worried. "With any airplane in my inventory, I need the capability rapidly to modify for different circumstances, whether it be its software or hardware," says Air Chief Marshall Sir Brian Burridge, head of the RAF's fighter force. "We need the intellectual understanding close at hand so we can do that."

Bruce George, an MP and head of the British parliament's defence committee, says: "It seems to me truly absurd for a country like the UK, which has proved itself to be by far and away the most loyal ally to the US, to be in the position of almost grovelling to the US and saying, 'Please will you give us the information we require'."

The JSF’s builder, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, is equally concerned. Its programme manager, Tom Burbage, knows that the US wants the British to commit to buy the aircraft, and concedes that "the US is going to have to give some reasonable guarantees that the countries that buy the airplanes are going to be able to maintain them." "Right now," he adds, "that's not in the agreement."

And of course, the crunch point is here is China - as my colleague points out in her posting below - and the potential lifting of the EU arms embargo and the US concern over the security of defence technology once it is passed to Britain.

If the UK goes along with the French and German ambitions, negotiations may be much more than "thorny" and there is a very real possibility that the current problems that the UK is experiencing over technology transfer will seem minor by comparison.

Since the JSF is central to Britain’s future defence strategy – not least because it will equip the two planned aircraft carriers – once again Britain is putting its national interest at risk – to say nothing of the "special relationship" – all to keep in with our European "partners".

With over £2 billion of investment at stake, this is not a good bargain.

The problem of China will not go away

If there is one subject in international politics that is likely to bring about a rupture between the United States and what is losely described as Europe but is really the EU, it will be China and relations with it. It is, perhaps, a little unfortunate that it is almost impossible for Europeans to take the moral high ground on it, much as they like to. So, they resort to weasel arguments.

Jack Straw, as we know, has announced that the EU arms embargo on China is likely to be lifted this summer. It is true that similar announcements have been made in the past by other European politicians and nothing happened as a number of member states opposed it out of a mixture of political and humanitarian principles. One of those countries in the past was Britain, but this is about to change, apparently.

I shall leave it to my colleague to deal with the arms sales to China that are already going on, despite the supposed embargo. To me these are all boxes on wheels or wings with guns attached to them. He, on the other hand, knows and loves the subject.

The politics of it, however, I can cope with. And there is no doubt at all, that China remains a live topic for political discussion in the United States for various reasons. There is the question of Taiwan, a country to which the United States is committed, no thanks to previous administrations as it is pointed out in the latest and previous editions of Commentary magazine.

In addition, Taiwan is a country that has moved a long way towards genuine democracy and support for it sits well with President Bush’s pronounced aim of spreading freedom and democracy. China, on the other hand, despite vague pronouncements by European worthies, retains the reputation of being one of the most oppressive states in the modern world, despite some economic freedom being allowed in the cities.

Here is an interesting little summary from John J. Tkacik, one of the leading experts in the United States on the present situation in China:
“EU leaders tried to persuade their Chinese counterparts at the Brussels summit to ease up on political and religious repression. They pointed to the “importance of concrete steps in the field of human rights and reaffirmed their commitment to further enhance co-operation and exchanges in this field on the basis of equality and mutual respect” and hinted that “concrete steps” were needed to help justify easing the arms ban.
Frustrated Chinese leaders quickly followed up with a series of "concrete steps." Two days later, Beijing ordered the arrest of a well-known Protestant “house-church” pastor in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Four days later, police detained three well-known dissident writers. After their release, the writers told American friends, police were stationed outside their doors and followed them and their families wherever they went, "walking just two or three steps behind."

On December 20, The New York Times reported that Li Boguang, a prominent human rights activist who has aided farmers in lawsuits against the government, had been arrested. The same day, Chen Ming, editor of the underground samizdat magazine China Reform, was taken away by police.

On Christmas Eve, Chinese police detained another veteran dissident writer, Yang Tianshui, in what had clearly become a post-summit crackdown on independent intellectuals. On January 6, police arrested 69-year old Roman Catholic bishop Jia Zhiguo, who at least was grateful that he had been able to spend Christmas with his flock. And these were only the cases that were reported in the Western press.”
There is the question also of strategic balance in the Far East, which would be upset rather badly by China's further arming herself, though, to be fair, that is happening anyway. A ferociously armed China, aided and abetted by the EU is a danger to a number of countries in the region, who are supposed to be our allies in general terms and, more specifically, in the fight against terrorism.

That the debate is not about trading links with China in general but about selling arms and, parenthetically, involving China with the Galileo satellite navigation system, is best exemplified by an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe last Thursday (January 27).

Under the heading Make PCs, Not War, it argued simultaneously against the foolish, short-sighted and potentially dangerous plan to lift the arms embargo and in favour of the sale of International Busness Machines' personal computer business to Lenovo Group, China's largest computer maker.

The latter is being opposed on spurious defence and security but really protectionist grounds by various politicians and lobby groups. But as the editorial concludes:

"It's a shame that commercial protectionism is muddying the waters of serious discussion about the sale of militarily sensitive Western technology to China."
The wrongness of that sale and the ridiculousness of the European assurances that they will get the Chinese government to sign ever stiffer agreements about the use of those arms (they must be laughing their heads off in Beijing) is highlighted by John Tkacik in his most recent Heritage Foundation WebMemo. As is the wont with the researchers of Heritage, he ends by suggesting a course of action for the new administration.

(One must admit, it is never quite clear how many of these courses of action are actually taken up by the Bush administration. On the other hand, more attention is paid to this kind of political research and, mostly, in-depth briefing by politicians in Washington DC than in Westminster or Whitehall. More’s the pity, from our point of view.)

Tkacik suggests that American diplomats should, if they "truly want to derail the EU's efforts to lift the embargo" should:

- ignore the Commission and concentrate on trying to persuade various member states, particularly the new ones, as these still remember what a totalitarian regime is like;
- focus on the fact that the arms embargo was put into place in response to massive human rights abuses in 1989 and the situation has become, if anything worse;
- highlight China’s record of conventional arms transfer (well, sale, actually) to Third World countries with dubious records;
- insist on a dialogue on China as part of all Atlantic Alliance strategic consultations.

None of this sounds precisely oppressive or radical, though, no doubt it will be take as such by the few europhile organizations that bother to read American output. The problem is that there is a misunderstanding of the mentality that pushes the EU and its cheerleaders towards this potentially very dangerous act, the lifting of the arms embargo.

The idea of trying to influence individual member states is often brought up by Heritage and other like-minded American organizations. It is rather well-meaning but quaintly out of date, in that it does not acknowledge the many powers that individual member states have handed over to the EU.

In this case, however, it does make some sense. Decision will be taken by consensus and united opposition from the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and the East Europeans can stop it in its track.

The rest of it, alas, will not work. The truth is that the EU and its large member states do not care all that much about China's human rights record or the sale of arms to Third World countries with similar problems. The latter, they think, is really America’s problem or something they can wring their hands over impotently.

The former? Well, they really do not want to know and resort to euphemisms and assurances that there is good evidence (unspecified) for Chinese desire to improve that record.

As far as France, Germany and the UK are concerned, the motivation is straightforward: lucrative contracts. Unfortunately, that sort of motivation sits ill with the supposedly ethical foreign policy of the EU, whose avowed purpose it is to spread freedom, democracy and human rights.

In fact, this selfishness is decried by Katinka Barysch of the Centre for European Reform, once upon a time the leading perestroika europhile organization, but now simply a cheerleader for the EU and European integration.

In her paper The EU and China she decries the selfishness of the big three in not giving unstinted support to the Commission and in “disregarding pre-agreed EU positions”, which, by offering the carrot of the market economy status could achieve a great deal more in bilateral negotiations. What the great deal more, Ms Barysch does not specify, probably just as well. Perhaps lucrative contracts for the companies of some other member states.

I would strongly recommend that American commentators read what Ms Barysch has to say. Past experience suggests that there is a symbiotic relationship between the CER’s papers and British government statements on the European Union.

Here is the key paragraph:

“Looking forward, the EU and China should be able to build a stronger partnership on their many common interests and attitudes. Both are suspicious of the US's untrammelled power and strongly support a multilateralism that is based on the United Nations and international law.

Both stress the need for sustainable economic growth. Both believe that 'soft' power, the ability to persuade, can be a more effective means of achieving foreign policy objectives than armed force. Both tend to be too busy with their own internal problems to expend much energy on global politics. But both know that they need to become more pro-active in resolving explosive conflicts, for example in the Middle East, not least because both the EU and China depend on imported energy.

In contrast to the US-China relationship, the tricky question of Taiwan does not loom large in EU-China relations, at least for now.”
Human rights? Well, the "Nordic countries claim that China has not done enough to improve its human rights situations". Silly them.

While one is, of course, delighted that the tricky question of Taiwan (how tricky exactly?) does not raise its ugly head, one wonders whether Ms Barysch has been watching the same country as the rest of us.

China believes in international law and the UN? Really? Since when? And it does not believe in force? My, my. I wonder what all that armoury that is pointing at Taiwan is.

She certainly believes in getting the best possible deal in the Middle East and pays little attention on what the various states it deals with get up to otherwise. That, of course, may change as China has reported a discovery of large oil deposits and is, in any case, as my colleague has reported some time ago, working hard on the nuclear alternative.

So what does that leave us of the "many common interests and attitudes"? Alack and alas, only one: an opposition to the United States. Is this really what we want to be part of – a foreign policy that desperately seeks an alliance with some of the worst dictators in the world in order to oppose the largest democracy and our closest ally for some time? Apart from the moral side, can we honestly say that this is in our interest?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Better late than never

Picked up by the invaluable Diplomad Blog on 21 January and posted by this Blog on the same day was a link from a serving naval officer aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, under the pen name of Ed Stanton, complaining about UN and aid agency personnel and their interference in the tsunami aid effort.

It is fascinating to see, therefore, a full nine days later, the same story appearing in The Sunday Telegraph, this time under the heading: "US Navy officer attacks 'travelling circus of aid workers' for impeding the tsunami relief effort in Indonesia". We also note that it took two correspondents, Philip Sherwell in Washington and Inigo Gilmore in Banda Aceh, to write the story.

We will not re-tell the tale, as readers can pick up either the original or the Telegraph version (which is heavily edited) from the links provided above, but will note that, according to the Telegraph, "the attack was rejected by UN officials in Banda Aceh". Now there is a surprise.

But we are also told that, "on the ground", some aid workers also complained about UN bureaucracy, while Acehnese told of inefficiencies in the aid operation.

It also seems that Stanton's views were not welcomed by the military. In stiff official prose, Lt David Benham, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, said: "The comments do not reflect the position of the US government. We are working closely with the governments and organisations out there. They want us there and we want to be there."

Interestingly, though, Benham does not deny – or even attempt to deny – Stanton’s account of events. On the other hand, Heather Hill, the World Food Programme's spokesman in Banda Aceh, did try, rejecting suggestions that UN officials had hampered operations.

She said that it had taken time to get to positions "in country" but they had now reached remote places. "No one is living off caviar. Conditions are hard but people are motivated by the idea of being part of this historic mission."

A Spanish aid agency worker in Banda Aceh, however, said that some UN officials had appeared arrogant, and suggested that the UN was hindered by bureaucracy. "It is a huge machine and it moves very slowly," he said. "It takes 50 pages of bureaucratic work just to move one nail. This can be a problem and that is why some Americans are probably upset. They like to just get on with it."

Nevertheless, some bloggers have come to the defence of the UN and, in the interests of balance, a link to one of the better ones is here. Our readers, as always, can draw their own conclusions.

More grief than the enemy

It is not very often that two newspapers from the opposite sides of the political divide come together with virtually identical stories, but such is the grip of fringe party politics on the so-called mainstream that each was able to see in one story a way of advancing its own agenda.

First though, to illustrate the symmetry in reporting, compare the following pieces. In one newspaper we have:

"The trouble is, some are serious and some are nutters. And you get the lot – is this one serious? Or is this another nutter? I mean, I didn't know what I joined. What's been irritating is that I've been defending some of these bloody Right-wing fascist nutters."
And in the second, we read:

"The trouble is, some are serious and some are nutters," he said. "And you get the lot. Is this one serious? Or is this another nutter? I didn't know what I joined. What's been irritating is that I've been defending some of these bloody right-wing fascist nutters."
The first is an extract from a report in the "right-wing" Sunday Telegraph and the second is from the left-of-centre Independent on Sunday. Both trail a BBC broadcast to be shown tomorrow – by an organisation with its own agenda – featuring the one-time star of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), none other than Robert Kilroy Silk.

In the Telegraph, the story is labelled: "'Right-wing fascist nutters' – Kilroy-Silk turns on his former friends in Ukip", while the Independent chooses: "Ukip is party of 'fascist nutters' says Kilroy-Silk" – not a smidgin of difference between them.

To our bemused American readers, who have probably just about grasped the difference between the "right-wing" Conservative Party and Blair's left-right of centre "New" Labour party – and the "anywhere you want us to be" Lib-Dims, the existent of this additional "right-wing" party must be confusing.

And it is going to get even more confusing when Mr Kilroy-Silk – more often referred to as plain "Kilroy" - starts up yet another party. This may be called "Veritas", which the media are quick to remind us is the Latin for "truth". No one has yet announced the formation of the obvious counter-party, "In vino", but I am told that several people are having serious discussions about the appropriate vintage.

As an aside, I suppose we can blame the Americans for Kilroy anyway – since we blame them for just about everything else – as I am reliably informed he first made an appearance in Tunisia in 1943 at the close of the North African campaign, when the graffiti "Kilroy was here" was seen painted on walls in the American-held sector.

Anyhow, now that we've got him, and he has fallen out of love with UKIP, he has launched a bitter attack on his former colleagues, describing some of them as "bloody Right-wing fascist nutters." His outspoken comments, we are told, were made only days after he angrily quit UKIP, describing it as a joke, and announced the formation his new political party.

But what is possibly more interesting is why the left and right wings of the mainstream should be so interested in what is fast becoming a sideshow – not so much the fringe, as the fringe of the fringe.

And here, as always, the explanation is the European Union. With the left-wing now in favour of "Europe" and its "social model", it is anxious to show that opponents of the "project" are all "stark-raving, right-wing, fascist nutters", while the supposed right-of-centre Conservatives, concerned at losing ground to the anti-EU "extremists", are similarly anxious to tarnish the breed.

The problem is, for once, that they are both at least partially right – as in "correct". Kilroy, in the film, explains to the producer why he sometimes stopped the filming of UKIP meetings. "I was embarrassed at their behaviour, their naivety and their immaturity and their stupidity and I didn't want you to see them behaving that way," he says.

We know exactly how he feels and, in many ways, the formal anti-EU parties are now becoming more of a problem than a solution – something which the pro-EU BBC will be quick to capitalise on, taking every opportunity to give them publicity (after years of ignoring them) as a means of showing ordinary people that only "nutters" - and right-wing, fascist ones at that - oppose the project.

It has been considerably helped in this endeavour by UKIP deputy leader, Mike Nattrass, who in tomorrow’s programme, is filmed telling a party rally:

"The Germans are the big losers here but they don't care because to them the [European Union] project is worthwhile. It's like an empire for them, spreading in all directions… into what they called the Sudetenland… It's cheaper for them really to do it this way rather than roll the tanks in."
The cause of Euroscepticism is not best served by this ranting as it presents us with the added difficulty of having to overcome the "loony-fringe" label before we are even able to get the message across.

But then, in politics, it is very often your "own side" that give you more grief than the enemy.

A rogue poll?

In stark contrast to yesterday's Daily Telegraph poll, which showed a 2:1 majority against the EU constitution, an ICM poll published in the Sunday Telegraph today suggests that the public is "evenly split".

This is an ICM survey which, like the DT's YouGov survey, asked voters the exact question to be posed in the referendum. But this survey shows 39 percent in favour of signing up to the constitution, just two percent behind the "noes" at 41 percent.

The result is clearly anomalous, suggesting a far narrower gap than all other polls published to date which have, almost without exception, shown the “noes” in the lead.

While the "yes" campaigners will take heart from this result, it presents more sanguine observers with a problem as to which poll to believe. Even causal observers of the "poll scene" are aware that there are considerable problems in interpreting polls and here there is also a methodological issue to consider.

YouGov uses online polling and, recently, has come up with good results, making it one of the most respected of the internet polling companies. While there are errors associated with this type of polling, ICM uses telephone interviews, which also have their own errors. Furthermore, as we have found, responses can depend very much on the context in which the questions are asked.

On the basis of previous polls, however, the odds are that ICM is a rogue poll. All the other pollsters, including the EU's own Eurobarometer, are saying differently, and the likelihood is that there is strong opposition to the constitution throughout the country.

However, if a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity and anything can happen in the next 12 months. Complacency is not an option. The referendum is not in the bag.


It is relatively rare that Booker revisits the same story on consecutive weeks, much less giving them lead "picture story" status. But such has been the utterly vile and vindictive treatment of two Hastings fishermen, Paul Joy and Graeme Bosom, who featured in last week’s column, that Booker felt impelled to return to the case in his column this week.

As we left is last week, the two fishermen had been up in Lewes Crown Court being prosecuted by Defra for the alleged crime of breaking licence conditions by catching more cod in the month of September than was allowed under EU quota rules.

Paul Joy had been astonished because the quota rules do not apply to small inshore boats such as those launched off Hastings beach. These have yearly "allocations" from the ministry – and at that time only 53 per cent of the allocation had been caught. But Defra had decided the annual allocation could be subdivided into 12 monthly shares. Without warning, Joy was told that he had broken this new rule.

Last Tuesday, however, in the same Lewes Crown Court, judge Simon Coltart imposed a fine and costs of £7,500 on Paul Joy, more than the value of his small wooden fishing boat. When his colleague Graeme Bossom, ordered to pay £6,500, said he would have difficulty in raising the money, the judge advised him to get a second mortgage on his house. If the two men did not pay in full within a year they would be sentenced to three months in prison.

As a result, a furore has blown up in Hastings, with the local papers taking up the case where the judge is claiming to be upholding EU law in finding the men guilty, supporting fisheries inspectors of the Defra in creating a law which conflicts with rulings from the EU commission and which exists nowhere else in Europe.

The specific offence with which the two men were charged in October 2003 was that in the previous month they had illegally landed £2,570-worth of cod, in excess of their "monthly allocation". There was every reason for this coming as a complete surprise since the commission confirms that, "under 10 metre" boats are not given individual quotas and EC law does not recognise monthly allocations. There may be "yearly allocations" for certain species, and when that limit is reached a fishery may be closed. But until then, under EU law, there is no restriction.

Since, in September 2003, the small Hastings boats had only landed 53 percent of their yearly allocation, Mr Joy and Mr Bossom were therefore wholly unaware that they might be about to fall foul of the law. A local Defra inspector, Paul Johnson, was aware how much they were landing but said nothing, until, to their astonishment, he charged them with having gone over a putative monthly limit.

As a highly experienced fisherman who sits on the local Sea Fisheries committee, Mr Joy is in regular contact with Defra, and has often made the point that any system of monthly allocations for small inshore boats could not possibly be enforced, since unlike larger vessels they are not required under EC law to keep log books of their catches.

One odd feature of the trial was that Judge Coltart did not seem to grasp the distinction made in EC law between under 10 metre boats and larger vessels, which are subject to quotas and many more rules.He several times cited EC regulations which apply only to larger boats, and said he saw no reason why the under 10 metre boats should not carry log books, even though this is not a legal requirement.

Another unusual feature of the trial was that, although Defra’s barristers were permitted to report statements alleged to have been made by Mr Joy, and which he strongly contests, neither Mr Joy nor Mr Bossom were allowed to give evidence that they were being misrepresented.

Denied any chance to speak in their own defence, the two men were advised, when the judge ruled in favour of Defra's arguments, to change their plea to guilty. Even so, they were horrified when, after Defra was given a week to investigate their financial affairs, the judge ordered swingeing fines, comparing their conduct to that of drunk drivers, in that they had gone over the legal limit and should be punished accordingly.

The chief Hastings fisheries inspector Angus Radford has publicly proclaimed his "delight" at the judgement, and claimed on local radio that Mr Joy’s £5,000 fine amounted to only a quarter of his monthly earnings. In fact in September 2003 Mr Joy only grossed £5,000, and this was by far his highest monthly income of the year.

So great are the implications of this controversial case that it is being taken up by both Hastings's Labour MP Michael Foster and the Tories’ front-bench fisheries spokesman Owen Paterson MP. A local fund has been launched to support Mr Joy and Mr Bossom while they consider an appeal. It seems the case of the "Hastings Two" still has some way to run.

One seriously wonders about judges sometimes. At the height of the Edwina Currie-inspired egg scare in 1989, I took a case to the High Court, contesting the power of the then Ministry of Agriculture to slaughter hens claimed to be infected with salmonella, farmed by an order of nuns from their Daventry monastry.

To be more specific, we did acknowledge that the ministry had power to slaughter, but such was the haste with which a new, panic law had been drafted, they had forgotten to include power of entry for the purpose of slaughter. We presented examples dozens of acts and regulations where executive actions was permitted by officials and, in every single case, the powers given were accompanied by specific entry powers. We thus argued that, in the absence of a specified power of entry, there was no such power.

The judge, however, disagreed, stating that, without a power of entry, the ministry could not exercise its powers and, therefore, a power of entry must be "implied" – thus creating a law that did not exist.

In this Hastings case, the judge seems to have taken the view that, unless monthly quotas existed, he could not see how EU fishing rules could be enforced and therefore, despite there being no regulations which set monthly quota amounts for inshore boats, allowed Defra the case – once more creating law that did not exist.

Since 1989, I have never trusted judges and this case is yet another of many that cast serious doubts on the adequacy of our judiciary.

From such weighty matter, Booker then takes us to this week's report on the BBC, noting that while the Daily Telegraph’s headline was "BBC cleared of bias", the Daily Mail’s version was "BBC's pro-EU bias".

Over the past 12 years, Booker has regularly reported on the BBC’s partisan and unprofessional coverage of this issue, unlike the Wilson committee citing scores of specific examples to make the general point. However, he writes, the BBC's performance is no longer so shameless as it was in the 1990s, when it seemed to be in the forefront of the campaign to get Britain into the euro.

In 1999, he published a dossier of six occasions when the BBC had accepted stories fed them by pro-euro propagandists, leading its news broadcasts with claims that multi-national companies were threatening to leave Britain unless we joined the euro. On each occasion the companies named, including Toyota, Sony and Ford, had issued trenchant denials. Not once did the BBC publish any correction.

But, says Booker, even if they are now slightly less gullible in falling for the propaganda spin, there is plenty of evidence that the BBC is still hopelessly failing its audience by its inability to engage with this issue in any informed, professional fashion. One revealing trick was exemplified on Friday morning by John Humphrys’s interview on the EU constitution with Corbett and O’Brien.

Instead of presenters doing their homework and establishing the facts for themselves, so they can interview with real knowledge and authority, Booker observes, the game here – as Humphrys demonstrated - is simply to allow two talking heads to shout past each other, making contradictory points, until the presenter can say "that's all we've got time for, the debate will doubtless continue".

The listeners are left wholly bemused (and bored) because they are not given enough information to know who is telling the truth. Therein lies the real problem, and there is scant evidence that it is even understood, let alone being addressed.

In his third and last story, Booker takes on the decision of the Commons scrutiny committee to choose last week, on the casting vote of its Labour chairman Jimmy Hood, that in future its proceedings will be in secret. It was not exactly tactful, he says.

Furthermore the timing was immaculate in that it came hard on the heels of the European Commission pointing out that Michael Howard was in no position to implement new proposals on immigration, because the power to decide immigration policy has been handed over to Brussels.

Booker notes that the immediate response of commentators was to claim that this might bring home to people just how much of our power to govern ourselves has been ceded to Brussels without anyone realising it. But just as significant was the response of Mr Howard himself. He immediately said that a future Conservative government would take those powers back.

He thus adds immigration policy to fishing as one of the major policy areas he is now pledged to return to national control. He might not want it to be shouted about too loudly, for fear of upsetting Ken Clarke, David Curry an the rump of Tory Europhiles.

But these pledges strike right at the heart of the most sacred principle of the "European project", the acquis communautaire, which lays down that once powers to legislate and decide policy are surrendered to the EU they can never be returned.

Throw in the Tories' implacable opposition to the EU constitution (which includes all the existing treaties), plus the likelihood that this will be rejected by the British people in next year's referendum, and it seems a very interesting situation is in the making.

Mr Howard may be ultra-diplomatic in his strategy but, concludes Booker, unless he is prepared to make a humiliating retreat, he is setting us up for a showdown with our European partners on a scale unprecedented in the EU's history.

The really fascinating thing, though, is that there has been no backlash from the Europhiles in the Tory Party – of the type that plagued Hague. Kenneth Clarke has stayed silent in his lair and none of the other "usual suspects" have uttered a word in public.

The only reaction, in fact, has come not from the Europhiles but from the public – which have heavily endorsed Howard’s stance, and given him his first boost in the polls for a long time.

This could have profound consequences. Howard has decided on a direct challenged to the EU over a mainstream policy, and the sky has not fallen in – quite the reverse. He might now begin to realise that taking on the EU is quite popular. Who knows, he might even acquire a liking for it.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A spanner in the works?

Several random thoughts occur at the news that the Anglo-Italian designed AgustaWestland US101 has been selected by US Navy for the presidential helicopter replacement programme.

The first is why the US president should need 23 helicopters, at a cost of $1.7 billion. The second – at the risk of being accused of that heinous crime, pro-Americanism - is approval of the US for selecting a foreign helicopter design for their presidential fleet. One wonders if l’escroc Chirac would ever buy an American helicopter for his personal transport.

On a more serious note, this is something of a turn round for the EH101 project. It was approved in 1984 by Heseltine as the Navy’s tactical anti-submarine helicopter, replacing the ageing Sea Kings. But it soon ran into trouble and ended up setting the record as the most expensive helicopter ever built, at £100 million each, for what became the Merlin.

In the end, the project had to be bailed out by the US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which carried out the final systems development. After some teething troubles, the aircraft has emerged as a successful medium-lift helicopter in service with the armed forces of the UK, Italy Portugal, Denmark and Canada.

Although 65 percent of the construction work will be carried out in the US and additional systems will be added by US contractors, led by Lockheed Martin, this still represents a considerable boost for the British and Italian designers. It has considerably annoyed United Technology’s Sikorsky Aircraft unit, which has built and maintained the Marine One helicopters that have flown the president since 1957.

In awarding the contract for the helicopter, the navy rejected Sikorsky's argument that the president should fly in a helicopter, call-signed "Marine One", that was 100 percent US-made.
It is, in fact, the first time the US defence market has been open to a foreign helicopter, and all the more remarkable that is should involve such a prestige project. It may also have spin-offs into other US military fields.

British government officials were delighted by the decision. They said it would help Blair show that his close relationship with Bush can bring dividends.

As for the Americans, John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said: "This decision truly reflects the best value and capability for the American taxpayer who is funding it, the Marines who will operate it and the future presidents who will fly in it."

Quite what the long-term implications of the deal are is uncertain at this stage but the sales competition was seen as a litmus test as to whether European firms could compete successfully in the US defence market.

However, given that the EU commission is anxious to develop a European defence market, buoyed by the difficulty experienced by European defence contractors in breaking into the US market, there is a possibility here that the US – intentionally or otherwise – has delayed or even sabotaged EU attempts to pursue its programme of defence integration.

Marine One, therefore, could represent a significant spanner in the works.

Apathy rules in Eire

The ratification process in Eire is not going as smoothly as the government might have hoped.

According to The Irish Independent, the recent Eurobaromter poll shows that just 27 percent of the public have declared a willingness to vote "yes", indicating that Irish enthusiasm for the proposed constitution is amongst the lowest in the EU.

However, the findings offer little comfort to anti-constitution campaigners either. The "no" vote is also amongst the lowest in the EU, standing at 5 percent.

The vast majority of respondents, 67 percent, fell into the "don’t know" category. When asked about their knowledge of the Constitution's contents, 45 percent pleaded ignorance, compared with an EU average of 33 percent.

Although no date has been set yet for the Irish referendum, Irish Labour MEP, Proinsias de Rossa is calling for the government to launch a major campaign to explain the contents to the public. Perhaps she should be appealing to the commission for help.

Is there no end to her talents?

The fragrant Margot has been at it again, with another Blog posting this time recounting how she went to the "European Parliament" with President Barroso to present the strategic political objectives "for our 5-year mandate."

Now, dear reader, please bear in mind that our Margot is in charge of communicating – the human face of the commission, "engaging" with the people. And what does she regard as the highlights of Barroso's agenda? Er…

Prosperity, Solidarity, Security. Key words in the plenary debate: balance, sustainability, delivery, social agenda, citizens, Lisbon agenda, competitiveness, focus…
Is it any wonder that the "citizens of Europe" increasingly believe that these creatures have descended from another planet (Zog?) and gaze upon them with utter incomprehension?

Boring us all to death

Responding to the analysis piece on the EU referendum question, written by George Jones for the Telegraph on Thursday, Denis MacShame sidles into the Telegraph letters today with a missive headed "support the treaty".

MacShame is pleased the newspaper acknowledges that the wording of the referendum question in the Government's EU Bill is neutral, but he takes exception to the paper claiming the constitutional treaty codifies a "permanent revolution" of everyday decisions being "bedevilled by European laws, regulations and directives".

Retorts MacShame, "It does no such thing." "In bringing together all the existing EU treaties into one document," he argues, "it would enshrine the British vision of a flexible, wider EU." He goes on:

It would allow the new Europe of 25 members to work more effectively, with a bigger role for national parliaments and national governments, simpler decision-making, more efficient and streamlined institutions and greater accountability. It would also shut the door on tax, welfare and economic harmonisation.
Once again, the same mantra dribbles out. What is fascinating is that he is able to aver, without even a blush, that the constitution will enable the "new Europe" (notice, he never uses the terms European Union) to work "more effectively". Since when, however, has his darling EU ever worked effectively?

As always, he runs the now standard line that it allows a bigger role for "national parliaments" when, as we have demonstrated in this Blog, it does not such thing. Strangely though, even the "Yes" campaign seems to object to this line, noting that, in the absence of ideology,

...the government has to fall back on the historical concepts of the nation and the state as a way to sell the Constitution. These are the only notions that they dare use when it comes to EU politics. The EU offering concrete advantages to the citizen, or the value of supranational democracy are not concepts that the government can get to grip with…
MacShame makes the same claim for "national governments" but again, as we have pointed out, it does not such thing. It extends the responsibilities of the Council – which involves mainly approving more powers for the commission – which is not the same thing as giving national governments a "bigger role".

As for "efficiency" and "streamlining", this is yet another – and constant evasion by MacShame. Not only does he seem incapable of pronouncing the words "European Union", he also seems to fight shy of using the term: "qualified majority voting" or "abandoning the veto". But that is what he means.

Once again, we call in aid Winston Churchill who said

No-one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst sort of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
The point here is that democracy is inefficient, in terms of decision-making. You have to discuss, argue and, eventually, gain consent to what you propose. How much more "streamlined" and "efficient" it is simply to over-ride objections and impose your will on objectors. And that is, in effect, what MacShame wants from his constitution – the ability to dispense with the veto in 63 additional policy areas.

Rejecting this, says MacShame, "could only weaken Britain's influence in Europe and squander our opportunity to be a leading nation in the new Europe."

So, we "weaken our influence" by giving yet more power to the EU, allowing ourselves to be outvoted on even more issues, and to have even more policy areas dictated by the commission? We have seen the effect of that in our immigration policy, in our fishing, and in countless other areas. And MacShame wants more?

So, he concludes, "this is why this Government believes that the British people, when provided with the facts about the constitutional treaty, will support it in the referendum ahead."

Nothing new here. We’ve read it all before, and heard it all before. But what is emerging is that the government is adopting a Goebells-like approach to the campaign, concentrating on a very limited number of slogans and repeating them endlessly in the hope that, if continually repeated, enough people will believe them to make the difference.

However, I suspect there is a greater risk of boring us all to death.

Beware the "helpful" commission

Being ever so helpful, the EU commission is offering to help individual governments with "public information campaigns" on the proposed constitution. So writes Rory Watson in Brussels, for The Times.

This, apparently is the brainchild of the fragrant Margot Wallström, commissioner for truth and reconciliation. She wants the commission to be "an active partner in informing European citizens about the content of the constitution and its advantages in relation to the present treaties".

Apparently unaware of what she is saying, she pledges that the commission will "do all it can to ensure the entry into force of the constitution", and is ready to help member states with "the development of national strategies".

The very fact that is has an "agenda" – as if we didn’t know – surely rules out any serious idea that the commission can provide "information", which implies neutrality, rather than propaganda, but from inside the Brussels "bubble" no doubt Wallström thinks she is being entirely reasonable.

The "assistance" on offer includes "opinion surveys and media monitoring, initiatives to stimulate debates, the development of websites and videos, the production of brochures and the definitive version of the constitution in 20 languages."

Perhaps, if the commission is so interested in developing websites, this Blog should apply for some EU money - just kidding!

However, the initiative otherwise seems well advanced. It is responding to requests from foreign ministers of the EU member states, which apparently asked it last November to consider what role it could play in the ratification process.

It claims it has no intention of becoming involved in domestic political battles and thus, amazingly, argues that its sole function would be "to provide factual information in order to foster an informed debate."

Nevertheless, a British "government spokesman" is expressing caution. "Clearly, it would be wrong for substantial Commission or European money to be spent in support of either side", he says. "The referendum is a matter entirely for the British people."

The UK Independence Party, in a rare digression from its internal squabbling, managed to tell The Times that it would "be disgraceful if taxpayers’ money were to be used to pay for the yes campaign".

Predictably, the egregious Richard Corbett disagrees. The commission has a legitimate role, he says: "Provided it sticks to information and does not campaign, it can contribute to a better informed debate," he said. "If the anti-Europeans do not want that, it shows what they are up to."

However, like it or not, the commission is going to do its best to swing the vote. Not least of its activities is to fund a series of training seminars organised by the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, instructing journalists on how to cover the constitution.

Helpfully, the Centre, which proudly boasts of its "financial support from the European Commission" also offers a series of handbooks on how to report EU issues, including a source book from which journalists may obtain information.

As an indication of where it is coming from, it helpful tells aspirant hacks that the BBC website is an "excellent, regularly updated, free source of news". Beware, as they say, of helpful commissions.

No means no… maybe!

Under the header, "No! No! No!", redolent of Thatcher’s famous Commons speech when she denounced Delors’ megalomania, the Telegraph leader rejoices at the results of its YouGov poll showing that the voters would say no to EU constitution by two to one.

The poll details are worth reading, not least because the questioning is quite sophisticated, and shows that – on balance – the "no" vote is firmer than the "yes".

For the Telegraph, it sees good news in that "British voters have lost none of their common sense." With the poll replicating the question that will appear on the ballot paper, it confirms the trend of every recent survey.

The paper accepts that not everyone who expressed a view will be entirely au fait with the details of the constitution, but it argues – rightly in our view – that most people have a fair grasp of what the constitution is about.

They know, for instance, that it transfers more powers to Brussels. They understand that it entrenches many of the things that they already dislike about the EU. And they feel in their bones that they would rather be governed by their own elected representatives, whom they are periodically invited to turf out, than by an unaccountable apparat.

The Telegraph also counters the wishful thinking of the Europhiles – and the commission - who consistently argue that greater familiarity with the constitution will diminish the hostility towards it.

Says the Telegraph, to the extent that people read the document, their disquiet will be vindicated. It notes that, two pages in, they find that "this constitution shall have primacy over the laws of the member states" (Articles I-6). A few lines later, they learn that "member states shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union ceases to exercise, or chooses no longer to exercise, its competence" (I-12).

Next comes an enormous list of areas where Brussels is to have jurisdiction: transport, energy, public health, employment, social policy, immigration, asylum, justice, home affairs, trade, competition, agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs and defence (I-13 to I-16). Having read thus far - still no more than four pages into the text - people will doubtless be asking themselves what is left for the nations.
If people will have their fears allayed by reading the document, the Telegraph suggests that there is a simple way to settle the matter: distribute a copy to every household in the land. The Spanish government, to its credit, is sending out copies in advance of its referendum next month. If Tony Blair refuses to do the same, people will draw their own conclusions.

With that, the Telegraph now turns to the "bad news". A "no" vote, it says, will not kill the project. It notes – as we have been saying consistently on this Blog – that large parts of the constitution are already being implemented, before the first ballot has been cast.

The Telegraph identifies the fields of criminal justice and foreign policy, but we would also add defence – which is galloping ahead, and space policy, which has significant ramifications.

And, as we are all now noticing, there is no legal basis for these things, but that does not trouble our Euro-masters in the least. They have never let referendums stand in their way before, and they do not intend to start now.

Tony Blair, the Telegraph concludes, has described the vote as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to settle Britain's relationship with Europe. For once, that is no exaggeration. "If, as we hope," it says, "our poll is eventually borne out, it will not do to make a couple of cosmetic changes and then carry on as before. No means no."

With that, though, there is a growing problem for the "Yes-no" campaign – which is in favour of the European Union but against the constitution. As more and more people look at the constitution, they will see in it things they do not like, but will then be told or learn that they were in the existing treaties.

The problem for the "Yes-nos" is to distinguish between the new and the old, and then to explain why, if the new is so objectionable, why the existing is acceptable. Unless they can answer that, "no" will not mean "no" because, with or without the constitution, the political integration will continue apace, as indeed it is doing at the moment.

They're at it again

Despite the honeyed words which regularly emanate from the EU about reducing – or even eliminating – export subsidies, it has once again shown its true colours.

Faced with a surplus of grain on the world market, with production expected to reach a record 621 million tons in 2004-2005, 13 million tons more than forecast consumption, the EU has reintroduced export subsidies on grain, in anticipation of a price slump on the world market.

Australia, which is the world's second-largest wheat exporter, has registered its "serious concern'' with EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson in Davros. And prime minister John Howard has lashed out at the EU, saying the subsidies runs counter to all the rhetoric at the World Economic Forum of more open trade. "If this is their idea of more open trade then Australia is deeply disappointed," he said.

The subsidies do in fact go against the EU’s commitment to eliminate export subsidies, introduced because EU and U.S. exporters are facing more competition from cheaper grain from Argentina and former Soviet Union countries. Their larger harvests have swelled global output to a record, causing wheat prices to fall 24 percent on the world market.

The fear is now that the US might retaliate with its own subsidies, which could send prices into free-fall.

David Ginns, chief operating officer of the Australian Grains Council, a lobby representing the country's 30,000 grain farmers, summed up his members’ feelings: "These export subsidies are a sop to the European farm lobby,'' he said. They show that the EU has yet to be genuine "about its often-stated desire to control its massive domestic and international market corrupting subsidy program."

Nevertheless, the EU commission – as might be expected – is unrepentant. Says Claude Veron-Reville, the Mandelson’s spokeswoman for trade: "The alternative would have involved the EU buying the grain and then stocking it in public warehouses… this would have been unsustainable for the EU budget."

So that’s all right then. Let’s see how Mandelson spins this one.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Synthetic indignation

Both The Scotsman and The Sun have been waxing indignant about the decision of the Commons European scrutiny committee to close its doors to the public.

The Sun is particularly incensed, its headline blaring: “Laws are passed in secret”, the text proclaiming that “MPs are rubber-stamping over 1,000 new EU laws and regulations every year in SECRET...” .

But then, as the story continues, a different picture emerges: "The Labour-dominated European Scrutiny Committee meets behind closed doors to assess new Brussels documents," the paper says. "They comb through new rules on key issues including jobs, terrorism and the environment to decide which should be debated in the Commons."

And that puts it in perspective. The committee does not pass laws. It simply assesses the torrent of EU legislative proposals coming through the system and makes decisions on which are "politically significant" and, therefore, whether they should be debated.

If the committee decides that the document is significant, it puts a “scrutiny reserve” on it, supposedly preventing ministers agreeing the law in the EU Council until the House has had a chance of debating it. Then, at the end of a session, the committee produces a report, which is published, setting out what it has been doing and the problems it has faced.

As for The Sun, its indignation would be more credible if it – or any other newspaper or media organ - showed any interest whatsoever in the scrutiny process. But even where ministers quite outrageously ignore the scrutiny rules – as recorded in this Blog - not a blind bit of notice is taken.

Furthermore, the process of sorting out the politically significant documents is as dull as ditchwater, so it is unlikely than anyone would really be interested in attending.

But the "killer point" is that those documents which are selected for debate are referred to one of the three European Standing Committees, where the proceedings are in public and are recorded in public.

But, again as we have recorded on this Blog, no one takes the blindest bit of notice of these committees – even though some of the issues discussed are important. It is hard enough even getting a quorum of MPs to attend, members of the public are very rarely there, and the media ignores them.

So, while in theory, closing the committee to the public is theoretically a blow against more openness, or "transparency" if you prefer, in practice it makes not one whit of difference. The indignation is synthetic.

The more subtle defence agenda

Entirely by coincidence – I would have written about this anyway – comes a story which links rather well with the previous post on the defence issue – i.e., the common defence policy, which Neil O’Brien claimed was being introduced in the draft constitution.

The trouble is, as we see, that the overt move towards a common defence policy stems from Maastricht, but the bigger problem is that defence integration, in addition to being driven politically, is also proceeding apace outside the aegis of the treaty structures altogether.

This is brought home in an article in the current edition of DefenseNews, headed: "EU threatens to build own defence market". The headline is actually wrong, because the story actually refers to EU member states – and defence contractors acting outside the formal institutional structure of the EU, but the effect is the same.

This gist of the story is that, frustrated by US restrictions on the transfer of defence technology, European defence manufacturers are pushing for the creation of an independent European industry, servicing the EU member states with common equipment.

This came up at a conference held on 17 January in Brussels, attended by EU and Nato officials, industry executives and defence policy experts. There, a representative of the European aerospace giant EADS complained that: "US technology restrictions on foreign defence firms [operating in the US market] have reached the absurd." He continued:

Dual-use technology, such as ordinary internet communications protocols that are freely used in civil products, cannot be exploited by us commercially if we're involved in a DoD project using the same protocols. It's ridiculous.
Other European companies express the same concerns and, while they are anxious to exploit the $445.6 billion US defence budget, they are also anxious to get a grip on the defence budgets of the 25 EU member states, collectively worth $180 billion a year.

But, to exploit that fully, says Bill Giles, director-general Europe for BAE Systems, "something does have to be done to put in place a [rationalised cross-border] defence market in Europe."

Several issues arise from this. Firstly, with the expense of modern military hardware, its complexity and the limited numbers bought by any single European state, it makes absolute sense for the market to undergo rationalisation, which would have happened with or without the EU – and is happening already, independently of the commission initiatives.

But the other issue is that European manufacturers would much rather have access to the US market, which is much more valuable. But, while $65 billion was awarded to in contracts US firms in 2003, foreign firms only gained $1 billion.

Some of this is straightforward protectionalism, some relates to the need for the US to ensure security of supply, but a significant factor is the increasing reluctance on the part of the US to share technology that could end up in the wrong hands. And it is easy to see why.

The net effect, however, is that commercial as much as political pressures are driving defence integration. But, as far as the UK goes, that integration could be – and historically has been – as much with the US as with Europe.

With the evolution of a European Defence Policy though - of which the UK will be an integral part if the full provisions of the constitution are implemented - the UK could find itself frozen out of the US market on political grounds. That could have considerable economic and security implications.

That defence question

In the Corbett versus O'Brien interview this morning, both parties made claims about the status of defence in the proposed constitutional treaty.

O' Brien claims that: "there’s a commitment in the new constitution, for the first time, that the EU will move to a common defence." Corbett, on the other hand, claims: that "it’s been in the treaty since the Maastricht Treaty, signed up by John Major in the early 1990s", whence O’Brien counters: "This new commitment to move to a common defence is completely new. The phrase 'we'll move to a common defence' is new."

The problem with this type of interview is typified by that extract. Claims and counter-claims are made, and the issue is left unresolved. Who is right? Who do you believe? Well, technically, Corbett is correct.

Maastricht (Art. J.4 (1)) actually states:

The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.
In other words, is sets up a commitment, albeit vague, to move towards a common defence. This is then modified by the Amsterdam treaty, renumbered to become Article 17 (1). This reads:

The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might… (deleted: in time) lead to a common defence.
The "eventual framing" now becomes the "progressive framing" – a little bit firmer, made stronger by the deletion of "in time". The elision, incidentally, relates to a reference on the WEU, making it an integral part of the Union.

By the Nice Treaty, again Article 17 (1), the passage remains the same, with the removal of the reference to the WEU. That brings us to the proposed constitutional treaty, where the original passage now transmutes into Article I-41 (2), which reads:
The common foreign and security policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides.
From the very vague provision in Maastricht, this has firmed up substantially: "might" has become "will", but it does need a unanimous decision of the European Council.

Nevertheless, Corbett is right that the commitment to move to a common defence is in Maastricht. It is simply firmed up by the constitution.

Had O'Brien cited Article I-41 (7), he would have been on stronger ground. As outlined in our earlier posting, this imposes on all member states mutual obligations of "aid and assistance" by all means within their power, should any member state be the "victim of armed aggression". This, for the first time, turns the EU into a fully-fledged military alliance.

Corbett versus O’ Brien

Jon Humphrys interviews Richard Corbett MEP and Neil O’Brien, campaign director of the "Vote-No" campaign on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning.

JH: How much do you know about the European constitution? Enough to have a clear view on whether it’s a good thing for this country? Well a poll is about to be published that shows we’re pretty ignorant, not just here but around Europe for that matter.

And what about the level of the debate here? This was Tony Blair speaking in the Commons last April when he announced that there would be a referendum on the EU constitution.

TB (recording): Let the Eurosceptics, whose true agenda we will expose, make their case. Let those of us who believe in Britain in Europe, not because of Europe alone, but because we believe in Britain and our national interest lying in Europe, let us make out case too. Let the issue be put and let the battle be joined.

(Loud cheers)

JH: Well, has battle been joined? Not according to the Labour MEP Richard Corbett, whose worried about it all. He’s on the line and so is Neil O’Brien, campaign director of the "no" campaign. Worried in what sense Mr Corbett?

RC: We’ve all been focusing on more immediate issues because the referendum is still over a year away, presumably. But it is time I think to start discussing this because, if we’re going to have a proper national discussion, people really need to know what’s in this new treaty. And my experience is that the more people actually find out what it says, the more favourable they become.

JH: I take it you wouldn’t agree with that Mr O’Brien?

NO: No, I wouldn’t at all. The reality is that the government are running away from a debate because they know that the constitution is extremely unpopular and there’s a general election in four months time. I mean., 60 percent of businesses are against the constitution and 69 percent of voters are against it . And I think that just because its fundamentally not what they want. It means a further transfer of powers to Brussels and that means more decisions will be taken by people who aren’t elected, aren’t accountable and who we can’t even kick out.

JH: But are they against it because they know what it’s about or because they have bought the propaganda, or some of us have bought the propaganda of some of you?

NO: I don’t think it’s propaganda. I think their fundamental view is, at the moment, that Europe is doing too much and doing it badly. What Europe needs to do is reform properly and sort out some of its problems like, for example, the CAP which costs every household in this country £800 a year. That’s what Europe needs to be doing but instead we’re going ahead with a constitution which transfers even more power to Brussels and that’s completely the wrong direction to be going in.

JH: Isn’t that a very fair point Mr Corbett that, erm, not everybody believes that the EU has been an unrelieved good thing in every single respect and they’re worried they’ll get more of the bad bits?

RC: What is true is that the "no" campaign makes all sorts of unfounded allegations about this treaty. We just heard some of them. It does not transfer more powers to "quote" Brussels "unquote". On the contrary, it makes the European institutions more accountable, more subject to democratic control.

JH: Right, let’s just take.. let me stop you for a second. Let me just take that single issue if I may, because the problem with these discussions is that you have counter-claims and people left at the end of it undecided as to who to believe. So, deal with that single thing would you Mr O’Brien, that what you’ve just said about handing more power to Brussels is simply not true. It becomes more accountable not less.

NO: I glad we can get into the detail here because it’s very important. For example, the constitution would mean that we would give up our right of veto, our right to say "no" in 63 new areas.

JH: Right. Is that true or is it not true, Mr Corbett?

RC: We make sure other countries give up their rights to veto what we want…

JH: So it’s true?

RC: …in 63 areas. Yes, and that’s a good thing. It increases our say in the European Union.

JH: Well, right. OK, Mr O’ Brien. Give us another example.

NO: Another example might, for example. be the new powers that the European Union gets over our economy. The Charter of fundamental rights will be inserted in the treaty despite the fact that the government said it would be no more legally binding that the Beano and that will have a huge impact on our economy. It’ll mean that European judges will be able to impose new regulations on our businesses.

JH: True, Mr Corbett?

RC: Absolutely false. The charter of rights is a restriction on the actions of the European Union. EU laws and decisions that violate those rights can be struck down by the courts. It’s a protection for us, for our people.

JH: Another one, Mr O’Brien?

NO: Let’s just go back to that one. It’s interesting that your saying that it doesn’t increase the European Union’s powers. That’s not what.. interruption…

RC: Its in the constitution by the way. It actually says nothing in this charter can be construed as increasing the powers of the European Union.

NO: Well if you look at what European judges are saying, and the European judges are the ones who are going to have to interpret the treaty, they’re saying that it’s "quotes" nonsense that it doesn’t increase their powers.. The president of the court of justice has said that it will give him huge new powers in new areas...

RC: … to strike down bits of EU decisions…

NO: … and our national laws…

RC: No, no, certainly not national laws. It explicitly says that in the constitution…

JH: (Interrupts) All right, all right, I suspect we can have half an hour on each of these…
(Unintelligible … Corbett keeps talking)

RC: Reforms the Union and wreckers… those who want to wreck the European Union in the "no" campaign…

JH: Hang on now, we’re back to rhetoric so let’s just see if we can fit in another illustration, Neil O’Brien, of your case if you have one there.

NO: Of course we don’t want to wreck the European Union. We want to make it work. I mean, I think pro-Europeans should be against the constitution. Another example would be, say, there’s a commitment in the new constitution, for the first time, that the EU will move to a common defence. Now the government said that should be taken out during the negotiations. But it wasn’t taken out and they signed up anyway.

JH: Right. Mr Corbett?

RC: That’s been in the treaty since the Maastricht Treaty, signed up by John Major in the early 1990s…

JH: So why did the government want it taken out then?

RC: … It can only be done if everybody agrees. What the government wanted was to keep the veto on that, we have a veto on that. It can only be done if everyone agrees. Now, how about putting points to me about what are the good things in the constitution…

JH: Go on, go on then…

RC: …and letting him rebut it?

JH: All Right, all right. We’ve not got very long for it, I’m afraid. I thought it was much easier to do it the other way because... It’s fair, either way. It’s fair isn’t it…

RC: That’s the problem with the debate in Britain. They come up with all sorts of myths and lies and the "yes" people have to simply rebut it. Why not let us say what’s good about this constitution…

JH: Go on, quickly… give us one.

RC: It, it sets out the limits of EU powers. It defines it very clearly and the powers that it does exercise are made more accountable by improving the role of national parliaments and the European parliaments in checking and cross-checking every single EU decision. So no EU law could be adopted without approval…


RC: …both of national governments and of the elected European parliament.

JH: Your chance very quickly to rebut that if you wish, Mr O’Brien.

NO: That’s just vague nonsense. And he’s completely failed to… I’m stunned by his ignorance of what’s in the constitution…

JH: Well…

NO: This new commitment to move to a common defence is completely new. The phrase "we’ll move to a common defence" is new.

JH: All right.. laughs. We can’t do this, obviously, in five or six minutes. This is a very long discussion. We shall do it.. we shall continue to do it between now and whenever we have the vote, if we have the vote in the end. Mr Corbett, Mr O’ Brien, thank you both.


"Ignorant and hostile"

First you were too stupid to understand the constitution. Now you're "ignorant and hostile" as well.

In their battle to win the "heart and minds", the Europhiles certainly seem to be going out of their way to charm the electorate and, with such skill and tact, it is hard to see how they can possibly lose.

Anyhow, that is the opinion of the EU commission which, according to a report in today’s Daily Telegraph labels voters in Britain as the most "ignorant" about the European Union's prospective constitution.

Based on an opinion poll of nearly 25,000 "EU citizens" - actually, citzens of the EU member states - the commission describes British voters as not only the most hostile to the constitution - with Britain the only country where opponents of the treaty outnumber supporters - but also as among, as it puts it, the most "ignorant".

Just 20 percent of Britons, we are told, support the treaty, a figure matched only by Cyprus, where 23 percent are in favour. Opposition is highest in Britain, at 30 percent - making it the only country at this stage to have more "no" voters than "yes"

The commission, it appears, describes the finding as a "remarkable exception" to the EU average, in which 49 percent of citizens are in favour of the constitution, and 16 percent against. Predictably, the most supportive nations are Italy and Belgium, with more than 70 percent of their voters in favour of the draft treaty.

The commission believes that increased knowledge of the constitution will be matched by increased support for it, saying: "One can see a strong correlation between level of knowledge and support for the text."

On the other hand, Christopher Heaton-Harris, a Conservative MEP, says: "Can you imagine how much worse the figures will look when the British public knows more, and realises the constitution will suck powers away from Britain?"

Didn’t we all know that already? The constitution sucks!

Meanwhile Blithering Bunny has some interesting observations on the EU's opinion poll.