Monday, February 28, 2005

A huge success

In case you were wondering, the European Arrest Warrant has been a huge success. How do we know? Well, the Commissar for Freedom, Justice and Security (there’s an Orwellian title if you like), Franco Frattini has said so:
“Despite some initial delays, the EAW is now operational in most of the cases planned and its impact is positive, in terms of depoliticisation, efficiency, and speed in the procedure for surrendering people who are sought for questioning in the Member States, while fundamental rights are respected throughout. This overall success should not blind us to the fact that some Member States still need to make an effort to come into line with the Framework Decision.”
In other words extradition of people charged or merely suspected of various offences (remember that list of 32?) has also become a matter of administrative management, just as legislation and regulation. What price freedom, justice or security?

A Commission press release informs us gladly but sternly:
“The effectiveness of the EAW can be gauged provisionally from the 2 603 warrants issued, the 653 persons arrested and the 104 persons surrendered up to September 2004. The surrender of nationals, a major innovation in the Framework Decision, is now a fact, though most Member States have chosen to apply the condition that in the case of their nationals the sentence should be executed on their territory.”
Well, how can you argue with that? It seems, however, that certain rather naughty member states have been displaying non-communautaire traits. Shame on them.
“According to the Commission report, further efforts are still required in Italy, where the matter is still before Parliament, and in certain Member States to come fully into line with the Framework Decision (in particular, for reasons specific to each country, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom).”
So ten out of twenty-five are not falling completely into line and seem to think that protecting (however feebly) their citizens’ basic rights is a little more important than pushing forward the integration agenda. Let us see what these recalcitrant regimes have done:
“Three Member States (Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Slovenia) have unilaterally restricted the application of the EAW in time, contrary to the Framework Decision. Requests for extradition that they are still presenting in some cases are therefore now likely to be rejected by the other Member States.

Two Member States (Czech Republic and the Netherlands) require a modulation of penalties to align them on those of their own system before they can be imposed on their own nationals, which effectively reinstates the double criminality rule. Others have introduced grounds for refusal contrary to the Framework Decision (Denmark, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom), such as the threat of political discrimination, national security considerations or review of the substance of the case.”
Clearly there is some way to go before the entire extradition system together with any residual notion of double criminality are abolished. The Commission is not so quietly confident that those aims will be achieved very soon.

Denmark names the day

Traditionally one of the most Eurosceptic members of the EU, Denmark is to hold a referendum on the proposed EU constitution on 27 September.

This announcement follows in the wake of the recent announcement by the Dutch government that it will hold its referendum on 1 June and, with France expected to hold its poll in May or June, the pace of ratifications is hotting up.

As with other treaties, the EU constitution is supported by the political élites of Denmark, with four-fifths of the Danish parliament in favour. On the basis of a Eurobarometer poll published in December, voters are also in favour. Forty-four percent say "yes" compared with 26 percent "noes" while the "undecided" are at 30 percent.

Despite this, ratification in Denmark is by no means assured as Danish voters are singularly independently-minded. They ignored their élites and voted down the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and then blocked the government’s move to join the euro in 2000.

As well he might, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's freshly re-elected prime minister, yesterday expressed confidence that the long lead-in to the new referendum augured well for success. "We will have quite a long time for a full debate and for a public information campaign," he said.

According to The Financial Times, Rasmussen appears to have decided to hold the referendum this autumn in an attempt to seek the approval of the constitution before opponents in Denmark gather momentum, which could increase as the debate in the UK becomes more heated.

The treaty's opponents include the anti-immigrant Danish People's party and the Red Green Alliance, a group that unites environmentalists and former communists.

Pia Kjaersgaard, the Danish People's party leader, yesterday criticised the new treaty as "an elitist project" aimed at creating a "United States of Europe". "I'm convinced that the Danish people do not want to be part of an EU state," she said.

Ole Krarup, a member of the European parliament for the People's Movement against the EU, said the constitutional treaty was "the final step to a militarised EU superstate aiming to control Denmark down to the tiniest detail".

The Danes may well agree.

Euroscepticism knows no frontiers

The last place you might expect to find the former director of New Europe (the cross-party campaign against UK membership of the euro) is in the pages of The Independent.

But, bold as brass, there is Janet Bush in today’s edition with a piece headed: “Worried you don't understand the rules of the Euro game? You'd be more worried if you did”.

Her thesis is that the constitution enshrines into law two areas of EU governance which have been completely discredited but the most notable feature of her article is her introduction

In this, she reminds us that, at the start of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the people of Earth loudly complain when they find out that the planet is about to be destroyed to make way for an intergalactic highway. They are given short shrift by the commander of the Vogon constructor fleet, who points out that the plans have been available for 50 earth years in the planning department of Alpha Centauri.

Replace the intergalactic highway with the new European constitution, Bush writes, and the commander with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who led the convention that drafted it, and you have a flavour of the black hole between the peoples of planet Europe and the political elite that has drawn up a blueprint for our future.

This piece just goes to prove that it isn't only this Blog which resorts to space analogies to describe the EU. Although we do prefer Star Trek’s Borg, Vogons and intergalactic highways will do just as well. Broad minded and imaginative, us Eurosceptics – a bunch of people who know no frontiers.

And what did the article say? Er… haven't a clue, but we have provided an intergalactic link.

Politics and Hollywood

This is not going to be another posting about the Hollywood fruitcakes making political statements that probably contributed heavily to Bush’s victory.

Though I can’t resist this one. I found out yesterday from the Sunday Telegraph Review section that Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair and, therefore, host of the most prestigious Oscar night party in Hollywood, wrote last year a 340 page diatribe against George W. Bush, entitled in a catchy sort of way, What We’ve Lost How the Bush Administration has Curtailed Freedoms, Ravaged the Environment and Damaged America and the World.

Oh my. I wonder how many votes the title alone delivered to the Republicans? Coming as it did from the editor of a ridiculous, glossy, mind-numbing publication like Vanity Fair? No wonder the more serious and consistent Democrats are in despair.

However, I was really going to talk about the Oscars. (Not the frocks as I haven’t seen them yet, though I am told Halle Berry, who got the Raspberry Award looked good and sounded quite funny. Deliberately so.)

One of the films up for various prizes was the reasonably highly rated Hotel Rwanda that deals with a real story of one hotel keeper, himself a Hutu, married to a Tutsi, who ended up using his well-honed skills saving Tutsis and some Hutus from the murderous militias.

The film received nothing, even though it was dealing with a worthy political issue, something, one assumes Hollywood rather likes.

It was then pointed out to me that the film was just a little too political and not in the accepted way either. It is, for instance, very anti-UN. Although it portrays individual UN officers on the ground in a good light, the organization is shown up to be bureaucratic, inefficient and, above all, self-serving.

There is, I believe, one scene when the anxious refugees watch the UN officer go over to talk to the delegation that has just flown in to tell him what they intend to do. The officer listens with mounting anger, then throws his blue beret to the ground. The UN has decided to do nothing about the refugees or those who are still on the run from the militias. It will spend all its resources on evacuating its personnel.

But an even more important scene (after all, one could argue that every organization should look after its people, though one could also ask what those people were doing there in the first place) is when the UN, after much deliberation, decides that what is happening in Rwanda is not genocide.

That means that the UN is not duty-bound to do anything about it. Now, where have we heard this recently?

After a great deal of deliberation and many expensive missions sent in by the UN, the EU, various NGOs, old uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, the UN has decided that the situation in Darfur does not amount to genocide. So, nothing needs to be done.

Oh I am sorry. Something has been done. Vast amounts of money has been sent to Sudan and Darfur, in particular. The EU sent a very large amount last year and has already allocated new sums this year. Have we had a single account on all those millions of euros? Do we know what happened to the money sent in by the UN? Did it help the people of Darfur (or anyone else in Sudan)?

Was it gobbled up by the Sudanese government (something of a contradiction in terms but I believe it exists technically and is, indeed, represented on the UN Human Rights Commission)? How much of it has been waylaid by the militias for arms?

In ten years’ time there will be another film, this time about Sudan. I don’t suppose that will get an Oscar either. The Hollywood politicos will go along with many things (most of them extremely stupid) but not with criticism of the UN.

Are we fools led by liars?

Following Saturday’s report in Die Welt, which had the German Europe minister Hans Martin Bury describing the EU constitution as a "birth certificate" for a United States of Europe, in today’s Times William Rees-Mogg asks who’s got it right? The German minister for Europe or the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Jack Straw?

A translation of the Die Welt article can be seen here.

In his piece, headed: "Are we fools led by liars?", Rees-Mogg compares Bury's statement to the Bundestag with Straw’s claim that the constitution treaty signalled "thus far and no further on European integration" and asks: "Is the treaty a boundary marker for European integration or is it a birth certificate for 'a single European state bound by one European constitution', to use the language of the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer?"

He then undertakes a detailed examination of the key parts of the constitution, leaving his readers in no doubt that he goes with the Bury/Fischer axis, then observing that he sometimes thinks "that Britain has a government which takes us all for fools."

"There may be a case for a United States of Europe," he writes:

Many continental Europeans believe in that; most Germans, for instance, see a single European state as a natural development, similar to the creation of a united Germany in the 1870s. Britain, as Franz-Josef Strauss used to say, should have the status in a United Europe which Bavaria has in the Federal Republic. Bavaria, he would add, does not feel any need for a separate air force. Some Germans differ. One recently commented to me: "What is the problem for which the European Union is the solution?"
On these issues, Rees-Mogg thinks we "could have a useful debate" – as do we all. Is it Europe's destiny to become a superstate? Is the age of British independence at an end? Can we protect democracy and the rule of law in a fully united Europe?

And therein lies the problem. Although that would be an honest and historic debate, we cannot have it so long as the government pretends that the European constitution is anything other than a constitution for the United States of Europe. The Germans are telling the truth, avers Rees-Mogg, concluding: "So long as our government takes us for fools, we have every reason to take them for liars."

Nice sentiments, and we would not disagree with them. But Moggy must know that if the government came clean, it would lose the referendum. Thus, despite calls for a debate, the government does not want one; despite deploring our "ignorance on Europe", they do not want an informed population. Instead, they will rely on their mixture of half-truths and lies, repeating them continuously in the hope that enough people will believe them to make the difference.

They are in effect, hoping that most of us are fools and for the rest, when we call our own government liars, they hope that no one will believe us. For the record though, liars they are. Whether we (most of us) are fools remains to be seen.

The birth certificate for a new Europe

Below is the translation of the key excerpts of the Die Welt article which we reviewed on Saturday. It is headed: The birth certificate for a new Europe", with the strap line: "German Bundestag gives go ahead for the acceptance of the EU constitution". It was written by Hans-Jürgen Leersch and published on 25 February 2005.

Berlin – After a surprising turn around of the CSU in the agreement over the new European constitution, nothing stands in the way of a quick acceptance of the constitutional agreement by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, which should happen before the summer break. For the acceptance a two-thirds majority is need in the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.

The foreign minister Joschka Fischer (of the Green party) demanded in the debate a "clear, quick and right decision with as large a majority as possible". He described the EU constitution as a "major building stone for Europe". Eurpe minister Hans Martin Bury (SPD) called the constitution the "birth certificate of a new United States of Europe", which would make the Union more manageable. Fischer and other speakers of the coalition rejected the demands of CDU and CSU for more rights of the Bundestag for having a voice in the decision making of the EU policy, because the government would be bound too much by them. The SPD member Michael Roth spoke of "political games" by the opposition.

The Union Parties issued, through the initiative of the CSU, an own law draft, which demands a voice in the decision making of the EU especially in the growth of the EU. With this the Union wants a handle against the red-green coalition request membership of Turkey into the EU. Further the Union demands that already a minority receives the right to claim against the principle of subsidiarity by the Brussels commission; even if a two-thirds majority of the Bundestag and Bundesrat is required when new concessions vs. Brussels are given.

Union faction deputy leader Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) said, that nobody wants to hinder the powers of the government, but the discussion of EU issues in the national parliaments will strengthen European decision-making. "Everything else will go wrong", warned the CDU politician. Schäuble also answered to the freedom of travel and the EU stability pact: "If you want to have open borders you should not be cavalier with the issuance of visas". Further he said that the government was lax in the use of the EU stability pact.

Critical commentary came only from the CSU Europe specialist Gerd Muller. "The increasing resignation of the public in the face of laws emanating from Brussels is a result of the irrelevance of the German Parliament in questions of European legislation." Neither in discussions about the Stability Pact nor in discussions on the matter of Turkey joining the European Union has the German Bundestag had a voice, Muller criticised. He stood for a strengthening of the Bundestag. "The ever-decreasing participation in elections to the European Parliament shows that the European Parliament cannot be a substitute for national parliaments."

The Baden-Württembergische minister president Erwin Teufel (CDU) declared the constitution draft as milestone in the development of Europe. The FDP foreign politician Werner Hoyer stated that the government had not informed citizens of the meaning of the EU constitution. A referendum had been demanded at an earlier stage from the CSU leadership, but the party had now distanced itself from this request, as well as the demand that the rights of the Bundestag in the EU had to be strengthened. Also now it seems that the opposition within the Bundesrat against the EU constitution had dropped.
There you have it: the German parliament has effectively decided for the EU constitution, while the government stands accused of not informing citizens of its meaning.

My thanks to Daniel Law and others for the translation.

They eat domestic solipeds, don’t they?

Eurospeak for "horses", just in case you were wondering, and from today it becomes law of the land that every horse should be the proud owner of a passport, courtesy of our government-over-the-water in Brussels.

To mark this occasion, the Daily Telegraph runs a piece in today’s edition, pointing out the penalty for disobeying the diktats of our masters, with the headline: "Horse owners face jail over passports".

I suppose, to be fair, it should be the horses that are jailed, but there you go. It is, according to the Telegraph, the "thousands of horse, pony and donkey owners" who "face fines or even jail from today because they have failed to obtain passports for their animals." With the passage of the new law, it seems only about 500,000 of an estimated total of a million equines have been registered.

The reason for this delicious piece of nonsense – to use an unfortunate phrase – is that the EU wants to keep track of medication administered to horses in case they subsequently end up in the food chain, in pursuit of which end owner have to apply for passports for their animals on pain of a maximum fine of £5,000 or jail in the case of repeat offenders.

Although relatively modest in price, costing between £20 and £30, owners also have to pay a veterinary surgeon or other qualified person to fill in a silhouette identifying the markings of their animal – fingerprints being of limited value - pushing the bill to £70 or more.

And so unpopular is the scheme that the government has already extended its deadline twice: it was first due to come into force in January last year, before being put back to June 30. However, with only a small proportion of equines covered by that date, the deadline was extended again to today.

According to the Telegraph, critics of the scheme say, with that the government should have derogated from the EU law, as previous administrations had done, on the grounds that few British horses - about 7,000 a year - enter the food chain.

But the egregious Alun Michael, minister for rural affairs, has warned that his masters in Brussels will exact a terrible revenge if they are not obeyed. They are threatening to withdraw approval for around 60 per cent of UK veterinary medicines if the EU commission is "unhappy" with the level of compliance.

Trying to steer a course between irate horse owners – to day nothing of the donkey owners – and those in Brussels who must be obeyed, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is saying that enforcement will be carried out in "a common sense and gradual way". To begin with, only owners presenting their horses for export, attending shows or requiring medicines for their animals would be required to show a passport.

This is a classic Defra tactic, which has nothing to do with "common sense". It will wait until the immediate publicity has died down and then pick on a few individuals, pour encourages les autres. By this means, it will gradually tighten its grip on the whole equine-owning community until all but a hardy few have complied.

Thus are our masters in Brussels to be assuaged - and all because they eat domestic solipeds.

They're at it again

More specifically, she's at it again, the fragrant Margot Wallström – a never-ending source of entertainment.

According to the Sunday Times yesterday, the commissioner for truth and reconciliation wants to set up a volunteer corps for doing “European good”, suggesting that a “youth wing” could help in emergencies such as environmental disasters.

"Only by bringing young Europeans together," she says, could the "concept of creating a European citizenship" work in the long term.

At least Wallström is up-front about the proposal, but then so was Adonnino in his pursuit of a European driving license and other devices, all to encourage "the people of Europe" to feel a sense of common identity

The fact that we already have a pretty good system in the VSO for voluntary workers seems to have escaped Wallström. She wants to reinvent it on a European level.

This is so much like these "little Europeans". Wrapped up in their own little world, they see everything through the filter of their own narrow, claustrophobic ambitions, and cannot see the bigger picture – nor indeed what objects of derision they have become.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Only three stories in this week's Booker column, the marketing department having filled the space usually occupied by the “four” with an additional advertisement. One sometimes thinks they would be happier if the editorial content could be cut out completely.

Anyhow, Booker's first story illustrates what a terrible mess successive governments have made trying to introduce metric measurements on the sly, and how this is now rebounding on home secretary Charles Clarke's plan to lock people up under house arrest without the benefit of a trial.

The problem stems from the government’s choice in 1995 to impose the latest round of compulsory metrication, implementing Community Directive 89/617/EEC, through a series of statutory instruments rather than a full-blow Act of Parliament which would have required a full-blown debate and a vote, which the government may well have lost.

What the government had overlooked at the time was that the 1985 Weights and Measures Act which permitted the continued selling of goods in pounds and ounces.

When "metric martyr" Steve Thoburn was found guilty of the criminal offence of selling bananas by the pound, it was argued on appeal that the 1985 Act effectively repealed part of the European Communities Act of 1972, under which metric weights and measures were made compulsory, and therefore the regulations under which Thoburn had been prosecuted were invalid.

However, in a landmark case in 2002, Lord Justice Laws ruled that the European Communities Act was a "constitutional statute" and therefore could not be repealed by a subsequent Act, unless it was explicitly the declared intention of Parliament , thus confounding the so-called principle of "implied repeal" where conflicting earlier statues were considered repealed by subsequent Acts.

Since the 1985 made no such intention explicit, the regulations stood and Thoburn’s conviction was upheld.

But now this judgement is rebounding on the government because Clarke’s house arrest provisions drive a coach and horses through Magna Carta, which rules that "no freeman shall be arrested or detained in prison or deprived of his liberty – except by the judgement of his peers".

If Clarke wishes to overrule Magna Carta, according to Lord Justice Laws's ruling, he must make this explicit in his Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Parliament must be given the chance to decide that in this respect it wishes to override Magna Carta.

The delicious thing about this conundrum, however, is that if Clarke refuses to accept the relevance of Laws's judgement, then the whole case against Thoburn collapses and their convictions must be overturned, thus putting the UK in breach of EU law.

But then even if, to avoid such embarrassment, Clarke does ask Parliament explicitly to set aside the relevant section of Magna Carta, he will then be advised that the Great Charter was not an Act of Parliament that can be repealed by a subsequent parliament. It was a contract in perpetuity between the sovereign and the people, which Parliament cannot undo.

Whichever way the Government plays it, Booker writes, in its continuing assault on the constitutional rights of the British people, this time it is stuffed.

For his second story, under the heading, "Parliament votes itself further into the void", Booker weaves two tales rehearsed in this Blog: Patricia Hewitt’s attempt to hijack VE Day and the account of how ineffective is Parliamentary scrutiny of EU law. Notes Booker, everything the Government does to sell the "Constitution for Europe" is becoming an embarrassment.

For his final tale, Booker looks at our “take” on the denied boarding story we also put on the Blog, also going for the title "denied safety" regulations to describe this new EU impost.

As an aside, by a remarkable coincidence, also in the same edition of the Sunday Telegraph is a story about how a BA Jumbo Jet was turned back from its journey to New York, halfway across the Atlantic, because US officials claimed one of its passengers was a "positive match with an anti-terrorism watch list".

It is an odd reflection of our times that, as in the Booker story, it is considered perfectly acceptable to fly a Jumbo from Los Angeles to London on three engines, to the point where it almost ran out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing in Manchester, yet it is deemed necessary to turn back a fully serviceable Jumbo because of – as it turned out – unwarranted suspicions about one passenger.

Sometimes, you really could not make it up.

Judicial integration continues

Another momentous decision was taken at this week-end’s meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council. (Yes, our own Charles Clarke, the last remaining beard of the Labour movement was there. Experience tells one that he may not have realized what he signed up to, but we shall see.)

The Council has agreed on the terms of the European Evidence Warrant, which will allow police of one member state to seek evidence in another member state. Presumably, at some stage soon, this will apply to Europol, which is in the process of becoming an operational force under the Hague Programme, adopted last year without any special publicity. (In fact, finding the exact text of the Hague Programme is not the easiest thing in the world, though it can be done.)

There was, it seems, some dispute whether the concept of dual criminality should apply to the European Evidence Warrant but, in the end, what is quaintly described as a compromise was adopted.

The compromise said that the 32 items that are listed under the European Arrest Warrant as not needing dual criminality, should be transposed to the forthcoming European Evidence Warrant, either.

To refresh our readers’ memory, I have decided to list them here:

- participation in a criminal organisation,
- terrorism,
- trafficking in human beings,
- sexual exploitation of children and child pornography,
- illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances,
- illicit trafficking in weapons, munitions and explosives,
- corruption,
- fraud, including that affecting the financial interests of the European Communities within the meaning of the Convention of 26 July 1995 on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests,
- laundering of the proceeds of crime,
- counterfeiting currency, including of the euro,
- computer-related crime,
- environmental crime, including illicit trafficking in endangered animal species and in endangered plant species and varieties,
- facilitation of unauthorised entry and residence,
- murder, grievous bodily injury,
- illicit trade in human organs and tissue,
- kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage-taking,
- racism and xenophobia,
- organised or armed robbery,
- illicit trafficking in cultural goods, including antiques and works of art,
- swindling,
- racketeering and extortion,
- counterfeiting and piracy of products,
- forgery of administrative documents and trafficking therein,
- forgery of means of payment,
- illicit trafficking in hormonal substances and other growth promoters,
- illicit trafficking in nuclear or radioactive materials,
- trafficking in stolen vehicles,
- rape,
- arson,
- crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,
- unlawful seizure of aircraft/ships,
- sabotage

It does not take much studying of the list to work out that only very few of the listed “offences” have anything to do with terrorism or even cross-border criminality, which is, in any case covered by various inter-governmental agreements.

Nor does it take long to see that several of the so-called offences are so vaguely defined as to be completely meaningless. Sabotage can mean anything and, as we know from the Soviet experience can be used to punish the slightest error at work.

Indeed, if desired, it can be used to punish people who have not fulfilled the plan through no particular fault of their own. Shall we, in future, see trials of those who have “sabotaged the Lisbon agenda”?

And, of course, there is racism and xenophobia. Now, I am not one of those who is afraid of being arrested and tried because I have expressed (ever so mildly) some criticism of the European Union. One way or another I know enough about totalitarian states to understand the difference between them and the European Union.

One does not, however, need to fear totalitarianism to be anxious about so-called offences that are little more than thought crimes, are not crimes in this country and can be used for all sorts of purposes under European Evidence and Arrest Warrants that obey no particular law that one can quite think of.

Who needs the Constitution for Europe? The tanks are going round the Maginot Line again.

When we remember that the Council has also reaffirmed its desire to strengthen the Framework Directive on Racism and Xenophobia and continues to talk about banning certain symbols of nazism (but not, of course, of communism), it is time for everybody to get worried.

It is not just British law that is being undermined here but the whole concept of legality and jurisprudence. Ironically, that idea is one of the great achievements of European culture as it has developed from the early Middle Ages onwards. The European Union, supposedly in existence for the purpose of advancing and strengthening European ideals and European culture, is once again doing the exact opposite: undermining one of the key concepts in its pursuit of integration and centralized control.

Decision time gets closer

Confirmation of our view that selling arms to China does not make economic sense comes in the form of an article in today’s Sunday Times business section, headed: "BAE demands immunity on US sanctions".

Written by Dominic O'Connell, the story records how BAE Systems, Britain's biggest defence group, is pushing the British government to split with Europe and negotiate a special exemption to spare the UK from American sanctions over arms sales to China.

BAE executives and defence officials, we are told, fear Congress will stop the transfer of vital defence know-how if Europe lifts its embargo on arms exports to China – something which is definitely on the cards.

As we have suggested before on this Blog, the running in Washington is being made by Congress, and the ST story identifies "four top legislators" - senators John McCain, Joe Biden, Richard Lugar and Joe Lieberman – who are ready to ban all technology transfers.

The problem for BAE Systems is that it has a huge stake in the US defence industry – the company is America’s sixth-largest defence contractor, with a US turnover of nearly £3 billion. Any freeze on technology transfers would be highly damaging.

Therefore, Mike Turner, BAE's chief executive, is looking for a "carve-out" for his company, a deal that would exempt Britain from any US action. In return, BAE would undertake not export any important UK technology if the EU embargo on arms exports to China was scrapped.

Turner has a few cards in his hand on this, as BAE systems is a partner in the US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project, in which the British government has already invested £2 billion. "If we don't get there (the transfer of the required intellectual property) I think Geoff Hoon (the defence secretary) will have to think about our involvement in this programme," Turner says.

All this must be rather awkward for the advocates of EU defence integration in the MoD and elsewhere, as the idea of integrating European defence industries lies at the heart of the heart of defence integration (see here and here.

Not least, Britain is a founder member of the European Defence Agency, while the EU constitution is set to bind Britain into a fully-fledged military alliance.

Britain could now find itself in a position where, politically, it is moving towards greater European integration while its largest arms supplier is moving in exactly the opposite direction. Once more the incoherence of the British position is being shown up, pointing to the need once and for all to make a decision as to which side of the Atlantic our best interests lie.

Big brother cometh…

In the Sunday Times today is a story that has being doing the rounds, this one headed: "Europe wants a black-box speed spy in every car".

According to The Times, "black box recorders" could be installed in all new cars under an EU ruling. The "aircraft-style equipment" would also act as a tracker, using global positioning satellites to record the location and route of a vehicle and to tell how fast a driver is going and whether seatbelts are being worn.

Typically, this is being presented as a safety measures, the Times also reporting that "data recovered from the boxes could give investigators important clues on how accidents are caused". We are told that the EU commission has asked the police forces of member states to look at whether the technology could improve road safety.

Then, if as expected, the police give their backing, manufacturers would be required to install black boxes in all new cars by 2009.

All very nicey-nicey this is, and you can bet the police – or more particularly the "road safety" partnerships – will be highly enthusiastic. As the technology allows speed to be monitored, and is linked with positioning data, the facility will exist to issue speed tickets from information generated by the car electronics, without any external apparatus such as speed cameras.

Furthermore, there have been some suggestions that the system could be linked to in-car computer diagnostic systems which already exist in many cars, to monitor exhaust emissions, with penalty tickets being issued automatically to drivers of cars which fail to meet emission standards – even though they may be unaware of the problem.

Few people are aware of quite how far this technology has already developed, and quite how enthusiastic the regulators are about its applications.

Some indication can be gained from the EU commission site on “Intelligent transport systems”, where ideas such as "electronic fee charging" are rehearsed.

Furthermore, since much of this technology relies on satellite positioning data, this the use of such systems in the regulatory context has the potential to provide a considerable revenue stream, underwriting the EU’s Galileo project, with otherwise is difficult to justify financially (other than through the spin-off in arms sales).

This is not only an EU problem as the National Transportation Safety Board in America is also highly enthusiastic about such systems, all of which goes to show that the bureaucracies of the world have a great deal in common.

Unsurprisingly, British motoring groups fear the technology could be used by government to introduce a national congestion charge or to keep tabs on people’s movements and therein lies the greatest danger.

Give governments power (any governments) and it is only a matter of time before they abuse it. Here technology is creating a worrisome scenario where, in the future, every time you climb in your car, "big brother" will be looking over your shoulder.

The secret is out

The Sunday Telegraph reveals today how British and American conservatives united to stop Bush endorsing the EU constitution as favour to Blair.

According to this source, Bush's speech to European leaders last week was toned down at the last moment to avoid giving his support to the proposed EU constitution, after a strenuous lobbying campaign by conservative activists in Washington.

The Telegraph says that "leading British Eurosceptics" were enlisted to help win a battle within the White House over how far Bush should go in endorsing a more unified EU, after reports began to circulate in Washington that his planned speech would express backing for the constitution.

Members of the staff of Dick Cheney, the vice-president, are also said to have intervened with Mr Bush's speechwriters to ensure the removal of language which, conservatives say, would have given a powerful and explicit boost to campaigners for the EU constitution.

"The speech was being drawn up along State Department lines, with a view to backing the draft constitution," said one Washington official with close White House links. "It was not until last weekend that we were given assurances at the highest level that this would not, after all, be happening."

According to one EU parliament official, who says he was shown an advance draft of Mr Bush's remarks by a "well-connected" American contact, the president was originally going to say: "I know Europe is creating a constitution. We in America value our constitution and so should you."

In the event, at his meeting with EU heads of government in Brussels on Monday, Mr Bush merely declared his backing for what he called Europe's "democratic unity". He said America supported "a strong Europe", but fell short of an explicit endorsement of the constitution. His repeated reference to "Europe" rather than the EU was also seen as a victory by Eurosceptics.

According to The Telegraph, alarm bells rang among conservatives after Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, spoke warmly during her recent trip to Europe of the "growing unity of Europe", including plans for a shared foreign policy and powerful EU foreign minister, and said America had "everything to gain from having a stronger Europe as a partner".

One conservative American policy adviser said: "If a common foreign and security policy had applied during Iraq, it would have meant we had no allies at all in Europe."

Peter Mandelson, the EU's trade commissioner, was said to have been boasting that Mr Bush would endorse the draft constitution - a move likely to strengthen Tony Blair's position in campaigning for a "yes" vote in Britain's referendum.

The Telegraph then gives an account of how a posse of think-tanks, led by the influential Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups began an urgent lobbying of the White House to prevent this. And, although the account is by no means complete, it is certainly true that the weight of lobbying prevailed. Altogether, this was a highly successful coup.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Cruella is back!!!

[Health warning: this will be an entirely nice and pleasant posting.]

This will also be a short posting. Both the niceness and the shortness are, as our readers know, uncharacteristic.

However, I do want to thank everybody for their support and kind wishes. At the risk of sounding extremely maudlin, I have to admit that I did feel a lump in my throat when I read the various comments. With so many people rooting for me, I feel I cannot possibly let them down.

The first stage of what will be a longish process is now over. The operation went well, Charing Cross Hospital is one of the best in the country (I am very fortunate), the nursing was excellent and the food execrable. So I am very glad to be home.

The next stage will be finding out the result of the biopsy. Whatever that is, there will be a long session of radiotherapy later in the spring.

I intend to carry on working, though there may be times when my colleague (if he manages to keep out of prison) may have to take over again.

What more can I say, except, once again, thank you all.

And that’s enough niceness. Normal service will resume on Monday.

"Geburtsurkunde für neues Europa"

So proclaims the headline in today’s edition of Die Welt, which even my virtually non-existent German can cope with: “Birth certificate for a new Europe”.

As to the rest, fortunately the story is picked up by The Sun, which gives its own headline to the story: "German spells out EU plan".

Writes George Pascoe-Watson, the deputy political editor, "the EU Constitution will create a United States of Europe despite Tony Blair’s denials, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed yesterday."

The story is given more clothes in The Daily Mail (not online) which reports that Hans Martin Bury, Germany's Europe minister, said the constitution was more than just a "milestone", stating: "I think the EU constitution is the birth certificate of the United States of Europe."

This was during a debate in the Bundestag, when he added: "It is not the end point of integration, but the framework for - as it says in the preamble - an ever closer union."

Actually, it does not say that in the preamble – the words were changed very subtly to soothe the fevered brows of British Eurosceptics, whence they became: "The peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny". As the man said, "ever closer union" – in all but name.

Both the Sun and the Mail remark about how this statement flatly contradicts Jack Straw who, on 9 February on the Today programme claimed that the constitution "literally limits the powers of the European Union", adding: "What this does is say 'this far and no further'".

The Bury claim evoked a quote in the Sun from shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram, who said: "Once again a European politician has told the truth about the EU constitution. Mr Blair is desperate to cover up. The EU Constitution would mean the beginning of the end for British independence."

Bury is, of course, by no means the first EU politician to point out that the process of integration continues. This is precisely what we told the Today programme on 9 February, when we said:

This constitutional treaty is part of an ongoing process – it is just one more step in a project aimed at creating a government of Europe, devised by the political élites, without the informed assent of their peoples. Completion will mean the end of us as a self-governing country. Britain will be relegated to the status of a county council, subordinate to a central government in Brussels.

That is the danger. It we allow this treaty through, there will be another one behind, and another – as many as it takes to get to the destination. Insiders are already saying they want another treaty within a few years…
Also confirming this is Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister, in his document "Building a political Europe" which sets out the next steps for integration.

There can be no doubt about what we are dealing with – a "yes" vote for the constitution is signing a blank cheque for further integration.

The lady is sprung

Helen is about to be released from hospital, having qualified for full remission for good behaviour.

Normal service on the Blog will be resumed shortly.

Microsoft misses a trick

You cannot help but admire Microsoft. According to The Guardian, having been fined by the EU commission a record €497m for “bundling” its media player with its standard Windows operating system, it is now – as instructed – selling the system without the media player.

In the interests of keeping consumers fully informed, it proposed calling the "degraded" version: "Windows reduced media edition". Predictably, since it retails for the same price as the fully functional version, the commission sees this as "as a serious deterrent to consumers" and is throwing a tizzy fit.

The International Herald Tribune cites "a person close to the commission's competition department", saying: "The message effectively tells users that they have bought a duff product." And your point is?

Helpfully, Microsoft has come up with a few other names but none of them find favour with the commission, for want of which it is threatening to impose new fines of 5 percent a day of Microsoft's daily global revenues. With that, relations between the commission and Microsoft have sunk to a new low.

Privately, officials are described as being angry at what are seen as Microsoft's "underhand, prevaricating efforts" to lessen the impact of the sanctions imposed by the EU. The software group, however, insisted: "We are fully committed to implementation of the commission's and the court's decisions."

What surprises though is that Microsoft have not chosen the obvious route and simply labelled the degraded product the "EU version" with a prominent "ring of stars".

As the EU is a by-word for corruption and inefficiency, such a version would readily fit with the EU brand image and happily remind the "citizens of Europe" of the benefits of EU membership.

Les paysans révoltent?

In a country where political corruption is endemic and the élites inhabit a different world, well-lubricated by the ever-suffering taxpayer, this one still takes some beating.

Finance minister, Hervé Gaymard – a protegé of Chirac - presiding over an austerity programme to bring down the state deficit, has been caught with his hands in the till. Pleading poverty when he was appointed to replace Nicolas Sarkozy at the finance ministry last November, he was provided with a spacious £9,700-a-month Paris flat at state expense.

Now, it transpires that he had his own flat in the city, which he has been renting out for £1,700 a month, plus two country homes.

But the ripples of l'affaire Gaymard are spreading outwards, leaving Raffarin's government damaged by conveying an image of personal extravagance with public funds while at the same time lecturing France on the need to cut state spending.

More seriously, according to The Times this morning, this "Let them eat cake" attitude could yet cost Europe its constitution.

From Chirac's admitted use of state cash for his family holidays to the lodgings and limousines enjoyed by hundreds of provincial officials, the regal habits of the Gallic governing elite are under intense scrutiny. Now, Gaymard has triggered a backlash against the monarchical ways of the Fifth Republic.

Insiders believe that French voters, fed up with the profligacy and the disdain with which they are treated, will take the opportunity of the EU referendum "to blow a raspberry" at Chirac and his high-living friends.

According to The Times, a mutinous public spirit was already rampant this winter. Chirac and the "Chamberlain-like" M Raffarin were taken aback in December when the prefects, or provincial governors, joined forces to tell them: "The French no longer believe in anything... They do not believe that it is even worth expressing their point of view or trying to make themselves heard." One of the prime grievances is the cost, and shortage, of housing.

Now, this feeling is coming to a head. Yesterday some MPs in the centre-right Government coalition said that M Gaymard's housing antics, could stoke a voter revolt rather like Queen Marie-Antoinette’s advice to the starving to eat cake.

Once again, it seems, les paysans révoltent.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Another hijack

This week the EU parliament approved plans for a standard EU driving license, aimed at replacing the 110 different permits in use across the EU, with Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, the EU transport commissioner, claiming that this new license, with anti-falsification measures, would help prevent fraud and thus improve road safety

Elsewhere, on its website, the commission claims that the move to a standard licence is governed by two major principles: to facilitate the free movement of the citizens of the Community and contribute to the improvement of road traffic safety.

And therein is yet another big lie. While there is some utility in having mutual recognition of driving licenses throughout the member states, with harmonisation of technical standards (but why stop at the EU?) the specific rationale for having a "EU model" license, emblazoned with its ring of stars, has nothing to do with fraud, road safety or freedom of movement.

The concept of the standard European driving license stems entirely from a report written by Italian MEP Pietro Adonnino, in 1985 for the Milan Council, entitled "A Peoples' Europe".

The whole purpose of the report was to recommend ways of developing a "European identity", to which effect Adonnino came up with a number of ideas.

Perhaps the most significant was that the European Community should have its own flag and its own anthem, "to be played at appropriate events and ceremonies".

He also recommended a "Community passport" to replace national passports and other "concrete measures" to encourage "the people of Europe" to feel a sense of common identity, ranging from a "Europe-wide lottery" to an emergency health card, entitling them to medical assistance in any member state.

To this he added the idea that the Community should take over the long-established practice of "town twinning", dating back to the Second World War, and use it to promote the idea of "European union", and that "European" sports teams should compete in international events, wearing the "ring of stars" rather than national symbols. This would be adopted a few years later by the "European" golf team competing against the USA for the Ryder Cup.

His driving licence proposal was originally scheduled for adoption by 1 January 1986, and while a standard "Community model" driving licence had been set up in an earlier directive (80/1263/EEC), and modified by 91/439/EEC, it has not yet been made compulsory for member states.

Now, all that is to change. Adonnino's recommendation is finally to come to fruition, the primary purpose of which is to promote in the "people of Europe" a sense of common identity.

Thus does the EU take a basically good idea, pervert it, distort it and hijack it for its own political ends.

We have become more powerful V

"And for all of those that say, if you look at the last thirty years, we have lost power to Brussels, actually it isn't true. In the last, certainly in the last eight years, as we, the Labour government, have been more involved in Europe, so we have become more powerful and more prosperous, better able, literally to implement a patriotic case for the European Union."

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary

BBC Today Programme, 9 February 2005

In this, the fifth example that we have come across of Britain losing power to the EU since Jack Straw made his ludicrous statement, The Daily Telegraph reports on a further blow from the EU to the art market, to add to it troubles caused by the droit de suite directive.

The proximate cause of this woe is that Juliane Kokott, Advocate General at the ECJ has ruled that a higher rate of Value Added Tax must be paid on works of art imported into the United Kingdom for auction, which have originated from outside the EU.

The case had been brought by the EU commission against British government which, currently, was imposing five percent VAT on both the hammer price and the auctioneer's commission, although this was waived if the work of art was immediately exported outside the EU after the sale.

From yesterday's ruling, which has yet to be confirmed, buyers will still pay five percent VAT on the hammer price but will be liable for 17.5 percent VAT on the auctioneer's commission. The latter can add as much as a fifth to the purchase price.

Although this VAT will still be waived if the work of art goes back outside the EU, most lots sold at Britain's three major auction houses - Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams - are bought in Europe because of the weakness of the dollar.

At London's major auctions of Impressionist art two weeks ago 88 percent of the lots at Christie's and 72 per cent at Sotheby's were bought by Europeans and many of the paintings, sculptures and other works of art are sourced from either the United States or other non-EU countries.

The imposition of a higher VAT rate will mean that high value art works are more likely to be sold in New York, which will almost certainly cost jobs in London. "If the court follows this ruling I believe that it will have a major impact on the standing of UK auction houses," said Paddy Behan, a VAT specialist at the accountants Grant Thornton UK LLP.

Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation, said: "If this comes into force it will make the tax situation, which is already complex, even more complicated. Something that this country is good at is being thrown away by half-baked ideas in Europe."

Britain, in fact, never levied VAT on imported works of art until it was forced to do so by the EU in 1995. The government negotiated a temporary rate of 2.5 percent but was told to double that four years later. With this impost anf the droit de suite law coming into force next January, the UK art market will inevitably be considerably damaged.

And all this has been done in the teeth of UK government opposition – yet another example of how the Labour government has become more powerful since it got more involved in Europe.

The business case for Europe

In a letter to the Financial Times today, signed by eleven of "the usual suspects", Britain in Europe makes "the business case for Europe". Shorn of the verbiage, these are the points made:

The treaty will ensure that an enlarged Union will function more effectively by defining the powers of the EU, streamlining decision making, strengthening the role of national parliaments and promoting greater transparency and accountability.

It will make it easier to do business throughout the world's largest trading bloc - a market into which more than 50 per cent of our goods are exported and upon which more than 3m jobs in our country depend.

It will ensure that Britain remains at Europe's top table, taking a leading role in the decision-making processes on key issues that affect our country, our businesses and the people who work in them.

Now is not the time for the UK to turn its back on Europe. The accession of 10 new member states (with other countries queuing up to join) and the election of a Commission committed to competitiveness, growth and jobs show that now, more than ever, the UK needs to be at the heart of Europe.

A rejection of the treaty would cost Britain dearly. It would be hugely damaging for our country and the business community, isolating the UK at a time when the pace of globalisation is making it ever more important that we remain at the forefront of European affairs.
What encouraging about this is that they have nothing new or different to offer. All BiE seems to be able to do is come up with is the same tired phrases. Surely they can do better than this?

Denied safety

For those readers who have been hardy (or reckless) enough to venture onto Commissioner Wallström's Blog, they may have come across her most recent (still) post, in which she waxes lyrical about the commission's "denied boarding" directive.

This is the fatuous piece of legislation that requires airlines to pay fixed compensation amounts to airline travellers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

Instigated by the commission, driven by its usual obsession for "consumer protection", one small dissenting voice on Wallström’s comment section, by the name of "Lotaar", wrote that he/she was "kind of worried about the airline compensation law," adding, "Doesn't this encourage airlines to cut corners where safety is concerned?"

"I bet you fly many times a year in the course of your busy Euro agenda," the comment went on. "Wouldn't you prefer a pilot to be 100 percent sure of the safety of his/her aircraft without having to be worried about the prospect of paying compensation if the flight is delayed?"

As it turns out, this comment was unusually prescient, witness the piece in The Times today, headlined: "Flying faulty jumbo across Atlantic saves BA £100,000".

According to this report, a BA 747 Jumbo Jet, outbound from Los Angeles en route to London suffered a complete failure in one engine, very shortly after take-off when the aircraft was only 100 ft off the ground. Had the pilot elected to return to LA, however, his company would have had to pay over £100,000 in passenger compensation, so he decided to complete the 5,000-mile journey on three engines.

This incident apparently happened three days after the "denied boarding" directive came into force and Balpa, the British Air Line Pilots’ Association, has now warned that the legislation could result in pilots being pressured into taking greater risks for commercial reasons.

As to the details of the flight, the aircraft departed at 8.45pm on Saturday and the airline admitted that the delay would have been well over five hours if it had returned to Los Angeles. BA initially claimed that the engine had failed an hour into the flight. But the airline admitted yesterday that the problem had occurred a few seconds after take-off when the Boeing 747 was only 100ft above the ground.

Air traffic controllers at Los Angeles spotted streams of sparks shooting from the engine and immediately radioed the pilot. He attempted to throttle the engine back but was forced to shut it down after it continued to overheat. The plane then began circling over the Pacific while the pilot contacted BA’s control centre in London to discuss what to do. They decided the flight should continue to London even though it would burn more fuel on just three engines.

The Boeing 747 was unable to climb to its cruising altitude of 36,000ft and had to cross the Atlantic at 29,000ft, where the engines perform less efficiently and the tailwinds are less favourable. The unbalanced thrust also meant the pilot had to apply more rudder, causing extra drag.

The pilot realised as he flew over the Atlantic that he was running out of fuel and would not make it to Heathrow. He requested an emergency landing at Manchester and was met by four fire engines and thirty firefighters on the runway.

Nevertheless, BA are denying that financial concerns had played any part in the decision. Captain Doug Brown, the senior manager of BA's 747 fleet, says the only consideration had been "what was best for passengers". The Times report continues:

The plane is as safe on three engines as on four and it can fly on two. It was really a customer service issue, not a safety issue. The options would have been limited for passengers [if the plane had returned to Los Angeles]." He said the pilot would have had to dump more than 100 tonnes of fuel before landing at Los Angeles. "The authorities would have had words to say about that."
This statement is what is technically known as "crap". The aviation industry is wedded to the discipline of "fail-safe" and while the 747 can fly safely on three engine, this erodes safety margins in the event of another failure. Continuing on three also cut dangerously into fuel reserves, which means that passenger safety was definitely prejudiced - evidenced by the fact that the pilot had to divert to Manchester as a result of fuel shortage.

My guess is that this report may well cause some ructions in the industry, but there could well be some closing of the ranks. On the basis of what we know, however, the commission, despite its obsession for "consumer protection" should perhaps have named its new directive: "denied safety".

Budget blues

Yesterday, as everybody knows, the finance ministers of the 25 EU member states got together for their monthly council meeting. And, unlike Bush, happy they were not - on the agenda was that singularly awkward issue, next "multiannual" EU budget.

Dominating the meeting was the Lithuanian, Dalia Grybauskaite - aka the EU budget commissioner – who rapped the richer "old" members of the Community over the knuckles for being too greedy in wanting to keep on to their regional aid allocations.

Grybauskaite, a trained economist who studied for her PhD in the Moscow Academy of Public Sciences, also risked the wrath of l'escroc, in suggesting that pressure was mounting for a limited reopening of the controversial deal to fix farm support until 2013, brokered by Chirac in 2002.

Her Soviet training must have come in handy as the meeting was apparently beset by "fierce haggling" over the seven-year EU budget. However, Dr Grybauskaite clearly survived the experience, emerging to say that "the chances are increasing" that member states could reach a deal at the European Council in June.

Taking a highly un-Soviet-like stance, Grybauskaite had actually criticised her own commission's regional aid plans, drawn up by Michel Barnier, the former EU regional affairs commissioner, thus highlighting the debate about the distribution of the proposed €338bn regional budget between rich and poor countries.

According to the Financial Times, she said the original proposals would give 51 percent of the regional package to the EU's 15 older members while the relatively impoverished remainder would only 49 percent of the spoils. You can see the economist at work there.

The lady believes this is "difficult to defend", which is something of an understatement, but she is up against Spain which is determined to keep its share of the loot. To get past this blockage, Grybauskaite is going to need all her skills, and more.

However, just to make sure she has as many enemies as possible, the commissioner has also taken on the issue of Britain's rebate - worth an average of €4.6bn a year - declaring that it was "no longer justifiable... There is a new situation and the reasoning for the rebate has changed," adding, "We understand we need to find a solution which isn't hostile to the UK, or makes it difficult for the UK to sign up to a new package."

She has a lot to learn.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Key word: democracy

Mr Bush must be a very happy bunny tonight as he wings his way back across the Atlantic – happy and relieved to get away from the madhouse that is European politics.

If he had any message to give the world though, it was in his last press conference with Vladimir Putin in Slovakia – the message being one word: democracy. Between the pair, they used the word 21 times. Freedom, incidentally, got only three mentions.

In his main speech, after dealing with Iran and sundry other issues, Bush told the world he and Putin had talked about democracy. Democracies, her said, always reflect a country's customs and culture, but they also had certain things in common: "…rule of law and protection of minorities, a free press and a viable political opposition."

With that, he reaffirmed his belief "that it is democracy and freedom that bring true security and prosperity in every land."

Significantly, or so it seems, in his response, Putin did not make any reference to democracy once but the first question from a reporter took up the theme again. Addressing the president, he reminded Bush that when he first met Putin, at a time some in the world were questioning his commitment to democracy, he had reassured critics by saying that you had looked into his soul and saw a man that you found trustworthy.

Bush was then invited to repeat that statement, while Putin was asked to "address critics" who were worried that he had reversed course on democracy.

Central to Bush's response was: "I think it's very important that all nations understand the great values inherent in democracy - rule of law and protection of minorities, viable political debate." Putin came back saying Russia had made its choice in favour of democracy. Any kind of turn towards totalitarianism for Russia would be impossible.

After waiting so long for a "democracy" from Putin, we then got no less than another four, all in a row. "We are not going to make up - to invent any kind of special Russian democracy," he said. "We are going to remain committed to the fundamental principles of democracy that have been established in the world. But, of course, all the modern institutions of democracy - the principles of democracy should be adequate to the current status of the development of Russia, to our history and our traditions.

The preceding period in the development of the Russian Federation had given the main thing to the Russian people – freedom, but "the implementation of the principles and norms of democracy," he added, "should not be accompanied by the collapse of the state and the impoverishment of the people."

Then, another "democracy" came along, and another: "I personally believe," said Putin, "that the implementation and the strengthening of democracy on the Russian soil should not jeopardize the concept of democracy. It should strengthen statehood and it should improve living standards for the people. It is in this direction that we're going to act."

This brought another question from the press corps, which suggested that the regimes in place in Russia and the US could not be considered fully democratic, especially when compared to some other countries of Europe, for example - for example, the Netherlands, mainly because of great powers that had been assumed by the security services.

Bush's response was interesting:

I live in a transparent country. I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open, and people are able to call people to - me to account, which many out here do on a regular basis. Our laws, and the reasons why we have laws on the books, are perfectly explained to people. Every decision we have made is within the Constitution of the United States. We have a Constitution that we uphold. And if there is a question as to whether or not a law meets that Constitution, we have an independent court system, through which that law is reviewed.
Putin, however, took a different tack: "I'm absolutely confident that democracy is not anarchy”, he said. “It is not a possibility to do anything you want. It is not the possibility for anyone to rob your own people. Democracy is, among other things, and first and foremost, the possibility to democratically make democratic laws and the capability of the state to enforce those laws."

It was not right to talk about whether there was more or less democracy in Russia or the US. But, it was possible to talk about how the fundamental principles of democracy were implemented.

Still niggling away, another reporter asked whether the pair had agreed on some of the decisions Putin had made on his democratic institutions - or had they agreed to disagree?

Bush temporised: "I think the most important statement that you heard, and I heard, was the President's statement, when he declared his absolute support for democracy in Russia, and they're not turning back. To me, that is the most important statement of my private meeting, and it's the most important statement of this public press conference." And when Putin "tells you something, he means it."

Still the gathered reporters would not leave it. President Bush had recently stated that the press in Russia is not free, said another reporter. What is this lack of freedom all about?

Bush took this one, saying that he thought, "it's important any viable democracy has got a free and active press… it is an important part of any democracy." The press had to hold leaders to account. Bush was comfortable with that. "It's part of the checks and balances of a democracy," he said.

Putin actually agreed that "criticism coming from the media with respect to the government" was "a manifestation of democracy", denying also that the Russian press was not free.

But he was obviously getting tired with the line. You could almost hear his thoughts: "That's enough free press, ed". I "do not think that this has to be pushed to the foreground, that new problems should be created from nothing," he declared stiffly. And with but a few more words, he thanked Bush for "his constructive dialogue". The press conference was over.

We have become more powerful IV

"And for all of those that say, if you look at the last thirty years, we have lost power to Brussels, actually it isn’t true. In the last, certainly in the last eight years, as we, the Labour government, have been more involved in Europe, so we have become more powerful and more prosperous, better able, literally to implement a patriotic case for the European Union."

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary

BBC Today Programme, 9 February 2005

In the Telegraph business section today we read an account of how a bid by Peugeot's sole British car plant to build a successor to the popular 206 and benefit from a near-£200m investment was hampered by Brussels bureaucrats taking two years to grant state aid.

The future of the Peugeot plant at Ryton, near Coventry, has been the source of speculation because Peugeot has declined to commit to building another car there apart from its ageing 206 model.

Jean-Martin Folz, Peugeot's chief executive, said yesterday that the factory had been one of several Peugeot plants in the running to build the new model – dubbed the 207 – in 2002. Peugeot applied for EU state aid for Ryton to underwrite a £191m investment. But by the time the EU agreed a €21m (£14.4m) grant, the 207 had been allocated to other plants in France and Slovakia.

Mr Folz said the EU, not Whitehall, was to blame for the delay. Company sources said the grant had been the longest to win approval that the Department of Trade and Industry had ever experienced. The EU commission did not comment last night.

But then the commission does not need to comment. Being unelected and largely unaccountable, our government can do as it pleases. Yet, according to Jack Straw, "we have become more powerful."

A question of scrutiny

In the House of Commons debating chamber, television cameras often show ranks of empty benches, even during quite important debates, inviting comment that MPs are not bothering to take part in the parliamentary process.

Some of that is true, notwithstanding that MPs have televisions in their offices with a direct feed to the Chamber, so they can follow debates while also carrying out other work.

But behind the scenes there are also the parliamentary committees, many unsung, unheard and almost completely ignored by the media. Three such as the European Standing Committees, known respectively – with unusual simplicity and logic – as Euro A, B, and C.

These committees form the vital function of questioning ministers over forthcoming EU legislation, prior to their approving it in Brussels through the Council, and (in theory at least) giving those ministers a negotiating mandate which they are supposed to take into account when it comes to voting.

The committees themselves are at the tail end of the scrutiny process, with the legislation first being looked at by the European Scrutiny Committee, which decided whether any of the draft legislation coming through from Brussels is "politically significant".

Proposals which are considered so are marked down for "scrutiny reserve" – which, in theory, means that they cannot be approved by ministers until they have been debated by the House – and referred to one or other of the Euro committees for debate.

Thus, it came to pass that yesterday "Euro A" met to consider two draft EU regulations, together aimed at establishing a "legal base" for the financing of the "reformed" Common Agricultural Policy.

But what effectively amounted to a total farce – a hollow charade even – started some 24 hours before the debate for it is only then that the committee papers were passed to the MPs who would attend. They were sent the regulations, which themselves amounted to 104 pages, with explanatory notes, in a package of background papers which amounted in total to over 400 pages (448, to be precise).

There followed a frenetic reading and study session (hence the light posting yesterday) yet, such is the complexity of the subject, and the uncertainties surrounding it, that even this package was not enough. Much of the information needed, on which to pass judgement, simply is not known.

In the questioning and debate, which can be read on the Hansard site, two speakers pointed up the nature of the problem.

Firstly, Owen Paterson, Conservative MP for North Shropshire, and one of the shadow agriculture and fisheries team, noted that it was "most unsatisfactory" trying to discuss something "about which we do not know the details".

He added, rather poignantly that: "It is rather like trying to grasp a greased piglet in the dark," a comment that drew some amused responses, not least a question as to whether Paterson was speaking from personal experience. (No said Paterson, he only did it in daylight.)

Then Andrew George, the Lib Dem Agriculture spokesman, noting the complexity, recorded that he had tried to discuss the issues but there were, he said, few who are capable of seeing the whole picture, adding: "The last one I met who got their head completely around the issues involved is more likely to need institutional care as a result of the struggle that they experienced."

This was brought out in the evidence from the European Landowners Organisation (ELO), cited by Owen Paterson in his speech, that organisation stating:

The problems and needs of Europe's rural areas differ enormously... This must mean that the balance of measures selected as appropriate to each region is also bound to differ enormously.
Then, getting to the crux of the problem, the ELO pointed out:

We have no evidence to suggest that the Commission is better at prioritising and effective policy management at EU level than the Member States and Regions are at their level. Setting the priorities, quantified objectives, and indicators at EU level will turn out to either be a practical impossibility if done at the right level of detail, or it risks being meaninglessly general if set at a broad level for which comparable data exist for every region.
And that is the crux of the problem. With 25 nations now in the CAP, the system of agricultural payments and the regulations controlling them are now so complex that they are virtually beyond the capability of the human mind to comprehend them. None of the MPs present understood them fully and, throughout the questioning, the minister, Alun Michael, was floundering, unable to give answers to even the basic questions.

But, after two hours of questioning and debate, a motion was put asking the members to "take note" of the regulations and approve the government's line. The question went to division and, with its in-built government majority, the committee voted the motion through. The deed was done, the minister got his mandate and no one was any the wiser.

That, dear readers, is parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation.

Dr Helen Szamuely

The lady is fine... just spoken to her - chirpy and compost mentis, hoping to be "sprung" over the weekend.

She thanks everyone for their best wishes.

Labour hijacks VE day

The Sun is in fine form today, squawking indignantly (and rightly so) about Labour's "VE day insult". Apparently, Blair plans to mark the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe day by launching the "yes" campaign for the EU referendum.

According to the Sun, arch Europhile trade secretary Patricia Hewitt is behind the decision to earmark May 8 - the official date of the end of World War Two in Europe - to start the campaign.

This apparently stems from a speech made at the Mansion House in the City of London last night when, according to the Financial Times, Hewitt admitted for the first time that many executives were still not persuaded of the benefits of the treaty, that the European Union was "unpopular" and that the government had failed to make the case for membership with sufficient conviction.

But it seems that an unnamed "Whitehall official" said the trade and industry secretary believed the government "should hit the ground running" and that the forthcoming European celebrations of VE Day, on 8 May, offered an opportune platform "to go out and make the case".

In true Sun style, the paper picks up on this comment and recounts how "disgusted old soldiers teamed up with MPs from all sides to condemn the government". It cites Labour MP Ian Davidson, vice-chairman of the British-German All-Party Parliamentary Group, saying: "I fear ministers will be willing to fight on the beaches, fight on the landing grounds and fight in the streets — all to surrender Britain's sovereignty… They should be ashamed of trying to hijack VE Day."

Conservative leader Michael Howard is also brought into the fray, "fuming". He says: "So many people gave their lives to fight for our freedom. They fought for our democracy — not to have decisions affecting us made by politicians who are not accountable to the British people. I cannot think of a more inappropriate way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VE Day."

The Sun then selects "Labour-voting Frank Rosier, 79", of the Normandy Veterans' Association, to say: "It's offensive. VE Day should be about remembering those boys who gave their lives — not making us puppets to further any political party’s cause."

Patricia Hewitt has put the referendum on Europe's constitutional treaty at the heart of Labour's plans for a third term, urging sceptical business leaders to back the campaign for a "yes" vote.

There is indeed something particularly crass about this attempt to link the campaign with the VE day anniversary, but it perhaps links in with the Straw theme of "making a patriotic case" for approving the constitution.

But, in the week that Tony Blair is fighting his case for overturning the Magna Carta, by seeking to introduce detention without trial on the say-so of a politician, all this goes to show is how far out of touch Labour ministers are with public sentiment.

However, the choice of date has further significance. It is now a given that the government will not launch the "yes" campaign until after the general election and with 8 May being a Sunday, this virtually confirms the date of the election as 5 May.

Can "super-soft" Europe make the difference?

The Washington Post and many other newspapers, have Bush and Schröder now agreeing on Iran, jointly declaring that the United States and Europe are united in their opposition to Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

That was during a press conference in Mainz, Germany, after a meeting on the fourth day of Bush's trip to Europe. Said Bush, "It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon."

However, from Tehran, that world looks very different. There, it is being said that the capabilities and maturity of the European Union has been put to the test in the international arena by the nuclear issue and the main reason behind the US pressure is to undermine European independence.

According to the Mehr news agency in Tehran, that is the view of Hasan Rowhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator.

He goes on to state that Al-Qa'idah is the brainchild of the United States and that the activity of the terrorist network is the main pretext for the US “meddling” in the affairs of the Islamic world.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials are reported as reiterating their denials of any plans to produce nuclear weapons, still insisting that Iran has the right to pursue nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency also reported president Mohammad Khatami as saying that "the Europeans would suffer more than Iran" if they succumbed to US pressures and took action against his country.

With such an extreme divergence of views, it is hard to see how any diplomatic solution can be reached. Can anyone really believe that Europe's "super-soft" power is going to make the difference?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

China - a political agenda

In the current edition of DefenseNews, two authors, Gordon Adams and Guy Ben-Ari suggest that the Bush administration could kick-start the trans-Atlantic relationship by improving co-operation in defence technology.

As with the recent award of the contract for the 23-strong fleet of US presidential helicopters to a European firm, this could pay dividends in bringing European defence industries closer to their counterparts in the US, with a beneficial political fall-out.

The two authors have some credibility, Gordon Adams being the director of Security Policy Studies at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, while Guy Ben-Ari is a consultant with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and they make a powerful case.

Apart from the political benefits, they argue that the US would also benefit form more open market, from cost savings to technological synergies, together with enhanced alliance interoperability. Furthermore, the pair say, European manufacturers have much to offer.

One area of collaboration which Adams and Ben-Ari identify as particularly ripe for cooperation is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), both surveillance and armed, and their sensors. Many European countries possess substantial technological knowledge and experience in this area, including engines, airframe design and stealth technology.

In other areas, they consider European firms also considerable expertise, some of which have fearsome descriptions, such as: active, electronically scanned array radar; hyperspectral imaging; lightweight synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicators relevant for sensor payloads – terms which to an average reader mean very little.

A trans-Atlantic initiative, they argue, could open a much-needed dialogue and build on a number of successful projects already carried out inder the aegis of Nato.

Furthermore, say the authors, such technical co-operation across the Atlantic will be necessary for future coalition operations to be assembled and carried out successfully. Without this, of course, different forces will not be able to operate together, even if the political will is there.

On the face of it, this is an intriguing thesis. Given US willingness to promote co-operation, this is indeed one way of ensuring that Nato allies stay on side.

And, while France is looking to China to increase its arms sales, the Chinese defence budget for 2004 was around $22 billion – although the real expenditure is estimated to be in the order of $50 and $70 billion – compared with the US budget of just over $500 billion.

On the face of it, US sales are potentially far more valuable and since selling to the Chinese risks exclusion from the US, it would seem to make more economic sense for European manufacturers to concentrate on the US. That is certainly the line the UK’s BAE Systems seems to be taking, and Rolls Royce may well follow.

Thus, if there is little economic sense in European arms manufacturers pursuing the lifting of the EU's arms embargo on China, there would seem to be another reason why the EU is so determined to lift it.

The clue lies in Chirac, who yesterday described China as the European Union's "strategic partner". Here, there is a profound political agenda, and that rather precludes the US looking for greater co-operation with its European "allies".

Cry freedom

It may be hard to visualise the EU in terms of a battery cage, but it can be done. For me, in fact, it is relative easy as, in an earlier career, I had more than a passing familiarity with battery hens, working as I was at the time for a trade association representing egg producers.

One of our major concerns, as you might expect, was the growing and increasingly vociferous animal rights lobby which campaigned against the keeping of battery hens, claiming that producers were depriving the hens of their basic freedoms.

However, not a few of our producers pointed out that that their hens seemed perfectly content within their cages and, from my own observations, it often seemed as if the hens themselves were unaware of their bars.

Walk down the narrow galleries between the banks of cages and there they would be, with their heads poked through the bars, clucking and squawking as the mood took them. We could see their bars; they could not.

But what was particularly fascinating was that, on occasions when birds were released, their first instinct was to get back in their cages. Some groups who specialised in liberating redundant birds and putting them on the range, reported that the hens had to be introduced slowly to their new lives, and trained to deal with them. In other words, freedom did not come easily and they had to be schooled to appreciate it.

In this context, the comment piece by Janet Daley in today’s Telegraph has a special resonance.

Entitled, "Freedom? Why Europe's not bothered", her thesis the ideals articulated by George W Bush stem from the 18th Century age of enlightenment in Europe and were exported to America and beyond.

Thus, she maintains, while Europeans themselves undermined their own great democratic project with their ancient hatreds and their aristocratic nostalgia, the naïve Americans kept the dream intact, building it into a written constitution (which was an 18th-century idea itself). She continues:

Europe has pretty much given up on the whole undertaking now: we tried it and it ended in the Terror. We went through our phase of proselytising democratic revolution with Bonaparte and look where that ended. Spreading freedom? All that amounts to is killing off one generation of autocrats and replacing them with another. Trust the people? They are just as likely to follow a fascist demagogue as to perpetuate the sacred principle of justice.

Better to make your cynical peace with the worst aspects of human nature than to pretend that free men will always choose good over evil. Much better to make a mutually profitable trade-off behind the scenes than to expose political decisions to the popular will. What evidence is there that the people actually know what is best for them? Most charitably, the European philosophy of government - shortly to be permanently installed under the EU constitution - is paternalistic. At worst, it is arrogant and authoritarian.
Whatever it is, Daley writes, Europe no longer has a belief in real democracy of the kind that Americans recognise - government of the people, by the people and for the people - at its heart.

That is why, she says, Jacques Chirac - the very embodiment of corrupt European political cynicism - and George Bush can never, ever find true common ground. When the President tries to give credit where it is due - to the European authorship of democratic revolution - it sounds faintly sarcastic. Thus, American talk about spreading freedom is not just gauche; it is a reproach.

Daley has a pessimistic view of the future. It is too late to change, she believes. Europe has had disillusionments too great to permit a return to that purist belief in the transforming power of democratic institutions:

Europeans cannot be trusted to govern themselves. Their affairs will be administered by an EU oligarchy. And if they do not trust their own populations, European leaders are scarcely going to support handing out freedom to anarchic tribal societies that scarcely know what the right to vote is for.

Europeans have found something better, and more readily controlled, as a substitute for personal liberty. They have found wealth: mass prosperity and the kind of government-subsidised economic security that their countries, traumatised by generations of war and unrest, have never known.
Now they are not even fit to defend themselves, Daley concludes, or to sort out a mess in their own Balkan backyard. "Why should they join in any crazy scheme to bring peace to the rest of the world?" she asks.

And there you are back to your hens. Used to the comfort and warmth of their cages, with a regular supply of food and all their needs attended to, the European have got used to their bars – they no longer notice them. And when they meet their free-range cousins, they recoil in horror at tales of the wide open ranges and all the perils that go with them.

That is the divide. To the Americans, freedom still means something. Back in the old country, the "citizens" run to the cloying embrace of "mother Europe" and if, perchance, they are released from their gilded cages, their first and only instinct is to get back inside.

Changing horses

Something the Telegraph found notable yesterday in the rush of news about the Bush visit was the "strikingly low profile" of British prime minister Tony Blair.

While other European leaders may have jostled for media attention and "face time" with the president during yesterday's summits, there were raised eyebrows when, alone of all the major leaders attending both the Nato and EU gatherings, Blair did not answer questions from the thousands of reporters thronging Brussels.

Apparently, he merely delivered a brief statement after a working breakfast with Mr Bush and posed for photographs with the visiting Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The immediate thought here is that Blair has a general election coming and, with a fractious, anti-war left wing, he is anxious to distance himself from Bush.

British officials sniffily rejected such suggestions. How dare the hacks suggest that these "crude electoral considerations" could motivate the great leader – well, the semi-great leader – and impinge upon the purity of the Bush-Blair relationship.

"It's absolute nonsense to suggest the Prime Minister has been adopting a low profile. He has participated very actively in a Nato-Ukraine summit, the US-Nato summit, and the EU," spluttered one official.

However, fresh from the school of “nothing is true in politics until it has been denied”, there has to be some truth in this. Insiders have long been suggesting that Blair’s stance on the China embargo, and his enthusiasm for an EU solution to the Iran problem have everything to do with countering the charge that he is Bush’s poodle.

The trouble is, of course, that if you change horse in mid-stream, there is a very real risk that you get wet – or even worse.