Monday, February 14, 2005

We have become more powerful…

"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

A Treasury scheme to promote enterprise is in doubt because it has still not won state aid clearance from the European Commission, months after the decision was expected.

So reports The Times today, under the headline: "EU hold-up hits project to boost small firms".

And the scheme itself is not just a hole-in-the-corner little initiative, but a flagship project announced by Gordon Brown in December 2003, amid maximum fanfare. It was designed to plug the small business equity gap with privately managed commercial funds investing up to £2 million of private and public money into small, growth-orientated businesses.

There was only one problem at the time, which little Gordon had quite forgotten about. He had not obtained permission from his masters in Brussels, so his "Enterprise Capital Funds" scheme has not been able to start, leaving hundreds of businesses in limbo.

EU clearance had been expected last autumn and pilot schemes should have been running by the start of this year - already almost six months behind schedule. Now, all that is left for our impotent ministers to bleat from the sidelines, claiming that progress has been stalled by EU commission lawyers dragging their feet over the application for state aid.

Meanwhile, in a display of misplaced bravado, also recorded by The Times, Margaret Beckett, our pretend environment minister, is to announce new limits for the EU's emission trading scheme as it applies to the UK, despite being told by the commission that these new limits are illegal.

Negotiations between the Defra and the EU commission continue, but the commission is adamant that the original plan must apply, leaving Beckett no other option than to go running to the ECJ in an attempt to gain relief.

But, as we remarked in our earlier post, clearly, the UK government hasn't fully grasped the nature of its relationship with its master. When told to jump by our real environment minister, Mr Stravros Dimas, the correct response is: "how high?"

But never mind. According to Jack Straw, "…in the last eight years, as we, the Labour government, have been more involved in Europe, so we have become more powerful…".

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