Thursday, March 31, 2005

Going to the Blogs?

Anyone who listened to the Analysis programme on BBC Radio 4 this evening, called "Going to the Blogs?", on the phenomenon of political blogging, may be forgiven for coming away more confused than when they started.

Fronted by Kenan Malik, who explored the world of Blogs and analysed "whether they could really change our democracy", it followed the technique now common in radio journalism. The programme covered the subject at breakneck speed, offering time to a wide variety of speakers with diverse opinions, without itself coming to any conclusion.

Thus, variously, one can divine that political blogging is or is not significant, did or did not affect the course of the US presidential election, and may or may not become a force in Britain.

The view that they will become a force was espoused by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who also wrote a piece for The Guardian in February, in which he argued that Bloggers would "rescue the right" by allowing "Mr Knowledgeable" or (and it is usually a Mr) of Smallville, via his PC, to by-pass the established media and transmit his thoughts to the world.

No one, least of all Duncan Smith, thought to draw the parallel with Speakers' Corner, the blog being the electronic equivalent, allowing anyone to have their say. However, once on rainy Sunday afternoon, I recall wandering past the row of speakers in Hyde Park Corner, being arrested by a voluble and articulate Negro, who was delivering an impassioned and informed speech to a passive audience of a dozen or so bemused tourists.

Yes, we did have freedom of speech in this country, he stormed, and anyone was free to say what they liked. The trouble is, he added, was that no one listened.

I never forgot that speech and, for me, the most striking factoid that emerged from the Analysis programme was that 96 percent of internet users had never read a Blog. We may be the new Speakers' Corner, but the old problems stay the same.

Certainly, we can deal with issues which the mainstream media are ignoring, witness our attempts to instil some life into the debate on defence policy in this country. But one can feel for Mr Howard when yesterday he delivered what was for a politician a good speech on the subject, only to have it largely ignored by the media, in favour of wall-to-wall coverage of Jamie Oliver's attempts to improve school meals.

When you think about it, the first and main priorities of any national government are the defence of the country, the management of external relations and the protection of the national interest yet, when the leader of the opposition spoke on precisely these issues, he was largely ignored. By contrast, the prime minister took time out in Downing Street to meet a celebrity chef to discuss what is essentially a local government issue, and got the lion's share of attention.

That, in my jaundiced view, speaks volumes of the state of British politics today and justifies entirely our efforts on this Blog.

But there are two sides to the equation. As I am wont to say, you can lead a politician to water, but you cannot make him think. Similarly, Helen and I can write our pieces but we cannot make you read them – nor would we even attempt to if we could.

That, oddly enough dear readers, is largely up to you. As a popular phenomenon, Blogs are largely made or broken through personal recommendation. If you like what you see, tell your friends and colleagues, beat them over their heads and do not desist until they too are going to the Blogs.

Even Hollywood luvvies turn on the EU

Quelle horreur! Hollywood luvvies, who are supposed to make statements of deep disdain for President Bush and his administration are now turning on the European Union.

Well, one of them is, but he is a big-time luvvy. Richard Gere has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which he describes his recent visit:
“I was in Europe this month to receive an award from the Geuzen Resistance 1940-1945 Foundation on behalf of the International Campaign for Tibet. The Geuzen Medal honors the memory of Dutch resistance heroes who fought the Nazis by recognizing those today who resist repression, discrimination and racism, and the Campaign was recognized for promoting human rights and self-determination in Tibet through nonviolent means. It was a very proud moment for those of us who care deeply about Tibet and the brave Tibetan people--and certainly for me as the Campaign's chairman.”
Wonderful, you might say. Europe, having suffered from horrors, largely invented by its own people, recognizes the relevance of tyranny to all times and all peoples.

Well, not quite, as Mr Gere points out. Europe is, of course, refusing to recognize the problems that Tibet, Taiwan, Chinese dissidents, Chinese journalists, non-Chinese people in China and many millions of others face. Indeed, as Mr Gere points out in the article, the European Union is ready to reward China for its oppressive and tyrannical activity by lifting the arms embargo, imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Above all, Mr Gere wants Europeans to help “the Dalai Lama resist a future Tibet determined solely by Beijing's interests”. Not much to ask, is it, from countries that spend a lot of time remembering past oppressions and rightly honouring its victims and those who fought for freedom. Apparently, it is.

Human Rights and how they are monitored

Well, for a start there is the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, from which all others descend. The Commission is meeting in Geneva, as I write.

It has 53 members. The independent campaigning group Freedom House has produced a report in which they categorize its members. According to this, and according to everyone who has looked at the situation, six of the most oppressive regimes have representatives on the Commission. They are: China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Then let us look at some of the other members. Freedom House also identifies other members that can be classified as “not free”, among them: Bhutan, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Swaziland and Togo.

What of Congo, Burkina Faso and Nigeria? Do they count as free countries? I have serious reservations about Gabon or Romania but they are there on the Commission and when they are replaced it will be by countries whose record is not that dissimilar.

Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s executive director, expressed herself forcibly:
"Rather than serving as the proper international forum for identifying and publicly censuring the world's most egregious human rights violators, the (commission) instead protects abusers, enabling them to sit in judgment on democratic states that honour and respect the rule of law."
Oh yes, the SecGen, Kofi Annan (father of Kojo) said something about reforming the rather ludicrous institution but how is he going to do it? After all, the Commission must have an adequate number of representatives from each region, regardless whether there are any even remotely free countries there.

In an organization, supposedly founded on the basis of clearly understood principles of freedom, democracy and human rights, but in which every country whether it obeys or even understands those principles is regarded as equal, no true reform is possible.

Acknowledging the obvious

It seems that my colleague and other such ill-natured people who refer to that great and good man, Jacques Chirac as l’escroc (the crook)are not alone. Oh dear me, no. Try putting the word l’escroc into Google, that fount of all modern knowledge.

The first reference is to the official website of the French President, complete with (selected) biography, picture, speeches, whatnot. Curiously enough this is the English language website though it responds to a French word. Perhaps they know something that the whole world has already acknowledged.

Actually there are some other interesting aspects to the website. I mean, who knew that Jacques Chirac (or Jacky as he liked to be called in his youth when he was obsessed with American culture, American films and American fashions) has, among his many other decorations (a bit like the leaders of the late unlamented Soviet Union), a Croix de la Valeur Militaire.

Well, the Croix may be listed but its reason is not. Try as we might we cannot discover where l’escroc practised his valeur militaire. It was suggested to me rather unkindly that he might have got it for standing in front of his troops.

But then M le Président l’Escroc also has the Médaille de l'Aéronautique (aerospace industry) and numerous other medals. For example, he is a Chevalier du Mérite Agricole, des Arts et des Lettres, de l'Etoile Noire, du Mérite Sportif, du Mérite Touristique.

Any information on the reasons for this excessive display of merit will be very welcome. Unlike the fragrant Margot we do genuinely welcome all comments and even reply to them.

Making mischief

It did not take Jack Straw long to capitalise on Redwood’s Financial Times interview, modifying a speech he was due to give on the general theme of the European Union this morning.

Michael Howard, Straw averred, had been consistent in his support for the UK’s continued membership of the EU. Redwood’s failure to rule out withdrawal in the event that renegotiations did not succeed represented, in Straw's view, "a dramatic and disturbing shift in official Conservative Party policy".

This was picked up by BBC's Radio 4 World at One, with the egregious Nick Clarke interviewing UKIP leader Roger Knapman, who pointed out the "inconsistency" of the Conservative position on "Europe", saying that "if you try and renegotiate but you don't have the threat of saying you're getting out, then the renegotiation carries no punch".

The Guardian's Tom Happold, on the paper's newsblog was also quick off the mark, remarking that Labour will have been delighted to read Redwood’s interview. Jack Straw is claiming, according to Happold, that it reveals the party’s secret plans to withdraw from the EU.

With Labour's blood up after the fiasco of the Flight affair, the party will be working hard to convince voters that the Tories are being dishonest about the plans, says Happold. Expect things to hot up further, he adds.

Watching anxiously

A headline in today's Financial Times puts John Redwood on the spot, claiming: "Tories plan European Union renegotiation".

If that is not pointed enough, the paper then starts its report with: "A senior Tory has refused to rule out a British withdrawal from the European Union should its vow to repatriate large swaths of policy face implacable opposition from Brussels."

The comments, by John Redwood, the shadow deregulation secretary, it says, "highlight the dilemma facing the party as it seeks to convince voters that it could renegotiate crucial European agreements while avoiding a damaging internal row over the UK's future relationship with the rest of the EU."

A Conservative government would go to Brussels with a "renegotiation package" as soon as it had secured a "no" vote in a referendum on the constitution, Redwood says. This would include withdrawal from the common fisheries policy; more control for the UK on social chapter and employment measures; "whatever powers are required" to allow the UK to control immigration over its borders; and other unspecified regulations.

According to the FT, Redwood insisted that such a sweeping renegotiation was feasible, but admitted he had "no idea" how long it might take. He added that the Tories were "not envisaging” Britain leaving the EU" and insisted it was "a Labour lie" to suggest the Tory policy was tantamount to pulling out of Europe.

However, then came the crunch. When Redwood was asked if Britain would stay in the EU, no matter what, he responded by saying: "I'm saying that we will negotiate a better deal for Britain." Then asked if that deal would be within the EU framework, Redwood replied: "I've said what I want to say. We will negotiate the best deal for Britain."

From this, the paper adduces that Redwood has refused to rule out withdrawal from the EU, an omission which may get him into trouble with the Party hierarchy, after the Howard Flight controversy.

We can certainly expect other journalists to pick up on this, in an attempt to make mischief but, if action is taken by the Party, it will bring into high profile the opposition of Europhile MP David Curry to repatriating the CFP.

Any action against Redwood will inevitably be judged in the context of continuing inaction against Curry, to say nothing of the toleration of Ken Clarke's support for the EU constitution.

A lot is at stake here and many party workers will be watching anxiously to see what, if anything, happens.

Defence of the realm

In Blackpool yesterday, Michael Howard made a speech on defence, talking to a theme that the Conservatives will invest in Britain's armed forces .

The Telegraph website "take" was somewhat different, with the paper choosing to headline: Defence cuts "stab in the back", picking up on the "attack" part of Howard’s speech. In fact, though, the speech was a lot more measured, with Howard making two criticisms of Blair's "stewardship" of Britain's defences.

Firstly, he said, Blair had "elevated European defence integration at the expense of our long-standing commitment to the Atlantic Alliance", and secondly, our Armed Forces had been asked "to do more without being given the resources to do the job."

Nevertheless, the Telegraph did pick up this European dimension, noting Howard's criticism of Blair's "obsession" with Europe, which he said was damaging Britain's defence capability. And also noted were his comments on the "EU proposals to lift the arms embargo on China", which Howard resolutely criticised as "a prime example of the way Europe was working against British interests".

What was particularly interesting, though, was Howard’s statement that a Conservative defence policy would be "guided by our overwhelming obligation to protect Britain's national interest", including our obligation to discharge to the full our global responsibilities.

For once, there is a definite sign of "clear blue water" here, for Howard went on to say:

I strongly support greater co-operation between European countries on defence. But it should take place within the framework of NATO. I have grave reservations about Europe's plans to undertake a new defence initiative which involves duplicating the planning and command structures of NATO.

NATO should remain the cornerstone of our defence. And the European Union should not seek to create a defence structure as an alternative to NATO or as a counterweight to the United States.

The European Constitution requires member states to "actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".

It will mean that once the European Union has decided its line, a British government could not change it without getting the unanimous support of every other member of the EU. Our ability to defend our interests in the world and support our friends would be seriously compromised.

If Mr Blair gets his way with the European Constitution Britain will lose one of the central attributes of being an independent nation state.
This is very much fighting talk, and sets the Conservatives clearly at variance with NuLab.

Inevitably, though, there is an element of populism, with Howard pledging to spend £2.7 billion to save the traditional regiments from the Labour cuts, if the Conservatives are elected.

Here, there are problems which need further discussion and it would helpful to see a debate here, which is probably unlikely in the current charged atmosphere.

We would expect a traditionalist Conservative Party to support the regiments but, into the projected force structures, and the development of the medium-weight all-arms FRES units, traditional infantry formations do not fit.

However, the problem is more fundamental. Howard rightly declares that defence policy is predicated on protecting the national interest but, in the rush towards further European integration, it is not always clear precisely what our national interests are, and where they differ from European interests.

It would be too much to ask that Howard actually spelled it out but the practical difficulties that stem from not so doing are manifest. Essentially, until you define short, medium- and long-term objectives, it is very difficult, if not impossible to define with any clarity the armed forces structures you will need.

That process is being undertaken in the US, where revolutionary changes are being proposed to the armed forces. But no such discussion is taking place here at a political level and thus, commitments to existing structures, such as the traditional regiments, are perhaps premature and unwise.

However, at least we have the leader of the opposition talking about "national interest" and the continued commitment to Nato. That is something to be grateful for.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The EU shows its “humanitarian” credentials – part 2

Lest we forget, it is not only dictators that the EU loves but terrorists, as well. Though, of course, the latter would less likely to be in existence if it were not for the former.

It has been a given for “European” politicians that there is only one real problem in the Middle East and that is the problem of Palestine. Well, maybe they are right, though I do not myself imagine that Islamic terrorism would disappear overnight if that were solved and neither would the various unsavoury dictators.

However, beyond reproaching the Americans for not dealing with the Palestinian problem (a tad unfairly) the EU has not exactly covered itself in glory. There is no question about it: the persistent support for the late, unlamented Chairman Yasser Arafat, a man who has given kleptocracy a bad name, has done very little towards untangling the Palestinian knot.

Now Arafat is gone and the Syrian President-for-life Assad Junior has shown his total complete contempt for his supposed patron, France, there has been a certain pulling in of horns. President Chirac has joined President Bush in calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, though whether he will be all that upset if it never happens remains to be seen.

There is still the question of the terrorist organizations that are going to make all attempts to create peace in Palestine rather difficult. Foremost of these is Hezbollah, armed and funded by Iran and Syria, operating in Lebanon and determined to go on blowing civilians up as long as they can get away with it.

Which would not be very much longer if there was some kind of an agreement to put Hezbollah on everybody’s list of terrorists and try to cut off their funding. If Hezbollah were banned in Europe, said Hassan Nasrallah, its leader,
“The sources of funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed.”
Of course, it would not happen immediately but, if the EU sincerely believes in supporting the peace process and the democratization of the Middle East (woops no, that’s the crude Bush doctrine not something the sophisticated and nuanced Europeans subscribe to) then surely it would be worth trying to cut off all the terrorist organizations’ supply sources.

Not so but far from it, apparently. The EU, despite a vote to that effect in the European Parliament earlier this month, refuses to put Hezbollah on its list of proscribed terrorist organizations.

The opposition to that move is led by France and is supported by Spain, Belgium and some others. And the reason? Well, Hezbollah, it seems is also a “political force”. It is, indeed, with the emphasis on force.

As today’s Wall Street Journal Europe points out in its editorial, it is not as if any of these countries were chary of banning organizations.
“Just last week, a Spanish court outlawed Aukera Guztiak, claiming they were a reincarnation of the illegal Batasuna party, which itself was banned two years ago for its ties to ETA, the Basque terrorist group.”
(Though one must point out that Sinn Fein has not been banned, despite its links with the IRA, but that’s the British and Irish governments for you.)

The WSJE further points out that last year the most popular Flemish party, Vlaams Blok, was effectively forced to disband (only to re-form itself as Vlaams Belang) and there is endless talk of banning various neo-Nazi groups.

But not Hezbollah. Not though it is clearly responsible for a large number of terrorist attacks. Not though it is impossible to envisage a free, peaceful and even remotely democratic Lebanon, while its politics is poisoned by the existence of this group.

As far as the EU is concerned, political organizations in the Middle East do not need to choose between politics and terrorism or democracy and terrorism. Just as long as they do not hurt us. And if they do? Well, we can always blame the Americans or ask them to rescue us, whichever will seem most appropriate.

As I was saying

Well it did not take them long. According to the Chinese news agency, Xinhuanet, France has expressed full support for UN SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo).

At a press conference Jean-Baptiste Mattei, the spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said:
“We've noted that the report clearly excludes any irregularities on the part of the secretary general.

We reassert our full support for the secretary general and our willingness to work with him to confront the numerous challenges that the UN must take up, notably reform of the world body in the best possible conditions.”
Well, of course, one could argue that one of the challenges that the UN must take up is the fact that no official is ever held responsible for the many things that go wrong inside the organization or in their execution of their supposed duty on the ground. But that is not the way the French government argues about anything.

Incidentally, the other organization to rush to Annan’s support has been the African Union.

AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare said, while launching the Interim General Assembly of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (AU-ECOSOCC):
“You cannot tell us to choose between reforms or Kofi Annan.

We are saying it very clearly today that there are no reforms of the United Nations without Kofi Annan and we commend him a citizen of the world.

The reforms of the United Nations will help us in order to have greater democracy in the world and the voice of the people to be heard.”
And much more, no doubt, in the same vein.

Well, as Tom Lehrer used to sing: who’s next?

Here we go again

Despite hysterical headlines in the British press (the Evening Standard in particular), the most recent earthquake in Indonesia has not caused another tsunami. There are, nevertheless, many victims. The Indonesian government’s estimate is anything up to 2,000, which does not help us much.

There is also a good deal of devastation and help may well be needed to deal with the immediate impact and to encourage rebuilding later. Though, let me remind our readers, Indonesia is not a particularly poor country and, with some help, will be able to rebuild the areas in question. On the other hand, the authorities seem unable to create a situation in which natural disasters do not cause quite such enormous devastation. Some conclusion might be drawn from that.

According to the ISN Security Watch
“International aid has begun arriving on the Indonesian island of Nias and other areas affected by a massive earthquake on Monday, but bad weather, successive aftershocks, and a lack of equipment have indered rescue operations.”
Let us have a look what this international aid consists of.

The UN, that wonderfully efficient and transparent organization, has set up a hub in the Sumatra port city of Sibolga and is wondering what to do next as the weather is very bad on the affected islands. It might send in Chinook helicopters (probably Australian ones). Then again, it might not.

Meanwhile, Australia and Malaysia have ordered transport planes, loaded with equipment, to be sent in to help with rescue operations and provide basic services and medical aid.

Singapore and Japan have offered to send in medical teams and Japan has also offered US$140,000 worth of blankets, generators, sleeping pads, and tents.

The Chinese government and Red Cross are pledging money, which will almost certainly go astray, if past financial pledges are anything to go by.

The American government is looking at whether US military assets are needed. The answer, given that Indonesia has a large well-equipped army, will almost certainly be no or only very minimally.

The US ambassador to Indonesia has provided US$100,000 from his emergency fund to help children affected by the quake, which sounds like a targeted, supervised project.

And the EU? Well, the EU has reacted in its own inimitable fashion:
“The EU’s executive commission has sent an assessment team to the affected area and said it would offer financial aid if needed.”
By executive commission ISN Security Watch means the European Commission, being, like so many other organizations, a little confused as to the exact truth of what the Commission does.

Well, there we are. We have sent a highly expensive assessment team that will almost certainly announce in due course that vast amounts of aid money is needed to help those affected by the earthquake.

At this point it may be pertinent to ask what happened to the millions raised through various campaigns for the tsunami victims. Did any of it help anyone and was any of it used to prepare the Indonesian islands to deal with whatever other natural disaster might strike? (Answer was suggested above.)

It might be pertinent to call our readers’ attention to a letter published in the Daily Telegraph on March 26. The author, who works for a grant giving organization reports that in Sri Lanka, wrote that
“three months later, with many millions of pounds raised, there is little sign of any funding from such organisations as the UN, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank or larger international non-governmental organisations,directed at rebuilding livelihoods and or providing more permanent housing.

There are many factors, such as bureaucracy, politics and corruption,that complicate the efficient and timely deliverance of aid. However, the immediate future looks grim for tsunami-affected families who now face the prospect of the coming monsoon season living in a tent with inadequate sanitation and drainage.”
This was written just before the Indonesian earthquake but could have been, presumably, about that country. Mr Lavender does report that individuals have set up various organizations that actually do help people and there have been many reports of people being able to borrow small sums of money to restart businesses.

Mr Lavender adds:
“It is scandalous that the vast amounts of money raised by public appeal in the aftermath of the tsunami are not being applied more effectively and with greater urgency.”
Scandalous it may be but hardly surprising and a man who works for a grant-giving organization ought to know that.

Still, he has a point. Should we not have some accounting of what happened to all the money that had been raised for the tsunami victims before we send any more money raised either voluntarily or forcibly through taxes?

And what if the "nons" win?

The Lord Pearson is a relatively happy bunny today as they printed his letter in The Telegraph today although, from the heights of Rannoch towers, he is somewhat miffed that they left out the word "corrupt", as in "corrupt octopus". Now what could he be referring to?

Anyhow, his Lordship is taking The Telegraph to task for expressing the hope in its 29 March leader that France votes "no" to the EU Constitution.

If it does, he writes, Brussels is likely to respond by setting up another inter-governmental conference, "listening to the people" of course, which would render our own referendum redundant. That IGC will then produce a new treaty, subtly achieving the constitution's aims, upon which we will not be granted a referendum, but which Parliament will rubber-stamp as usual.

In the meantime, he continues, the octopus (as in "corrupt octopus") will continue to devour the remains of our sovereignty piecemeal, under the treaties we have already been foolish enough to sign. So let us pray that the French run true to form.

This is one of several pieces on the "French situation" in today’s newspapers, although the Europhile Independent and The Guardian have very little of interest to offer (how often that is the case?).

A good summary of recent events can be found from "our man on the spot" and Charles Bremner of The Times describes the "Frantic scramble to revive the 'Yes' vote".

The Telegraph also has an interesting op-ed by Fraser Nelson with the somewhat misleading title: "Chirac is dragging us down with him".

"A spectre is haunting Europe - and terrifying the President of France," Nelson tells us, nothing other than "ultra-liberalism," branded by l’escroc as "the communism of our age."

That l'escroc thinks of it thus is to Nelson a "sad illustration” of how France is stuck in the political dark ages", but his main thesis is that Britain, under the ministrations of Messrs Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are following along the same path. "Britain… is slowly drifting from New Europe to Old," he writes.

That brings on the City comment which focuses on the referendum and argues that a "French 'Non' could echo across Europe".

So far, it says, the markets have reacted calmly as the French "non" to the EU constitution gains a solid eight point lead in the opinion polls. Everyone assumes that the EU has moved on since September 1992 when whiffs of a French mutiny against Maastricht set off speculative waves in the bond and currency markets, ending in a lira debacle and sterling's ejection from the ERM.

However, the Telegraph is worried that the markets may have misjudged the profound ructions that could occur if the French do indeed toss the constitution into the dustbin. It would be an ominous rejection of free market values and the EU cannot take many more hits on this front before real trouble begins.

With the simultaneous collapse of the Stability Pact, the Lisbon liberalisation drive, and the services directive, the piece concludes, it was perhaps the worst week for Europe in half a century and the risk for investors now is that a "non" could prompt market players to question whether monetary union itself has a long-term future.

Something of that theme is picked up by Bronwen Maddox in The Times "Foreign Editor's Briefing", where she argues to thesis: "The answer doesn't matter: it's the wrong question".

Europe, she writes, is making too much fuss about the French referendum. The "project" will stumble on without out it and what matters is that the EU should concentrate on policies to stimulate competition, to cut subsidies and curb government debt.

The constitutional debate is "a self-indulgent distraction if there is no interest in change" and the politicos are putting the importance of the constitution far above the actual policies which the EU is supposed to pursue, in the interests of its own future. In indulging its obsession with form, the EU is ignoring the content - and the urgency of the need for change.

That sounds like a half-way intelligent comment except for one thing. In truth, the EU only has one policy – political integration. Everything else is subordinate to that, and Maddox makes the mistake of assuming that the EU as a governmental entity is actually interested in anything else.

Thus, le crunch approaches as to whether France is going to put national interest above the interests of "le project", and that is why, actually, the constitution is not "a self-indulgent distraction". It is, in fact, a battle for the heart and soul of Europe.

But the point that Pearson raises is interesting. What happens if the French do vote "non". The danger is that the "colleagues" will fudge it, and proceed as before (as indeed they are doing now), with the UK deprived of the opportunity for a decisive vote on the process of political integration.

Happening after the UK general election, a French rejection of the constitution may indeed give Blair exactly the opportunity he needs to abandon a referendum he is unlikely to win, putting us back in the twilight zone, with no clear target to aim at.

On that basis, it might be just as well if l'escroc does manage to rig the poll and squeak home with a narrow "oui". His election agents had better get busy filling in all those polling slips.

Surprise, surprise

Martha Stewart went to prison (not for long, admittedly) for not telling the truth to federal investigators about a supposed crime that she was not even being accused of; the chief executive of Boeing has had to resign because he was having an affair with a senior director, though there was no question of sexual harassment or improper pressure.

I could cite a long list of others in the private sector who are being forced out or punished not for real crimes like the various high-ups in Enron but for a slight mis-step or dubious misbehaviour. Who, after all, apart from Harry Stonecipher, his wife and his mistress really care about his affair, as it did not affect his work or hers?

Now let us look at the organization that claims to be the ultimate moral arbiter in world politics. Yes, of course I mean the United Nations.

The second of the three reports the Paul Volcker commission is planning to produce this year has finally, after much leaking, appeared and you’ll never guess it, but it has “exonerated” the SecGen, Kofi Annan.

Actually, it was more a question of no documents being found that would point to the SecGen directly. The shredders must have been working overtime.

While he has been at the helm the biggest humanitarian exercise, the food-for-oil scheme has collapsed into fraud and grand larceny, that has involved, among others, some of Mr Annan’s closest advisers, Iqbal Riza and Dileep Nair, respectively Annan’s chief of staff until last December and head of the United Nations' watchdog group, the Office of Internal Oversight Services.

Two high-ranking UN officials have already had to be suspended though we understand that the organization using our money will pay their legal expenses, presumably because the huge salaries they received for many years, the various perks plus the money they managed to skim off during the food-for-oil scheme cannot cover it.

Finally, there is the involvement of the SecGen’s own son, who was paid a retainer for several year by the Swiss company Cotecna, that had been tasked with monitoring the scheme and a fine mess they made of it, too.

Ah but there is no evidence that Kofi Annan intervened in any way with the choice of Cotecna. But there is excellent evidence that son Kojo’s involvement has been in public knowledge for at least six years. And what did daddy do? He had a one-day internal enquiry that dismissed the matter out of hand as being untrue and a wicked libel.

Paul Volcker’s report does rather mildly criticize the SecGen for that and for not realizing that there could have been a clash of interests there. Poor chap, how could he realize that? Such an innocent.

Let us add to this all the other scandals: the behaviour of the UN troops in Africa and the Balkans, the accusations of sexual harassment of staff within the UN itself, the complete inefficiency and concentration on their own creature comforts shown by the UN’s people after the Tsunami, the knowledge we have of the UN’s failure in Rwanda (that was on Boutros’s watch but Annan was directly responsible), the farcical situation whereby some of the world’s worst tyrannies are members of the UNCHR, and so on.

One cannot help asking oneself: what will it take for SecGen Kofi Annan to do the honourable thing and resign? And if he will not do it, what chance is there of any other highly paid, corrupt, unaccountable UN official doing the same?

What is the point of all those high-falutin’ reform proposals if we know, and the present situation shows it all too clearly, that nobody, but nobody will ever be held to account, no matter what crimes are committed in the name of transnationalism?

Remember that next time some ridiculous politician or commentator or just some fool who has nothing better to do except to go on yet another anti-American demo starts bleating about morality equalling multilateralism and the source of it being the United Nations.

The God squad intervenes

According to a Reuters report, French churches yesterday combined to speak for the EU constitution, urging voters not to turn the referendum into either a plebiscite over Turkey's entry bid or a vote on local political issues.

In a joint letter, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders said the constitution, "brought substantial improvements to the existing treaties". They added: "The referendum has no other object than to accept or reject the treaty… The purpose is to decide on the treaty itself, without being distracted by purely national issues or side debates."

This was co-ordinated with a message from prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who also emphasised that the treaty had nothing to do with Turkey and would strengthen the "French model in Europe". Valery Giscard d'Estaing, added his weight to the plea, warning the French not to reject it.

"If we say 'no', there will be a crisis, it means we will go back to Nice, the worst treaty for France," Giscard told France 3 television. "One must not believe that there will be a favourable negotiation after a 'no'."

Meanwhile, yet another poll, this one conducted by the IFOP research group for Paris Match magazine, has found 53 percent of respondents declaring an intention to vote against the constitution, with 47 percent in favour. This is the fifth consecutive poll to favour the "no" campaign.

Softly, softly...

A research report by Berg Insight - a noted "business intelligence" consultant to the telecom industry - tells us that, by 2009, all 15 million cars sold in Europe could have "telematics" – by which is meant a satellite navigation device and a mobile communication unit.

Navigation equipment, says the report, will drive growth in the premium car segment and – wait for it - EU safety regulations could open the volume market for embedded telematics solutions after 2009. By that year, says Berg, the EU commission has proposed that all new cars sold in the EU should automatically notify an emergency centre with an exact location in case of an accident.

If the proposal is realised, it adds, all 15 million cars sold in the EU annually will have to be equipped with telematics unit consisting of GPS satellite navigation device and a mobile communication unit,

From where Berg Insight obtained this information is questionable, as there are no firm proposals from the commission that cars should be fitted with "telematics".

The idea stems from the White Paper on Road Safety COM(2003) 311 final published on 2 June 2003 which suggested, tentatively that cars could be fitted with "accident alert system for the automatic transmission of essential information to the nearest emergency service unit".

There is no obvious connection between Berg Insight and the commission but what we are seeing is an insidious form of EU propaganda, paving the way for a major commission initiative – wittingly or unwittingly – making it appear to be inevitable (and unquestioned).

But of course, as we pointed out in an earlier posting, the real agenda is an EU-wide road charging system, based on the EU's Galileo satellite system. But how typical that the EU, through its useful idiots, is making the case on safety grounds, getting universal acceptance of equipment in cars which, latterly, will be used for road charging.

Softly, softly, catchee money. Mother Europe will look after you and summon help if you have an accident. Only later will we be presented with the bill.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

French "nons" firm

For the second time, a Ipsos survey for Le Figaro and Europe 1 shows the “no” campaign in the lead, 54 percent against 46 percent for "yes", with a clear majority with the Socialist party

This is slightly down on Saturday's poll for the weekly Marianne magazine, which gave fifty-five percent of French voters opting to deep-six the EU constitution.

Nevertheless, this poll, the fourth in succession to show the "no" campaign in the lead, is especially significant as it was conducted on 25 and 26 March, after the European Council when Chirac declared his great victory on the "Bolkestein directive". Rather than improve its position, the "yes" campaign has lost two more points, compared with the previous Ipsos poll, carried out on 18 and 19 March.

The poll also finds that the increased opposition comes exclusively from the left, with 58 against the constitution, as opposed a "stable minority" on the right at 33 percent. This represents an eight point movement in one week, and compares with 59 percent support in December, when the Socialist’s internal referendum was held.

As to the more detailed spread of voting intentions, private sector employees polled at 76 percent "non", public sector workers at 58 percent and those on low wages at 71 percent.

Also significant is that the government's claim that a "non" vote would lead to the collapse of the European project has had little effect. The majority of voters – 51 percent against 48 percent a week ago – do not believe this is a significant factor. Opinion is more evenly divided, however, on whether rejecting the constitution would "weaken France in Europe". But more (45 percent) reject this thesis than agree with it (42 percent).

Most of those polled (67 percent) claimed they would be voting on the text of the constitution but "the economic and social situation in France" will weigh strongly in the vote: for 66 percent, this is a factor (70 percent of the Socialist electorate).

However, there is still everything to play for. Only 48 percent of those questioned expressed a strong intention to vote. Amongst those, 31 percent did not express a choice. Of those that expressed an opinion, 29 percent said they would be prepared to change their view.

Good for the goose...

Mr Charles Moore, erstwhile editor of The Daily Telegraph, does not have much sympathy for Howard Flight. In his Telegraph op-ed today, he believes "Michael Howard has acted ruthlessly - and rightly, too".

But the same Charles Moore, both in the op-ed and on the BBC lunchtime programme World at One, speaks for Adrian Hilton, the Conservative candidate for Slough, "sacked merely because the Catholic Herald recently attacked a couple of pro-Protestant articles he wrote two years ago." "If opponents see that the leadership will simply turn on any candidate against whom they can trump up an accusation, they will trump up a lot more," he writes.

But the more central point, which was raised on the World at One programme, was that Hilton has not been deselected for anything he has recently said – or indeed for anything that contravenes Conservative Party policy. Having been approved as a candidate by Central Office, which had full knowledge of Hilton's views, action has been taken retrospectively.

Actually, according to The Times, Hilton was sacked two weeks ago after complaints about an article he wrote for the Spectator magazine in 2003 that portrayed the European Union as a papist plot that would extend Vatican sovereignty over Britain.

Now, the Slough association has refused to play ball and is now in "supported status" - which means that its officers are suspended and all decisions made by a representative from Conservative Central Office. The party leadership decided last week that Sheila Gunn, John Major's former press secretary, would replace Mr Hilton as the official candidate.

A few days ago, we noted on this Blog that it had not entirely escaped notice that Michael Howard's ruthless deselection of Howard Flight, for deviating from the party line on public spending, was not matched by equivalent action against those Tory MPs who depart from the line on the European Union.

And although we hold no brief whatsoever for Adrian Hilton – nor agree with his views – once again we note that it is a Eurosceptic that has incurred the wrath of the party.

But what is more significant is that the action is being taken for views expressed two years ago, simply on the basis of a complaint made now – alleged to have come from, incidentally, none other than the serial Europhile John Selwyn Gummer.

Mr Moore talks and writes about fairness and equitable treatment in this respect and, if past sins are now to be taken into account, surely this must apply fairly across the board.

In that context, on 19 October, Tory MP David Curry had published in the Yorkshire Post a long article condemning the official Conservative Party policy on repatriating the Common Fisheries Policy, an article which has since been quoted with glee by Denis MacShane and fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw.

Curry followed this up with a letter to the same newspaper on 2 November, headed "Britain cannot abandon European fishing policy", the statements made then and previously being in direct conflict with the personal commitment made by Mr Howard to repatriate the fishing policy.

On this basis, if Adrian Hilton has to go, then on better and more secure grounds, David Curry should be deselected forthwith. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

A fragrant absence

It appears that that the "colleagues" are getting a little nervous about the proliferation of free speech on the Margot Walström Blog.

Confronted with a surge of pointed comments from a band of articulate Eurosceptics, England Expects informs us that, in an attempt to repel boarders, commission press official David Monkcom has issued a plea for assistance on the commission's internal notice board, 'intracomm':

Margot's blog: get involved!

Did you know that Vice-President Wallström is writing a twice-weekly "web log" (or "blog")? Please check it out on her page of Europa, and join in the very lively debates going on there!

Hundreds or even thousands of people visit this site every day, apparently, but so far most of the comments posted there are from anti-EU individuals, some of them legal experts or journalists. So far, very few of us pro-EU people seem to be willing to face the sceptics, reply to their arguments or answer their very probing questions.

So, dear colleagues, especially you economists and lawyers out there, please take a look at this "blog" and respond to our critics!

David Monkcom /
DG Press
Interestingly, while the payroll vote is being mobilised to lend support to the fragrant Margot, we note that the one person most notably reluctant to face the sceptics and "answer their very probing questions" on the comments section of the Margot Walström Blog is er… Margot Walström.

A sunset in Europe

If Chirac thought he was going to be welcomed with open arms in Tokyo, he was quickly disabused when he met Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sunday.

In fact, Koizumi, leader of a nation renowned for its diplomatic protocols, was uncharacteristically blunt, telling l'escroc that Japan strongly opposed the lifting of a EU embargo on arms sales to China.

On another issue of contention, the siting of the proposed International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, Koizumi also refused to yield to the French bully, telling him equally bluntly that Japan would not give up its bid to host the site.

Wrapping up his visit to Japan, therefore, Chirac spoke not to the Japanese but to his own countrymen, kickstarting his government's campaign on the EU referendum, addressing the 7,500 expats in Japan, telling them to exercise their duty as citizens on 29 May 29 and "express yourselves on this crucial issue for the future of our country and for the French people."

Perhaps though it was his dusty treatment at the hands of Koizumi that put him in such a foul mood, French witness media reports over the weekend that he intervened to prevent the national television station, TF2, from allowing EU commission president, José Manuel Barroso appearing on the political programme 100 Minutes.

More likely, appears that Chirac feared that even 10 minutes of Barroso's "liberal" views on French television might cost votes in the referendum, although the French president is known to harbour a "low regard" for the commission chief and his "Anglo-Saxon" views.

However, there are fears that Chrac, by portraying the commission as an ultra-liberal Anglo-Saxon institution, may be fuelling the "no" campaign rather than his pro-constitution effort.

Certainly, the Daily Telegraph this morning sees hope in Chirac’s disarray, suggesting that after the third adverse poll, "one can almost hear the cry of 'Merde!' echoing round the Elysée Palace." With only nine weeks to go, it says, President Chirac is right to panic.

The paper also observes that French voters are in no mood to be addressed de haut en bas: the surge in support for the "no" lobby partly reflects the public's impatience with the tight-knit Parisian elite, so the propaganda may end up achieving the opposite of what was intended.

In common with other commentators, the paper feels that if M Giscard d'Estaing's "execrable constitutional treaty" is rejected by his own countrymen, the European federal project will almost certainly fall apart.

With that possibility in mind, following the long Easter weekend, prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will this week try to revive the "yes" campaign, participating in a series of debates on the text and dispatching his ministers to do the same.

"Five hundred meetings are on the calendar. I personally will participate in more than 20 events to explain what is at stake," Raffarin has said on the private television network TF1. Foreign minister Michel Barnier has a marathon agenda of 70 meetings in the next two months before the vote and European affairs minister Claudie Haignere will also play a key campaign.

For once though, it is beginning to look like Chirac has lost his touch and all this activity is going to be to no avail. Fresh from the land of the rising sun, the man looks set to witness a sunset in Europe.

Monday, March 28, 2005

What's in an "N"?

The mighty Microscof has groaned and given forth a mouse, in the form of a new name for its stripped-down version of Windows XP, demanded by the all-powerful EU commission.

But, instead of going for the obvious, its newly-emasculated product is to be called "Windows XP Home Edition N".

The new name represents a small step in Microscof's long battle with the commission, which last year ruled the software giant had abused the near-monopoly of Windows to crush competition, fined it nearly €500 million ($650 million), and ordered it to change its business practices.

The commission also ordered Microscof to sell a version of Windows without its Windows Media Player audiovisual software but, up to press, there has been no agreement on a name for the revised product.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microscof's top lawyer in Europe, says the names "Windows XP Home Edition N" and "Windows XP Professional Edition N" were suggested by the commission after it rejected 10 suggestions by Microscof, including their first choice, "Windows XP Reduced Media Edition."

We would dearly love to know what the other nine suggestions were, and whether one at least has the initials "F" and "O". As to what the "N" stands for is anyone’s guess – "neutered" perhaps, "non-functional", or what?

Suggestions in the "comments" section please, and keep them clean.

Chancellor Schröder tries to shift the blame

Well, he is still trying and you cannot blame him. In two months’s time there is another important land election, in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the polls are indicating a possible Christian-Democrat victory. After holding the state for 32 years, the Social-Democrats would not like to lose it at all.

Chancellor Schröder is caught whichever way he decides to turn. On the one hand, the great German welfare state together with the huge aid packages to the eastern part of the country, have all but bankrupted the country. A root-and-branch reform is needed in social welfare, taxation, pensions and, last but very much not least, the regulatory structure.

On the other hand, all such reforms reduce welfare payments at a time when unemployment in Germany has gone over 5 million, reaching at 12.6 per cent the highest level since the Second World War.

Then there is the regulatory structure. A good deal of it comes from the EU but a goodly part is home-grown. In fact, much of the EU’s regulatory maze was created to ensure that other countries can keep up (or down) with Germany.

So, what with one thing and another, German business has been moving out of the country, pleading inability to afford the German miracle any more. About the only thing that is left is services, as they, by definition cannot be moved. But they are not safe from cheap and agile labour from the hungrier eastern members of the EU.

Schröder has had one good idea recently: he has proposed a cut in corporation tax, down to 19 per cent, which will bring Germany in line with some of its cheaper competitors but not all. In any case, several commentators have pointed out that there are enough other taxes on corporations to keep the level above the promised 19 per cent. So that is not going to help.

But Chancellor Schröder thinks it should. In an interview in the Bild am Sonntag he has tried to shift blame from the unions and, indeed, himself onto those unreliable businesses. The new reforms, the Chancellor proclaimed, have created a new business climate in the country.
“Therefore, the constant talk of moving production and jobs should stop, and there should be investment in Germany.”
The problem is that it is not enough to proclaim that the business climate and conditions have changed, there has to be proof ot that. The fact that he has to plead with businesses not to move out of the country would indicate that they have not yet accepted that what the political says, however many times, is necessarily true.

An air of unreality

Yes, all right, the central issue for the general election is public spending – and the battlefield is set over who can save more money from government "efficiencies" in order to pump more back into public services.

The Tories, on the basis of the James report, aim to "save" £35 billion, of which £22 billion will be pumped back into services delivery, while Labour, through its Gershon review, claims to have identified "auditable and transparent efficiency gains of over £20 billion in 2007-08 across the public sector".

Against projected public expenditure of £400 billion or so, the difference between the parties is actually very little and possibly even less than the headline figure. A significant quantum of the projected James report figures are, in fact, unrealisable, as they relate to spending on activities required by EU law. The result, in any event, is the difference between public expenditure at 42 percent of gross domestic product by 2011 under Labour and at 40 percent under the Tories.

Thus it was our old friend Peter Riddell who remarked recently in his Times column that Sigmund Freud would have found plenty of material in British politics at present to illustrate his adage about "the narcissism of small differences". Very similar types of people tend to exaggerate the small differences between themselves and build them up into life-and-death struggles. That, he wrote, is exactly how the parties are now behaving:

We have an outpouring of claim and counter-claim about taxes and public spending, implying ruin if the other party wins. There are legitimate questions about how much the waste/efficiency savings from the Tories' James review can be achieved, just as there are about the Government's. But Labour is specialising in hyped-up, almost mendacious assertions about alleged Tory "cuts", mass dismissals of teachers, nurses, and so on.

The reality is that the differences between the parties' spending plans are pretty small: around 2 percent of national income over the course of a full Parliament. This is less than half the rise since 1997, or during the early 1990s. Similarly, as Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats acknowledged this week, the differences between the parties on "the tax take" are minimal. The £4 billion cut in taxes promised by the Tories is merely a seventh of the projected rise in tax receipts which will occur under the existing tax structure.
What price, therefore, the "personal view" from Patrick Minford in the business section of today's Daily Telegraph, under the title: "The EU's manufacturing policies are costing us a fortune".

In a long article, well worth reading, Minford argues that, in addition to the Common Agricultural Policy, which costs us between 0.3 and 1 percent of GDP in excess costs of UK production, payments to inefficient EU farmers, and the burden of high prices on our households, the EU's "common manufacturing policy" costs us about 3 percent of GDP in similar costs; a lot more than raw food because it is so much bigger both as an industry and as an element in our household budgets.

This is not chickenfeed, he writes: 3 percent of GDP is some £30 billion, almost half the cost of the NHS.

But that, as regular readers of this Blog will know, is only part of the equation. In November, we reported how the EU commission in its annual report on competitiveness, estimated that "red tape" was costing the EU economies some 12 percent of GDP, four times the amount of which Minford complains.

Translated into UK terms, that amounts to a loss to the economy in the order of £120 billion, of which a third to a half would be translatable into tax receipts and be available for public spending. At the lower figure of one third, equivalent to £40 billion, this still exceeds the James report figure by a substantial amount, without attracting the opprobrium of expenditure "cuts".

A genuine political debate, especially when the EU is seeking to implement a constitution which locks-in the continental "social model", would address issues such as this. But, of course, "Europe" is off the agenda for the duration of the election and we are only discussing domestic issues. Small wonder the Scotsman today headlines a story: "Honest electoral debate is the first casualty of MPs' war of words".

Between them, the major parties have managed to turn the news agenda away from matters of genuine importance on to manufactured hype, leaving the electorate bemused and indifferent. All we have left is an air of unreality.

The supersoft power finally makes its appearance

As the crisis in Kyrgyzstan goes on, Javier Solana, the EU’s Foreign Minister in waiting has finally made a statement on the supersoft power’s behalf. (Perhaps, he has been reading this blog.) He has called on the people and politicians of Kyrgyzstan to calm down and restore law and order, presumably, in the way it existed under President Akayev.

According to Deutsche Welle
“Solana "strongly appealed to the people of Kyrgyzstan to behave responsibly, to ease restoration of law and order throughout the country and to refrain from violence and looting," said a statement issued by his office.”
The EU presidency, Luxembourg, also made a statement:
“The EU "makes a strong appeal to the newly nominated leaders to restore public order as quickly as possible, to begin dialogue with all political forces and to implement a policy of national reconciliation," it said.”
Curiously enough, these statements, with their complete lack of reference to democracy, free and fair elections and the like, echo feebly that made by the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, another one of Putin’s siloviki, though he also attacked the OSCE, blaming its somewhat low-key statement that the recent elections in Kyrgyzstan had several glaring faults in their conduct, for the subsequent unrest and riots.

Lavrov, in fact, called on the OSCE and, by implication, its supporter and partner the EU, to behave responsibly:
“We count that international organizations, including the OSCE, will conduct themselves responsibly because too much depended on how these organizations assessed the events around the elections.”
All this responsible behaviour and national reconciliation does not alter the fact that what the people of Kyrgyzstan want may not come into the EU’s calculations any more than it does into Russia’s: an independent and accountable political system.

The EU shows its "humanitarian" credentials

The Commissar for Aid and Development, the Belgian Louis Michel, has just paid a four-day visit to Cuba, one of the last outposts of totalitarian communism. Not that you would guess it from M Michel’s comments.

Apparently, unperceived by anyone except the EU’s Commissioners and the Spanish government, Cuba has made some very satisfactory developments in its human rights policies, thus justifying the fact that the EU has decided to suspend its sanctions on that country. (The only reason they were suspended and not lifted outright was that the pesky East Europeans, who know totalitarian communism when they see it, protested.)

Apparently M Michel was allowed to meet families of imprisoned dissidents for a whole hour and, he added breathlessly, the government did not interfere with these meetings. Gosh! Wow!

I shall instantly throw away my copies of John Stuart Mill’s writings as well as those of Andrei Sakharov, Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek, replacing them with the collected speeches of the new hero of liberal thinking: Fidel Castro. (I think I just about have enough room in my house for all those interminable speeches.)

One may jest but Commissar Michel takes these matters seriously. On the basis of this amazing display of freedom and openness he has announced that there will be no EU support for a planned congress of dissident groups and he has also advised pro-democracy activists not to “provoke Fidel Castro”. Try as they might, their political colours will show through.

The EU and M Michel were roundly condemned for their stupidity and dishonesty by the dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque, who said:
“The government is not going to change. Castro is deaf. Sanctions have a political value because they demonstrate to the whole world that Castro is a human rights abuser. The EU should not be seeking deeper relations with a totalitarian regime. The fact that we could meet Mr Michel one day, for an hour, is an isolated phenomenon.

The Cuban government allowed it to take place so the EU would see what the authorities wanted them to see. I don't understand how Mr Michel, who is an intelligent person, can think that he understands Cuba in the short time that he was here.”
How nice of her to assume that M Michel is intelligent and how much nicer not to mention the obvious words: fellow traveller. After all, have we not seen this phenomenon over and over again in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Kampuchea, wherever there is a jackboot stamping down on a human face, as George Orwell so memorably said?

That, I fear, is the true reality of the EU’s supersoft power that is supposedly extended through barely perceived influence: an admiration for all dictators, particularly those on the left. What are we doing in this mess?

Define international law

The leading article in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph charts meticulously Tony Blair’s convoluted path through a maze of his own making: a “passionate” endorsement of the International Criminal Court, rightly described by the Americans as being nothing more than a “set of politicians with their own political agenda” and his equally passionate belief in the need to support the United States in its fight against terrorism together with a no less passionate need to have that fight endorsed by the UN Security Council.

As the article points out, Lord Goldsmith’s assertion, which ran counter to the opinion of “practically all the Government’s lawyers”, according to Elizabeth Wilmhurst, the deputy head of the Foreign Office legal department, who actually resigned over the issue, that the war was unequivocally legal, was made in response to Admiral Boyce’s worry that he or his officers might end up before the International Criminal Court.

The article concludes:
“The truth is that the war was probably not legal under international law. Those who believe that is a fact of cardinal moral importance have not yet had the courage to admit the inevitable conclusion of their position. It is that there now needs to be a “coalition of the willing” to restore the legal government of saddam Hussein to its rightful position as the sovereign authority in Iraq. Tony Blair must be arrested and tried by the ICC, and Saddam should be the primary witness against him. This is the inescapable logic of the champions of international law. It should make everyone realise how unreal is the world in which they live.”
If only! Alas, if we are not careful, the world of “international law” created by the tranzis, for the tranzis and against accountable national democratic states will become the world we all live in.

In the first place, what is international law? Until recently, it consisted of various agreements between countries or organizations that dealt with matters such as maritime rules, airlines, radio wavelengths etc etc. On top of that there are commercial agreements and conventions. All this clearly comprehensible.

There is also the slightly more difficult concept of war crimes, based on the Geneva Convention. The best known occasion when war criminals were tried was in Nurenberg after the Second World War.

While, it is unquestionably true that those on trial had broken every agreement and convention in the book, there is a certain uneasy feeling around the whole procedure, induced by the presence of a Soviet judge and the Soviet prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky, who had been the prosecutor in the show trials of the thirties.

Furthermore, the behaviour of the Red Army and the secret police that had arrived in its baggage vans, was no better and, indeed, often worse than that of the Wehrmacht, though not of the Gestapo.

Since then the concept of war guilt has acquired an undoubted political aspect, with the words being flung around at all international congresses, usually at Americans and other westerners, with little mention of the mass murders perpetrated by left-wing dictatorships up and down the world.

All of which makes the notion of an agreed international law impossible. Once again, as with other international and transnational organizations, a structure with documents to back it, in this case the International Criminal Court, is being put in place of real content. And, as an inevitable corollary, unacceptable and unaccountable power is given to the international legal and political elite.

In the months leading up to the Iraqi war, another aspect of this convoluted situation became apparent. On no basis whatsoever, the United Nations, a political organization, created for purely political purposes, full of members who have no concept of legality within their own countries and run by a completely unaccountable and, as is increasingly obvious, seriously corrupt bureaucracy, has suddenly claimed the position of being an arbiter in international law.

For their own purposes, many of the European leaders have supported this ridiculous and unsustainable claim, the purposes being opposition to America. As we know, more European countries supported the coalition of the willing than not.

Unfortunately, the biggest and most important of those countries, the United Kingdom, approached the subject with an ambivalence that undermined Blair’s position.

On the one hand, this country reverted to past Gladstonian liberal principles and, more pragmatically, accepted the Bush doctrine that only the destruction of the Middle Eastern tyrannies will free the world from a perpetual fear of Islamic terrorism.

On the other hand, seduced by the siren songs of transnational good will and control, Britain has signed up to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted on trying to achieve that famous “second” resolution of the Security Council that would have made the war “legal”.

A war can be just or unjust, useful or useless, in a country’s interests or not and, even, possibly legal or illegal, only if there are certain basic agreed principles (possibly theological ones) behind that terminology.

The argument that something is legal because a bunch of politicians, international lawyers and civil servants, all of whom have a vested interest in constructing more and more international organizations, say so is illogical by any definition. That is why it leads inexorably to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein should be restored in Iraq and Tony Blair tried by an international court.

The death of politics

It has not entirely escaped notice that Michael Howard’s ruthless deselection of Howard Flight, for deviating from the party line on public spending, is not matched by equivalent action against those Tory MPs who depart from the line on the European Union.

This, while Flight is consigned to political obscurity, the likes of Kenneth Clarke, who has consistently opposed the party line on the EU constitution, and David Curry, who openly trashed the party policy on repatriating the Common Fisheries Policy – seem to bear charmed lives.

In this context, neither has it escaped notice that Flight was a principled Eurosceptic and it is almost certain that he will be replaced with a Central Office "moderniser" who will hold no strong views on "Europe" but will tend towards the Howard line of "reform" and "renegotiation".

But the disparity of treatment has sent shockwaves through the band of Tory Eurosceptics, some of whom are actively toning down what were planned to be robust, anti-EU election addresses, and revising their local campaigns, for fear that Campbell's spies might be abroad, ready to cause trouble between them and Central Office.

All of this suggests that Tory activity on "Europe" will be extremely muted during the general election campaign, with candidates reluctant to engage on the issue, avoiding engagement whenever possible. If UKIP had its act together, it would find it had a more than usually clear field on the issue.

But it also lends a further sense of unreality to the campaign, which will be fought hard on extremely narrow domestic issues, leaving the "elephant in the room" disregarded. Thus, the general election takes on the aspect of a phoney war, with activists fully aware that the real battle will start – not finish – with the final parliamentary declarations.

From a personal perspective as a confirmed "election junkie" – having taken an active part in the last three general elections, in two of them as a candidate – I cannot recall ever having been less interested in the outcome of an election, a sentiment I know to be shared by many others. Of far more interest is the 29 May French referendum and, beyond that, the UK referendum, if indeed it materialises.

Thus does the baleful influence of the European Union extend its writ, deadening what should be the most vibrant political event on the calendar. In yet another way, therefore, the "project" has become the death of politics.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Exactly what do they think a eurosceptic is?

The usually sensible and well-informed business section of the Sunday Telegraph had rather an odd article in it today. Martin Baker was profiling John Elliott, chairman of EBAC, that sells water coolers all over Europe, and a well-known eurosceptic (though his achievements as chairman of NESNO ought to be put next to some appreciation of what Neil Herron and others had done before the organization was even thought of).

Mr Elliott, has been prominent in the Business for Sterling and No to the euro campaigns; he clearly dislikes regionalization of the UK; and he absolutely loathes the bureaucracy that emanates from Brussels and crushes any kind of entrepreneurial spirit across Europe and Britain.

Nothing odd about that, you might think. One assumes most businessmen and businesswomen think roughly along those lines. Not according to the Sunday Telegraph’s finest, they don’t.

Martin Baker finds that there is an
“… obvious irony in all of this [growing sales across Europe] is that Elliott is a loud eurosceptic”.
Perhaps it is the loudness that has surprised Mr Baker. Otherwise, for the life of me I cannot see what is so ironic about a eurosceptic who trades internationally. Au contraire, Mr Elliott is just the sort of successful businessman who is likely to be clobbered by the eurocracy and regulatocracy, who having never done a day’s work in the real world, assume that nobody can possibly get on in life without being told how to do so.

The Working Time Directive, says Mr Elliott, is the most stupid thing ever. Mmm, well there is hot competition, but we need not argue that point. Still, it seems to surprise Martin Baker:
“It is, in fact, bureaucracy that Elliott dislikes. He may be a eurosceptic (and is violently opposed to any idea of Britain ever dropping sterling) but he is not anti-European or xenophobic.”
Like duh! Really, if journalists in the Sunday Telegraph business section produce this sort of bilge, what can one expect from other sections of the media? Perhaps, Mr Baker should spend some time reading this blog.

Electoral corruption in the offing?

Mr Portaloo (aka Michael Portillo) is by no means our favourite columnist and our view is that The Sunday Times was sadly diminished when it recruited him. However, as Churchill once said, every dog has his day (and some days are longer than others), so even Portaloo, by the law of averages, must occasionally contribute something worth reading.

So it is today when, under the heading: "The escape door's open, but Blair stays on as EU hostage", Portaloo recounts how twelve years ago, selected members of John Major’s cabinet gathered at Admiralty House to hear the results of the French referendum on the Maastricht treaty.

Within minutes of the ballot boxes being sealed, he writes, Major received a call from Paris to tell him that the vote had been carried by 51 to 49 percent. That, says Portaloo, surprised me:

In my experience of elections it had never been possible to know the outcome of such a close contest so quickly. To this day I harbour shameful doubts about how the French government could be so sure so soon. British ministers exchanged sceptical glances in private as Major went outside to tell the media of his pleasure at the result.
Portaloo continues with the theme, opining that the French "yes" vote was a decisive event in Major's destruction and again a British prime minister’s fate is once more in the hands of the French electorate. If it votes yes to the European constitution in May, Tony Blair's premiership may be doomed. He would be obliged to hold a referendum and if that were lost he would be unlikely to survive.

This creates an interesting situation because, if Blair wins the general election we shall soon be plunged into preparations for the referendum, but there is no reason for the government to be any keener on the constitution than the rest of us. For instance, says Portaloo, a European foreign minister will be a nuisance to Blair since he is presently Europe’s pre-eminent figure on the world stage. He goes with this perceptive comment:

The integrationists want a constitution, president and foreign minister because those are the attributes of a nation state. The treaty does not bring about a United States of Europe, but it seeks to accustom us to the terminology and institutions of a country called Europe. It lays the ground for further integration that will doubtless be proposed if the constitution is ratified.
That is indeed the theme that we have rehearsed on this Blog but whether that ratification will happen is further put in doubt by a news piece also in The Sunday Times.

"French ready to spite Chirac on EU", writes Matthew Campbell in Paris, with a strap, "Unrest adds to anti-constitution vote". More particularly, Campbell writes of the farmers who are getting ready to ditch Chirac.

He cites Pierre-Emmanuel Lavaux, a 46-year-old farmer who expresses concern about enlargement, arguing that: "The bigger the European Union gets, the weaker our agriculture will become," he says. "It will become that much harder to survive." Lavaux, and many others like him it seems, is looking forward to the chance of registering his disgust by voting "non" in a referendum. The French spring is infused with an air of anti-EU rebellion.

Nevertheless, a French "non", writes Campbell, would almost certainly save Blair the embarrassment of a British referendum on the constitution next year. That is one to watch but the French are also capable of delivering another Maastricht vote – with the (yes) result declared minutes after the polls close. Not for nothing is Chirac known as l'escroc. To him, electoral corruption is meat and drink.

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Corruption is still rife at top level of French government says The Sunday Telegraph.

This follows on from the reports last week on the massive corruption trial in France. Some 47 people – among them Chirac's closest former political allies – have been on trial over a vast "kickback" scheme allegedly run from city hall while Chirac was mayor.

Now, Eric Halphen, the French judge who first uncovered the corruption is claiming that bribery and cronyism are still rife at the highest levels of government. He insists that France's political elite remain effectively untouchable.

"These cases in no way signal the end of high-level corruption in France," he says. "I have had several companies tell me recently that, despite all the court cases and scandals, the old organised systems of corruption, kickbacks and bribes are still intact, and anyone hoping to secure a deal with the public works sector has to play ball."

French politicians corrupt? Is the Pope a Catholic?


"Graham Morris, a farmer and contractor near Builth Wells in mid-Wales, is an angry man. Like thousands of other sheep farmers, as this year's lambing season approaches its height, he is being confronted for the first time with the horrendous implications of one of the greatest regulatory shambles Brussels has ever created."

So writes Booker in this week's column, and he does not exaggerate. His first piece describes the effects of one of the most grotesque pieces of legislation to emanate from the European Union – and that is indeed saying something.

As large numbers of lambs inevitably die or are stillborn on the hills, farmers are no longer permitted to bury them or to leave them to provide food for foxes, red kites and other wildlife.

Under the EU's Animal By-Products Regulation, 1774/2002, all "fallen stock" of any species must now be gathered up and placed in sealed containers, to be collected by contractors, at a cost of up to £50 an animal, then transported, sometimes hundreds of miles, to be rendered down or incinerated in a licensed plant.

So hopelessly impractical is this scheme that for nearly two years ministers were forced to turn a blind eye, in defiance of EC law, in allowing farmers to continue disposing of their stock by natural means, as they have done since time immemorial. But this year the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its Scottish and Welsh counterparts are insisting the law must be obeyed, on pain of fines up to £5000 for each offence.

Farmers must thus wait up to five weeks to have the rotting, stinking carcases of their animals collected, often by vehicles so filthy and infected that they make a mockery of hygiene or "biosecurity". These are then moved by public roads in a way which, as Mr Morris points out, "not only risks spreading infection to other farms, but could be a hazard to human health; as for instance by exposing pregnant women to the risk of infectious abortion".

The entire front page of this week's Farmers Guardian is devoted to the "fallen stock shambles". It pictures an Anglesey farmer burying a dead sheep in deliberate defiance of the law, so that visiting Easter holidaymakers are not exposed to the "filth and stench" from rotting carcases.

But the crisis facing farmers is only part of the much greater disaster being brought about by this regulation, introduced by Brussels in 2002 in hysterical over-reaction to fears of BSE and foot and mouth. In 2003, when the ban on landfilling any "animal by-product" was due to come into force, it became clear this would be catastrophic for the retail trade, which every year must throw away thousands of tons of meat and dairy products no longer fit for human consumption.

When Tesco and other firms pointed out that it would be impossible to separate out all the meat, fish and dairy products from their plastic wrappings, which rendering plants cannot take, their clout was sufficient for Brussels to give food retailers an exemption from the law until December 31 2005.

But that date is now fast approaching, and, as the British Retail Consortium last week explained to me, says Booker, there is still no way large parts of the retail trade in Britain and across Europe can hope to comply. A BRC food scientist said that technology is being developed to split food from wrappings, but "we are still two or three years from having a workable system".

So ill-drafted was the regulation that even now the retail trade has been waiting for months for a precise definition from the Commission as to what constitutes an "animal by-product". Does it, for instance, cover "honey nut flakes", because they include honey? Is it therefore a criminal offence to dispose of them by landfill?

Last week Defra confirmed the Commission is adamant that the law must come into force by 31 December, even though it still has no idea what quantities of food this will involve. Those rotting carcases waiting for collection on Welsh farms are a fitting memorial to the obscene absurdity of a law which in every respect defies reason.

It is impossible to embellish this story. There is simply no justification for this law which embodies the very worst of the madness that afflicts Brussels. We can only pass on to the next story.

This one picks up on a "poignant plea" that has gone from Westminster to the fragrant Margot, the "bag lady" charged with "selling" the EU to the peoples of Europe. It is signed by Jimmy Hood, the Labour MP who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, which sits in secret examining the avalanche of new legislation which pours out of Brussels, so it can go through the charade of being rubber-stamped by the UK Parliament.

Each year tens of thousands of pages of this stuff passes across the desks of the MPs on this committee, all written in impenetrable Euro-speak, liberally sprinkled with those buzzwords such as "sustainable", "transparent" and "stakeholders" now de rigeur throughout our system of government.

But for once the worm has turned. One document was such a bureaucratic self-parody that the MPs asked their chairman to write to Ms Wallstrom, pleading for something to be done to "improve the way in which the Commission communicates with the public".

As an example they singled out this passage:

The complementarity between the Agenda and both the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy and the sustainable development strategy makes it necessary to ensure close dovetailing with other Community policies on the internal market, competitition and trade. This approach implies taking full account of social and employment dimensions in other Community policies, and vice versa. The Integrated Impact Assessment tool developed by the Commission provides a valuable methodological contribution. Accordingly, the Social Agenda draws its inspiration from the Constitutitional Treaty, which proclaims the importance of an integrated approach.
Alas, extruding such gobbledygook is so much second-nature to Commission officials that they will not begin to understand the point our MPs are making.

For instance, the Commission’s recent package on "Better Regulation" included a proposal to "improve the intrinsic quality of the impact assessment of EU legislation by ensuring on a case-by-case basis the ex ante validation of external scientific experts of the methodology used for certain impact assessments". Those UK businesses which now pay out £100 billion a year as the cost of EC-inspired red-tape (the Commission’s own estimate) might love to think something could be done to reduce it, But I fear that, like the MPs, they may have a long wait.

You could not invest this, and nor can I improve on it. We simply pass on. Booker’s third story picks up on one covered by this Blog, oddly enough attached to our analysis of the Booker column two weeks ago.

This concerns the report, known as "Deepnet 1", from the North Atlantic Fisheries Commission exposing an ecological disaster now unfolding in the deep waters off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland.

Up to 50 large fishing vessels, mainly Spanish "flag boats" registered in the UK, are leaving up to 5000 miles of gill nets hanging in the water unattended, then clocking in at Milford Haven or other British ports to legitimise their presence in UK waters, before returning to pick up their harvest.

Up to 70 percent of the catch, including monkfish and sharks, is so badly rotted by the time they return that it must be discarded. As much as 20 miles of netting is abandoned on each trip, continuing to snare fish to no purpose (what is known as "ghost fishing"). Stocks of different species have been reduced by up to 80 percent.

This week's Fishing News carries the headline "Minister takes action over Deepnet report". What this means, it turns out, is not that our fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw will be sending out Royal Navy fisheries protection vessels to stop this illegal practice in UK fishing waters. Mr Bradshaw merely says "I will be raising these issues with the European Commission".

As it happens, the Council of Ministers, including Mr Bradshaw, has just approved the setting up of the new European Fisheries Control Agency, to take over all powers of law enforcement in EU waters. It is to be in Vigo, Spain, famously described by the environmental journalist Charles Clover as "the world capital of illegal fishing".

We can be confident, writes Booker, that halting the "Deepnet disaster" will not be high on its agenda.

Booker's final story is not EU orientated, but what the heck. A Cheshire reader, he writes, sends me the instruction leaflet for an electric peppermill, powered by four AA batteries. This insists that the "lightbulb should only be replaced by a qualified electrician". The peppermill only cost a few pounds, and a leaked email last week revealed that, for the BBC to have two light bulbs changed by an outside contractor, cost £57 a time. Knowing the call-out cost of electricians in some parts of the country, I think, says Booker, the BBC got a bargain which peppermill owners might envy.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

They are getting closer

Expect warblings of solidarity from European leaders for the hapless SecGen of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. For he will be named and somewhat shamed in Paul Volcker’s report on the food-for-oil scandal that is due to be published on Tuesday.

Kofi Annan will be criticized for his management practices (given recent scandals to do with the UN bureaucracy and its employees’ behaviour on the ground, that must rank as one of the understatements of the century) and for failing to see that there might have been a conflict of interests in his son being employed by Cotecna, a Swiss firm that had also been tasked with monitoring the supposedly humanitarian relief programme.

Should a man who cannot perceive that there is a certain clash of interests here be allowed out on his own, let alone be given a position of any responsibility whatsoever? But this is the world of the tranzis we are talking about. In it, as long as you make the right noises, your actual behaviour does not matter.

Cotecna, it seems, paid $400,000 to Kojo Annan between 1996 and 2004. Or so it seems for the moment but as the figure has already been adjusted upwards several times, we cannot be sure what it will be in the final reckoning.

Kofi Annan’s office maintains that he did not know the precise truth of his son Kojo’s employment but there have been serious complaints about lack of openness on the part of Cotecna about the terms of their agreement with the younger Annan.

The report by the supposedly independent but really rather UN-friendly Volcker commission will be only one of several. There are others, full of senators and representatives, who feel less friendly towards the SecGen and less anxious to save him from any further embarrassment.

But even this document is likely to shift attention away from Annan’s recent somewhat incoherent reform proposals and an even more recent report that has proposed a thorough overhaul of the peacekeeping operations in the wake of the various sex, mass rape and procurement scandals in Africa and the Balkans.

The one thing all these different stories have in common is the certainty we all have that nobody will be disciplined or punished for any of the misdemeanours. One could argue, of course, that another display of European loyalty towards the SecGen will be punishment enough for the man.