Sunday, July 31, 2005

Grumbling in the ranks

The European journalists are not happy. This has little to do with their colleagues being persecuted in various countries, though there is a little stirring about Romania going on.

The European Federation of Journalists is protesting at the closure of a couple of Portuguese newspapers owned by a Spanish syndicate, apparently for purely commercial reasons.

Aidan White, General Secretary of the EFJ opined that
“It is vitally important to convince the management that these journals have a future and that they should invest in them. What is at stake is not just a matter of profit and loss; there are questions of culture, democracy and pluralism that must also be addressed.”
Well, I don’t know. Profit and loss do come into the newspaper business somewhere and, short of government subsidies there seems no solution to that. Government subsidy, on the other hand, as even the European Federation of Journalists must know, involves government control. Do they really want that?

But they do have a gripe against the British presidency as well. Apparently, each presidency sets its own rules for accreditation to various events, even though, as Mr White points out:
“Journalists already have accreditation at national and European level and this should be respected throughout the European Union.”
The British rules seem particularly bizarre. In order to have accreditation to the meeting of foreign ministers in Newport in early September, journalists, who have and are covering other events, have to fill in a completely separate form, which asks, among other essential pieces of information, the names of their parents. Understandably, the journalists are balking at this.

Whether they will balk far enough not to go to Newport (after all, they are not likely, on past record, to find out what is really agreed), remains to be seen. They should count themselves lucky they do not have to answer questions in English and in Welsh.

Aidan White also said:
“If the European Union wants to connect properly with citizens it must at the very least get its approach to working journalists right and not oblige them to follow rules that are bizarre and inexplicable.”
Well yes, one of the aims the Commission keeps setting in its never ending battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Europe is to work closely with journalists. On the other hand, finding out what it is like to have to follow rules that are bizarre and inexplicable is surely good for the hacks. This will give them a much better understanding of the European project.

Sleaze German style

An interesting commentary in The Business catalogues what amounts to a tidal wave of corporate sleaze emerging in Germany.

It is not only Volkwagen, about which we wrote earlier, but a whole raft of firms, from the state television company, Hessischer Rundfunk, and the Commerzbank, where it was revealed that a number of former and current bank employees are under investigation for laundering money from Russian telecom assets.

Then there's Infineon. Management board member Andreas von Zitzewitz resigned after reports he collected a quarter of a million euros in bribes, and at least one other manager has been named in the probe.

However, notes The Business, a slew of federal, state and local politicians on the payroll of big German corporations were not even admonished earlier this year despite criticism from public and press. In addition, no change to this policy is under consideration.

It seems that the ones who make laws are also the ones who are profiting from corporate cash. A German manager cannot take money from interests that may interfere with his judgement or illegally pad his bank account, but politicians can accept a virtually unlimited amount of pay from former employers or consulting fees from those who would affect policy.

Neither are politicians and top managers alone in their greed. Defrauding the state by hiring black market workers has become a national pastime, the result of a slow economy and massive labour costs driven up by high taxes and employer contributions. Hiring "under the table" for a fraction of the quotes from above-board contractors is rife.

Therein lie the seeds of damnation. Clearly, when politicians and business are corrupt, and the law oppressive, the ordinary "Fritz in the street" takes the same view of the law – an inconvenience to be circumvented whenever possible. But, once you take an à la carte view of the law, the very fabric of society starts to break down.

Those in this country, and their brethren in Brussels who rush to create laws at a moment's notice, would do well to note. There comes a point when the disadvantages of more law outweigh the advantages. The law of diminishing returns applies to the law as well.

Of course, the lessons will not be learned. They never are. Welcome to Sleazeville.

Well, someone likes the EU model

The someone is South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose recent pronouncements on economic matters have included a hint that he might send financial help to his neighbour Robert Mugabe (having consistently refused to critcize the man’s tyrannical and murderous policies) and a reiteration of “black empowerment”.

The latter is something of a problem since under Nelson Mandela race definitions were removed from the South African constitution. So, who are the blacks who will be empowered, if they cannot be defined constituonally? There has been much talk that the empowerment goes to any friend and relation of President Mbeki.

Speaking at Sandton at a conference of Progressive Governance President Mbeki made it clear that he envisaged even more government intervention in economic matters. “Market fundamentalism”, whatever that might be, in his opinion, has proved to be ineffective in fighting poverty.

Well, not quite, as he acknowledged, since China seems to be advancing rather rapidly and attracting a great deal of investment. But that would not work in Africa.

“People will talk about China and so on, which has received vast quantities of capital from the rest of the world, but not many of us are China.”
That is undeniably true. So, the Chinese way is not for South Africa. The one to follow, according to Thabo Mbeki is that of the European Union, which “has used massive resource transfers to fight underdevelopment”.

President Mbeki seems not to have noticed that on the whole the European Union has not been a huge economic success, most of the economic development having taken place before various countries joined.

As for transfer of funds aiding development, here is what Marian Tupy of Cato Institute says:
“Unfortunately, the European aid programs fuel the perception that aid is instrumental to reducing poverty if only it is targeted well. That is a myth.When the main bulk of the EU regional aid started to be disbursed in 1975, 44 percent of the EU population lived in the regions that qualified for it. By 1997, however, that percentage increased to almost 52 percent. Clearly, the program failed in its main task of reducing the differences between rich and poor European regions.”
It is, indeed, curious how rarely we hear of the fact that as the European Union developed, so the proportion of poor regions in need of hand-outs increased. That had not been the original idea behind the regional aid and various structural funds.

Dr Tupy then cites the example of Ireland as one showing that aid is not what leads to development but sensible tax policy:
“Even more tenuous is the link between more aid and faster economic growth. When Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973, it was one of Europe's poorest nations. By 2001, Ireland could boast one of Europe's highest per capita incomes of $27,170. What went right? It sure wasn't European aid. In fact, the Irish growth rates increased at the same time that European aid was decreasing in proportion to the size of the Irish economy.”
Ireland remains rather a problem in these discussions. Undoubtedly it is the tax cuts that have led to its economic development and growth in personal income. But would the government have so gaily introduced tax cuts if it had not known that there was European aid coming and they did not have to take any hard decisions? Somehow, I doubt it.

European aid may well have decreased in proportion to the size of the economy but it remains very high and Ireland is not about to give it up any time soon.

Then again, South Africa is not about to emulate Ireland in its tax policy. This is a country which, with a catastrophically high level of AIDS and other diseases, taxes at the retail end medical drugs that come in from the large pharmaceutical companies free or at a very low price.

For the moment Thabo Mbeki is talking of emulating the EU by transferring money from the richer part of South Africa to the poorer one, though he also says that he does not want to weaken or destroy the richer parts, not wishing, perhaps, to follow the EU's example in every way. But the prognosis on his ideas is not too good.


Especially now, with so much going on of great importance, it is difficult to focus on what might or might not happen in 20 years time. But that is the genius of the European Union.

Whatever is the current preoccupation, however, integration goes marching on. And, with no electoral cycle to concern them, and nothing serious in the way of accountability, the "colleagues" can make their plans over an extraordinarily long time-scale – beyond the vision of democratically elected politicians and the media – and then let the plan roll out.

It could only be in Booker's column, therefore, that there could be space to continue with the theme of European defence integration, continuing on from last week, when Booker broached the subject of my then incomplete paper on the issue

"In 20 years time," he writes, quoting from my study "almost the only thing British about Britain's armed forces will be the men and women serving in them, and the Union Jacks sewn on their Chinese-made uniforms to distinguish them from their EU colleagues."

Adds Booker: A wealth of further evidence has come to light to show how, over the next two decades, the British Army will have been almost wholly reorganised and re-equipped to become a fully integrated part of the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF), directed from Brussels, using equipment supplied almost entirely by other countries in the EU.

No longer will it be technically or politically possible for Britain’s armed forces to fight independently, or in alliance with those of the USA. Yet the scale and speed at which this astonishing transformation is coming about has been deliberately hidden from view by the Ministry of Defence, to the point where British firms are already being instructed to buy foreign-made defence equipment, which can be relabelled to look as though it is British made.

This is the startling picture, he continues, which emerges from an exhaustive study of current British and EU defence planning carried out by political analyst Dr Richard North, for a paper to be published this autumn on "The Secret Realignment of UK Defence Policy".

The cue for Britain to abandon our military co-operation with the USA in favour of integration with our European ‘partners’ has been the forthcoming revolution in warfare centred on satellites, electronics and a new generation of vehicles, unmanned aircraft and weapons systems. Almost across the board, the MoD is now turning its back on joint defence projects with the US, even where these involve British firms, to purchase instead equipment supplied or developed by firms in France, Germany, Italy and Sweden.

Under the plan to integrate our contribution to the 60,000 strong ERRF, with its command centre in Brussels, the key to co-ordinating future warfare will be largely French-built satellite systems, led by Galileo, the EU’s planned rival to the US GPS system. British troops will no longer be transported by US-built C-130 and C17 aircraft, but by the A400M "Eurolifter". Under the £14 billion project known as FRES (Future Rapid Effect System), their armoured fighting vehicles will be supplied by Sweden, armed with French guns, using French-made ammunition.

Joint US-British bids to supply £1.6 billion-worth of trucks were rejected in favour of a fleet of German-built trucks, adding the name of the former British firm ERF to imply a British contribution. US and other non-EU reconnaissance vehicles were rejected in favour of an obsolescent and much more expensive version made by the Italian firm Iveco, although their origin is again to be disguised behind the name of the British firm BAE Land Systems.

A joint project with the US to develop a 155mm howitzer has been abandoned in favour of a French gun firing German-designed shells. Battlefield radar systems are being built in Germany and Sweden. Development of unmanned aircraft - a vital element in future tactics - is being led by France, while the RAF's main strike aircraft will be the Eurofighter, firing French-made missiles.

So the list continues, for projects large and small: not forgetting the three giant carriers to be shared between the Royal Navy and France, with the French firm Thales playing a central part in their design and construction. The one consistent pattern in all this MoD procurement policy is that, wherever possible, US firms are being excluded, even where this means excluding British firms associated with them.

Such a gulf is now opening up between the US and EU defence forces that, on the satellite and electronically co-ordinated battlefields of the future, it will be impossible for them to work alongside each other. Yet, although the evidence for what is going on can be pieced together by anyone who knows how to use the internet, our politicians have so far remained astonishingly silent. In this respect our opposition is almost as culpable as the ministers themselves.

Booker writes three other good stories, including one which provides an intriguing but unsurprising insight into the character of Ted Heath, all available from this link.

If anyone wants a copy the final report (44 pages long in pdf format), please e-mail me from here.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Digging deep

At the recent Heritage Foundation seminar in Washington, one speaker observed that, while EU military ambitions for new and increasingly expensive hardware matched those of the United States, member states were unwilling to find the funding develop it.

That was Yossef Bodansky, former Director, Congressional Task Force Against Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. His view was that, China was hungry for new military technology and was willing to enter into co-operative arrangements with the EU. China, therefore, would become the paymaster – and beneficiary – of the project to equip the European Army.

No better example of this dynamic can be found than the EU's €3 billion Galileo satellite positioning system, upon which the EU is relying to give its European Rapid Reaction Force "autonomy" of action. Without Galileo, it would have to rely on the US "Navstar" system, which could be closed down if the US felt its national interests were being threatened.

Yet, despite the importance of the project to the "colleagues" – which the EU commission claims will "definitely" become operational in 2008 – when it actually comes to paying for the thing, they are proving a tad reluctant to put their hands in their pockets.

So far, Galileo has been funded jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the commission, which has been raiding the research budget. But, on 1 July, the project moved out of the research phase and into the first of four development phases, managed by the Galileo Joint Undertaking (GJU).

In order give firm contracts to the consortium building the satellites and ground facilities, the ESA thus needed to put some money on the table but, when it put its hand out, enthusiasm for the project suddenly evaporated.

At the heart of the argument is the fourth and final phase of the project. This follows the deployment of the full constellation of 30 satellites, when the operating costs will be in the order of €220 million a year and revenues will be minimal. To tide the operating concessionaires over this lean period, the commission proposed bunging them €1 billion for the period 2007-2013. It is this sum that the member states have not approved.

Yet, without a guarantee of future revenues, the earlier phases are at risk because the contractors are unwilling to sign a contract until they know that a funding stream has been secured. That was supposed to have been agreed on 18 June and no the commission is setting a September deadline for the member states to come up with the dosh.

By contrast, one of the most sources of funding has been the Chinese government, which has now committed €242 million (up from its original stake of €200 million) to the project. It may therefore be no coincidence that, last week, the commission signed contracts with a group of Chinese companies to develop a range of "commercial" applications for the satellite system.

In what smells distinctly like a "sweetener" to keep the Chinese locked into the project, the companies have been asked to "develop a land transport system based on accurate navigation information provided by Galileo", while another contract focuses on upgrading communication and navigation for China's fishing vessels.

The announcement is likely to ruffle feathers at the US Defense Department, which like this Blog, strongly suspects that the Chinese will be using the system for military purposes. With the present contracts, few imagine that the "land transport system" will not find its way into a fleet of green-camouflaged, tracked vehicles, while the "fishing vessels" will be painted grey, with turrets and pointy things sticking out the fronts.

Anyhow, as long as the Chinese are kept happy, the "colleagues" will not have to dig so deep in their (our) pockets, and Yossef Bodansky can at least have the satisfaction of telling us, "I told you so".

Fingerclickin' good

Yesterday evening I listened to a talk given by Franklin Cudjoe, the Director of a Ghanaian thnk-tank, Imani and one of the most articulate opponents of the “Make Poverty History” brigade. He has expressed forceful and well-substantiated opinions about “rock-star economics”, which this blog has written about.

In his talk he referred to the oft-repeated assertion by Bono, Bob Geldof, Kate Moss and all the other brainless luvvies who clicked their fingers vapidly in front of the cameras, that a child dies in Africa every three seconds.

Well, that’s interesting, said Franklin to Geldof at some meeting, but do you realize that $4,700 gets stolen by African governments every second?

Click, click, click.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Kilroy quits

According to the BBC, Robert Kilroy-Silk has quit as leader of Veritas - just five months after founding the party. Facing a challenge from disillusioned members, he said it was clear from the general election voters were content with the older parties. More to the point, he said it was impossible to run the party without significant cash and a proper structure.

In a statement he said: "It was clear from the general election result - and more recently that of the Cheadle by-election - that the electors are content with the old parties and that it would be virtually impossible for a new party to make a significant impact given the nature of our electoral system. We tried and failed."

He added: "It is also the case that it is impossible to have an effective political party without a central administration and significant financial support. We have neither. In the circumstances, I would be misleading the members of the party and the public if I pretended that we could make progress. I'm not prepared to do that. We must face up to the truth."

The question is, having given up now on his party, and not having been seen in either Brussels or Strasbourg for many a month, is he now going to give up his eat as an MEP as well, or is he still going to draw down his generous salary and expenses, for doing precisely nothing?

Control freaks

After Kyoto, with EU member states determined to drive their economies into recession in pursuit of meaningless targets, the EU is at it again, seeking to frame more meaningless targets.

According to the BBC website, having learned of a voluntary agreement to reduce emission using on new technology, between the US and five Asia-Pacific, the EU has thrown a hissy fit and is demanding legally enforceable standards.

The newly signed agreement will allow signatories - currently the United States, Australia, China, India, South Korea and Japan - to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions individually, with no enforcement mechanism. The core approach is to develop clean technologies, such as low-emission coal-fired power stations, which can be used in developing countries as their energy needs increase.

And, speaking at the announcement, which came during the Regional Forum of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) in Laos, US Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, said the six nations "view this as a complement, not an alternative" to Kyoto.

Both the US and Australia have refused to ratify Kyoto, which came into effect earlier this year - partly, they say, because big developing countries like India and China escape emissions limits. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says: "Our view is you really need to focus on technological change to solve the climate change problem... and you do have to involve the major developing countries, which are very substantial emitters." A Chinese spokesman called the pact a "win-win solution" for developing countries.

Needless to say, environmental groups argue that the new agreement undermines the Kyoto Protocol, and will make the process of agreeing a successor treaty more difficult. The Geneva-based NGO, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) says: "A deal on climate change that doesn't limit pollution is the same as a peace plan that allows guns to be fired."

Predictably backing the NGOs, EU commission's environment spokeswoman Barbara Helferrich says that the EU remains committed to further legally binding reductions in emissions. "If it is simply technology and clean coal, it is no substitute for agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and we do not expect it to have a real impact on climate change. There will have to be binding global agreements, but on what scale and what basis is yet to be decided."

They just can't stand the thought of anyone doing anything voluntarily, or get their heads round the idea that technology rather than crazy, economically damaging statutory emission limits might be the answer. These are not environmentalists. They are control freaks.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Berlusconi hits out at "Prodi's euro"

Things are hotting up in the Italian electoral campaign. Nothing is sacred any more, not even the euro.

Prime Minister Berlusconi announced to all and sundry that the euro, in his opinion, “screwed everybody”. By everybody he meant Italy, as his main complaint is that his chief rival, Romano Prodi, leader of the soft-left coalition, had negotiated bad terms for the country.

“There are categories of Italians which face difficulties because of the incursion of Prodi's euro,” – Berlusconi explained helpfully.

This is not the first serious criticism of the euro and its effects on the Italian and European economy. Back in June the Northern League demanded that Italy start looking at ways of leaving the currency but Berlusconi responded by stating firmly that it was not in Italy’s interest to do so.

The Northern League wants a referendum on the subject conjointly with next year’s elections but it seems unlikely that the Prime Minister will agree to anything like that.

Berlusconi has, in the past, blamed the euro for Italy’s economic problems and this particular statement seems more of a blast at Prodi than at the single currency. Still, it is another straw in the wind.

The comment did drive the euro down a bit but the biggest effect at the moment is the relative strength of the dollar.

Asked about Berlusconi’s statement, Commission spokesman, Michael Mann said at the daily press conference.
“We think the euro has not caused those problems and is an extremely good thing for Europe.”
While we could not possibly agree with the last part of that statement, we have to reiterate our previous comments on the subject. The euro has not, in itself, caused the problems, which lie deep in the structure of most European economies. On the other hand, having interest rates set for all the eurozone members does not help matters.

The biggest issue is psychological. The euro was going to solve the problems not exacerbate them. Even if it simply left things as they are, it would be perceived as a very bad thing as it did not produce the effect it was supposed to.

Of course, given that it was always a political project, another step on the path to European integration, its economic benefits could not be but minimal at best (and the best has not happened).

The problem for the euro-elite that drives the project is the time gap. Having promised economic benefits they have to point to them and there are none to point to. But the political integration that would have made the destruction of the single currency an impossibility is not happening nearly fast enough. Somewhere in that gap, the project might disintegrate and the people escape.

Mercs for jerks

"Live 8 will merely finance 'Mercs for jerks'," says Roy Bennet, the former farmer thrown into a filthy prison by Mugabe for pushing a fellow Zimbabwean MP, as cited in the features section of The Daily Telegraph today (no link).

I wish I had said that, but then I probably will. Of course, we have our own version of "Mercs for jerks". These vehicles are the favourite chariots of EU commissioners (and MEPs when they are in Brussels - they get Renaults in Strasbourg), so I suppose we are all guilty.

The great divide

A story in The Times today announces that Europe's largest aerospace manufacturer EADS raised its profit growth target to 18 percent, on the back of its main subsidiary Airbus. which is doing particularly well at the moment. It turned in 7 percent jump in interim earnings before interest and tax of €1.54 billion. Its net profit has more than doubled to €816 million.

Before the Europeans start preening themselves, however, The Times also reports that shares in Boeing, which is being heavily challenged by Airbus in the civil aircraft market, hit a four-year intraday high despite the company reporting a 7 per cent drop in quarterly profits yesterday. This was because of a unexpected increase in Boeing's second-quarter net profit, which reached $566 million (£325 million), ahead of expectations.

What is not generally realised though is that Boeing – long famous for its airliners – is no longer just – or even mainly – an airline builder. Ranking number two in the world's listings of defence contractors, its defence sales account for nearly 60 percent of its $52 billion turnover. One of its biggest money-spinners is the $120 billion Future Combat System project, aimed at re-equipping the US Army - for which it is the "systems integrator".

That is the scale of the divide. EADS, trailing in seventh place in the rankings, is nowhere near the might of the US giant. The Europeans have a long way to go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Those British values in full - 2

Britain, and England in particular, have been in the fortunate position throughout large swathes of history of not having to define her identity. You simply knew what it was to be British (or English, often interchangeable to the great fury of the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish).

When there were definitions, they tended to be contradictory, as Orwell noted so perceptibly in The Lion and the Unicorn. The British are peace loving and domesticated, yet adventurous, warlike and conquerors of the greatest empire in the world.

They are practical and indifferent to abstract ideas yet almost all modern political philosophy was produced in England and Scotland. (In fact, one could argue that the tragedy of the twentieth century was that German political ideas overtook British ones, but that is for another time.)

The British are tolerant of other people but have historically disdained all habits but their own and have cheerfully spread their own ideas to far corners of the world. (Now, of course, they complain that Americans do the same in a far less intrusive fashion.)

The English invented the idea of common law, the sense of property and a civilian police force, yet for centuries England was acknowledged to be effectively ungovernable outside certain areas.

The British are individualistic and eccentric yet love the idea of order and similarity.

One can go on for ever and, indeed, on could argue that most nations hold in themselves very similar contradictions.

The definition of Britishness or Englishness has always been difficult. Shakespeare did a good job at a time when the country was going through various severe crises. Kipling, especially in his Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies stories and poems, created a certain image of Englishness, one that he struggled to define in other works as well.

Kipling was, in many ways, an outsider in England and it is often outsiders who pay more attention to the definitions of the society that has adopted them. I recall having an extremely interesting conversation at the IEA with Lawrence Hayek and a Dutch gentleman. The three of us had been born in other countries and come to Britain at various times of our lives and various periods of its history.

The two things we agreed on were that England was the most wonderful country in the world and that the English did not appreciate it. Buchan, too, would have supported that conclusion.

Consider that most English of all English characters, Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel. He was created by a Hungarian writer, Emmuska Orczy. The film of the book was scripted by Lajos Biró, a Hungarian, produced and directed by Alexander Korda (need I say what nationality he was) and the part was acted by Leslie Howard, who had been born in England to Hungarian parents.

The film came out in 1934 and was seen as a jolly adventure story. During the war (when Howard worked hard for the British cause and was killed when a plane he was travelling in was shot down by the Luftwaffe) there was something of an attempt to define Englishness.

It was easy to say what Britain was fighting against but what was it fighting for? The two directors who worked hardest to answer that question were Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger, the latter being, yes, you’ve guessed it, a Hungarian who, according to one website

“In 1938, [he] joined the Hungarian coterie of Alexander Korda, and like his compatriots he had much to invest in the dream of England as an outpost against tyranny and beacon of decency in a Europe turning to fascism.”
What he invested was his imprint on films like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (though, as a matter of fact, I understand why Churchill wanted to ban it), Canterbury Tale, I know where I’m going (this one about Scotland) and various others.

The attempt to define Britishness was not always successful but the films are consistently interesting.

It seems we have no useful Hungarians around at the moment. So, it is left to the Daily Telegraph to produce a list of ten (why not twelve?) elements of what the core British values are.

One cannot help admiring the attempt (even if The Scarlet Pimpernel is probably more fun) especially as it is wonderfully free of the sort of mawkishness that seemed to overwhelm the British media in the wake of the London bombs.
“Many countries try to codify their values in law. Some oblige their citizens to speak the national language; others make it a criminal offence to show disrespect to the flag. But statutory patriotism is an intrinsically un-British notion. We prefer simply to set out, in general terms, the non-negotiable components of our identity - the qualities of the citizenship that Muktar Said Ibrahim [one of the bombers of July 21] applied for.”
The ten components are :

The Rule of Law
The Sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament
The pluralist state
Personal freedom
Private property
Institutions (non-statutory)
The family
The English-speaking world
The British character

Very nice, too, and about as hard to assess as they were in Orwell’s day. The British character is impossible to define as everyone will do so differently. I have been told by eurosceptics that unlike those nasty Europeans, all the British ever wanted to do was to be left alone.

No doubt, the greatest empire in history was created by people wanting to be left alone. And what of the fact, as the old song had it, “every war we fought we won”? None of those wars were on British soil.

Furthermore, time was the British character was defined as a “can-do” one. Would that sill be true now, I wonder.

The English-speaking world has, of course, grown out of England and her ideas. What people talk of as the Anglosphere is that: freedom, justice, rule of law and other issues: small government, enterprise, individualism. How much of that has survived successive twentieth century governments, not to mention the great European project?

As one gets to the more specific values, one sees a wish-list. I wish this were still true (if it ever was, of course).

No one is above the law? Well, I am not sure that is true about this government in itself and in the ideology of group politics. As I said in my previous posting, Cherie Blair QC would have been horrified if the sort of “rights” she thinks are essential to Muslim girls were applied to Anglican ones.

That applies to the third item as well.

But, of course, the one that is particularly ridiculous is item number 2. Really the leader writers of the Daily Telegraph should know better. “The Lords, the Commons and the monarch” have not constituted “the supreme authority in the land” for decades. There is the small matter of the European Communities Act 1972 and ECJ judgements.

Personal freedom? Private property? Tell that to the people who can no longer own or sell handguns or run well regulated clubs; or to the foxhunters; or to the businessmen whose scales were confiscated because they disobeyed the diktats of the metric regulators; or to the farmers whose animals were slaughtered even though there was no sigh of foot and mouth disease anywhere near them.

It is not that I object to any of those core values. Far from it, though I would like to see some of them a little better defined. And, naturally, I agree wholeheartedly with number 8, history. The teaching of history is absolutely essential. The advantage of British history is that through its imperial aspect (warts and all but good things and all, too) they can incorporate and provide a “story” for all those who come to live here.

It is just that until we deal with our problems they will remain a wish-list. England is, of course, in many ways an idea and it is the idea that those who come here often subscribe to. But the idea has been tarnished and there is no point in providing definitions until it is bright and shining again.

And, one has to sympathize with the leader writers of the Daily Telegraph. How many of them are Hungarians? In the circumstances their effort is very creditable.

Those British values in full - 1

It is always a joy to have Cherie Booth QC a.k.a. Mrs Blair, the Prime Minister’s wife, in the news. Normally, they keep her locked up to prevent her from spreading her own particular brand of foot and mouth disease. (Every time she opens her mouth she puts her foot in it.)

She has been holding forth about civil liberties and warning the government not to undermine our civil liberties in its pursuit of the terrorists. Let us get away from the inevitable MSM story – PM’s wife opposes government – and the immediate reaction to her statement – does she not want to fight terrorism, then – and look at why exactly the government has seen no choice but to pass endless legislation that constrains all our liberties.

One reason is that Mr Blair, Ms Booth’s husband, is something of a control freak and does not like the idea of liberties at all.

His party, in either its old or its new version has never been much of a friend to liberty, either. In its new version it has no knowledge of British history and, therefore, cannot understand how the concept of liberty, civil or otherwise, can be part of it.

But in practical terms, the most immediate reason is the fact that since the introduction of the Human Rights Act, a contentious piece of legislation and one that has given Ms Booth QC a good deal of highly paid work, it has been impossible to do what needs to be done: target, isolate and, if needs be, imprison or deport specific individuals who are a danger to our country, our people and our society.

Furthermore, we cannot deport certain citizens of other countries who preach death and destruction here and who are badly wanted in their own homes. Well, we could, of course, but we have signed up to endless international humanitarian agreements that forbid us to do so, if those countries do not promise to treat people well. (Yes, I know, France has signed up to those agreements, too, but Nicolas Sarkozy sees that between international humanitarian agreement and the protection of one’s own country there can be no contest.)

As a consequence, the government needs to crack down on all of us, to make sure that there is no discrimination between the guilty and the innocent. That is, indeed, undermining our few remaining civil liberties.

The answer is clear. Repeal the Human Rights Act and pass a piece of legislation that allows a country defend itself against those who wish to destroy it, if needs be, despite certain previous agreements that were never meant to apply to people who preach mass murder, anyhow.

The virtue of the western legal system as it was developed in the twelfth century or thereabouts is that it is individuals who are accused, tried and punished, not whole communities. It is the likes of Cherie Booth QC who make it impossible to maintain the legal system, civil liberties and defend the country simultaneously.

But then, Ms Booth QC seems to have a short memory, in any case. Not so long ago, I seem to recall, she appeared on some platform or another rejoicing in the fact that the women of Afghanistan were no longer forced to wear a burqua in the post-Taliban era.

Indeed, she showed with her hands how small the gap was through a which a woman in a burqua could see and invited us to be horrified about it.

Let us move two years forward. Cherie Booth QC is now the lawyer who defends Shabina Begum’s “right”, strongly advocated by her brother and another bullying male member of her family, to wear a full jilbab at school, once again using the Human Rights Act as her base.

Not a burqua, perhaps, but hardly an outfit for a modern girl in a British school that had managed to work out a uniform that was sensible and did not offend anyone’s religions feelings.

It seems that when it comes to Britain and British Muslim women, then what their menfolk happen to say is the right thing for them to do, according to Ms Booth QC. She would be horrified if similar ideas were announced for English girls. But the notion that the law is the law and rules defined by certain institutions for themselves apply to all, regardless of creed, do not seem to appeal to this particular “leading” barrister.

Incidentally, whatever happened to Shabina Begum? She was, as I recall, 16 and, therefore, this was her last compulsory year at school. Is she going to go back to do A levels or will she be forced into a marriage with someone chosen by her brother? What of her human rights then?

Which brings me to this morning’s Daily Telegraph and its entirely laudable attempt to define the core values of British identity, which I shall discuss in the next posting.

The modernizers' champion

Bombs may come, bombs may go but the Conservative Party leadership elections trundles on with the relentlessness of a determined snail.

Today it was once again the turn of David Cameron, the darling of the modernizers, to come up with what are laughingly known as ideas. He spoke at the Carlton Club and proclaimed the need for constitutional reform, in order to win back the alienated electorate.

The public, in his opinion, viewed all politicians as being the same because the parliamentarians had lost so much power to the government. Indeed, both of those statements are true. I, for one, find it hard to tell a Conservative modernizer apart from an old-fashioned Labour socialist quite often, but maybe a constitutional reform will sort my problem out.

So what are these reforms:

The first is a fixed term parliament so it is not left to the prime minister to decide when to call an election. A reasonable point, though I cannot see that it makes much difference one way or another.

“The failure to scrutinise laws effectively, the power of the whips and patronage, a second chamber, which performs well in so many ways, but which has been left in limbo and the unchecked growth of government by bureaucrats - in Britain and in Brussels.”
A little more detail might be in order and the answer he provides, select committees chosen by members rather than whips is not exactly going to set the electorate’s pulse racing. It is such a niggling little suggestion, as is his other one for cross-party alliances.

There is nothing in the British constitution that prevents cross-party alliances, which existed for centuries until the parties became more set institutions in the second half of the nineteenth century. No reform is needed to restore that situation if it keeps Mr Cameron happy but I would like to hear him trying to explain it on the doorsteps of his constituency.

According to the BBC website he called
“… for the dilution of government control of the Commons timetable, limits on the numbers of bills that can be introduced and restrictions on numbers of ministers and special advisers.

He is also pushing for "sunset clauses" which would mean new laws and regulations automatically have to be revisited after fixed periods of time.”
None of this is constitutional. It is all procedural. If the MPs want to introduce all these ideas, they can do so at any time by some very straightforward legislation.

There is nothing in the British constitution that gives the government unlimited time to introduce unlimited number of Bills. Neither is there anything that can stop them doing it.

Then he got to the nub of the real constitutional problem as he saw it: the House of Lords. It must be elected because, although, he said rather superciliously, the life and remaining hereditary peers have made an “invaluable contribution” to politics,
“… real legitimacy in politics flows from elections, and we in the Conservative Party must make clear our commitment to a majority elected house.”
Says who? Real legitimacy stems from doing one’s constitutional duty, which in the case of the legislature is to legislate carefully and meticulously and to hold the executive to account.

On all those counts the House of Lords, unelected though it is, has done far better work than the apparently “legitimate” elected, though on an ever smaller vote, House of Commons.

Since this is the only real proposal for a constitutional reform, one would like to hear some details (at present in the development stage, one assumes).

How would the peers be elected? On the same basis as the Commons? Then what is there to stop the second chamber simply replicating the problems of the first and become enmeshed completely in party politics? What is to happen to the cross-bench peers and how are we to ensure that the present independence is maintained? Through those rather inadequate suggestions Mr Cameron makes for the House of Commons?

If not on the same basis as the Commons then how will the House of Lords be elected?

What of payment? At present the peers receive expenses only. If they are elected they will have to have the same not ungenerous salaries and expenses that the MPs get.

And, of course, they will no longer consider themselves to be a revising chamber only but will demand the same rights in parliament as the Commons have. Governments can say good-bye to one of their much favoured method of legislation: the Parliament Act.

Above all, is this really the most important issue that this country faces on the constitutional front?

Although there is a brief mention of the bureaucrats of Brussels, there seems to be a certain absence of the “E” word. Would it be too much to expect a man who wants to be Leader of the Opposition to refer to the fact that, according to the government, 50 per cent of our major legislation and 80 per cent of the total comes from Brussels and the Westminster Parliament has no right to reject any of it?

Indeed, most of it does not even come before their eyes, as it is introduced through secondary legislation (not mentioned either) or implemented by such bodies as the Food Standards Agency that is accountable to nobody.

Am I missing something here? To me the concept of legislation coming from Brussels and being superior to the British one is very clear. Why do our politicians find it difficult to grasp it?

Have they really not heard of the European Communities Act 1972 with all its amendments?

How does Mr Cameron think Parliament will be brought back to the centre of political life if it legislates in ever fewer spheres of that political life and cannot reject laws and regulations imposed on it by a completely separate body?

And why does he think that anybody should take him and his political, since they are not really constitutional, ideas seriously if he cannot quite bring himself to discuss the central crucial constitutional problem: that to all intents and purposes this is not an independent country any more?

Shutting down terrorists?

Straight out of the school of "seen to be doing something", the EU Commission is proposing that banks throughout the EU be required to register the name, address and bank account of anyone making an international money transfer.

This is according to the International Herald Tribune, although the Financial Times also runs the story, the aim of the new law being to disrupt the financing of terrorist activities.

Having listened to a number of experts on this subject, and read an authoritative book, one is immediately aware that organised terrorists - and criminals – have highly inventive and sophisticated means of moving their money around the world. They will, therefore, be completely unaffected by these proposals.

Despite this, Céu Pereira, a commission official in Brussels burbles: "Money is the nerve of war, and at present there are few possibilities to trace funding sources," telling us that the commission wants Council approval by December and rapid EU parliament approval, so the law can come into effect in January 2007.

Meanwhile, honest citizens will have another raft of bureaucracy thrust upon them, all in the name of public safety, although one recalls that one of the most egregious money laundering scams in recent history was carried out by EU officials working for Eurostat. They were salting away huge sums of public money in Swiss banks, in what was described as "a huge enterprise in looting".

One also recalls a certain transport commissioner, by the name of Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, was convicted by the French courts for laundering illegal party donations through Swiss Banks. However, we are not supposed to mention that.

What's the betting that this new law – which will be passed by the gormless "colleagues" in double-quick time – will have no effect on these sterling public servants (none of whom have been punished for their offences), while Blair and his fellow travellers will argue that this is another good reason for carrying identity cards.

Incidentally, the EU has got another trick up its sleeve, proposing stricter controls on explosives manufacturers to improve the traceability of their products – which is actually not a bad idea, but should be done on a global scale - and restricting the sale of farm fertiliser, which can be used to make bombs.

On the latter, the British will attest that the most stringent controls in the world never stopped really determined Irish terrorists getting hold of sufficient quantities of Ammonium Nitrate, although they did make it more difficult for ordinary people to acquire it.

Perhaps that is who the EU are after. It is getting to the point where even law-abiding people are beginning to dream about alternative uses for fertiliser.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The New European Army

Dawn breaks. Out of the belly of an Airbus A400M "Eurolifter" military cargo transport whines a squat armoured vehicle. Powered by an innovative diesel-electric motor, this Swedish-built "SEP" vehicle is equipped with a high-power French built cannon and turret, and the magazine is stacked with French shells, manufactured to EU CEN standards. The vehicle bristles with high-tech sensors and threat detectors, also Swedish built, and is protected by a new generation of "electric armour", made by an European armament consortium.

The "Eurolifter" took off from Eindhoven, the headquarters of the European Air Transport Command, under commands issued through the EU military headquarters Command Information System (CIS), the Permanent Joint Headquarters for EU military operations, in Northwood, North London, and was guided en route by the EU's Galileo satellite global positioning system.

To reach its destination, it was refuelled from a European-built Airbus A330-200 and its passage was safeguarded by Eurofighter patrols, each aircraft armed with next-generation European medium-range air-to-air Meteor missiles. Tranche 2 Eurofighters now fly overhead, launching French-built Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missile at targets over the horizon.

Already, in the distance, Italian-built Panther reconnaissance vehicles are roaming the countryside, while French-built, high-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) scour the hinterland for potential threats. As more "Eurolifters" land, they disgorge from their holds the first of many German-built MAN tactical supply trucks, which immediately move to the designated positions shown on their in-cab, German-built logistics support system screens.

Meanwhile, officers, schooled in tactics and European doctrines at the EU Military college, gather in their hastily set-up command centre, consulting the latest intelligence from the GMES earth observation satellite, beamed via the European Union Satellite Centre in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain, while awaiting final orders from Force Command in Brussels.

Above the command centre flutter two flags. One is blue with a ring of 12 yellow stars, symbolising the first full-scale deployment of the European Rapid Reaction Force. The other is a Union Jack. It is only this flag - which was made in China, as were the soldiers' uniforms – that identifies the British Army contingent, in action circa 2020 as an integral part of the ERRF, the New European Army.

That is the reality of what awaits us - not fiction, not a Eurosceptic fantasy but fact, based on my analysis of current MoD equipment procurement plans and co-operation agreements. The result will be that, as British armed forces undergo major re-equipment and transformation over the next decade, not one of the major systems will be of British design or manufacture.

In physical as well as organisational terms, the British Army will be wholly integrated into the European Rapid Reaction Force - the New European Army - no longer able to act independently without permission from Brussels.

More to follow.

France and democracy

Yesterday evening I attended a talk by a Spanish expert on terrorism – ETA, IRA and the new-fangled Islamic variety. He was superlatively knowledgeable and I shall cull his talk for various comments in the next few postings.

The first and rather amusing comment that needs sharing is his description of what happened for some years between Spain and France over the question of ETA and ist leadership who tended to escape the Spanish police after some terrorist outrage or assassination and find shelter in France.

It was, the expert said, very difficult for the Spanish police, because France did not want to co-operate, publicly doubting for years after King Juan Carlos installed a democratic system that Spain was a democracy. Not till the late eighties did that attitude change and not till very recently have the French started arresting ETA “dignitaries”.

This was slightly puzzling to all listeners since France has never been known as a protector of democracies, as was confirmed by article in today’s Daily Telegraph, which tells us that France has unilaterally decided to end a European Union embargo against Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.

Presumably, the hope is for fattish commercial deals in the future but in the present this has brought some (though not too much) embarrassment as well as a certain lack of communautairisme.

As the article puts it:

“Apparently emboldened by the French overture, Cuban authorities responded by launching the largest wave of dissident arrests since 2003, when almost the entire dissident leadership of the Communist-ruled island was rounded up.”

Of particular embarrassment was the fact that a number of the arrests were made outside the French embassy as the demonstrators protested against the deal. 19 of those arrested are still in prison.

One of those arrested and later released, the 60 year old economist Marta Beatriz Roque said that

“… the aborted protest was organised after France broke the EU embargo and invited the Cuban foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque to a Bastille Day celebration at the French embassy, from which dissidents and democracy activists were excluded.”

What was that slogan? Something about liberté came into it, as I recall.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ship ahoy!

Slovakia and Hungary are being served notice that the Commission is about to take them to the European Court of Justice for not complying with certain parts of EU legislation.

Apparently, neither country has implemented a number of directives on maritime safety. Slovakia is being warned about having no legislation to do with passenger ships and prevention of pollution.

Hungary has no “availability of port facilities for ship-generated waste”. Actually, Hungary has no ports or ships, being land-locked, as is Slovakia. That, apparently, is not the point.

Slovakia has about 20 ships that fly its flag but trade elsewhere, though they are not passenger ships and, therefore, do not come under the relevant directive.

As for Hungary, according to the Commission:
“Though it has no maritime ports, Hungary has a maritime register. Transposition of the directive by Hungary is therefore needed in view of the obligations on masters of ships.”
How this can be done if there is no physical facility, like a sea shore, remains a mystery, but the Commission may well take these two countries to court, which may well impose various fines. Since these are never paid by countries like France or Italy, this may not worry anybody too much.

What may have confused the Commission is the historic fact that for 25 years between the two wars, Hungary was ruled by Admiral Horthy, though it had no navy and no seashore. He was also the Regent, though Hungary had ceased to be a monarchy in 1918.

The Slovak spokeswoman at the London embassy has clearly understood how the EU operates:

“We have no coastline but it looks as if we are going to have to implement all these laws anyway.”

Not that different from the old Communist system, really, in its illogicality.

However, one question does arise. What of countries like the Czech Republic, Austria and, indeed, Luxembourg? Have they implemented all the directives?

Update on the oil-for-food scandal

SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo) is promising yet more reforms. He will do such things etc etc.

This time round he is promising something more substantial, that is a UN definition of terrorism and some effort to deal with it. How, we do not know. Perhaps, he will divert them all into profitable business activity.

More to the point, his promises remain extremely vague, and attempts on the part of British diplomats to get some definitions, have so far failed. The chances they will go on failing because in order to deal with the terrorism issue the UN is going to have to do some thinking about the Middle East and about suicide bombers in every country, not just Britain.

Meanwhile, the oil-for-food scandal will not go away, much as the SecGen would like it to. Investigators have found a whole network of accounts in different countries that were operated by Benon Sevan, the former head of the programme, who is the subject of a criminal investigation in New York.

So far as anyone knows Mr Sevan still maintains that the $160,000 he received on top of his extremely handsome salary and even more handsome perks was a legacy from an aunt.

Oh yes, and SecGen Annan is still suffering from selective memory loss.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A little light relief

This is somewhat off topic, though not completely, as we have written before about the G8, Live 8 and other suchlike jamborees.

I cannot resist passing on the following figures from this week’s Private Eye:

6.6 million: Average UK TV audience for Live 8, described by the great and the good as the “greatest spectacular ever seen”.

6.2 million: TV audience for East Enders, deemed to be disastrous enough for the BBC to overhaul the entire series and, indeed, threaten it with the chop.

5.5 billion: Potential global TV audience for Live 8, according to organizers.

4.8 billion: Total population of the world with access to electricity.

Good to know they can all count.

The war of French yoghurt

In case anyone has any doubts on the subject, the food business is very big, indeed. There are very few small kitchens producing hand-made cakes or equally hand-made yoghurts.

And the food trade wars can be quite big. The war of the French yoghurt (suspended for les vacances annuaires) may turn into something big. Or, of course, it may fizzle out like the famous drink (no, the other one, Pepsi) that is involved.

I read the first intimation of this potentially earth-shaking conflict on John Rosenthal’s Transatlantic Intelligencer blog. In a couple of postings he quoted some of the more fatuous comments made by French politicians eager to muscle in on the potential bid that might be made by PepsiCo for Danone, the French producer of yoghurts and other dairy produce, as well as owner of BSN, in itself a huge conglomerate.

It seems, that in a particularly Gallic political way, everyone went slightly ballistic at the rumours (both companies are denying that anything is happening – a sure sign of feverish activity).

Predictably, the egregious Prime Minister, admirer of Napoleon and self-styled poet, Dominique de Villepin jumped in, announcing that Danone is the flower of French industry and his government is going to defend French economic interests.

Jacques Chirac sounded the trumpet of mobilization:
“I don’t want to comment on rumors in the financial markets, but, nonetheless,since it is a matter of a big French firm like Danone, I am, like the government, particularly vigilant and particularly mobilized.”
La patrie est en danger. Les ennemis sont partout.

Patrick Ollier, the chairman of the Economic Committee at the French Assembly, waxed lyrical or, at least, pompous:
“I find it scandalous to see the jewels of French industry going overseas,especially under the banner of Pepsi-Cola, when we are talking about Danone, the symbol of French dairy products and French quality.”
Could have been worse. Could have been Disneyworld setting up in Paris. Woops, that has happened already. Well, never mind. As it happens, nobody is suggesting transporting Danone anywhere and, in any case, nobody quite knows where the actual goods are produced.

Of course, as both Rosenthal and today’s article in the business section of the Sunday Telegraph (the bit that did not have the overdressed police officers in it) point out, all this fluttering in the dovecots is largely the result of heavy-handed lobbying on the part of the Danone management.

The shares, on the other hand, had been shooting up as soon as rumours of the take-over bid started circulating, taking a dip only as a result of some of the apparent political interference.

Danone is that favourite of the French political elite, a national champion. It is a French company, created in France (more or less), grown in France and one that has expanded across the world, particularly once it merged with BSN, the glass, beverage and baby food company that owned Evian.

The geographical and market placing of the two companies – PepsiCo and Danone – would make the merger extemely advantageous, according to various analysts, including French ones.

(When one looks at the French business world one finds a remarkably large number of highly sensible people who say very sensible things. How come none of them go into politics?)

Danone, unlike PepsiCo is also known for producing healthy goods that are popular everywhere. That is mostly true – the sugar content of some of their puddings does not bear too much examination. PepsiCo’s snacks are popular, but do not claim to be healthy.

PepsiCo is big in the US, Mexico and the UK. Danone has a large market in Europe and is spreading aggressively into some of the emerging economies.

Naturally, the bid and the merger may not happen. Danone might decide to protect itself by joining another, European, company like Nestlé; other American companies might try to muscle in.

The French government may well find that they cannot protect the flower of French economy within the EU rules. After all, they do not precisely complain when French companies go on shopping sprees, mostly in the UK.

French analysts shrug their shoulders in a Gallic fashion and point out that the hysteria is already dying down, probably because most of the politicians are on the beach. But who knows what will happen in September?

Is it here already?

Having been warning, through this Blog and the pages of The Sunday Telegraph, courtesy of Christopher Booker, of the accelerating pace of European Defence integration, I have been under enormous pressure to produce a properly researched and referenced paper, setting out the evidence for what amounts to a real but carefully concealed programme of absorbing the British armed forces into the structures of a European Army.

Hence, not only have I been totally immersed in the project for well over a week, neglecting not only this Blog but everything else, including sleep, I have been viewing the amazing events unfolding in London with an air of surreal detachment. It came as something of a shock, therefore, to look bleary-eyed at this morning's papers – and in particular the large colour photograph on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph. To all intents and purposes, I thought, my paper is too late. The "Euro-army" is already here, on our streets.

What the picture showed was a squad of armed men in black uniforms and flak jackets, bearing German-designed sub-machine guns, with coal-scuttle helmets adorned, Rommel-style, with oversize goggles, pistol holsters strapped round their thighs, advancing purposefully on their target. And, in the background, a BMW "troop carrier", in the guise of a 5-series saloon car.

Yes I know it's fanciful and entirely inappropriate, and not worthy of this mature, carefully balanced Blog, but that does not stop me thinking that, had we actually been invaded back in 1940-41, by men in black uniforms with coal-scuttle helmets and sub-machine guns, would today's pictures in the newspapers have looked any different?

I, for one, have always felt that the rot started in the police when, some many years ago, they changed from wearing blue shirt and adopted white. While there is something comforting about blue, when you put a man in a smart black uniform with silver badges, and give him a white shirt, it does something to his character. It transforms him.

Then put this man in a group of similar men (all the "storm-troopers" in the photograph were men), detach them from the public, give them a great deal of power and authority, loosen the strings of accountability and then, to top it all, give them powerful guns, you have a dangerous cocktail. That, in my far from humble but probably ill-informed opinion, makes tragedies like the death of the unfortunate Brazilian youth, not so much accidental as inevitable.

Anyhow, from that rant from an emergent North, back to the subject of the Euro-Army, which – if we are not careful (and perhaps even if we are careful) - will exhibit some or all of the characteristics of the current occupying force. Today, Booker, in his column , has given a "taster" of the work to date, which is nearing completion.

It would be otiose for me to reproduce the story here – and three other fine stories – when our readers have already read them or can look them up on the link provided. Suffice to say that all Booker writes, and much, much more can be backed up by copious evidence, all of which gives unarguable proof that, stealthy step-by-step, our armed forces are being taken from us and ceasing to become our own, independent forces.

Thus, while we look back in history at Heath, who gave away our fishing, we may find that when we look back at Blair, it will be he who becomes known as the man who gave away our Army.

I am in the final stages of this project – which builds on the researches I have been conducting for some years – and hope to have a draft paper ready in the next day or so. I will be quite happy to sent it by e-mail to anyone who wishes to see it, and you can contact me through the link on the sidebar. One it is finished, I will do a series of posts, setting out the gist of my findings.

In the meantime, I must thank Helen for keeping the Blog going, and our faithful band of readers who keep visiting the site.

Desperation or what?

With the German federal elections finally in train, Chancellor Schröder needs to think of something quickly to catch up with Angela Merkel, whose CDU/CSU party by 17 per cent.

There is some talk that he will resuscitate his anti-American stand over Iraq and make that the central plank of his election campaign, claiming that had the CDU been in power, there would have been German troops somewhere in Iraq.

The hope is that with the wave of terrorist attacks that has rolled across various countries, not least Britain, and the ongoing terrorism in Iraq, the Germans will feel grateful that they are not involved and are, therefore, not subjected to any bomb attacks. Not yet, anyhow, though experience shows that the terrorists hit out where they think the opposition is weak for whatever reason.

Joschka Fischer, who has spent much of the last year travelling round the world, trying to drum up support for a permanent German seat at the UN, an idea that was neatly squashed by Secretary of State Rice, has also announced that opposing the war in Iraq was one of the SPD-Green coalition’s achievements to be proud of.

Unfortunately, he did not have time to list the other achievements.

It seems unlikely that the tactic will succeed. Angela Merkel has already announced that she would put Germany on a friendlier footing with the United States, though there would be no German troops sent to Iraq. This pronouncement has done her no harm at all in the polls.

The problem from Schröder’s point of view is that the people of Germany are, understandably, preoccupied with domestic issues, what with unemployment growing and the economy being in recession.

And, although, as we have already said, Merkel’s policies do not seem to be all that radical, for many people, anything might seem better than Schröder’s tired old rhetoric.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Frattini has the answer

Commission Vice President Franco Frattini has announced that the London bombs have proved that effective action needs to be taken against Islamic terrorists. And that is?

They should all be made to swear an oath of European citizenship, “so that they recognise our basic rights”. It is not clear whether those who are already citizens of member states would also have to swear this oath or only those who come in.

After all, if a British citizen does not recognise other people’s basic rights to surviving a journey on a London Underground train or a bus, it is not entirely clear why he should suddenly have a change of heart on becoming a European citizen.

Signor Frattini’s idea is “a mature intercultural and antireligious dialogue”. That should go down well in the one or two madrassahs and mosques.

And just to show his tremendous broad-midedness, he expressed worry about the case of Oriana Fallaci, the highly regarded Italian journalist who faces a two-year sentence in Italy for “offending” Islam by a book she published last year. In it she argued that western Europe has given up the fight for its principles and has allowed the creation of a Eurabia.

Signora Fallaci is in her seventies and seriously ill. She cannot return to her home because of the looming sentence and has to stay in the United States. Still, I am sure she will agree that if all the Muslims in Europe will take an oath of European citizenship, the problems she has outlined and the problems that have made her life so difficult will disappear in a puff of smoke.

A crisis is not necessarily beneficial

Far it be from me to disagree with the great and the good who have been pontificating on the subject, but it is not back to normal in London.

Half the underground system is not working with lines still out of action after the real bomb attacks of 7/7. As Andrew Gilligan pointed out in yesterday’s Evening Standard, [no link] it is not precisely good for morale to have the lines still out of action two weeks after the event.

When, on top of that, we are told that the Piccadilly line has been suspended between Uxbridge and Rayner’s Lane because of the events of July 7, we, seasoned London Transport watchers start pulling faces. There were no “events” between Uxbridge and Rayner’s Lane, which is rather a long way out west.

The events of 21/7, insignificant though they were, gave London Underground the excuse to close down some of the remaining lines and several stations.

On top of which, large areas around the three stations where the detonators went off are still closed off, making life difficult and infuriating some of us with the sight of police officers standing around guarding empty spaces.

We now have the rather disturbing story of the Stockwell shooting and although everyone, including Hizonner the Mayor rushed in to congratulate the police for its prompt action, some of the eyewitness accounts make one uneasy.

One Londoner said to me this evening that she became worried for the first time when she heard about the shooting because it made her realize that the police were not in control. Perhaps that is not so, but trigger-happy police officers do not make for peaceful living.

Now we are told by Deutsche Welle that European leaders are standing together with the people of London. Never thought I’d be saying this, but, maybe I should go and live somewhere else.

Still, the crisis is not precisely beneficial to the blessed EU, despite all those leaders standing together. (Sorry to be harping on it, but it is rather a revolting thought.)

Spain, it seems, is a tad miffed about the German decision not to extradite Mr Darkanzali, the German-Syrian businessman, suspected of being one of the money launderers for terrorist groups.

In fact, the German authorities are not too happy with the Constitutional Court’s decision either. For one thing, it puts Germany into an awkward position with regards to the rest of the EU and its drive to achieve a common anti-terrorist fight or, at least, a European Arrest Warrant.

More importantly, actually releasing Mr Darkanzali shows a certain reluctance to tackle the problem that is, undoubtedly, spreading across western Europe as well as many other countries.

In a spirit of European solidarity, the Spanish magistrates are threatening to retaliate. No, it seems they are not going to invade Germany but they may well refuse to extradite Spanish citizens to that country.

As a matter of fact, this does not sound too unreasonable. If the Germans insist that their citizens cannot be tried in any other court, no matter what they are wanted for, they cannot expect co-operation from other countries. It is a little surprising that they got it until now.

According to yesteday’s Financial Times:

“Brigitte Zypries, German justice minister, had said on Monday that newlegislation to bring Germany's law back in line with the EU arrest warrant would take four to six weeks to be drawn up.”

But that may not solve this particular problem. In fact, it will produce the usual situation of a completely unnecessary legislation that aims at integrating European laws, without achieving the supposed aim.

“Mrs Zypries said she feared that Mr Darkazanli would flee Germany to "some thirdstate" in order to avoid a further extradition attempt when the German law wasrevised. German, Spanish and US newspapers reacted angrily this week to therelease of an alleged terrorist, only days after the first London bombings,and pointed to the shortcomings in EU anti-terror co-operation.”

The problem, as we have said before, is lack of political will. A European Arrest Warrant is completely unnecessary, since most countries have extradition agreements. If these do not apply, as they do not seem to in Germany, or, at least, the cases need to be heard in a German court first, then so be it.

On the one hand it is interesting to see that the Karlsruhe court is so intent on not accepting the European Arrest Warrant that it is prepared to show itself to be soft on terrorism. One wishes they had been quite as tough over Maastricht and the euro.

On the other hand this is precisely what those pushing judicial integration need. Now they can point to the fact that individual countries are not prepared to fight terrorism and cross-border co-operation is severely flawed.

Only one answer they will say: more integration.

Friday, July 22, 2005

That Communication Action Plan

This morning I received a phone call from a journalist at EuropeTV, which is based in Lyons. He was organizing a discussion on Britain and the euro and wanted to know if I would take part. He did agree with me that the euro was not precisely top priority at the moment but, it seems, editors of programmes periodically decide that another discussion is needed about the euro and whether Britain will join.

I am not sure what will come of this programme as he had not found anyone who would speak in favour of such a proposition and was not too hopeful about it.

He did, however, mention that his colleagues (the station receives a certain amount of funding from the EU) spend a lot of time agonizing about how to present the EU in a better light. There is something wrong with the method of presentation. It seems, they could not imagine that, perhaps, it is the substance that is problematic.

As it happens and, as we have mentioned before, the Commission is also agonizing about the same subject and as is its wont, producing all sorts of documents on it.

To date we have a 21 page Action Plan to Improve Communicating Europe by the Commission (a catchy though somewhat illiterate title), a Communication Annex that lists 50 necessary actions and provides a helpful timetable for when the actions need to be completed, and a European Commission Memorandum that sums all these weighty matters up.

This is how the Memorandum explains the grandiose plan:

"Connecting with the citizens of European Union is one of the strategic objectives of the Commission for this term of office. The Commission's seminar on communication on 23 April highlighted the vital importance of a renewed commitment to communication with European citizens. It also acknowledged that this is a taks that goes beyond the Commission's remit. Its success depends fundamentally on a partnership with all other key players in European politics."

You notice there is no mention of what it is they are going to communicate. It seems not to occur to any of these highly paid officials or their minions and hangers on, that you need to have something to communicate.

They are clearly all post-Marcusians and believers in the medium being the message. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the population seems unimpressed by that sort of thinking.

Anyway, the first priority is listening. Apparently, they should stop just informing EU citizens and start listening to them and taking their views into account. The first one they might like to take into account is the extreme reluctance on the part of many to be anything but citizens of their own country.

Then they will communicate how EU policies affect citizens’ everyday life [sic]. The problem with that, apart from the grammar, is that there are very many people at the national level who do not want them to communicate anything of the kind, not wishing to admit how much power had been handed over to the Union.

The third intention is connecting by going local

“… that is by adapting messages to target audiences in each Member State and conveying them through the channels those audiences prefer in the language they understand”.

It is hard to tell what that will mean in practice (labels on wine bottles in France and packs of drinking chocolate in Spain, perhaps) but we are back to the same problem. The policy may be one size fits all but the message must not be.

The first phase of this grand plan has been achieved by the production of the internal action plan.

The next one will be a White Paper

“… to engage all stakeholders, setting out the policy vision and the initiatives to be undertaken in the medium and long-term, in co-operation with the other institutions and actors, and particularly the Member States governments”.

We are back with that old project – the construction of a civil society and through it a European identity, this time through “communication” with the chosen few stakeholders who will then carry the message to others. If past experience is anything to go by, this is not going to work terribly well, as the stakeholders are rarely capable of a coherent message.

Or, to be quite precise, their message is coherent as long as nobody challenges it.

The actual actions that come under the plan range from involving Commissioners more (somewhat counterproductive if the fragrant Margot’s efforts are anything to go by) to streamlining the various communication agencies, more dialogue and transparency, use of focus groups, assessing impacts (and presumably more focus groups after that), using the internet, contact centres and information relays, all the way to Action 49:

“A qualitative and quantitative communication assessment and screening will be carried out throughout the Commission so as to implement this action plan with maximum effectiveness. To that effect, a screening task-force will be set up, with a particular focus on cost-effective use of resources on a permanent basis.”

You have all been warned.

Prodi's logic

It is never going to come into force and that is why it should be put into force. That is, more or less, what fomer Commission President Romano Prodi told journalists on Wednesday.
“It is difficult to think that it will be approved, but it is important to go ahead with the ratification process to show that the position expressed by the majority of the French and Dutch is not prevalent.”
Well, of course, the position expressed by the majority of the French and the Dutch is of little importance compared to the position voted through by various parliaments, but let us suppose the ratification process throws up a few more positions, say, in Denmark and the United Kingdom, that are quite similar? Then what? Presumably, push ahead with the ratification process, regardless.

And what, according to this attitude, is to be done about the French and the Dutch? Make them vote again? Ignore them? Pretend that they actually voted yes? Fraught with difficulties, whichever course you choose.

Signor Prodi, who now heads a centre-left coalition in Italy and is preparing for the next presidential elections, dismissed the somewhat eurosceptical views expressed by the government, particularly by members of the Northern League.
“The government and parts of the coalition are displaying a self-satisfied anti-Europeanism. Lacking any deep convictions, they are going along with whatever suits them at the time, most recently making a pathetic and sly move to the British position as if that would put a respectable face on their lack of ideas.”
Well, obviously, nobody could display a convinced and principled anti-Europeanism or believe that coming out of the euro might be good for the Italian economy. In fact, nobody principled could even contemplate that something is to be approved of because it is good for one’s country’s economy. Principled positions are reserved for the integrationists.

Still, at least Signor Prodi acknowledged that there is some amount of disenchantment. And he had the remedy:
“I remain convinced that the response to the disenchantment and to the challenges Europe faces in the globalised world is more Europe, not less Europe.”
Presumably, this is what his former colleague, the fragrant Margot calls investing in listening. Signor Prodi listens and decides that what he is told is completely wrong and should be disregarded for the people’s own good, naturally.

Finally, that old mantra:
“Integration remains the only strategy for growth in Europe. Europe can only participate effectively in the global system when it speaks with one voice -- in other words when there is a political Europe.”
How wonderful. And what is Europe going to say with that one voice? Could it be something along the lines that Signor Prodi and his various colleagues think? After all, the European peoples’ opinion, separately or together is of little consequence.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


No, no, not this blog, but the Lisbon Agenda. I expect our readers will recall that its purpose was to turn the European economy into the fastest growing, most dynamic one with the best IT base in the world by 2010.

Well, one or two things have gone wrong. In fact, they were never right. In the first place, of course, there is no such thing as a European economy. There are economies in the various countries and they manage in various ways (mostly badly).

Furthermore, economic growth depends on economic initiative and enterprise. The idea that you can somehow create enterprise, initiative and entrepreneurship, thus producing growth, by a set of rules, lists of things to do and tables on which things done are ticked off, is laughable. But that is the mindset of the people who run our countries. They believe in management not politics, in corporatism not business and they are absolutely convinced that nothing and nobody can function without a set of rules provided and executed by the politicians, civil servants and regulators.

So much for the basis of the Lisbon Agenda. Alas, some of the details have not been too hopeful, either.

In order to encourage investment in R&D, the Commission has established a European Research Council. Well, that should solve our problems without the slightest difficulty.

According to the BBC website:

“The ERC is envisioned as an independent, quality-driven funding body run by scientists, modelled on the US National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health.

Supporters argue that it will help drive up the competitiveness and, by extension, the quality of scientific research within Europe by giving a clearer focus to the way funding is distributed.”

Well, of course, supporters would argue that, wouldn’t they. The rest of us might find it difficult to make that logical connection between a pan-European institution, made up of scientists, who happen to be good at politicking (the two British membes are, we are unsurprised to find, Professor Wendy Hall, head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, at the University of Southampton and Lord May of Oxford, the outgoing president of the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science) and competitiveness or quality of scientific research, pure or applied.

The unfortunate fact is, that, as the BBC so nicely puts it:

“Europe is now on track to miss the so-called Lisbon objective of boosting its spend to 3% of GDP by 2010.”

Quite so. In fact,

“The figures show the bloc devoted just 1.93% of its wealth (GDP) in 2003 to this important area - compared with 2.59% in the US and 3.15% in Japan.

Some emerging Asian countries, such as China, are now increasing their R&D investment to a rate where they will soon catch and overtake Europe.”

One rather interesting and worrying aspect of it all is that while R&D expenditure by EU firms in the USA has increased by 54% between 1997 and 2002, expenditure by US companies in the EU in the same period increased by only 38%.

This would indicate that it is the European or, more precisely, EU environment that is slowing down research and development. I am not convinced that creating a pan-European agency is quite the answer to that problem.

Another jolly for the fragrant Commissioner

Her fragrancy, Margot, the Commissar for Truth and Reconciliation is really on the job. Her idea of “communicating Europe” to the long-suffering people of the European Union is to jet off on another little holiday …. Ooops … I mean, another fact-finding mission … to Sri Lanka.

The place, she tells us, is in trouble. And if it wasn’t before her visit, it is now.

She went to look at how the post-tsunami reconstruction was proceeding. Not very well, apparently, though she does not quite say that, being careful not to be rude to her hosts, the Sri Lankan authorities.

Instead, she waffles (there’s a surprise):

“Food is still being handed out once a week in too many places where housing and rehabilitation work is delayed. That involves a risk of creating a dependency culture among people who should be able to support themselves. Everything put in the soil grows quickly in this tropical climate…

But the political culture is so different from ours, including remains of cast and class-categories, that it becomes almost impossible to understand. And it seems too easy for the political establishment to forget about all those people who lost everything to the ocean on Boxing Day 2004. The logic of certain political positions and decisions escapes us Europeans…”

Would that mean that large-scale aid is not such a great idea, as it prevents proper reconstruction and development? Who can tell?

Is that second paragraph a tiny little hint at the colossal corruption that has bedevilled Sri Lanka in general, and the distribution of post-tsunami aid in particular? Maybe. Or maybe being European by culture I cannot see “the logic of certain political positions and decisions”.

Mind you, I find it difficult to understand the logic of having a highly paid Commissar together with an extended staff of minions and hangers on, whose job it is to explain the joys of the European Union and its constitution to us, numskulls, but who prefer to spend our money to gawp at people who have lost everything in a natural disaster.

On second thoughts, looking at pictures of Sri Lanka and remembering its climate, I understand all too well.

The fragrant Commissar is off on her real hols, this time to see her family in Sweden. She will do her blog when she gets back, though she does not exactly do her blog all that assiduously when she is not on holiday. No entries between July 8 and July 20? But, of course, she is frequently travelling on some other trip, which is definitely not a holiday but just happens to be in a very nice part of the world.

One more thing before the hols, though: new measures have been announced to sharpen the Commission’s message and to banish “eurojargon”. Of course, some of us think, the message probably needs changing but that is too radical for our Margot and her colleagues.

With her usual aptitude for the meaningless phrase, the fragrant Commissar explained to the Financial Times:

“We have not been efficient enough in communicating the EU. We have not invested in listening.”

I love the idea of investing in listening. A vision of a giant hearing aid with the ring of stars on it looms before one. And all to hear one tiny word of two letters.

To those of us who have been watching the EU and its attempts to communicate the message, this latest one seems vaguely familiar:

“Among the measures are plain-language summaries of the benefits of European policies and a rapid rebuttal unit to counter false claims.

This team would be able to fend off outlandish stories about the effects of Brussels regulations, which have famously included claims that smoky bacon crisps faced a ban, or cucumbers had to be straight.”

Don’t know about smoky bacon crisps but before they rush into rebutting the one about cucumbers, they might like to have a look at Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88 of 15 June 1988 laying down quality standards for cucumbers, which says, inter alia:

“Cucumbers are classed into the four classes defined below:

(i) 'Extra' class

Cucumbers in this class must be of superior quality. They must have all the characteristics of the variety.

They must:

- be well developed
- be well shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of length of the cucumber)
- have a typical colouring for the variety
- be free of defects, including all deformations and particularly those caused by seed formation.”

It then goes on to describe and define all the other classes of cucumbers.

While we are on the subject, I may point out that there are many pages of regulations on various fruits and vegetables, including those famous bananas.

Why nobody in the fragrant Commissar’s cabinet bothered to find this out before giving out information to their favoured newspaper, the Financial Times and, furthermore, why the journalist of that newspaper could not be bothered to do some elementary checking, remains a mystery.

There are other aspects to this new initiative:

“The EU executive is also planning to recruit communications specialists and encourage its staff to speak more openly to personalise policies.”

And we all know what happens to staff that speak out more openly. Just ask Marta Andreasen or Dorte Schmidt-Brown.

It would seem that even the FT journalist remained somewhat sceptical:

“However, despite the pledge to cut back on the sometimes baffling eurojargon, old habits clearly die hard. The plans include phrases such as "horizontal issues," "policy outcome" and "evaluation function."”

Personally I think that the evaluation function of the various horizontal issues will at the end of the day influence policy outcome. What’s so difficult about that?