Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's closer than you think

We all knew that the EU was created for the benefit of France. But who knew that it is actually in France?

Michelin certainly seems to think so.


Turning in his grave

Jean-Paul Sartre will be turning in his grave. The quintessential French philosopher, his trade-mark was the obligatory Gauloises Brunes dangling from his lip, a cigarette which, in its own way, typified France.

But no more. Today, the Altadis SA factory in the northern French town of Lille, which makes the noxious stuff, closed with the loss of 447 jobs. Production is to be moved to an Altadis factory in Alicante, Spain.

But, for the ultimate insult, packs will not longer bear the legend, "Made in France". From now on, the label says: "Made in the EU". I suppose it is some small consolation that they are not made in China.


It is all our fault

For sheer chutzpah nothing can beat Trade Commissar Peter Mandelson’s latest pronouncements on the Chinese import crisis. It is all their fault, he cries. Whose fault precisely? Well, the member states, and the retailers and the Chinese producers and every Tom, Dick or Harry, but never Peter or his colleagues.

According to the Financial Times

“… on Tuesday[he] warned of clothes shortages for European retailers and higher prices for consumers if the trade crisis which has left millions of Chinese garments piling up at Europe's ports was not resolved.”
Last we heard he was pooh-poohing the suggestion that there might be problems. No longer, it seems:

“The consequences of not doing so [resolving the crisis] will be severe economic pain for many small retailers and businesses in the member states.”
Right. But is he not getting an enormous commissarial salary with expenses and perks specifically to resolve such crises? The trouble is that people who signed various contracts, whether they be retailers in the EU or producers in China, insist that those contracts are valid and should be kept to. Beijing is refusing to “meet the EU half-way”, or, in other words giving in to pressure. Beijing can afford to hold out.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that various textile businesses in China belong, if not outright, then partially to European and British firms. So they, too, will suffer.

Mr Mandelson sees things differently:
“They [China] have a moral and political obligation to help find a solution to a problem which is not the fault of any one person, organisation or country.”
Really? Other people say that this is exactly the fault of the European Commission and the Council of Minister, who between them created a vast commercial problem. Why, precisely, should the Chinese shoulder some kind of a “moral and political obligation” to pull Mr Mandelson’s chestnuts out of the fire?

Even the FT found Commissar Mandelson’s self-righteous pronouncements a little hard to stomach:
“Mr Mandelson attemped to cast the blame widely for the embarrassing trade fiasco, accusing EU member states and China of being slow to put into place the quotas agreed on June 10. …

Mr Mandelson said he had not favoured going down the route of trade protection in the first place, but had been forced to do so by political and public pressure in the member states.”
Well, presumably, he could have stood up for free trade, especially it was only a few states and even within those only a few lobbying organizations that have been “putting pressure” on the poor little lad. The retailers in France, a significantly larger and more important group economically than the producers, are as angry as the retailers in Britain. But hey, it is all their fault. Or that of the Chinese. Or somebody’s.

Meanwhile, today’s editorial in the Daily Telegraph gives a slightly different gloss.
“Having been persuaded against his better judgment to negotiate a deal with China, Mr Mandelson has since given the impression of not knowing which way to turn. First, he unfairly blamed retailers for ordering goods which then piled up at European ports.

On Sunday, reminding us of his initial scepticism on trade restrictions, he turned his fire on the commission of which he is a member, EU governments and China. He has given confusing signals on the probable shortfall in deliveries to European retailers, and now finds himself desperately seeking a concession from Beijing before Tony Blair leads an EU delegation to a summit there next week.

In short, Mr Mandelson has confirmed his reputation as a partisan political operator who lacks the intellectual clout and management skills necessary to hold down a big portfolio. ”
It is not, they point out, a pretty sight to watch the democratic states of Europe argue protectionism against an authoritarian state. But, of course, it is not the democratic states of Europe who are doing the arguing but the entirely undemocratic, protectionist and anti-business European Union.


Some news from the Anglosphere

As our readers know, we on this blog are great supporters of the Anglosphere. We do not believe the UK should be tied into a centralized, protectionist and rather backward looking political bloc, otherwise known as the European Union. Nor do we think that the alternatives are being integrated into the EU or being stuck somewhere half-way across the Atlantic, hoping for some attention from our biggest ally, the United States.

The Anglosphere, linked by language as well as economic, political and constitutional ideas is developing and will probably be the most powerful entity of the century. The question is, are we going to be part of it or shall we go down gallantly with SS Europe?

One aspect of this development is the growing political and military links between the United States and Australia. These recognize some things that we have forgotten in this country: the growing importance of the Pacific and mutual reliance between two powers.

Some people are watching it, though, among others Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute. In his latest paper Towards and East Asian Strategy, he points out that:

“The warmth of US-Australian ties since September 11, 2001 stands in stark contrast to the tension between Washington and some of its traditional transatlantic allies. Both Washington and Canberra have benefited from the upgraded relationship: Australia has gained influence over its superpower ally and has enhanced its prestige in Asia, while Washington has received what it most needs for its post-September 11 foreign policy--an imprimatur of legitimacy.”

Mr Blumenthal talks of the Franco-German line as being representative of Europe and this may seem like over-simplification, as far as the war against terror and, specifically, the war in Iraq are concerned. More European countries have been supportive than otherwise.

It is, however, true that the support has often been half-hearted and badly defined. But there is more to it than that. As my colleague has pointed out in his postings on defence in this country, the integration of European defence, whose specific aim is to challenge the United States, rather than to work alongside it and other allies like Australia, is going ahead.

The only time there is any interest in what is going on in the Pacific (apart from natural disasters) is when China somehow swims into the news, either as the “villain” for selling cheap and high quality goods or as the supposed “friend” who will help us, the Europeans, challenge the United States. No other interest or understanding seems available.

Between the US and Australia, argues Blumenthal, the situation is different.

“Washington and Canberra have also taken concrete steps to build closer ties:in 2004, the two countries signed a Free Trade Agreement, a memorandum of understanding on missile defense cooperation, and a joint statement on interoperability and the establishment of a combined training facility. The latter two agreements will tie American and Australian armed forces closer together and help Australia meet its objective of forming a more expeditionary force capable of undertaking coalition operations. Not long after, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice upgraded the ongoing US-Japan-Australian trilateral security dialogue to the ministerial level.”

It is, as my colleague has argued over defence procurement, the concrete steps that are vital not the high-flying rhetoric, of which there has been no shortage.

Mr Blumethal is hopeful that the alliance will grow and strengthen, despite the present mild disagreement over China and its role in the area. Sooner or later the problem of Beijing’s regional ambitions will become unavoidable and it may cause problems between the two close allies.

However, as Blumenthal says, “the alliance’s endurance through a host of challenges is cause for optimism”. When we add to that recent agreements with India as well, we can see a shift in American interest as well and the development of a new and probably enduring network of alliances. Will Britain be part of it?


Telling it like it is

If anyone had any doubts about the inadequacies of the Mainstream Media, and their hopelessly biased reporting, read Michael Yon.

Powerful, taut, first-hand witness accounts of what it going on in Iraq, it reminds us of how distorted our views can be if we rely simply on the media for our information. As a taster of his prose, this is but a sample:

The enemy's operating practices for overcoming delivery and timing problems speak volumes about their predatory nature. They use human bomb delivery devices - the miss-labelled "suicide bombers" - who become organic elements of primitive weapon systems. They call these temp workers "martyrs," in a shameless exploitation of the naïveté and narcissism of certain young men. The "martyrs" allow themselves to be used as targeting and acquisition systems. More than just "allowing" they actually see the act of mass murder as the fulfilment of a glorious plan.

Particularly among fanatics, there seems to be an intentional misappropriation of meaning in the liberal misapplication of labelling words. Let's start with the BIG ones: suicide-bombers and martyrs. Suicide is a term that should evoke empathy, if not sympathy, for a lonely and despairing act. A distressed soul, harboring a crushing, agonizing lebensmude, weary of the strain of a terrestrial existence, perhaps seeking mere relief, or just an end to psychic pain, may be contemplating suicide. If this person straps a bomb to his or her chest and walks out into the solitude of the desert and detonates, they would then be properly called a "suicide bomber." But when the media reports every day on "suicide bombers," they are talking about different people.

A fanatic who straps a bomb to his chest and walks into a market crowded with women and children, then detonates a bomb that is sometimes laced with rat poison to hamper blood coagulation, is properly called a "mass murderer." There is nothing good to say about mass murderers, nor is there anything good to say about a person who encourages these murders. Calling these human bomb delivery devices "suicide bombers" is simply incorrect. They are murderers. A person or media source defending or explaining away the actions of the murderers supports them. There is no wiggle room.
Thank you to our reader (Jimmmy) who drew our attention to this site.


What's in a name?

So, L'escroc has pledged to fund a new internet search engine to challenge the cultural imperialism of the accursed Yanqui Google.

Presumably they will call it Froggle.


Well, the Czechs can see it

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has made a statement about his government’s aims in foreign policy. He seems to believe that the Czech Republic is entitled to its own foreign interests and policy. One wonders what Javier Solana, when he finally returns from his hols, will say.

Anyway, in the next 10 months, which is as long as this government may remain in power (past experience is not very encouraging), attention will be focused on the Balkans, Asia and Latin America. In fact, absolutely everywhere but Europe. What an odd idea for a country that really is at the heart of this troublesome continent.

According to Mr Paroubek:
“The contours of the multi-polar arrangements are appearing. The focus is shifting to Asia. China and India are beginning to be global players. This should be reflected in our foreign policy.”
Interesting that he thinks of China and India as the players in the much-vaunted multi-polar arrangement. Whether it is true or not, there is certainly an argument there.

He intends to visit all the three regions, though doubts must emerge in any reader’s mind. Has Mr Paroubek seen a map recently? The Balkans are not to be compared in size and variety, though possibly in cussedness, with either Asia or Latin America.

The Czechs have 500 troops in Kosovo. They also have 100 police officers in Iraq, actively training Iraqi recruits. Mr Paroubek has confirmed that there is no intention to withdraw them, as they are aiding the democratization of Iraq. Of course, any Czech politician (or any other East European one, for that matter) would have a clear idea of the importance of democratization.


The end of civilisation

There was a time when the greatest fear was that the world would come to an end in one great nuclear holocaust, unleashed by rival powers in one great fit of madness.

The immediacy of the nuclear threat may have gone, but the madness has not. Thus, instead of perishing in one mighty conflagration, we are poised to suffer a more ignominious death by a thousand cuts, brought on by the growing tide of increasingly insane regulations.

There can be no other way of describing what the EU is currently proposing, regulations which, in the words of the Irish Independent, have the "potential to devastate cereal industry".

Technical they may be – as they always are – but the ramifications are obvious even to non-farmers. What the EU is doing is setting a new, arbitrarily low level for fungal toxins in cereals, and requiring changes to cropping regimes, harvesting and grain storage practices to ensure that these are not reached.

Cereal farmers will be forced to change crop rotations; they will be prohibited from heaping freshly harvested grain in yards for more than a few hours before being dried; they will be required to segregated grain according to quality – whether for bread making or animal feed – and merchants according to whether to whether it is lodged, damp, dry or clean.

Irish Farmers Association Grain Committee executive secretary Fintan Conway puts the regulations in perspective, saying they have the potential to close down the cereal industry in Ireland. "It might not be the Commission's aim," he says, "but these regulations could finish cereal production here similar to what they are trying to do with sugar beet."

"There is no scientific basis to the limits set by the EU," he adds. "The maximum levels have been set on a purely arbitrary level and are based on perception and whim rather than proven fact."

In a very wet or muggy year, some grain in a bulk sample could be found to be unfit for animal consumption and, under the new rules, the previously acceptable and safe practice of lowering the overall contamination level by diluted a batch with more grain is not longer permitted. Grain will have to be dumped at a landfill.

The rules are due to be adopted by the end of 2005, initially as a code of practice but official regulations will be in place within two-three years, based on this code.

Of course, we will not see an immediate collapse of cereal production. Farmers will find their way round the rules – they always do. But this is another cut of the knife, on top of others, with more to come. Slowly, insidiously, this industry and many more like it will bleed to death, and with it our prosperity.

Meanwhile, the EU, through the European Investment Bank, has decided to lend China €500 million to enlarge Beijing airport, at a special low-interest rate, payable over 25 years.

So, the EU takes money (€240 million) for Galileo, while member states rush to sell arms to a country which has increased its defence spending by 12 percent, to €25 billion, and our retailers pour money into the country to pay for its cheap goods. And we give it a soft loan to develop its infrastructure, while wiping out our own industries.

That is how our civilisation is going to end.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Oh for a grown-up newspaper

It is rather curious that The Daily Telegraph seems more interested in US military equipment than the kit bought for our own forces, hence a story in yesterday's paper, reporting that the "Humvee comes to the end of the road".

Iraqi insurgents, the paper reports, have mortally wounded the humvee. At least 350 American soldiers have been killed while riding in humvees in Iraq, about a quarter of all combat casualties. Many hundreds of vehicles have been wrecked. The Pentagon, therefore, has decided to bring forward by a decade the hunt for a successor.

What makes this report specially curious is that, just as the Americans are deciding that the Humvee has had its day, the MoD has bought 401 Italian-built Panthers for the British Army. These, it turns out, are based on a 1977 design put up to compete for the contract from which the Humvee emerged, paying four times the price that the US pays for the up-armoured vehicles that it is about to make redundant.

The plot become even more convoluted when one learns that, as an interim measure, the US forces have bought a number of the South African designed RG31s, which at, £289,000 each are £124,000 cheaper than the Panther, yet these same vehicles were rejected by the MoD even though they are built by a wholly owned subsidiary of BAE Systems.

Yet, apart from the Booker column, not one British newspaper has thought to mention these curious developments.

Nor, indeed does any newspaper – apart from The Financial Times - seem to be at all interested that a battle royal seems to be being played out over the fate of MoD contracts for the FRES system. The Telegraph last mentioned the system (but not by name) in October 2003 when it announced then that all or part of the contracts would be awarded "within the next few months". It now seems entirely incurious that it is two years later that we are coming to the stage of contract awards, with the cost having increased from £6 to £14 billion.

Yet, as reported on this Blog, where the MoD awards the contracts will be a crucial litmus test as to which way defence policy is going.

At stake are not only are the "platform" contracts – the description given to the basic armoured vehicles – but the electronic "architecture", the various electronic systems which equip the vehicles and can account for up to 80 percent of the final price.

The MoD has not named the companies involved, but it is expected that US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and the French-owned Thales UK each will receive contracts to look at potential electronic systems. If Thales gets a contract, it looks likely that it will be fronting a Swedish-built Hägglunds CV90 vehicle which has been converted to hybrid electric drive for FRES demonstrations.

Hägglunds is wholly owned by BAE Systems and, intriguingly, its officials are saying that the vehicle is in Sweden, "where it is doing work for the MoD." "What work?", one might ask, but it would be useful if grown-up newspapers also started asking about the most expensive equipment project ever undertaken for the British Army.


The sinking Beeb

Picked up from USS Neverdock is a story from the Media Guardian which records that the ratings for the BBC 1 television channel have slumped to what is believed to be its lowest ever daily audience share on Sunday - at the end of its worst ever month.

The network's audience share for the four weeks to Sunday fell to 21.5 percent while, last Sunday it plummeted a 16.8 percent audience share. This continued a lousy run of Sunday ratings this summer for BBC1, which is now thought to have recorded its four worst-ever daily audience share figures - all on a Sunday. BBC1's two previous monthly lows were in June, with a 22.6 percent audience share, and July, with a 22.7 percent share.

Meanwhile, England Expects has noted an interesting development. The massive German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG has completed the purchase of Channel 5 the UK terrestrial broadcaster through its Luxembougish subsidiary RTL "which has founded its growth on its wholeheartedly European approach".

Says England Expects, this is the first time that such a broadcaster has been owned by a non UK firm. That is in itself no bad thing of course, but it has to be watched. Bertlesmann is a well known corporate cheerleader for the project and it will be instructive to gauge the European coverage on Channel 5 from now on.

The one thing for sure, however, is that it would struggle to be quite as bad as the BBC.


The Gaitskell Prize

A thought occurs to me that the Eurosceptic movement has missed a trick. Anyone in the game is familiar with the "International Charlemagne Prize", first proclaimed at Christmas 1949, which has grown in stature to become the most important and coveted award for services to European unification - amongst its more notorious winners being Ted Heath and Tony Blair.

Since the Europhiles get such mileage from their awards, the question is, where are the prizes for the Eurosceptics or, to be more specific, should we not have an annual prize for the person who has most contributed to the Eurosceptic cause?

Perhaps it should be the "Gaitskell Prize", named after the Labour Party leader who, in 1962, gave an electrifying speech to the Party conference warning of the perils of joining the then EEC, with the words, "We must be clear about this; it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent European state… it means the end of a thousand years of history".

Such ruminations come to the fore, oddly, for the very reason that no good deed should go unpunished and it thus struck me that Peter Mandelson, in completely messing up on the China textile issue, has probably done more to advance the Eurosceptic cause throughout Europe than anyone since… er… is he unique?

Not of course, that Mandelson would see it that way, not according to the report in The Telegraph or even Reuters, where he is clearly in "damage limitation" mode.

For once I warm to Digby Jones, CBI director general, who says: "This is the new Commission's first real test of its free trade credentials and it has not covered itself in glory. Trying to jump through protectionist hoops to safeguard the interest of a minority of member states is ridiculous and will solve nothing in the long run. The Commission cannot act as King Canute against the rising tide of globalisation."

Wanna bet?

Anyhow, perhaps it would diminish the prize to award it to such a tawdry individual as Mandelson, and no one should be given an honour for simply being incompetent. So perhaps we can think of a better person for our prize, a start to building our own list of "heroes" and statesmen to counter the tranzies who so love covering each other with honours. And a high profile annual award ceremony would certainly give our cause some media coverage each year.

For Mr Mandelson, though, a wooden spoon should suffice, or perhaps a pair of (odd) Chinese socks?


Monday, August 29, 2005

Dialogue of the deaf

One of our readers has already drawn attention to the Danny Kruger piece in the our forum, published earlier today in The Daily Telegraph.

The particular section that excited attention was Kruger's commentary of the Tory leadership election and his assertion efforts were being made to concentrate the selection of the party leader in the hands of the MPs, and the selection of MPs (i.e. candidates) in the hands of the leader (i.e. Central Office).

The wider Tory demos is being bypassed, he writes, in favour of a small group of powerful men. Last week, he adds, the 1922 Executive called a meeting of MPs to discuss these changes, as is required by the party rules, for the Friday afternoon of a bank holiday weekend during recess: unsurprisingly, barely anyone showed up, which was the intention.

Actually, the situation is even more bizarre. MPs were actually notified of the meeting by letters sent second class on Wednesday, sent to their office addresses in Westminster. There was no way that MPs were intended even to know of the meeting.

What all this reflects is an absolute conviction in the Westminster bubble that the constituency parties are out of touch with the electorate and must be marginalised. It is not so much that the MPs are not listening. They simply do not accept what they are being told.

And that is the rub. It does not matter what we tell them. The MPs have their own ideas and intend to get their way. This is the dialogue of the deaf.


Democracy is not a spectator sport

Something that caught my eye today ostensibly has nothing to do with the European Union but, in fact, has everything to do with it.

That "something" is the Home front column by Philip Johnston today in the Daily Telegraph, in which he tackles the vexed problem of traffic fines and the use by local councils of traffic laws as a way of making money.

Writes Johnston, "local authorities continue to cash in on traffic controls that everyone accepts are necessary but that are resented when they are unreasonably applied." He cites an example of one camera monitoring a bus lane in south London which has resulted in 5,000 drivers being fined.

"Our household," he reveals "has paid three of them - in just one year because cars have to enter the lane to turn left. That will have raised at least £250,000, or more if the offending motorist has failed to pay the £50 penalty within 14 days and has had to stump up £100, which is a disincentive to appeal."

After local protests, he adds, the council's head of traffic has promised to introduce gaps in the bus lane to allow access to the roads on the other side, though only as part of a general road resurfacing scheme. "Will we all get our money back? Fat chance," he concludes.

Therein lies our problem. If the likes of Johnson, with his access to the media and the power that affords him, is prepared to roll over and pay up for something that is so manifestly absurd and unjust, no wonder our rulers feel they can get away with something as outrageous as handing over more and more powers to Brussels.

This was sort of what I was getting at in my piece a few days ago when I wrote that the remedy lies ultimately with us the people. "We must badger our representatives until they do their jobs," I declared, "and to refuse to accept any authority but Parliament. In effect, we must make ourselves ungovernable other than through the lawful rule of our own Parliament."

Without dwelling on semantics, as to the precice meaning of "lawful" which can get everybody bogged down, one must make the distinction between "legal" which, presumably, these traffic orders are – and a fair, honest exercise of the law. Traffic orders were never intended by Parliament – and certainly by the people to whom they apply – as a revenue-raising exercise and, in that respect, they are not "lawful". They are an abuse of the law.

To contest these laws is not easy, and takes personal sacrifice. If you get it wrong, you end up in the cells, as I have done, or the bailiffs turning up at your door to steal your car, with the connivance of the police. But Neil Herron seems to be making a fist of taking on Sunderland Council over its traffic rules, and many more are looking to follow his lead.

There are many ways, as he as shown, of bringing the battle home to the bureaucrats, and making their lives misery, and we should learn from him. Either we can do that, or we can roll over and suffer, in which case it will only get worse. The choice is yours but, as I am wont to say, democracy is not a spectator sport.


Bring it on

Some time ago in a pub in Brussels, I held forth to an audience of Dutch, Belgian, French and Danish colleagues, on the merits of the Imperial measurement system.

Take distance I said. We start with an inch. Twelve inches make a foot, three feet make a yard, five-and-a-half yards make a rod, four rods make a chain – some 22 yards – ten chains make a furlong and eight furlongs a mile. That is one thousand, seven hundred and sixty yards or five thousand, two hundred and eighty feet.

They sat there for a little while, silent, their mouths open in wonderment at the stunning simplicity of the system. At least, I think that's why they said nothing. And now, having already foisted part of that Napoleonic curse that is the Metric system, the EU commission wants to go all they way and rob us of the mile and, heavens forfend, the pint.

So says the Observer yesterday, backed up by a report in the Financial Times today, so it must be true.

According to the Observer, Brussels has said enough is enough to the uniquely British mess. Commission officials have ordered the government to announce a date when it will abolish the use of pints, miles and even Britain's farmers' acres (although farmers now have to use the accursed hectares if they want subsidy).

A spokesman for the European Commission said the UK government had to fix a date "as soon as possible". Whitehall sources, however, are distinctly nervous about the move, knowing that it hits a highly sensitive spot, and is saying that there is no prospect of banning pints in the immediate future.

In fact, it seems, the development has triggered panic in Whitehall. Any suggestion that Britain should rid itself completely of all Imperial measurements is, commentators believe, political suicide. In addition, an order from the commission is likely to set Britain on another war footing with Brussels.

Nevertheless, the commission seems to be set on its own suicide, warning that if the government fails to comply with its demands for a date, the UK risks facing an "infringement procedure" that would force Britain's hand and, ultimately, could take the country to the ECJ.

However, The Financial Times report suggests that EU commissioner Gunter Verheugen's is being cautious, his spokesman saying: "We want to avoid this becoming another Euro-scare story." According to other sources, the commission prefers to work on persuasion rather forcing people to change.

Of course, it is not going to succeed with some of us. These days, my tolerance for Metric – which I used happily before compulsory metrication – is now diminishing. I listen to the news for as long as it takes the first hack to mention a metric measurement and then I hit the "off" button.

Recently, aired again on the TV Discovery channel was the history of a WWII Spitfire. At one moment, against the backdrop of superb flying shot, part of the pilot's log book is read out, describing an action during the Battle of Britain. But some mindless fool has converted heights to metres and speed to kilometres per hour. I find that so offensive, and I still haven't seen the whole film.

Thus, I welcome any move by the EU to hasten the compulsory introduction of full Metric. It will expose more fully the lie that the EU does not threaten our national identity, as the Imperial system is very much part of what we are. And, as the late Steve Thoburn and the very much alive Neil Herron showed, it will be met with very stiff and public resistance.

And uncomprehending commission will find, therefore, that it hastens the demise of the EU. Bring it on.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

The trouble in the east continues

President for life of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko is continuing in his merry way. As we have described before, his most recent target has been the Union of Poles, who had had the temerity to elect a leadership that was not subservient to President Lukashenko.

Before yesterday’s congress of the Union the police swooped again. According to Radio Polonia:
“An informal spokesman of the Polish Union Andrzej Pisalnik told Polish Radio that four independent Polish activists are in jail. One of them began a hunger strike. A journalist from the Polish Solidarnosc paper and a Belarussian reporter were arrested as well on charges of misdemeanour.”
The misdemeanour was the fact that they were heading to the congress and might report what happened there. Volkovysk, 170 miles west of Minsk, where the congress took place, was ringed by the police and cars (such as there are in Belarus) were stopped as they approached the town.

Having had their headquarters stormed by the police and its elected leadership removed forcibly, the congress this time complied with instructions and elected a new leadership in accordance with instructions. The new leader is Iosef Luchnik, a man who can be relied on to accept instructions from Minsk.

According to Reuter’s report:

“"I hope this congress will end the conflict," Tadeusz Kruchkowski,reinstated as union president after the police action, said after the meeting.

"Iosef Luchnik has long been linked to our organisation. He was behind the opening of schools with instruction in Polish. He is an authoritative figure able to talk with Belarussian and Polish authorities."”
Other members, the elected and ousted leadership as well as Polish politicians take a different view, predicting a split in the Union and further trouble between it and the Belarus government. That will probably mean further trouble between Belarus and Poland.

Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Truszczynski has already told private all-news channel TVN24 that his government will not recognize the new leadership of the Union.

The issue has had the interesting effect of uniting politicians of all colours in Poland ahead of the election next month.
“Popular centre-right leader Jan Rokita said Poland must tap into its 1980s Solidarity-era experience of toppling an oppressive regime and back a dissident movement in Belarus.

Conservative Ludwik Dorn went further, saying Poland should boycott the Union's new executive. "We should make it clear that (ousted leader Andzelia Borys) is the only partner for the Polish authorities," he told private radio Zet on Sunday.

Leftist Dariusz Szymczycha reiterated plans for Poland to set up a radio station broadcasting uncensored news to Belarus.”
One can but wonder why President Lukashenko should worry about an organization that has 400,000, hitherto largely unpolitical members. On the whole, the Polish population is in rural areas in the west of the country and has not been much involved with the ever decreasing opposition activity.

The answer is, of course, because the Polish population has links with the West through Poland, now a member of NATO and the EU. While Lukashenko would never dare to attack Poland directly, his persecution of the Union of Poles is an indirect challenge, probably approved by Russia.

There is no question but Lukashenko is afraid of western and Ukrainian influence seeping into his own country, undermining his own, as yet imperfectly established authoritarian rule. (Well, some of the opposition are still alive and even out of prison, so the rule is clearly imperfect.)

The likelihood is that he is being egged on quietly by Putin and it has been suggested, somewhat improbably, that the West should try to pressurize the latter into calling Lukashenko off. This seems an unlikely scenario, not just because the West is not much good at putting pressure on Putin but also because Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have just announced that they are about to sign a series of documents that would create a common economic space between the three countries.

President Putin’s strategy of recreating the former Soviet political space is proceeding, though he has now lost the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia. Nor is Kazakhstan completely under control as it has recently announced that unlike some Central Asian republics, it was not going to ask the United States to remove its military bases.

What of the EU, one might ask at this stage. Is this not the sort of problem the common foreign policy was created for? Well, if not created exactly, at least proposed.

It seems not. Javier Solana, one assumes, is still on holiday and minor spats on the border of the EU, not to mention problems of human rights, a supposedly cardinal principle of the CFSP, remain of little concern.

The whole dispute has been described as being “bilateral”, a curiously old-fashioned term for a go-ahead, post-nation state organization like the EU. Is this not what the fragrant Margot warned us about in her infamous Terezin speech? Did she not say that such bilateral relations would bring about another Holocaust? Clearly, the fragrant Commissar was not consulted by the high panjandrums of the EU’s foreign affairs.

Eventually, prompted by Poland, the Commission did issue a statement that condemned “arbitrary use of force” and the “climate of growing political repression in Belarus”. It suggested no remedy and it is hard to see what can be done.

Economic sanctions could be imposed but there is always the argument, used with all left-wing dictatorships though not with, say, Burma, that these would hurt the population rather than the elite. There is already a half-hearted ban on visas for the leadership and all those concerned with the disappearance of opposition politicians, journalists and activists. And we all know how much that is worth. Just look at the EU’s relationship with Zimbabwe.

There is, however, no particular need to make matters worse. The EU could, for instance, stop spending money on ridiculous conferences and delegations of Young Federalists in Minsk.

Then there is the question of broadcasting to Belarus, as reported by Vladimir Socor a fortnight ago. It seems that the EU with its usual disregard for the niceties of specific situations, has allocated €138,000 a year for a radio project to broadcast unbiased news to Belarus.

Mostly it will consist of a daily 30-minute news and analysis programme, in, ahem, Russian. Nothing could please Presidents Lukashenko and Putin more than this denial of the Belarussian language. The programme is planned to be launched by Deutsche Welle in September through its own Russian-language service.
“That choice of language has been met with consternation and criticism from Belarusian democratic opposition and intelligentsia representatives. An appeal from those circles, penned by Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka and prominent analyst Vital Silitski, notes that the decision reflects a "complete misunderstanding" of the potential for revival of the democratic nation in Belarus.

Referring to the experience of post-Soviet transformation, the appeal notes, "The recovery of national identity is a key factor in the democratization of any nation."

President Alexander Lukashenka's regime understands this fact and is therefore discriminating against the Belarusian language in favor of Russian,telling the country and Europe "that the Belarusian language has no prospects and that there is no demand for it among Belarusian citizens."”
As Vladimir Socor continues:
“The EC is not known to have responded publicly. For their part, Deutsche Welle representatives defensively cite the terms of the EC's tender and contract,which only authorize funding for DW's Russian Service to launch Russian-language broadcasting to Belarus. That Service's chief, however, went further in an
interview with an independent Belarusian news agency, where she rationalized the
decision on three grounds.

First, DW has already been broadcasting a Russian-language program to Central Asia for four years. Second, broadcasting to Belarus in Russian is at least "doing something," and thus better than the alternative option of "doing nothing." And, third, "it is stupid to say that Russian is bad and Belarusian is good," the chief is cited as arguing (Belapan,August 8).

The first assertion implies that an undesirable precedent should be taken as point of reference. The second argument suggests that an inappropriate project is defensible simply for "doing something" merely because it "does something" -- a more appropriate justification for an EU-funded make-work project than for a worthy democracy-promoting effort. The third assertion would seem to obviate the need for seriously addressing the Belarusian democrats' concerns.”
So far as we know the plan is going ahead with magnificent disregard for the wishes and desires expressed by the courageous but ever weaker Belarus democratic movements.


Kicking and screaming

A superb editorial in The Business today argues that the European Union is beyond reform.

This is matched by an article by Nigel Robert Wilson on "how the textiles tariff row has hit my business," pointing out how ignorant are the EU commission bureaucrats on the ways of business. Meanwhile, the op-ed tells of how "EU and Brown red tape could kill off city", something pointed out by this blog a week ago.

The Sunday Telegraph offers a damaging story about how Peter Mandelson, at the height of the textiles crisis, with firms going into bankruptcy, is sunning himself in Italy, enjoying his new-found status as a tranzi VIP.

Daniel Hannan comes out and says we should quit the EU, while Ross Clark writes a stunning piece on the European meltdown.

The Times joins in the chorus of criticism of Mandelson, complete with an editorial, while the Europhile Observer is mute, as is the Sunday Independent, as they always tend to be whenever their beloved EU is under fire.

Taken in the round, anti-EU sentiment is now leading the field, clearly demonstrating that public opinion is swinging against the project.

So where are the Tory politicians, and especially the leadership candidates? All we get is a wet interview from David Cameron who the Sunday Telegraph mysteriously describes as a "Eurosceptic". Mr Cameron thinks that Clarke is evidently hoping that Europe will not be a big issue in the leadership, but begs to differ. "It is an important issue in our time, getting Britain's relationship right with Europe. We have done better by staying out of the euro," he says.

"Getting Britain's relationship right with Europe…". Is that all he has to offer? Time was when politicians led and the voters followed. Now, they have to be dragged kicking and screaming in to following public opinion, and they wonder why we do not vote for them.


Getting rattled

Booker's pieces on defence are certainly attracting the "big guns". Last week we had Adam Ingram, Minister of State for Defence rushing into print to deny the obvious – that the government had adopted a "Europe first" policy on defence procurement.

This week, we are honoured to have no lesser persons than the Chief Executive Officer of BAE Systems, Mike Turner, and Alan Sharman, Director General, Defence Manufacturers Association, attempting to take us apart in letters to The Sunday Telegraph.

Turner starts off his letter claiming that Booker article ignores "the outstanding efforts of the British Defence Industry", then arguing that BAE Systems "is dedicated to providing world class and best value systems for the UK's armed forces, which we do."

The odd thing is that Booker wasn't writing about BAE systems, or whether it offered good value. The articles have been about the Europeanisation of British Armed forces, so we plead guilty to Turner's charge.

However, since he mentions "best value" we could perhaps mention the Army's SA80 rifle, the failed Nimrod Airborne Early Warning system, which had to be cancelled at a cost of £800 million, the Merlin helicopter, which came in five years behind schedule and £800m over budget, and the eight year delay on the £2bn Bowman radio, which was to replace the 30-year-old Clansman system.

Then there is the Nimrod MRA-4 maritime patrol aircraft, which started off as a £2.2 billion contract to BAE Systems and has escalated to an estimated £3.4 billion, with a four-year time slippage. There is also the Astute Class submarine programme, being built by BAE Systems which is over-budget by £430 million and three years behind schedule. These, with the Eurofighter, the Brimstone anti-tank missile (also built by BAE Systems), plus other projects, accounted for the bulk of a £3.1 billion overspend on procurement in 2003 alone.

Completely ignoring these disasters, Turner asserts that "the UK's armed forces receive the most capable systems, as they deserve and must have," which he claims results from "the capability in the UK to develop and adapt both UK/European and also US sourced systems for today’s deployments."

He then turns to detail, arguing that the "facts and figures Christopher Booker uses for the Royal Navy"s Type-45 Destroyers simply do not hold water and are unrecognisable." He calls in aid the National Audit Office figure for the Type-45 destroyer unit cost, which he claims is £553 million. The last generation US destroyer, the DDG51, he says, cost at least £100M more than a Type-45.

Disingenuous is perhaps far too mild a word to use on Turner, but it will suffice. For sure, the Type 45 Destroyers do cost £553 each – for the ships without the missile systems. But a missile destroyer without missiles is not a lot of use. Together with the missiles, as the Defence Procurement Agency will confirm, they do indeed cost £1 billion each. The Australian DD51s are cited at £600 million each, complete with missile systems, which mean our figures are entirely correct.

Nevertheless, on this basis, Turner claims that "Industry figures show that British built warships are significantly cheaper than US warships when compared on a like for like basis." He also omits to say that there would be nothing to stop the US design being built in British yards, as is the case with the Australian order.

With that, our egregious CEO now turns to FRES, again claiming that "the facts and figures are completely wrong and do not correspond to the reality of what is in effect a programme still at the study stage." Perhaps Mr Turner should look at the official MoD website which puts the cost at £14 billion, exactly the figure we quoted.

Turner then comes up with the amazing assertion that, "in fact, in any area of defence where the MoD has decided to utilise the UK defence industry to design and develop its military systems, rather than buy from overseas, the result has been cheaper world class capability and better value for the UK taxpayer."

He concludes: "Mr Booker's well known aversion to things Euro is one thing, but to wilfully ignore the achievements of the excellent home grown defence industry is unacceptable."

Cue Booker with this week's column, where he takes on Ingram, and his claim that "ultimately, contractors are chosen on the basis of value for money for the UK taxpayer".

To refute Ingram's argument, Booker picks up on our story of the million pound bomb, suggesting that Ingram might like to consider the MoD having bought 900 French-made Storm Shadow cruise missiles for £981 when it could have waited to buy the much lighter and longer-range US JASSM missile, on sale at only £167,000 each, saving the UK taxpayers £830 million. Although not specifically intended to do so, this also knocks Turner's assertion into a cocked hat.

That leaves Alan Sharman of the Defence Manufacturers Association, who claims that, not only is Booker mistaken in his interpretation of the Europeanisation of the MoD's defence policy, but some of his factual claims are also invalid.

He also picks on FRES Take the Future Rapid Effects System, telling us that the MOD has not "proposed" a purchase of 3,500 Swedish built armoured vehicles but will run a competition that will include American, UK and European bidders. Actually, we were running a flyer on that one, to smoke out more detail. The actual situation is set out in this post.

What Sharman does not say, though, is that the British and Swedish governments have signed a co-operation agreement on the development of the FRES platform, on which basis Booker based his assertion. Sharman claims that any so-called "Swedish" bid would come from a company (Hagglunds) that is owned by a UK company, BAE Systems. That is true, but not the point. Our concern is that, by buying "European", we will not have interoperability with US forces.

Altogether, though, to attract such heavyweight denials suggests we are getting the government rattled. It will be fascinating to see how they respond to this week's column.


Now we know what aid workers are for

Last September we covered the odd case of the two Italian aid workers who had been abducted by an unknown group of Iraqi “insurgents”. We wrote at the time about the not unpleasant life the two Signorinas, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta had led with lots of meetings and dinners with, presumably, other NGO workers and those Iraqis who could speak Italian, as the ladies at that time were still ignorant of Arabic.

The latter was particularly odd as they had been in Iraq for some years with an organization that had set up shop under Saddam. What kind of aid they provided and to whom was not revealed in the stories at the time.

Then suddenly, they were kidnapped on September 7, in an operation that seemed to target them specifically. At the time we speculated that there may be a completely new Iraqi network of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish activists, who were simply sick of the parasitical NGOs.

On September 28 the two young ladies were released in rather mysterious circumstances, repaired to Italy and immediately began learning Arabic and conducting anti-American propaganda. They apparently “understood” their captors’ motivation. No doubt they felt the pain as well.

The rest of the world, including the Italian media, not having quite so many sensibilities, speculated rather vulgarly on how much ransom had the Italian government or, perhaps, Signor Berlusconi himself, paid.

These suspicions were confirmed in subsequent events, when French journalists were released, apparently, after the payment of ransom, and the Guiliana Sgrena incident when a left-wing (indeed, Communist) Italian journalist was kidnapped and released after suspected payment of ransom, and with the operation not revealed to the Americans, tragedy struck. The car tried to get through and American military check point was shot at and an Italian agent was killed.

While Signora Sgrena made the most of it, coming up with ever more picturesque and easily disproved stories of Americans practically destroying the car in their desire to kill her (Why would anybody go to those lengths, one wonders, with that many left-wing Italian journalists running around?), more sober commentators once again raised the question of ransom and whether it was wise to go on paying it.

So, we assumed that the real purpose of aid workers and journalists in Iraq was to become part of a fund-raising exercise for various terrorist groups.

It seems, however, that the situation is even worse. The excellent Captain’s Quarters blog calls attention to a story that appeared on AP. It seems that the ransom was not paid in money (well, it may have been in that as well) but in medical aid and protection to “insurgents”, that is terrorists who kill and maim Iraqis as well as coalition soldiers.

According to Maurizio Scelli the outgoing chief of the Italian Red Cross (a supposedly non-political organization),

“The mediators asked to save the lives of four alleged terrorists, wanted by the Americans, who were wounded in combat. We hid them and brought them to Red Cross doctors who operated on them.”

In order to achieve this laudable aim the terrorists were hidden under blankets and boxes of medicine and smuggled through American check points. Something of an abuse of the Red Cross insignia and privileges, most of us would say.

According to Signor Scelli, Berlusconi’s office knew of the deal, which was kept secret from the Americans and, though not directly involved, authorized it. The government is sort of denying knowing what happened.

The Americans have, sensibly, put a blanket ban on all forms of ransom, which the British, for instance, have kept to. It cannot be a coincidence that after a few cases, no Americans or British have been kidnapped. (The case of the American journalist Steven Vincent in Basra remains open.)

Signor Scelli explained that keeping the negotiations from the Americans had nothing to do with their instructions about ransom but everything with the demands presented by the mediators, the safety of the hostages, and of the Red Cross personnel. Clearly, the kidnappers and the mediators knew whom they should be dealing with.

It is very odd, but Signor Scelli seems unable to draw certain conclusions from his behaviour, though Captain’s Quarters, as expected, does:

“How many other Iraqi terrorists have the Italians given safe conduct and transported in secret to avoid our capture? How many Iraqis and Americans have died at the hands of those terrorists that Italian manuevering saved from capture?”

And what does Signor Scelli think he is achieving, apart from the probable murder of many more Iraqis, which cannot, surely, be his aim? Every negotiation of this kind, every cent paid in ransom, every capitulation puts more Italian lives in danger. Those “insurgents” a.k.a. terrorists are not stupid. They know who will pay up.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

An idea whose time must come

Charles Moore in The Telegraph today returns to the theme of "Britishness", a subject that has been exercising many minds of late.

His piece is headed: "'Britain' was revived to heal a fractured nation. An idea whose time has come?" Amongst his nostrums for the restoration of this diffuse but all-important concept, he offers three ideas: teach the English language; restore Parliament; and look again at the word "Britain".

It is the notion that we should "restore Parliament" that, as you would expect, is of greatest interest to this blog, with Moore telling us that "the word itself derives from the French for speaking":

Parliament is supposed to be the place where the language concentrates in public form for public purposes. But now the action happens elsewhere and so the speeches are not worth hearing. Ours is the first generation since the 17th century to hold Parliament in contempt. If that continues, political stability and national unity cannot last.
The sentiment is, of course, right, but the expression is woolly. As Moore puts it, one gains the impression almost that a disembodied outside agency should somehow reach down and miraculously restore Parliament to its pristine condition, and then all will be well.

Equally woolly is Moore's assertion that "the action happens elsewhere…". It is not the "action" that is the problem – it is the power. People are attracted to power. They listen to powerful men and women, and the power has gone elsewhere. It has drained away to the European Union, to the government, to the innumerable quangos and agencies, and all the other institutions, leaving Parliament an empty talking-shop.

But such is the nature of power that one cannot hope somehow that it will return to its rightful place. Power is never given – it is always taken. Parliament became powerful because it asserted its rights, initially against the King, in the name of the people. It demanded power and took it.

Now it has yielded that power to pretenders, and until it re-asserts its rights - our rights - it will remain empty and devoid of meaning. And there, Moore is right. If that continues, political stability and national unity cannot last.

But the remedy lies in Parliament itself, and with us the people. We must badger our representatives until they do their jobs, and to refuse to accept any authority but Parliament. In effect, we must make ourselves ungovernable other than through the lawful rule of our own Parliament.

To that extent, the remedy lies in our own hands. Moore may want to revive "Britain". We would say that we should revive Parliament. The rest will follow. And that is an idea whose time must come.


Flogging a dead horse

The Irish European Affairs Minister, Noel Treacy, has according to Ireland online, told her own government that it must work harder to “sell” the troubled EU Constitution to the Irish people during the next year.

Member states would revisit the "historic" document during the Austrian EU presidency in the first half of 2006, she says, stating: "Our government remains committed to the Constitution and to using this year to engage the public of Ireland on the issue of Europe."

In a masterful understatement, she then adds: "The rejection of the Treaty by France and Holland resulted in soul-searching and uncertainty about the role of Europe," declaring that, "We need to better explain how Europe works today – what it does and doesn't do – and how it can best serve its citizens in the future."

Considering what the EU is doing for us in what is now, lamentably, being called the "bra wars", I rather suspect that the "citizens" have a better idea of how Europe can serve them (not) than Mz Treacy. And being Irish, she should have a better idea than most of the futility of flogging a dead horse.


Friday, August 26, 2005

A crucial litmus test

Two articles in leading defence journals this week, respectively DefenseNews and Defense Daily, raise interesting questions about the state of the US-UK special relationship.

One the one hand, Defense Daily (25 August) records that, within the next two weeks, the United States and the United Kingdom are expected to conclude an agreement that will pave the way for building compatible networks for the US Future Combat Systems (FCS) programme and the UK Future Rapid Effects System (FRES). An MoD spokesperson said a project agreement is to be signed by 5 September.

This, on the face of it looks highly encouraging as there is to be a formal Memorandum of Understanding. This does suggest renewed interest in the special relationship, which seems to be further reinforced by an MoD decision to award a contract to the US firm General Dynamics for a key part of FRES.

The contract is to undertake "risk-reduction" work on a hybrid electric-drive chassis for the armoured vehicles which form the basis of the system. It is aimed at giving the MoD a "better understand the technology" before making a decision to move forward on development and production of FRES.

However, nothing is all it seems. Negotiations have also been under way with BAE Systems on a second hybrid electric-drive produced by the Swedish company Hagglunds – the so-called SEP, or Splitterskyddad Enhetsplattform, developed as part of a Swedish government programme.

What makes this an especially strong contender is that a co-operation agreement is already in place between the British and Swedish governments to develop the programme.

The MoD could, therefore, be setting up a blind, using General Dynamics to give the impression of an open competition, whence the contract will eventually be awarded to BAE systems fronting the Hagglunds SEP.

In this light, it could be that the co-operation agreement between the UK and the US represents a realisation by the US government of how far the British government has drifted into the European camp and is offering co-operation in an attempt to pull the UK back into the US sphere, plus an attempt to tilt the FRES contract in the direction of the US supplier.

However, the agreement does not seem to add much to the working co-operation already in place on the British Bowman radios and US Joint Tactical Radio Systems, where limited interoperability has already been secured and work is continuing.

Whether any useful information can be exchanged is a mute point. With the US ITAR legislation in place, which is limiting technology transfer, the British government is already finding it difficult to get the US government to release technology on the Joint Strike Fighter. Since much of FCS technology will be either commercially or militarily sensitive, it is doubtful whether the US government will be too enthusiastic about sharing high-end technology on this project either.

Anyhow, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. This is the most expensive single Army project ever to be procured – for a system worth some £14 billion – and platform contract is expected to be awarded at the end of the year. Whether it goes to General Dynamics, or BAE systems, fronting for Hagglunds, will be a crucial litmus test of the special relationship.


Somewhat perverse

We have written so many times about the appalling ignorance of the mainstream media so often that yet another example should come as no surprise.

But, in its pronouncements on avian 'flu in its editorial today, The Telegraph really does take the biscuit.

Headed, "EU is right to get into a flap over avian flu", it goes on to say, of the commission, that "it is entirely right and proper that the strain should be closely monitored and the commission kept fully informed, not least with regard to the remote but real possibility of mutation into a deadly human influenza."

"It is usually appropriate to question, even to ridicule, the European Union and its institutions," The Telegraph continues, "and this newspaper has never shrunk from subjecting them to the derision they deserve." It then adds, "in this case, however, the commission would appear to be acting with measured common sense, and soberly fulfilling its role in effecting a co-ordinated response to the risk of a cross-border outbreak of disease - one of the few roles, in fact, in which it can actually be of use."

"Too often in the past," it concludes, "the EU has acted with inefficiency and sloth, then over-reacted when taken by surprise. If the commission now seems to be planning precipitately for something that might never happen, we should not complain."

Actually, we should complain. The present “flap” over the avian ’flu strain H5N1 has been brought about by a report from Kazakstan of the death of 14,000 birds there, indicating that the virus has broken out of its reservoir in China and is possibly heading our way.

What the Telegraph report does not say – although some do – is that the birds affected are geese, which is unusual to say the very least. Avian 'flu notoriously does not kill geese, which carry the virus unaffected and thence act in spreading the disease to susceptible birds. Therefore, the possibility is that the Kazakstan outbreak is not avian 'flu at all, or that the H5N1 strain has mutated in a unique way that has made it even more problematical.

While this is speculation, that itself brings up another vital point. To date – as far as we understand - no copy of the virus has been isolated from the Kazakstan outbreak and made available to Western scientists for study, which means our knowledge of the behaviour of the virus is extremely limited and we are unable to confirm in any way the nature of the threat to which we are potentially exposed.

If the international system was working at all well, there should be enormous pressure being brought to bear on the Russians to release a copies of the virus so that scientists across the world can get to work. So far, from the commission, we have heard nothing of this.

Thirdly, and closer to home, the diagnostic tests for avian 'flu virus are, to put it mildly, are "crude". The strain typing does not discriminate between relatively mild and benign forms of the virus and those which are highly pathogenic, making the response uncertain potentially giving rise to false alarms and unnecessary losses. That is something the commission and our own government should be addressing.

Altogether, therefore, the commission's response has been wholly inadequate and, more to the point – and typical of the beast – it has been keeping quite about serious inadequacies in the monitoring system which it should be addressing. It seems to me that the commission is indeed acting with its usual level of "inefficiency and sloth". For the Telegraph to be so fulsome in its praise, therefore, is somewhat perverse.


Welcome to reality

Prize for the most fatuous comment of the week on the EU textiles debacle – against pretty stiff competition – must go to Chris Sherwood in his letter to The Telegraph today.

Sherwood, who seems to operate out of the same building that houses the LiB-Dim office in Brussels – although, in his frequent writings he never declares any political affiliation – argues that "the recent Sino-EU spat over textiles has damaged many European companies financially," adding that, "the proposed EU constitutional treaty, by giving the EU legal personality, would make it accountable for such debacles. Compensation would be a much more realistic prospect."

Of course, it the Commission had not interfered in the first place or, better still, the EU did not exist, then we would not have had this mess in the first place. But then, such a simple solution escapes the brain of Mr Sherwood as does the simple question – like who would eventually end up paying the compensation?

On the other hand, the City Comment brings home the reality of the EU, noting that the regulation enforcing the quotas on China was passed by EU states under qualified majority voting.

This, says the author, Neil Collins, will remain in force until a fresh majority can be assembled to repeal it. This will not be easy, given that Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia are all lined up with Greece, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy in support of the quotas. Add in France, with its former colonies in North Africa to think of, and you have a blocking minority, which is all they need to maintain the status quo, at least until 2008, when this EU law is due to lapse.

There's much more in the mess that is the acquis communautaire - and that is fossilised for ever. That is the reality. Even when the law is completely and painfully obviously wrong, we cannot change it. Welcome to reality Mr Sherwood.


Peace in our time (not!)

The German Constitutional Court has given the go-ahead for an early German elections and the campaign has been continuing unabated.

Chancellor Schröder has been trying to replicate his rather narrow 2002 victory. He has already made rather laughable and unnecessary anti-American statements, assuming that these might, just, get thim through again.

And then, joy of joys, there is flooding in parts of Germany again – an opportunity, as most commentators in that country have noted, for the Chancellor to play the strong and generous leader. He has promised to send money to the affected areas but has also promised not to use that in his electoral campaign. And is that a little piglet I see flying by?

There is news of an even more exciting development: Chancellor Schröder’s friend, the Nobel Prize winning author Günther Grass has nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. And why not, you might ask. If the late unlamented crook and mass murderer Chairman Yasser Arafat could get one, why not Schröder?

Actually, he is unlikely to win. There seems to be rather a large number of nominees, that include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. 199 people have been nominated so far, 166 of them individually.

The reasons for Scröder’s nomination apart from the fact that he and Grass are buddies? His opposition to the American-led Iraq war. Excellent.

A rather devious electoral ploy not unconnected with shoddy previous financial dealings, whose international aim is to keep an extremely unpleasant, crooked and bloodthirsty dictator in power, is deemed to be worthy of the Noble Peace Prize.

There is a problem with the whole concept of that prize. With the scientific ones, arguments nothwithstanding, one can point to specific work and discoveries that may or may not deserve the prize.

The literature prize works on the principle of buggins’ turn and most writers remain unknown across the world, apart from the inevitable political overtones of the nominations. Nevertheless, there is a body of work one can point to.

But the peace prize? How much peace is there in the world and if there is, how much of that had been achieved by the various nominees?

Let us face it, if it is peace and democracy we are honouring then we should look to the body of men (and some women) who have done more than anyone else to bring both those concepts to parts of the world that have, in the past, known little of it.

This blog hereby nominates the US Marine Corps for the Nobel Peace Prize.

And if that is not a positive suggestion, I don’t know what is.


Europe accused…

Interestingly, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, in The Telegraph today picks up a story that has being doing the rounds for a few days, the report that claims that the CAP has a much bigger effect in distorting global farm trade and damaging poor countries than American farm subsidies.

This is the result of a study by the US Congress, which states that Europe accounted for almost 90 percent of world export subsidies, the worst abuse that leads to the dumping of surplus produce in the developing world. By contrast, the US makes up just 2 percent of the total.

The study was carried out by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, known for academic neutrality. It said the EU imposed "extreme tariffs" of over 100 percent on 39 percent of its entire farm production, compared with 26 percent by the US.

The CBO's director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said the usual comparisons showing EU and US farms are roughly equal in volume are highly misleading. "Not all tariffs are created equal; not all subsidies are created equal. For the same dollars, the EU has done much more in the way of distorting subsidies than does the United States."

The EU commission said the study was based on outdated figures that preceded the radical CAP reforms of 2003, aimed at "decoupling" the link between subsidies and production. A spokesman said: "I'm not sure the statistics reflect the current reality. The statistics used do not give full credit to very important, substantial changes in policy in Europe."

In fact, owing to the single farm payments, there will be a reduction in production over term, which will feed through the system, leading to lower levels of subsidised exports from some countries. However, will probably be counter-balanced by the massive gains in productivity from the new enlargement countries, especially Poland which is undergoing the sort of agricultural revolution that the UK and continental countries like France went through in the 50s.

However, the commission could have pointed out that the US government is a major donor of food aid, for which purpose it buys commodities at full market price from its own farmers, thereby affording them a hidden subsidy. The US, therefore, is not as clean as it would like to argue.

Nevertheless, the practice of dumping subsidised food on the world market is a vile practice, totally undermining developing countries whose economies rely on commodity exports. And, far from being repentant, the EU is adding to their burden by imposing unnecessary regulations, often in the name of health and safety, which are just as damaging.

The mainstream media have yet to catch up with this practice but, even on its past and current record, Europe rightly stands accused.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Defence Policy for Great Britain

From time to time, some of our readers have laid the charge of "negativity" at our door, always attacking but never coming up with any ideas of our own. While we would not agree with that charge - having offered many positive suggestions in the past, we nevertheless accept that there is room for some more structured offerings. Therefore, as an occasional series, we are offering some specific options for various policy issues, starting with this one, on defence.

Traditionally, defence policy is predicated on the preservation of the territorial integrity of the nation and its possessions against actual or potential invaders. However, with the end of the Cold War, there is no significant threat of invasion, against which major forces need to be earmarked, nor is there any likelihood of any such threat materialising in the short to medium-term.

Instead, we are faced with the more diffuse, so-called "asymmetric" threats, including failed and "rogue" states, and state sponsored terrorism. Those threats, and long-term humanitarian crises, fuel global instability and create conditions where domestic security is threatened directly by terrorism.

However, the diffuse nature of the threats requires a global reach which is beyond the capacity of the United Kingdom, and requires a flexibility of response that we are not always able to provide. We are no longer a world power and are neither willing, nor able economically to take on the role of "world policeman".

We have, therefore, found it more advantageous to work with allies in coalitions, either bi- or multilaterally, or through organisations such as the United Nations, Nato and the European Union, affording ourselves only a very limited capability to act entirely independently.

It makes sense to continue to work within the framework of coalitions and therefore to construct defence policy on the basis of equipping ourselves to work with our allies.

Naturally, those will tend to be those with whom we have a shared "world view" – or at least the greatest degree of commonality. To this extent, there are developing divergent views, stratifying largely between that of the Europeans and the United States and her many allies.

In the past, we have sought a "bridging role" between Europe and the United States, while maintaining good relations with Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand, India and others. However, it is undeniable that a polarisation of views is developing to such an extent that it is no longer possible to keep a foot in both camps, and a strategic choice will have to be made between one or the other.

At the moment, the choice is being made by default, through gradual doctrinal and technical harmonisation with our European Union partners, based on focusing our actions through the deployment of the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF), outside the Nato framework. We believe that this is not in the national interest. The main force for global stability, through the promotion of democratic self-government, is the United States, acting either in coalition with willing partners or with Nato.

Therefore, we believe that, since a choice has to be made, our defence efforts and the emphasis on structuring our armed forces should be on developing our ability to work effectively in concert with the United States and her allies. This should be the focus of our procurement policy and the doctrinal development of our forces.

However, as part of a community of nations with the shared interest of maintaining peace and prosperity, safeguarding the lives of those individuals who are less fortunate than ourselves, protecting the weak and the innocent, we accept the European nations have a valuable and necessary role in helping to maintain global stability.

To that effect, we will use our influence to encourage European nations to abandon attempts to develop an autonomous European Union military capability, and channel efforts through Nato in accordance with the Washington Summit Agreement of 1999, supporting the Strategic Concept and the Defence Capabilities Initiative. In particular, we would see Nato as the primary mechanism for securing doctrinal and technical interoperability, without which coalition forces – whatever their composition – cannot be truly effective.

Inexorably linked to the execution of any defence policy is the nature of our Defence Industry policy, and our ability to share technology with our allies, and to benefit from technological developments, especially those of the United States – some of which are delivered by British-owned companies. In this context, we cannot expect free sharing as long as our home-based industries and our government is working with other governments and industry partners which are major suppliers to strategic rivals and potential enemies of the United States.

Therefore, we intend to refocus our industry and government partnerships, and our own arms sales policies, to mesh with our own strategic allies, to prevent the leakage of technology into potentially hostile hands.

We also intend to refocus our procurement policies and abandon the de facto "Europe first" policy, aiming to purchase equipment from sources which offer true value for money and which guarantee interoperability with our main allies. Further, we do not intend to pursue the line of favouring domestic programmes where it is not in our economic interests to do so, but will seek partnerships with like-minded nations, or offset deals where appropriate.

This notwithstanding, we accept a need to maintain security of supply, either by holding sufficient stocks of essential materials or, where more appropriate, maintaining a domestic manufacturing base, the combination sufficient to permit independent operations, should the national interest require.

In terms of the main component of our forces – the personnel – we are concerned to see that the recruitment of high quality men and women continues and that establishment numbers are maintained. Here, we do not see that this can be achieved if the military is treated as a body separate and distinct from the rest of society.

Not only this, in order properly to do their jobs and to reflect the values of our society, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen and women must be valued, respected members of our broader society and have close connections with it. To that effect, would rebuild the relationship between schools and the military, reintroducing combined cadet forces into schools, with good links also with universities and industry. To the same effect, we would rebuild the Territorial Army, and Reserve Units of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and The Royal Marines.

Overall, we recognise that the military is currently undergoing a major restructuring with the adoption of what is known as a "Network Enabled Capability" (NEC) which amounts to a revolution in military operations.

We support this transformation but do not believe it wise to expend considerable sums to achieve a unique British capability when it would be more economical to work closely with our US ally to produce a common system.

Nevertheless, we believe also that we must retain the skills for which British forces are so highly regarded, and support the traditional structures, such as the local Regiments, which give them their strength and continuity. The pursuit of technology is not incompatible with the maintenance of the finest traditions of our Armed Forces and should not be seen as a replacement.

Furthermore, while the adoption of NEC is necessary to enable "rapid reaction" expeditionary forces, and particularly the development of highly sophisticated, medium armoured forces, we do not believe this should be at cost of sacrificing our heavy armour capability, which we believe still has and will continue to have a central role in the British Army.

As regards the Royal Navy, we believe it should still be the service that maintains our nuclear deterrent through its fleet of missile submarines. These, we believe, should be renewed to maintain a credible deterrent against "rogue" states which might acquire or have acquired nuclear weapons and be tempted to use them.

For the rest of the fleet, we believe that it should progressively be reconfigured to support expeditionary warfare, with the focus on ships to support amphibious actions, including at least three fully-capable carrier vessels. The Royal Marines should form a central part of this capability. Not least, this gives the United Kingdom the ability to mount rapid and effective humanitarian and relief operations and our capability should be configured to provide for these tasks. We should, however, also maintain a strong force to protect our trade routes.

For the Royal Air Force, this should be also be configured to support expeditionary warfare, reducing the air defence component to the minimum. It should be focused primarily on providing a strategic airlift and effective tactical ground support/strike, with a strong reconnaissance capability, including space assets and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Beyond this, we need to consider to what extent the UK is prepared to join in coalition missions and what capabilities we are willing to afford. Clearly, the defence budget must be limited but in the post-Cold War world, limits are set by our willingness to pay more than they are by our capability.

Yet, in the public arena, those limits have never really been discussed. Therefore, for the longer term, we need to open a public debate on the shape and size of our armed forces so that government policy can better reflect the wishes of the people. In particular, we must also decide for the future whether we want or need to retain a full range of capabilities or whether the national interest would be better served by limiting ourselves to certain specialist functions, deployed in concert with our allies.


Does he know what he is doing?

David Cameron, the front runner du jour in the Conservative Party leadership election, has been setting out his wares to the right of the party, according to the Daily Telegraph. Why he should choose to do so at the Foreign Policy Centre, a Labour think-tank, first set up by Robin Cook, whose recently appointed new director is former Labour MP Stephen Twigg, is anybody’s guess. In fact, it raises the interesting question of whether Mr Cameron actually knows what he is doing, who he is speaking to and what day of the week it is.

According to the same article, penned by no less a person than Toby Helm, the Chief Political Correspondent:
“His supporters, however, argue that Mr Cameron is the man to modernise the Tory party with his blend of centre-Right thinking and compassion, as effectively as Tony Blair reformed Labour in the 1990s.”
Well, now. One or two questions seem to me to be begged here. First of all, if David Cameron, hitherto known as a moderniser, if of the centre-Right persuasion, why does he have to set out his wares for the right of the party. Why do they not know that Mr Cameron is one of them? Could it be because Mr Cameron has not so far been particularly vocal on the subjects that the right of the party is interested in?

His stand on education (reminiscent of Ken Clarke’s, incidentally, in the days of that jolly chap’s position as Education Secretary) is that vouchers, generally acknowledged as the only possible solution to the catastrophic situation in our schools and colleges, is “not what the electorate wants”. What it wants, apparently, is better control, discipline and curriculum, all set by the government. Just as we have had for decades. What a success, eh? Hardly right-wing policy, though.

Incidentally, it seems quite extraordinary how many Tory MPs, from Mr Cameron to Mr Bercow know exactly what the electorate wants. Why don’t they put this knowledge into action? For sure as eggs is eggs, what the electorate does not want is the Conservative Party. Have they forgotten those 1 million voters they lost since 1997 and have not recovered?

The second problem with that description of Mr Cameron is the compassion. Who on earth needs the “compassion” of a thirty-something year old Etonian with no experience in anything except politics?

The use of the word “compassion” indicates that Mr Cameron and his supporters consider the bulk of this country’s population to be somehow inferior to him and in need of help and guidance. Big government, in other words.

Or maybe, most people would just like Mr Cameron and others of that ilk get out of their lives.

What of the famous speech, then?

To start with, Mr Cameron comes up with his own definition of what Britishness is all about: “Freedom under the rule of law”.
“This simple, yet profound expression explains almost everything you need to know about our country, our institutions, our history, our culture – even our economy.

It is why British citizens are free men and women, able to do what they like unless it harms others or is explicitly forbidden.

And why no-one and nothing is above the law.

These shared values, enshrined in our constitution and institutions over centuries, are the foundation of our civilised society.

They are democratic, progressive and protect our human rights.”
What none of that explains is how it is that a large proportion of our legislation comes from the European Union that our Parliament, one of those institutions enshrined in our constitution, cannot throw out.

Nor does it explain how it is that the ECJ can routinely over-rule legislation and legal decisions decided on by our institutions or why international law, promulgated by the tranzis seems to have become superior to British law and British institutions. But then, Mr Cameron may have had his immediate audience in mind. The FPC is greatly in favour of transnational organizations.

Then we have the usual blarney about the horrors of the July bombs in London and Britain joining the long list of those that have been victims of “extremist Islamist terror”. Mr Cameron is one up on the Prime Minister who, in his list, back in July, omitted both Iraq and Israel. Mr Cameron remembered Israel but not Iraq. Clearly there have been no terrorist bombs in that country. Or, maybe, as someone said about Mr Blair, Iraq is in a different folder on Mr Cameron’s speechwriters’ computer.

To be fair to Mr Cameron, he did touch the rather difficult subject of so many of those terrorist being British born and bred and, even, compared Islamic terrorism with Nazism and Communism. All to the good, though his knowledge of either seems limited. Just to be on the safe side there are various references to well-known aspects of the rise of Nazism in the thirties but nothing at all about Communism. Wrong folder again, I expect.

After dealing rapidly with all the various aspects of the problem in the Middle East and the Gulf, without going too deeply into what might be Conservative foreign policy on the subject (mindful, perhaps of the fact that there is a common foreign policy to consider) Mr Cameron turned to what is to be done on the home front.

He suggests tightening up border controls and spending more money on the security services, hinting heavily that, perhaps, something will have to be done about the Human Rights Act (amending it, nothing so crass as repealing but, at least, it is better than just having a look at it) and, possibly temporarily withdrawing from the ECHR.

No mention of such interesting developments as the Single Area of Justice and Security, the two Tampere agreements and various other developments within the European Union. Perhaps Mr Cameron knows nothing about them. Perhaps, following his well-trodden path, he would rather not talk about “Europe”.

What of the problems inside the country? Well, Mr Cameron welcomes the oath of allegiance new citizens have to swear (which they have always had to swear but let that pass), the citizenship ceremonies and the required knowledge of the English language and life in this country.

It is not entirely clear to me what aspects of the life in this country will be required knowledge. Will it be cricket or Big Brother; Shakespeare or Coronation Street; Jamie Oliver or Victoria Beckham? As for the knowledge of language, given the complaints we are getting from employers, is it wise to create a system in which new immigrants know English better than the present inhabitants?

In fact, there is no particular need to enforce the knowledge of English at arrival. As long as that is the language of the country, people will learn it. The important thing is not to provide taxpayer-subsidized alternatives. And, again to be fair, Mr Cameron did refer to the problem:
“We need to ask whether Government and other bodies, by allowing other languages to be used in official settings, can almost encourage the belief that learning English is not essential.

Of course, we must make Government services accessible – and that means helping people who have not yet learnt English. But we must always be clear that use of other languages is a means to an end not an end in itself.”
So, Mr Cameron, do you think Councils should produce all their literature in 20-odd languages at great expense to the taxpayer or not? At what stage are people deemed not to need help to get Government services and are expected to speak English?

There is a certain amount about the need to teach in English and teach history in schools and a further need for people to do things together outside schools. And the need to set up a Mosque council led by Muslims (just any old Muslims?) to oversee the various Mosques. Given the rather ambivalent stance leading Muslims in this country have taken on certain important issues, that might be an inadequate answer but, perhaps, Mr Cameron likes to idea of the prefect system: give them responsibility and they will live up to it. Perhaps.

Well, that was that, apart from a few rather general comments along the lines of:
“Our nation is not a blank sheet in which each goes his own way.

It is a shared home with values which make it tolerant and hospitable in the first place.

We need to build that home together.”
And more of the same. Unfortunately, it all reminds me of the mushier kind of sixties pop song rather than of a sensible political statement.

What of that most important question – will he stand together with Ken Clarke on a “dream ticket” (whose dream one would like to know?)? Apparently not, as he does not agree with Mr Clarke’s views on Europe.

Then again, what are Mr Clarke’s views on Europe? He seems to have changed them rather drastically in the last couple of days. As we have never heard Mr Cameron express any views on the subject, it could be that he disagrees with the latest reincarnation of the Clarke persona. Perhaps Mr Cameron thinks the euro is a success and the constitution is a good idea.

According to the Independent, Mr Cameron tried to bolster his eurosceptic credentials:
“He [Mr Clarke] believes we should have an ever closer union of European states and I believe we need a new sort of Europe, much more open and free-trading,more flexible and we should be returning some powers to nation states.”
The trouble with a sudden need to acquire eurosceptic credentials, having always avoided the subject of Europe, beyond explaining to one’s colleagues that one would never want to see Britain outside the EU, is that it one finds oneself mouthing rather meaningless platitudes of the kind Conservative politicians have been saying unsuccessfully for a decade or so.

Faites vos jeux, messieursdames, faites vos jeux.