Friday, September 30, 2005

They are beginning to notice

The Daily Telegraph has finally decided to send a reporter to Basra to see what is happening in the area of Iraq under British control. (Well, nominally, at least.) And guess what Adrian Blomfield found?

“But only in the past year has Basra established a reputation as one of Iraq's most radicalised cities, where the most extreme strictures of Islam are enforced by bearded men with automatic weapons.”

How very odd. I believe, this blog has written about this several times, most recently here. Then and before we suggested that the British media would do well to start paying attention to what is going on in Basra instead of bleating about the imminent but never quite realized civil war in Iraq.

We have mentioned Steven Vincent’s murder after he had published an article in which he had pointed out that the British authorities were singularly uninterested in developments under their very noses and, indeed, the murder of his colleague, Fakher Haider.

Well, better late than never, I suppose, but Mr Blomfield is a little surprised to find that

“Britain's previously praised "softly, softly" approach is being unravelled by a group that exerts authority at all levels of society. Terror is inflicted on Basra's civilians by up to 10,000 militiamen who owe their allegiance to Jameat commanders and are often issued with police uniforms but are essentially outside the force.”

Who on earth praised it? Not people who were trying to analyze the situation; not journalists who actually went there; not those few locals who dared to speak up.

Belatedly, we are told that

“Many blame the British for allowing Jameat to flourish and then not doing anything to stop its excesses.

"They haven't stopped Iranian infiltration," said a US commander. "Militia proliferation has been allowed to go unchecked.

"The Brits have done some great work but they've also misread the situation,which is kind of inexcusable." British officials say that in the post-invasion chaos it was impossible to check recruits. "We have raised our concerns [about Jameat] repeatedly and haven't had the response we require," said one diplomat.”

Well, blow me down. Perhaps, this will encourage our super-duper journalists to read some blogs. Just a thought.



A collection of essays has been published by a group of Conservative MPs which calls itself the Cornerstone Group. It is, says the website designed to make a case for a proud, authentic Conservatism that can revive Tory Britain.

In fact, the essays constitute both a manifesto and a challenge to the MPs currently putting themselves up for the Tory Party leadership. Upon how they react will the Group decide their support and it is hoped that other Conservatives MPs will follow the lead.

It includes a requirement for a renegotiation of Britain's membership of the European Union, radical reform of health and education. and taking millions of low paid workers and pensioners out of tax, plus much, much more. The essays can be downloaded here and the ones particularly to look for are those written by Owen Paterson (pictured above) on pages 36-52. Owen's own press release, with the essays, can be seen here.

If support for the manifesto not forthcoming, the Group may consider putting up their own candidate.


She is finally engaging in the fight

It seems that the Fragrant Commissar has finally decided to engage in the fight directly. She is taking on the eurosceptics in her own condescending fluffy-bunny manner. (I think I had a teacher like her once, many years ago, and she had a terrible time with us.)

The person she is focusing on is John Archer (whom we know on our forum as well). First she lectures him on democracy, kindly explaining that the modern version is different from the ancient one. Well, yes, it is, but that is hardly relevant to the discussion of what modern democracy is about.

In a very understanding manner she says:
“Ok, let‘s talk about democracy: are you saying that democracy can only exist at nation state level? That a “demos“ can only be defined within national borders? To me this is outdated.”
Outdated or not, the European demos is not appearing, and the Fragrant Commissar remains an unelected, unaccountable legislator. Nation states are not necessarily democracies but so far no transnational organization has shown the slightest capability of being even remotely democratic. Furthermore, they tend to despise or loathe democratic structures.

And how about this? The Fragrant Commissar explains her views of what scepticism should be about:

“I am sceptical/negative towards bureaucracy and elitism and pompous people but I can also acknowledge the positive historical role – and I see a future role – of this European construction of cooperation.”

Stop sniggering at the back. The teacher is speaking.

Can one be sceptical towards oneself? Why not? But can the lady ever tell the truth? I think not. For we can all see a future role for European co-operation (and, indeed, a past role) but what she is part of is a future single state. That does not seem to have a positive aspect to it for those of us who believe in freedom and democracy rather than a huge centralized bureaucratic behemoth.

If Margot really believes what she says, she is stupider than anyone has really thought:

“I think that nationalism is a very dangerous phenomenon and offers no solutions to today‘s problems that travel across borders. In a globalised world States can no longer always act alone to solve problems. This is a challenge for democracy. The problem is not the integrated global economy; the problem is the lack of integrated global governance. Our institutions and political systems are still mainly national and not adapted to tackle the new circumstances. Global economic forces are a tremendous powerhouse of energy but it is up to global democratic politics to harness that energy and channel those market forces. Some of you think the EU should be just a free trade area. I disagree.I could say a lot more but I will leave it for another day.”

There is no particular reason why nationalism should be dangerous. It might be or it might not be. The two most dangerous ideologies of the twentieth century, Nazism and, especially, Communism were transnational and millions of people died as a result of them being implemented (thankfully unsuccessfully).

Surely, even someone as ignorant as the average Commissar should know that.

As for nation states not being able to cope with a global economy – well, I don’t know. There seems to be rather a lot of them who can do it very well. I am not talking just about the United States or India or Australia but smaller ones like Switzerland, Japan (which is climbing out of its recession), Singapore and various others.

And finally, global democratic politics? Just precisely how is that going to be set up, given that even democracies do not agree on exact definitions and most of the world is not run by democratic governments? How are we going to have a global accountability? As we do in the corrupt and unaccountable UN?

I assume the Fragrant Commissar considers herself to be a democratic politician. How very rum.


Counting their own teeth

Just for once, The Daily Telegraph leader hits the spot - sort of - as does the Garland cartoon – despite him being one of our least favourite cartoonists.

The leader takes to task Mr Blair and the "defensiveness" of his apology to Walter Wolfgang, the elderly Labour activist who had the temerity to voice what most delegates kept to themselves in Brighton this week about the Iraq war.

But the real scandal of the Wolfgang affair, says The Telegraph, was not that he was frog-marched from the conference floor, but that when he tried to get back in, he was detained briefly by the police under anti-terrorism legislation. "Surely there could be no more vivid illustration of how Labour has wrecked the historic balance between freedom and security than in an 82-year-old Jewish refugee from Germany being detained under terrorism legislation for no graver offence than having noisily accused a politician of lying," says the paper.

Actually, it illustrates just as clearly how the now contemptible Mr Plod has lost the plot, but we shall let that pass.

The substantive point, from the perspective of this Blog is the Telegraph assertion that Blair ties himself up in knots “because he does not understand the simple notion of a liberal society, based on principles of the rule of law and of limited government.”

“He must always tinker and control because - as a life-long politician with scant experience outside of that bubble - he cannot understand the simple human desire to be left alone.”

"Other politicians," the paper concludes, "should learn from this. If the Conservatives fail in Blackpool next week to take on the baton from Mr Wolfgang and hold the Government to account, they will no longer be worthy of being regarded as an Opposition."

Looking at the effluvia emanating from one of the leadership candidates – the youthful Etonian Mr Cameron – one can only admire the skill with which his campaign team managed to put together a "manifesto"” so utterly devoid of content. It is so much a parody of itself that it is beyond parody, even on this Blog.

"We need bold, confident and consistent leadership – leadership that recognises we must change to win,” proclaims the Cameron. And on Europe? "Now is the time to fight for an open and flexible Europe…".

Therein lies much of the problem, so amply illustrated by the Garland cartoon. For want of words which can properly describe just how utterly useless these people are, one can only suggest that they are so far up their own backsides that they only thing they're any good for is counting their own teeth.


Net wars

Give them a bone and they'll fight over it. This one is the internet, according to International Herald Tribune, with the EU bouncing the United States during negotiations in Geneva on how the system should be run.

Described as one of their sharpest public disagreements in months, this came after EU negotiators proposed stripping the Americans of what is claimed to be their effective control of the Internet.

Predictably, the EU is backing the rest of the world in wanting the creation of a new international body to govern the Internet – yet another bunch of tranzies – a demand that caught the Americans off balance and, according to the IHT, "left them largely isolated at talks designed to come up with a new way of regulating the digital traffic of the 21st century."

But for all that, the internet is not exactly controlled by the US government but by a private company, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, a nonprofit organisation based in Marina del Rey, California, under the supervision of the US Department of commerce.

David Gross, the State Department official in charge of America's international communications policy, immediately cried “foul”. "The EU's proposal seems to represent an historic shift in the regulatory approach to the Internet from one that is based on private sector leadership to a government, top-down control of the Internet," he said.

Delegates have been meeting in Geneva for the past two weeks at the so-called World Summit on the Information Society, organised by the UN. They were scheduled to conclude in November at a meeting in Tunisia but, with the EU's latest demand, they are now deadlocked.

Needless to say, there is a strong political element here, with the EU and developing nations saying they wanted to send a signal to America that it could not run things alone. The Brazilian delegation to the talks stated, "On Internet governance, three words tend to come to mind: lack of legitimacy. In our digital world, only one nation decides for all of us," while Iran wants a UN body to govern the Internet.

Gross has responded@ "No intergovernmental body should control the Internet... whether it's the UN or any other." US officials argue that a system like the one proposed by the EU would lead to unwanted bureaucratisation, claiming that fears of US government influence on the Internet were overstated.

Further talks will now be needed before the Tunisia meeting on 16-18 November but, in the meantime, no doubt, the delegates will be exchanging views… by e-mail.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

We are not the only ones

Some people accuse us on this blog of being unduly gloomy in our analysis of developments in this country and, often, the West. There are blue skies over there, they cry, pointing to stormy clouds. Well, behind those clouds, they say. And so there are. Probably. Right now, there are more stormy clouds than blue skies.

We are not alone in thinking this. An excellent piece by Melanie Phillips, who, as our readers will recall, was the only British journalist to challenge Verheugen at a get-together in Sanssouci, as described by her colleague, John Lloyd, was published in the Daily Mail and on her website.

Its title, The Death of Politics, tells you all or most of what you need to know. She opens by something we, too, have noted. The conference season is a great big yawn nowadays. Who really cares what those people say in the various sea-side hotels? Not even the political correspondents can work up any energy.
“Far from a quickening of its pulse, political life appears to be rapidly passing into a coma. Rather than a great clash of principles, it has degenerated into an unprincipled, unfocused and incoherent rearrangement of the stage scenery by politicians who appear to have not the slightest clue what script they are supposed to be articulating.”

She then goes through the three main parties and their performance. The Lib-Dims she describes rather wittily as a “shambles led by a donkey”, a much more appropriate phrase than the original one about the First World War officers.
“Yet so great is the malaise in our political life that they are talked about in all seriousness as a more potent challenge to the government than the Tories,the party which is still performing its long-running impersonation of a slow train crash.”
Phillips is deeply uninspired by the leadership contest, scornfully dismissing Ken Clarke as well as his opponents, because, as, she rightly points out, “none of them seems to be motivated by anything deeper than the desire to gain power for its own sake”.

“So while they are busy making speeches tacking to right or left as appropriate -- or both simultaneously -- or calculating on the back of an envelope whether David or Ken will scoop up David’s or Liam’s or Malcolm’s votes when they drop out, they are letting the Government get away with one policy disaster after another with at best only a pallid protest.”
Well, indeed, the Opposition does seem to have gone AWOL. One of the great dangers of that is to the government of the day, who become completely oblivious to reality. This happened to some extent to the Conservatives in the eighties. It is certainly happening to Labour now.

As Melanie Phillips says:
“As for Labour, although it remains the only show in town because of the weakness of the Opposition, it is itself still riven by the poisonous feud between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and the tension between New and Old Labour. Tony Blair remains an utterly devalued Prime Minister, isolated within his own party and unable to get his way however many czars and advisers and delivery units he establishes.”
What has brought about this parlous state of affairs? Phillips gives an interesting explanation, which, naturally, we do not disagree with as it is not that far off our own:
“One important reason is that all three parties are stuck in the politics of the past while the world has utterly changed around them. They have all lost their identities in a universe where old certainties have been torn up and divisions that once defined the political landscape no longer exist.

Instead of parties opposing each other, they are now deeply divided within themselves. Over taxes or public spending, whether the public services should be run by the state or the market, or moral issues such as family life,gay rights or drug legalisation, it is hard to say what any of these parties believes because they are so divided. Indeed, if you shut your eyes you cannot tell a Tory social liberal or Europhile from a Blairite believer or a LibDem.

This is because three parties are still structurally organised around issues that are no longer the ones that divide people -- while the issues that do divide people very profoundly cross all party lines.”
“What we are suffering from is a dearth of political leadership. There is no-one with a deeply held vision and the charisma to put it across that can galvanise the country. That is because the best and brightest no longer go into politics;and that is because this is no longer where the power is. Influence now lies elsewhere -- because politicians have made the big issues off limits and because power has drained away to bodies such as the EU.”
Phillips does not say so, but it is hard to avoid a conclusion that a complete realignment is needed. Of course, people at the top now do not see it that way, as a realignment would cause them some difficulties. It may happen, however, whether they like it or not.


Nice one

Courtesy of The Independent, we learn that the EU flag fluttering outside the European Parliament building in Westminster was yesterday declared illegal.

For this development, says the paper, we must thank the UK Independence Party. They made a formal complaint to Westminster Council after discovering that planning permission has not been granted for it.

Under UK law, all flags - apart from national ones - must be OK'd by local authorities before being fixed to buildings, since they are officially classified as advertising material. The EU flag is not a national flag.

"The general public should be protected from this sort of false advertising promoting worthless tat," reckons UKIP's bullish MEP Nigel Farage. "This is the most important victory for consumer power in decades."

Not quite, but certainly a small but important gesture.


A white elephant in the making

I have been following the adventures of Council Tax refusnik Sylvia Hardy with more than usual interest, having been banged up myself for the heinous crime of withholding a small amount of money from the Police precept, after PC plod has so singularly failed to protect our neighbourhood from a rash of burglaries.

It really does seem to say it all, when the establishment will go to any length to protect its income-stream, even to the extent of locking up pensioners, when many a criminal wanders abroad without the slightest fear of having his collar felt.

But there are two aspects to this issue – the first, about which Sylvia Hardy has been voluble, is the fact that our taxes seem to increase exponentially, without any regard for peoples' ability to pay. The second, though, is about the sheer waste of money, the awareness that so much of our hard-earned money is squandered.

It is in that context that I return to the theme of defence spending, using this to illustrate just how much money is pouring down the drain on a scale that simply beggars the imagination.

This is perhaps why the scandal is so little reported, as the sheer amount of money involved is too huge to conceive. If, after all, it takes 11 days and nights to count to a million, it takes 30 years to count a billion and, in the latest mad project from the MoD, it is proposing to spend £14 billion… an amount of money in pound coins that would take an individual 420 years to count.

I am, of course, talking about the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), the largest single defence procurement project for the Army ever planned. This has grown over three years from its original estimate of £6 billion to the current £14 billion, all to equip the Army with three Brigades of medium-weight armoured vehicles, linked by a sophisticated computer and communications network to form a networked whole – all to service that equally mad EU project the European Rapid Reaction Force.

What brings it to the fore is a report this week from DefenseNews which indicates that the United States, which pioneered the so-called "net-centric" concept on which FRES is based, and was planning to spend $123 billion on its own version called the Future Combat System (FCS) is now having second thoughts about the whole idea.

Regular readers of this Blog will know that the central idea was to replace the heavy tanks and armoured fighting vehicles of conventional forces with lightweight, air-portable vehicles, which could be transported rapidly anywhere in the world to deal with brushfire wars and other crises.

To make up for the lack of protection afforded by heavy armour, the idea was to use sophisticated technology to deal with weapons, plus saturating the area of operation with high-tech sensors, all linked with each other and with field vehicles. That latter idea is supposed to give the fighting forces the capability to detect enemies before they come in range, and to take out their "assets" with long-range and stand-off weapons, before they can pose a threat.

But, last week, at a demonstration of some of the new FSC hardware at the US Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Army Secretary Francis Harvey told reporters that the Army simply does not have the technology available to allow light vehicles to survive "future anti-armor threats".

This actually confirms what we have been seeing for some time. Instead of getting rid of its heavy Abrams tanks and its Bradley armoured fighting vehicles, the Army has committed to upgrading them, while it is increasingly buying a wide range of heavily armoured vehicles to deal with the threats it is experiencing in Iraq. On top of this, it is investing in more specialist military landing ships, which can transport heavy armour to any port on the globe within three weeks.

What this tells us is that, in the age of suicide bombers, the terrorist with the hand-held RPG7 anti-tank weapon and the increasingly sophisticated mines and roadside bombs, the whole concept of lightweight rapid reaction forces is technically flawed – and that is even without taking into account political considerations.

Yet, such is the political inertia of the European decision-making process – combined with out own – and the criminal lack of scrutiny of this issue by either the Conservative opposition or the media – that the British government remains committed to spending £14 billion on a system that may well prove to be a white elephant.

To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to taking a thousand pounds from twice the population of London – every man, woman and child, or from some 14 million Sylvia Hardys.


Foxing the opposition

Conservative leadership challenger Liam Fox is to take on the high ground of Euroscepticism, according to The Daily Telegraph, and pull the Tory MEP group out of the strongly integrationalist European People's Party (EPP) in the EU parliament.

This is something Iain Duncan-Smith tried to do during his brief tenure as party leader and is something none of the other leadership candidates have been prepared to consider. David Davis, for instance – who rests on his undeserved reputation as a Eurosceptic – has said that membership of the EPP is a decision for the MEPs, while Clarke, who is still a vice president of the European Movement, could hardly be expected to make a stand on this issue.

In a speech today, Fox will argue today that the EPP's most recent manifesto commits it to press for the realisation of a "united states of Europe", with a European army and police force and tax raising powers for the European Parliament. It believes in powerful trade unions, redistributive taxation and a high minimum wage," he is scheduled to say.

The Telegraph, in its lead editorial, thinks this is a good move, a remedy that "could restore Tory health".

Rightly, it says that "the seating plan in the European Parliament does not set many pulses racing," but it observes that Tory membership of the EPP quite justifies the charge that they say one thing in Britain and do another in Brussels. It was this perception of dissembling that, in part, contributed to the best-ever UKIP vote and the worst-ever Tory vote in the 2005 election, it argues. Thus, concludes the paper, if the party adopted the policy set out by Dr Fox it would be taking a major step towards restoring its integrity - and recovering its electability.

The Telegraph could, of course, be right – especially if – as is eminently possible – the next general election falls on the same day as the Euro-elections. But Fox is probably carrying too much baggage to make a serious dent in the lead of the two main candidates, Davis and Clarke, although if his input does put the EU on the agenda, he will have done the Party a service.


A dreadful malaise

Quentin Peel in the Financial Times today laments the failure of the British EU presidency and then expands his cri de coeur to address the more general malaise of the EU. The trouble is, he writes, that there is a failure to debate the issues of Europe at a national level. He adds:

On that score the British are as bad as any. National parliaments are divorced from EU decision-making. This was a vital issue the constitution sought to address. It also tried to make the Brussels institutions more open and transparent. Now it is said these questions should be dead and buried. That is absurd. Democratic legitimacy and economic reform are inextricably linked. You cannot have progress on one without the other.
But there is more to it than that. Inherently, like it or not, the subjects dealt with by the EU are not those that engage the "man in the street". Even those which hold a glimmer of interest to the handful of people who have wider interest, the repetitive "drag" of the same issues, coming up again and again, do create some difficulties.

Looking at my evening Google Alert on the EU, for instance, the first item up is a piece about how the EU "can do more to block an Iranian bomb". Yawn… been there done that one, and the story is going nowhere for the moment.

Then we have the latest spat over the Turkish accession talks, the number two story covering the European Parliament decision to demand that Turkey acknowledges its Armenian "genocide" ninety years ago. Sorry, there are not going to be many people interested in that – it was ninety years ago, for goodness sake. And as for the Turkish accession… well, it ain't going to happen.

Maybe I can elicit a flicker of interest in the fact that Schröder is refusing to give up the chancellorship just yet, and has told Britain that he will represent Germany at the EU summit next month. Er… so what?

Well perhaps I could interest you in the reaction of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka to the decision by the EU to impose sanctions on what it regards as a terrorist organisation? I suppose it is something one ought to be interested in, but…

Ah, how about the FT story on… "The failure by many member states to tackle their budget deficits is not just a sign that the EU's half-hearted structural reforms have failed to boost growth". Er… no. EU member state deficits? Now tell me something new.

Here's something, the Basle II regime has been ageed by the European Parliament… or the Parliament agreeing to minimum rules on compensation for railway delays? Yea, yea… I know, this will do it: EU energy chief – by the unlikely name of Andris Piebalgs – is going to warn on oil prices. Whoopee do…

So there’s your problem, Mr Peel. Frankly, the EU is just, er… well… boring. Now, did you know that Ruth Kelly is going to ban vending machines selling chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks, under moves to outlaw junk food in schools… there's a real story for you.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

French commandos go in

This time it is not some former French colony that is being favoured by the French commandos but a ship off Corsica that had been “hi-jacked” by the local unions.

Trouble started on Monday when news went round Marseille that the National Corsica Mediterranean Company, owner of Pascal Paoli, was going to be privatized. Up with this the Corsican unions would not put and they went on strike and, as befits French or Corsican strikers started rioting.

That was sorted out with the help of tear-gas and truncheons but about thirty masked but unarmed strikers seized the Pascal Paoli and took it off to the Corsican port of Bastia. This morning fifty commandos, in their regulation black outfits, abseiled from helicopters and took the ship over in 10 minutes, taking it back to Marseille.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy professed himself to be pleased by the speed and efficiency of the operation.

Would it have happened so smoothly with Euro-commandos? (above)


A bonfire of frogs' legs

So big was the package which arrived today that the postman could not get it through the letter-box. This was the consultation on the new Draft Food Hygiene (England) (No 2) Regulations 2005, bringing UK law into line with the latest EU regulations, including – you will all be pleased to know – "Creating an offence for failure to comply with certain aspects of Commission legislation on Trichinella in meat" - a condition not found in the UK in living memory.

Readers will also be delighted to learn that the Commission has also provided a "Model Health Certificate for Imports of Chilled Frozen or Prepared Frogs' Legs Intended for Human Consumption", the statutory form demanding to know, amongst other things, the "animal species" from which said frogs' legs were obtained. Presumably, this is to comply with the "Frogs' Legs from Species other than Frogs Regulations", buried somewhere in the deepest recesses of the Commission.

So much for Barroso’s latest weeze , his proposal unveiled yesterday with great fanfare to "withdraw one third of screened proposals". This, for the uninitiated, is Eurospeak for "deregulation" which, of course, does not actually involve getting rid of any regulations but simply means not proceeding with 68 draft laws of 183 in the pipeline.

Sadly, this does not include the "frogs' legs regulations" which are already passed, but Presidente Barroso still feels that: "This initiative shows that the Commission is firmly committed to producing better legislation… We have looked at everything on the table," he says, "and cleared away what we don't need and what the Council and Parliament were never going to agree to."

However, vice-president Günter Verheugen wants to go further. "This is just the beginning. We want to tackle red-tape and over-regulation on all fronts," he adds. "EU regulation makes sense where it adds value – but where it doesn't, we'll scrap it."

That was enough for The Independent to headline this morning that: "EU announces a 'bonfire of the red tape'", not revealing whether the bonfire actually contravenes the EU's own emission controls and whether financial provision has been made for the carbon credits needed under the emission trading scheme.

The Telegraph, however, wants "Bigger bonfires, please", and hang the cost, noting that the EU's mighty legal edifice, known fondly to all as the acquis communautaire, will be a harder nut to crack. Each law, it says, has to be unpicked one at a time. On some, a single country out of 25 can veto repeal. On others, the EU can be held to ransom by a blocking minority of states and there always seems to be one of those in Brussels whenever vested interests are at stake.

Mr Barroso's grand ambition, it adds, "is to slash and burn the acquis down to 50,000 pages." "Don't hold your breath," it tells us. And get that form filled in.


Wait a minute, she has said this before

There is a definite feeling of déjà vue around the fragrant Commissar’s most recent, nauseatingly coy and self-righteous posting. The picture of all the Commissars standing together has been on the blog before as has the following:
“My contribution was the ideas for “Plan D – for dialogue, debate and democracy” where I presented a list of actions for better listening to citizens, better explaining what we do and how to act locally. Member states have to take the main responsibility for organising it but we can hopefully push and pull those not yet ready… This is not a rescue operation for the Constitution but something that will go far beyond the life time of this Commission. Democracy takes time and to build a new democratic infrastructure in Europe will be a tremendous challenge.”
I distinctly remember replying to that tosh about democracy taking a long time by pointing out to the fragrant one that many of the member states (including her own) already have democracy and do not need unelected, unaccountable officials to teach them.

As for dialogue and listening, we have definitely discussed it before. And the question one keeps asking as part of the dialogue: which bit of no don’t you understand. Answer comes there none. The words “day” and “groundhog” spring to mind.

We do, however, catch a glimpse of the fragrant Commissar for Disinformation at work:
“Had a breakfast meeting with representatives from the so-called Roundtable of Industrialists. I made them angry by saying that they could do more for sustainable development and more to promote corporate social responsibility. (Maybe I should stop accepting breakfast meetings – it is not my best time of the day…) They said it was already taken care of…”
Yes, I imagine they were quite angry. These are busy people after all, leading the sort of organizations that might, if left to themselves, actually drag Europe out of the economic swamp it has been dumped into. Why should they waste time listening to fluffy-bunny Commissars producing trite nonsense?

I particularly liked the start of the posting about her losing the parameters on her mobile phone and the wonderfully puerile comparison she draws between that and the Commissars losing their parameters, what with the no votes on the constitution, the stalled budget and so on.

Where, one wonders, will they be able to find those parameters again? Then it occurred to us on this blog that she is clearly talking about a section of the new European security force. As there are not enough soldiers, meters will have to be drafted.

The 32nd Battalion of the Parameters will, like all other Paras, wear red berets and will go in immediately after the Marinemeters, to sort out difficulties caused by stalled budgets. Once the immediate problems have been sorted, the Engineermeters and Sappermeters will follow to construct the necessary infrastructure.

I offer the fragrant Commissar this solution free of charge, gratis and for nothing.


Running on empty

The papers are full of it today, the Blair speech – all 5,427words of it. The Daily Telegraph was even kind enough to publish the whole transcript on its website, for those brave enough to read it – and for those who could not bear to watch the delivery.

But, whatever the reviews, good or otherwise, no one seems to be remarking that standing before the conference was not only the prime minister and leader of the Labour Party but also – and for a few months yet – the holder of the EU presidency.

Yet, eight years on from when Blair was going to put us at the "heart of Europe", this time the dog did not bark. Noticeably absent was any high-flown European rhetoric, the best he had to offer was this passage:

Nations, even the largest, need to work together for their common good. Isolationism is as backward as protectionism. For a country the size of Britain, there is no securing our future without strong alliances. When I became Prime Minister I took a decision: always be at the forefront where decisions are made not at the back where they're handed down.

That is why at every point, no matter how difficult we remain strong partners in Europe. By all means let us fight for reform in Europe; but to isolate ourselves from the world's largest commercial market in which over 50 per cent of our trade is done, is just a crazy policy for Britain in the 21st century.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the EU. More like it is a grudging acceptance of the status quo, a surly recognition that we’re in the damn thing, so we might as well make the best of it. No Europhile could have walked away from that conference and proclaimed that here was a committed European. Nor would they have liked the bit that followed:

Britain should also remain the strongest ally of the United States. I know there's a bit of us that would like me to do a Hugh Grant in Love, Actually and tell America where to get off. But the difference between a good film and real life is that in real life there's the next day, the next year, the next lifetime to contemplate the ruinous consequences of easy applause.

I never doubted after September 11th that our place was alongside America and I don't doubt it now. And for a very simple reason. Terrorism struck most dramatically in New York but it was aimed then, and is aimed now, at us all, at our way of life. This is a global struggle.
So, the Blair policy is still one foot in the European camp and the other foot in American, still the stale old Foreign Office paradigm that does not seem to recognise the shift in global alliances, the emergence of the Anglosphere, the growing power of Australia, India and the rest.

He talks of his "campaign for justice in Africa", the "push for peace in Palestine", acting against global warming and fighting behind the standard of democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq (tucked in with the rest), Kosovo and Sierra Leone. These, says Blair, are each a "progressive cause". Britain in these last eight years has been at the front, he says, not always succeeding, but never a spectator.

With this it comes clear. He is rooted in the past, in the last eight years of his premiership. He has no "vision", nothing for the future, no initiatives. This is a man who has run out of ideas.

Given a strong opposition, this would become increasingly evident, and all too soon it would apparent to the nation that Blair was running on empty. But there is no opposition. The final legacy of Howard has been to condemn the Conservative Party to five months of navel-gazing, and now that the famous leadership contest "reform" has failed, there are at least three more to follow, with then the final, undignified contest (caught here - above).

But then, so far, the candidates have not offered anything exciting. They lack vision, lack initiatives and have nothing for the future. They too are running on empty. As a nation, ill-served by our politicians, we are in a bad way.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

God save the royal person

A happy little story in The Times today comes from Austria, where the minister for women's affairs has demanded wholesale changes to her country's national anthem to purge it of sexist references.

Mentions of the "fatherland", "great sons" and "brotherly choruses" should be replaced by gender-neutral terms such as "homeland" and "joyful chorus", says Maria Rauch-Kallat. And, it is a sign of the times that her quest is considered to stand a fair chance of success.

Whatever, Frau (or is it Mz) Rauch-Kallat, of the centre-right People's Party, has declared the anthem "discriminatory". "The federal hymn should be part of every Austrian's identity... Women's politics are also the politics of language and of shaping consciousness," she says.

If she gets her way, says The Times, national anthems across Europe could be in for a shake-up, because all too often they celebrate male heroism hand in hand with national identity.

The Italian anthem opens: "Brothers of Italy...". The French Marseillaise, the most blood-soaked of national anthems, begins: "Children of the fatherland..." and complains about soldiers who "come to slaughter our children, our wives".

Germany's Deutschland über Alles is unthinkable without the fatherland, and in its second verse makes women seem like a quaint tourist attraction: "German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song/ Shall retain in the world/ Their lovely old ring."

Perhaps the least sexist of all national anthems is Britain's God Save the Queen, ventures the newspaper. Since 1745 it has swapped King for Queen, depending on the monarch of the day. But that is to reckon without the little-used fourth verse, which offers the sentiment: "That men should brothers be/ And form one family/ The wide world ov'er." And then there is that bit, "Rebellious Scots to crush" in the sixth.

But then, surely the term "Queen" is sexist? In a degenderised land of "chairs", "firefighters" and "police officers", it is high time that the distinction between king and queen was abolished. Clearly, "royal person" would be more appropriate.

And, by the way, Austria apparently has the only national anthem in Europe written by a woman. Sung to the tune of a 1791 Mozart cantata, was written by the late Paula von Preradovic in 1947, two years after the modern Austrian state was formed.

One trusts that the next, degenderised version is written by a multi-gender, multi-ethnic team, with full representation from cultural minorities, the disabled and the gay and lesbian communities. Perhaps this time, instead of Mozart, it might be based on a tune by Beethoven? The title "Ode to joy" springs to mind.


Lies, damn lies and…

No, we are not talking about statistics, this time, but letters from ministers. Following postings on this Blog and Christopher Booker's articles in The Sunday Telegraph on the Europeanisation of Britain's armed forces, there have been a flurry of letters from MPs to the MoD, in response to questioning from readers.

In each case, the procedure is the same. The MP writes to the ministry and back comes an anodyne, reassuring letter from the relevant minister, invariably denying everything. The MP passes the letter on, and then closes down his brain, his duty done.

Several such letters, however, have found their way to us and one, in particular, from Lord Drayson. That his response beggars belief is to put it mildly. According to the minister for defence procurement, we – i.e., the government – are not "preparing to integrate Britain's Armed Forces with the EU's planned 'Rapid Reaction Force'". There is, writes Drayson. "no such force, nor is there any plan for one".

There you have it. There is no European Rapid Reaction Force and no plan for one. This is actually written by a minister, in a letter addressed to Sir Patrick Comack MP. "The media frequently use the name in error to refer to a catalogue of troops that member states in 2003 declared themselves able in principle to make available for EU operations," Drayson writes.

Of course, we know different. The ERRF was outlined at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, which proposed a Headline Goal of 60,000 troops plus appropriate aerial and naval support, to be deployable within 60 days and sustainable for a year, to be in place by 2003. The record of the meeting states:

The European Council underlines its determination to develop an autonomous capacity to take decisions and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to launch and conduct EU-led military operations in response to international crises…

Building on the guidelines established at the Cologne European Council and on the basis of the Presidency's reports, the European Council has agreed in particular the following: cooperating voluntarily in EU-led operations, Member States must be able, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least 1 year military forces of up to 50,000-60,000 persons capable of the full range of Petersberg tasks.
And, if Drayson is in doubt, he should perhaps talk to Geoff Hoon who in Parliament a few months later happily answered questions on the ERRF, telling MPs that merely that there was no "standing European Rapid Reaction Force". "Existing national or multinational forces, declared under the Helsinki Headline Goal, will be made available to the EU on a voluntary, case-by-case basis when required for a crisis management operation."

That was again his line in November 2000, when he declared that the "objective of the European Union in setting the Headline Goal is to ensure the ability of nations to be able to generate forces rapidly in response to a crisis," once again adding that "there will be no standing rapid reaction force".

Anyone who wants to read of the history of the development of the ERRF can refer to this official EU source, which clearly Drayson has not read.

But then, why should he bother? As we observed earlier, lying has become a way of life for ministers, a normal and routine tool of government. But does Drayson really think we are that stupid?


Belgium yaps at France

In response to Nicolas Sarkozy’ slightly odd proposal to extend the Franco-German motor to include Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland, Guy Verhofstadt (left), Prime Minister of Belgium lost his rag, not to put too fine a point on it.

According to AFP, what annoyed him particularly was the invitation extended to Poland, a newcomer to the EU and one whose economic situation is no better than that of most of “Old Europe”. (But then, according to AFP, the G6 does not include Spain, which would make it G5.)

Angrily M Verhofstadt explained that if there was a gridlock in EU decision-making or reform, it had nothing to do with disputes between large countries and small.
"It is not so much the opposition between big and little states which blocks the decision-making process, but opposition which reigns between big states."
As it happens, the gridlock is created by the centralized EU system, which is daily expanding to take in more and more areas in European political life. Then again, M Verhofstadt ought to know something about gridlock in decision-making. The Belgian system is so complicated, one wonders whether any decision ever does get implemented (apart from the banning popular political parties, that is, which immediately reappear under a different name).

Why M Sarkozy made the statement he did is not entirely clear, although the fact that the next presidential election campaign effectively kicked off while M Chirac was in hospital must have something to do with it.

Why Poland was invited to join the G6 is even more interesting. On one level, this makes sense, as Poland is one of the large countries, the largest of the new East European states.

On the other hand, it is probably the one that is having the worst economic problems and the one in which reforms have fallen behind. We shall see how the new government will fare.

There is, however, the matter of foreign policy. Poland (as well as the other East European member states) has notoriously been reluctant the Franco-German “European” line in foreign matters. President Kwasniewski was heavily courted and applauded by President Bush and the policy is unlikely to change. Furthermore, as we have written several times, Poland has been conducting her own policy on the eastern border, building up friendly relations with Ukraine and not so friendly ones with Belarus and Russia. In this she had the full support of another member state, Lithuania.

M Sarkozy may well feel that it is time to try to bring the East Europeans back into line and that President Chirac’s infamous outburst may not have been the right way of going about it.

There is one more aspect to the relationship between France and the new member states. The former was opposed to the EU’s enlargement to the east for several years, partly for economic and partly for political reasons.

The economic reasons were straightforward: the poor, largely agricultural countries were likely to siphon off EU money. This has not happened yet but will eventually.

The political aspect is more complicated. The accession of East Europeans, it was felt in France, would tilt the EU’s centre even more heavily towards Germany politically but, frighteningly, also towards possible Anglospheric influence. When accession became unavoidable and imminent the French government spent huge sums to promote France and French culture in all the countries.

Poland is special. Of all the East and Central European countries it is the one that was traditionally Francophile. While others learned German and, possibly, English, the Poles learned French. No longer. Poland is becoming Anglophile. Young Poles learn English and, despite the alarums and excursions on the subject of Polish plumbers, try to get temporary jobs in English speaking countries.

Would-be President Nicolas Sarkozy, one assumes, is keenly aware of the problem and this may have been his initial attempt to deal with it. By doing so, however, he seems to have antagonized one of France’s more stalwart supporters within the EU: Belgium.


Personality or principle?

Mark Steyn is on fine form today in The Telegraph, dissecting Ken Clarke, his leadership ambitions and the Conservative Party.

"A party out of power for a decade," he writes, "naturally finds itself somewhat short of household names, and, as one of its last surviving big beasts, Ken lingers vaguely in the memory…"

Therein lies the problem, with the Party clutching at the illusion that, because the EU constitution has been booted into touch "it's safe", as Steyn puts it, "for the Tories to elect a Europhile leader because his ability to stiff them has been severely constrained."

"Only Ken can go to Europe", adds Steyn, is a weird post-modern inversion of the "Only Nixon can go to China" rationale: Mr Clarke wants to get credit as a straight-talking man of principle for refusing to equivocate about his willingness to sell Britain out to a European superstate, while simultaneously preserving his political viability on the grounds that, even though he's willing to sell out, nobody in Europe's interested in buying.

Steyn points out that the cynical argument in favour of a Clarke leadership victory is that "he'd be the final nail in the Tory coffin and open up space for a new party on the Right and a long-overdue realignment in British politics." But it never works out like that. More likely, Ken's men would lose just slightly not too badly enough to linger on ineffectually and diminish British conservatism for another half-decade.

Steyn's view is that this is a time for strategy, not tactics. It is in that department that Clarke fails to meet the minimum qualifications for even the squishiest "Conservative" leader. He adds:

On Europe, the Conservatives ought to be committed not just to bland assurances not to worry, no need to frighten the horses, old chap, everything's on the back boiler now, but to an explicit reassertion of national sovereignty: over-Europeanisation as represented by, for example, the Convention on Human Rights is an obstacle to the effective defence of the realm, and if Tories won't stand up for national security, what are they for?
What indeed, you might ask, and it is extremely timely that Steyn should be articulating the question that many others, behind the scenes, are asking. For sure, there are enough Party members who are stupid enough – or lack sufficient moral base – to fall for the Clarke line that the Conservatives should put power before ideology but, as one recent correspondent wrote in the Telegraph, if that was enough, then there is always New Labour.

Steyn thus argues for principled Conservative leader, concluding his piece with a finely honed pay-off line: "I don't know quite what the leader of a culturally confident British Conservative Party would look like," he writes. "But, if you had to construct his precise opposite, he'd be a lot like Ken Clarke."

In a letter shortly to be published by The Daily Telegraph, twenty or more Conservative MPs will argue that electoral success will not be achieved by personality but by principle. Steyn reminds us that Clarke is the "personality", but will the Party be wise enough to go for principle?


Tainted by corruption?

A humdinger of a story about corruption is enmeshing the part-French government owned Thales defence contractor, a multibillion dollar international enterprise which rejoices in the slogan "The world is safer with Thales".

It is facing allegations from Michel Josserand (below), former chief executive of Thales Engineering and Consulting (THEC) that it paid out millions of dollars in bribes and sold chemical weapons to the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Josserand has also told police investigating Thales that the company took part in the construction of an Iraqi chemical-weapons plant disguised as a factory that made powdered milk.

In an interview with newspaper Le Monde, yesterday, he went on to claim that the paying of bribes by Thales was widespread - in violation of French law and international conventions. Josserand estimated that Thales pays out between 1 and 2 percent of its global revenue ($12.5 billion in 2004) in illegal commissions, having constructed a secret internal system to make the payments.

The Thales Group has "categorically and totally" denied the accusations and has decided to take immediate legal action for defamation against Le Monde and Josserand.

Nevertheless, Paris prosecutors are investigating the corruption allegations, which surfaced after irregularities were discovered in the company's bid to build a light railway in the southern French city of Nice. Josserand, whose THEC division won the contract, was fired by Thales and placed under formal investigation in May after the group filed a criminal complaint against its former employee.

Josserand now describes himself as a scapegoat now living in fear for his life and has said he has informed police about bribes paid out for contracts in Greece, Argentina, Asia and elsewhere in France - often via several foreign intermediaries such as construction companies.

"Having said that, Thales was only following the practices of the major U.S. companies," he said. Thales had little choice but to pay bribes if it did not want to be excluded from markets, he also said.

The accusations come at a bad time for Josserand's current employer, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which is bidding for the prestigious US Air Force air tanker contract, after it was withdrawn from Boeing following irregularities in the initial award. EADS is now considering whether to dismiss Josserand, but it will have to move fast if mud is not to stick. The company is already facing new difficulties following its decision, as 80 percent owner of Airbus, to seek launch aid from European governments to develop its A350 airliner.

In the US Congress, the word is that this bolsters chances that the Senate will approve legislation already passed by the House to prohibit the U.S. military from buying Airbus tankers. Any association with corruption, however tangential, will not improve its chances.

The allegations are also potentially embarrassing for the MoD, which has just awarded a major contract to Thales for development of the Army's £14 billion Future Rapid Effects Systems. Thales is also prime contractor on a number of prestige British defence contracts, including building the UK's "Watchkeeper" unmanned aerial vehicle.

How ironic it would it would be if the MoD's "Europe first" procurement policy was tainted by corruption.

For more background, see also here.


Monday, September 26, 2005

It never rains but it pours

As the various negotiations between Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder proceed apace (at the pace of an arthritic snail, as it happens), the EU has decided to get in on the act.

This time it is not Commission President Barroso who is demanding that the Germans get their act together (a somewhat inappropriate attitude) but Joaquin Almunia, the Commissar for Economic Monetary Affairs.

The problem, as ever, is the Growth and Stability Pact and while member states have largely forgotten about its existence, the Commission has not.

Germany is once again on track to break the budget deficit rule of 3 per cent. According to Deutsche Welle
“The Federal Statistics Office said in August that Germany's budget deficit in the first half of the year was 36 billion euros ($43.3 billion), or 3.6 percent of GDP, putting the country on track to violate the pact for a fourth year in a row.

Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, believes Germany's deficit will be closer to 4 percent because it doesn't look at the sale of outstanding accounts to the former state-run enterprises Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post as deficit-reducing measures.”
It seems rather unfair as France and Italy both managed to get into the euro by rearranging ownership of assets and pensions but Almunia is indicating that he has had enough.

He is threatening to invoke the punishment that is his right under the rules of the Pact. Germany could be fined €3 billion in the circumstances. It has been pointed out before that fining a country that is having problems with its budget deficit is hardly the most sensible solution as that will increase the problem.

Germany has suggested that, as part of the budget negotiations, various expenses to do with the eastern part of the country should not be included in the calculations to do with the Growth and Stability Pact.

Whether the biggest country and largest net contributor to the EU budget will be punished by the Commission remians questionable. In any case, all German eyes remain firmly fixed on the political stalemate.


Tanks for the memory

As the tortuous progress towards the Turkish accession talks grinds its way across the political agenda, with the deadline set of 3 October when the parties sit down for their first set of formal talks, the signs are not looking good.

Basically, the European Union does not want as a member a Muslim state of 90 million inhabitants, with a GDP that would drive a coach and horses through the CAP. But, such is the momentum of talks, and the political ramifications of framing an outright rejection, that the European politicos dare not tell Turkey that the deal is off – that it never has the remotest chance of being agreed.

Instead, we are seeing complex technical "difficulties" raised at every stage, not least to do with the situation in Cyprus, where declarations and “counter-declarations” are flying about, matched by accusations and counter-accusations about whether the EU has acted with “good intentions”.

Throughout all this, however, it is a given that Turkey actually wants – or intends to – join the EU but, once again, when you look at the situation on the ground, things do not look quite as certain as they appear.

In a strongly militaristic society, one clue is to look at what happened last year, immediately after the parties had agreed to start accession talks. As reported at the time, a story immediately emerged that the German government was looking to sell Turkey several hundred of its Leopard 2 tanks, surplus to Bundeswehr requirements.

Somewhat giving the game away, German defence minister Peter Struck said that the progress Turkey has made on opening negotiations to join the European Union mean arms sales should no longer be a taboo subject, but it was not to last. Only days later, on 18 October 2004, Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gül, denied the reports that Turkey wanted to buy the tanks.

Nevertheless, the arms brokers of Europe have been beating a path to Turkey’s door, and there were strong hopes that she would buy the Eurofighter. But not only has that sale not materialised, it is now looking extremely remote. Instead, Turkey has done a deal with the United States to upgrade its fleet of 218 F-16 fighter jets, which are being modernised at a cost of nearly $4 billion, on top of which Congress is about to authorise the sale to Turkey of $35 million of air-to-surface weapons for the fleet, pending sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, deliveries of which are expected in 2012.

As for the tanks, in DefenseNews this week, the Turkish government has decided that its own industries should build its own third-generation main battle tanks. It has commissioned a consortium of three private armoured vehicle makers to draft a feasibility report on the best way to advance the $10 billion-dollar programme.

The magazine reports that a defence analyst in Turkey says the decision to go ahead "will be more strategic than commercial", but it will also be political. In that we have seen in UK defence procurement policies, a move towards closer European integration, the policies in Turkey now seem to point in the opposite direction. Should the accession negotiations fall apart, therefore, it will be no surprise, leaving Turkey only to say, "tanks for the memory".


The Polish prime minister

Contrary to expectations, it looks like Poland's next Prime Minister is probably going to be Jaroslaw Kaczynski, after a late swing to his Law and Justice party.

Read all about it on the Beatroot site. You can also get a view from the front line from Polblog, which is definitely worth a look.


What's his game?

You will never go far wrong in this world if you stick to the dictum: "never trust a French politician" – even, or especially, if his name is Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of the UMP party and a strong contender for the French presidency in 2007.

So when, during a speech on Saturday, concluding a party conference on Europe, he declared that the French-German "couple" should no longer direct the EU in the way it had done for the previous 50 years, you have to wonder what his real motive is. "We must open the French-German couple to four other big European countries, which among them represent 75 per cent of Europe's population," he says. "This group of six must become the motor of the new Europe."

Apart from anything else, this will rather tick off the other 19 countries, and flies in the face of the "Community method" which accords more status to the smaller countries than strictly their size would merit.

But friend Sarkozy even has a name for his directoire, the "G6" - France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain and Poland. It should make collective proposals to other EU leaders, which the other members could accept or reject. That really would go down well with the Commission which has the sole right, under the Treaties, of making proposals.

Nothing of this seems to faze little Nick. "If we are able to develop this method," he said, "we would answer - without institutional reform - two major defects of Europe as it exists today: Europe would act, and she would act under the impulse of responsible politicians, not anonymous bureaucrats."

How he imagines he could get this through without "institutional reform" is not made clear, and we do wonder sometimes just how much French politicians actually understand how the EU works. No matter, Philippe Douste-Blazy, the foreign minister, also supported the creation of this "vanguard group" – also known as the "hard core", presumably not of the "porn" variety.

It, according to PDB, should take the lead on economic and monetary policy, defence, foreign policy, internal security and justice, notwithstanding that . "It is indispensable that those states that want to do so can progress together and more quickly, while leaving open the possibility for other members to join them later," he said. "This common project, this 'house within a house', will be more integrated, more demanding, more concentrated."

Back to our Nick, who describes himself as the leader of France's most pro-European party, he also proposed several other initiatives to haul the EU out of the "grave crisis" caused by the rejection of the constitutional treaty by French and Dutch voters. He said the EU's ambition should be to exploit the benefits of globalisation, while countering its injustices. "Europe must invent humane globalisation," he said – whatever that is.

The Union, according to Sarkozy, should promote research at an EU level, helping to found European universities. It should also co-ordinate policy to address such issues as energy, health, immigration, and ageing populations.

And, to demonstrate that we really cannot expect anything significant by way of a free trade agenda should he get elected president in 2007, the man called for the revival of the "community preference" ensuring that "Europe bought European" goods - especially from its small companies. That invoked criticism of Mandelson for failing adequately to defend Europe's interests. The EU should make more use of the World Trade Organisation's anti-dumping clauses, said this supposed free-marketeer.

Rounding off, Sarkozy then defended the CAP and attacked the British budget rebate as an anomaly that had to be suppressed. He also repeated his opposition to Turkey's ambitions to join the EU, a goal supported by L'Escroc and the UK.

Plus ça change, and all that.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

A question of money

Despite the concerns over the use of the EU's Galileo satellite system, it is as well to remember that this grand project is still in the planning stage, with its financial future far from assured.

A reminder of this came yesterday when Pascale Sourisse, the CEO of Alcatel Alenia Space – one of the consortium members which is building the system – told Le Figaro that a further €400 million was needed before the system can be launched.

Originally, another €1 billion was needed to cover the costs of commercial operators in the early days of the system, but the European Space Agency and the EU commission have contributed €600 million, leaving EU member states to finance the rest. However, says Sourisse, "The talks are difficult as an agreement requires the unanimous agreement of all parties."

In July Alcatel vice-President Olivier Houssin had said Galileo is expected to enter service at the end of 2010, but in June the German government warned the entire project would be "threatened", if the consortium in charge of the operation refuses to involve more German companies.

Sourisse now says that talks are ongoing to decide a "balanced share of responsibilities" between the participating countries, adding that it was "urgent for an agreement to be found... I hope we will be able to agree before the end of the year."

Considering that agreement was supposed to be reached this month, it would be interesting to know where the British government stood but, on this as with so many other important issues, it remains silent.


Polish poll update

According to AP, exit polls are indicating that Polish voters - as expected - have ousted the scandal-prone, left-wing government of Prime Minister Marek Belka, giving a majority to two center-right parties that promise tax cuts and clean government.

An exit poll for Polish government television showed the social conservative Law and Justice Party winning 27.6 percent of the vote and the free-market Civic Platform 24.1 percent. The governing Democratic Left Alliance finished with 11.3 percent.


Blair's contribution to history

In his column in The Sunday Telegraph today, Booker picks up the threads on the extraordinary but largely unreported developments on EU defence issues.

Noting that, despite his grandiose rhetoric last summer, it may now be as obvious to his EU colleagues as it was predictable at the time that Tony Blair plans to do as little as possible with his six months as the EU's President, Booker then remarks that the Finnish presidency is preparing to take a different view.

Picking up from this blog, he reports that Finland's prime minister, Matti Vanhanen, is highly alarmed at the EU's drive to establish its own "defence identity", independent of Nato and the US. Finland, he writes, will use its presidency, he says, to rebuild "political and defence bridges between Europe and the United States", which he fears are crumbling.

Booker also pick ups on our report that a Chinese state company has been set up to play a key role in operating Galileo, the EU's navigational satellite system, in which China already has a 20 per cent share. This is significant because the Galileo project, planned as a rival to the US GPS system, is at the very heart of the EU's defence identity.

Continues Booker, just as worrying to Washington is that the EU, after the recent Beijing summit, has now formed a "strategic partnership" with China, America's most obvious potential enemy.

He tells us that, last week, General Lance Lord of the US Air Force Space Command last week announced plans to "to deploy an electronic warfare unit capable of jamming enemy satellites". It was obvious, says Booker, which satellite system he had in mind.

In fact, this is something we flagged up last October, when we drew readers attention to US Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2.1, issued on 2 August 2004, entitled Counterspace Operations.

In the foreword to that document, the Honourable Peter B Teets, Undersecretary of the USAF stated that "space is the high ground" and talked about "denying that high ground to our adverseries". He went on to ask: "What will we do ten years from now when American lives are put at risk because an adversary chooses to leverage the global positioning system of perhaps the Galileo constellation to attack American forces with precision?"

Even then, the USAF had started development on a range of "micro-satellites", with the potential to destroy enemy spacecraft, so small that ten could be loaded in a reusable military orbiter and despatched into space.

This was the XSS-10, which was successfully launched on 29 January 2003. In April of this year, its successor, the XSS-11 (see above right), was test flown. It is undoubtedly this vehicle that gives substance to General Lord's announcement that the US has plans to "to deploy an electronic warfare unit capable of jamming enemy satellites". It may not even be jamming, he has in mind, as the XSS-11 could just as easily carry an explosive warhead which could blast Galileo out of the skies.

It is closer towards that day that EU president Blair has taken us. So, remarks Booker, it is all very well for his EU colleagues to accuse Mr Blair of doing nothing as President. But it was he who signed the deal in Beijing last month which could range Britain and the EU on the side of their new "strategic partner" in any future war.

Britain's presidency may turn out to have made a rather more significant contribution to history than we will one day care to remember which, at the current rate, will see our soldiers in blue cravats, mincing around with an EU flag outside the European Parliament, while US satellites blast us out of space.


Ending the rule of law?

A certain amount of excitement has been generated by the recent decision by the Court of First Instance, which according to Matthias Storme of the Brussels Journal
“undermines the rule of law and the principles of the constitutional state and of democracy.”
Since, according to the same writer, the ruling says
“that decisions of the United Nations Security Council take precedence over national constitutions, European law and even the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).”,
one cannot help doubting the seriousness of the problem.

Anyone who thinks that it is horrifying that a decision should take precedence over “even” the ECHR does not necessarily understand the basic concept of the rule of law or of the “principles of the constitutional state and of democracy”. The fact is that the ECHR in itself undermines those principles and, indeed, the rule of law.

The decision was taken over the case of Ahmed Yusuf Ali, a Swedish citizen of Arab origin. His name appeared in 2001 on a list of persons suspected of being linked to terrorist organizations. In particular, he ran a money-transfer facility for Somalis world-wide and there is more than a hint of a suspicion that this was used to transfer money to terrorist organizations.

The list was established by the UN Security Council and transferred into EU law immediately, though, as it happens, this would come under Pillar 3, that is inter-governmental agreement.

Yusuf Ali’s assets were frozen by the Swedish authorities, who are also bound to respect the decision of the UN Security Council. However, he and his lawyer Thomas Olsson, decided to appeal against the EU decision.

The argument was two-fold: in the first place, Mr Yusuf Ali argued that EU legislation cannot apply to individuals – a dubious proposition since EU legislation in this case taking the form of several Regulations, which are directly applicable, works through that of the member states and that can and does apply to individuals.

The second point was probably more valid: Mr Yusuf Ali and Mr Olsson argued that he had not been allowed to defend himself in a court of law, which, they ought to have stated, is against the principles of natural justice and the rule of law. But they did not say this. It was, they argued, against the European Charter of Human Rights, an unsatisfactory transnational document that can be used to over-rule the democratically enacted legislation of supposedly sovereign states.

Matthias Storme finds the whole idea horrifying:

“Though terrorism should be combated by the international community, Wednesday’s verdict effectively implies that decisions of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party can gain precedence over the European Human Rights Convention. China is a member of the Security Council and its position can determine the outcome of Security Council decisions. What is the value of “human rights” which in the hierarchy of values rank lower than the preferences of the Chinese CP.”
That was, of course, the argument used by those who opposed the United States going to the UN before invading Iraq. Then it was valid. In the case of the European Human Rights Convention, it is less so. The ECHR is a document of the Council of Europe, whose members nowadays include Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Russia and all the former member states of Yugoslavia. Their judges sit on the European Court of Human Rights. Not China, perhaps, but hardly people one would go to for guidance on the rule of law and democracy.

The Court decision, as is usual, lists all the various Security Council Resolutions and the treaty articles related to the common foreign and security policy:

In accordance with Article 11(1) TEU:

The Union shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy covering all areas of foreign and security policy, the objectives of which shall be:

– to safeguard the common values, fundamental interests, independence and integrity of the Union in conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter,

– to strengthen the security of the Union in all ways,

– to preserve peace and strengthen international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter …”

Sad but true. We have all signed up to this. (Well, our governments have on our behalf and I do not suppose that many Swedish lawyers protested at the time.) And the role of the European Union courts is to ensure that the treaties are complied with and European integration proceeds apace.

Much of the debate seemed to revolve round the question whether the Regulation in question went beyond EC rules, which can impose sanctions on third countries. The court upheld the argument that sanctions can be imposed on individuals and organizations in order to interrupt their economic dealings with third countries. In this case, the third country was Afghanistan, at that point the home of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden (wherever he may be now). Therefore, EC rules were not breached.

The debated part of the decision that concerns the question of legal supremacy is stated in the press release of the Court of First Instance:
“The Court of First Instance finds that, according to international law, the obligations of the Member States of the United Nations under the Charter of the United Nations prevail over any other obligation, including their obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and under the EC Treaty. This paramountcy extends to decisions of the Security Council.

Although it is not a member of the United Nations, the Community must also be considered to be bound by the obligations flowing from the Charter of the United Nations, in the same way as are its Member States, by virtue of the Treaty establishing it. First, the Community may not infringe the obligations imposed on its Member States by virtue of the Charter or impede their performance. Second, it is required to adopt all the provisions necessary to allow its Member States to fulfil those obligations.”
The debate is, therefore, about the supremacy of UN or EC legislation. The member states come into it only as entities that are obliged to fulfil one or the other. Democracy and rule of law have nothing to do with any of this. What we are witnessing is a fight between two transnational organizations (known not so affectionately as tranzis) for supremacy.

Once we have acknowledged that one transnational organization (be that the Council of Europe or the European Union) has supremacy over our own laws, enacted within our own consitutional structure and accountable to the people of this country, the idea that the UN has supremacy over them is not that shocking.

The freezing of assets of criminals and suspected criminals (the financing of terrorism is a criminal offence in the UK and most other countries) may be an arguable piece of legislation but is, in fact, there in British law.

As long as we remain part of the UN (and Sweden is, as well as the UK) we are supposedly bound by the Security Council decisions. But the legislation, in this case, is EU legislation implemented by the Member States. And that is non-negotiable, until such time as we or Sweden decide to become independent sovereign states.

I imagine, even after that there will be legislation to deal with terrorists and those who finance them.


The next member of our government?

Poland goes to the polls today to elect its new government, an event which is given remarkably little attention in today's newspapers, despite the fact that, whoever becomes the prime minister will form part of our government, through the European Council.

At least The Sunday Times does do a piece, although it is way down in the “book”, predicting that Jan Rokita, 46, the Anglophile leader of the centre-right Civic Platform party, will be the victor.

He is an "avowed admirer" of Thatcher and Blair, and could prove a useful ally in the coming battle over the EU budget, which has been so assiduously avoided by the Blair EU presidency.

However, there is much more to Rokita than the determinedly Ango-centric account given by the Sunday Times. He is, amongst other things, an Atlanticist, favouring much closer defence ties with the United States, and thus could give strong backing to Finland in its forthcoming presidency, when it argues against the EU assuming a separate defence identity.

For more detailed coverage of the Polish elections, you can do no better than have a look at the excellent Beatroot blog. As always, if you want the news in detail, the blogosphere is the place to go.