Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That nebulous UN reform

SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo) is going to China. Nothing special in that. As Liu Jianchao, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said:
“It will be Annan's seventh visit to China since he took office, and the two sides will exchange views on international and regional issues of common interest.”
The biggest international issue to be discussed is that nebulous UN reform, which SecGen Annan wants to put into action before the end of the year. Apart from the fact that the end of the year is not all that far away (hint: December has 31 days), it is also true that what the SecGen means by reform is not quite what others mean.

Annan appears to think that all he needs to do is to enlarge the Security Council, as he or his spokespersons quaintly put it, to reflect the post-Cold War world. Questions of accountability or financial probity, not to mention control of officials’ and troops’ behaviour, do not come into it.

The Chinese government is prepared to go along with this limited view of reform and is, in any case, unlikely to support any other. However, it is not prepared to accept the countries that are being proposed for a new, enlarged Security Council. In particular, China will not countenance Japan as a permanent member. As Liu Jianchao explained:
“China supports reform of the U.N. Security Council ... but priority should be given to increasing the representation of developing countries, especially African countries.”
Since many of those developing, African countries are the problem, this suggestion is not likely to go down very well with the United States or various other members, which is probably why the Chinese have made it. UN reform is not high on their list of priorities.

Unfortunately for those who prefer to stick to the status quo (most of those who work for the UN and its various agencies plus the various delegates and their staff), the United States does see it as a high priority. And it is not alone. As Frederick Kempe pointed out yesterday in the Wall Street Journal [unusually, available free],
“Some call what the U.S. is trying to achieve -- with significant support from other countries, notably Japan -- the GE-ization of the U.N., that is, introducing the modern management mechanisms of global companies. Together the U.S. and Japan provide more than 40% of U.N. funds (the U.S. 22% and Japan 19%). Among the leading opponents are Pakistan, Egypt and India.”
The key point there is the 40 per cent of UN funds (and that, one assumes, does not include the prime real estate in land-hungry Manhattan that the UN is squatting on). Congress wants to pass legislation that would withhold 50 per cent of American funding if the UN shows no sign of becoming more transparent or accountable.

The many recent scandals, culminating in the revelations of the oil-for-food scam have destroyed much of the UN’s credibility in so far as it had any. Those who oppose reforms, many of whom see it all as a sinister American plot not to have to pay for a tranzi organization that does its best bite the hand that feeds it, do not seem to realize that the UN in its present form is doomed, though, undoubtedly, its existence will be prolonged for some years more.

But can the UN be reformed? Mr Kempe sounds doubtful, though he is not a UN-basher by any means:
“The body that symbolizes the problem is also the source of much of the resistance to reform. Known as the Fifth Committee, it is the main council of the General Assembly responsible for administration and budgetary matters. It has 191 members and micromanages to a degree that it is nearly impossible for the secretary general to fire poor performers or shift resources between operations. Imagine a Western legislature having a committee that signs off not just on all expenditures but on each staff position in every mission. Management reform, if it is to work, would take much of that power and give it to a chief executive.

The most effective parts of the United Nations are funded voluntarily and aren't beholden to the Fifth Committee or the General Assembly. They include the United Nations Development program, the World Health Organization, the World Food program and UNICEF. Mr. Bolton has supported a shift of U.N. funding toward such voluntary activities, where competition for government funds with non-UN organizations has created more competitive, efficient organizations.”
[As it happens, the European Parliament manages to do quite a lot of signing off but, I suppose, it is not really a legislature in the accepted sense of the word. Then again, neither is the UN.]

Most of Mr Kempe’s article is about John Bolton, who has surprised everyone by not being the expected firebrand. Presumably, he does not eat other delegates for breakfast and this, according to Mr Kempe, shows a new, kindlier Mr Bolton. There is a reason for it, he thinks:
“While many diplomats search for Mr. Bolton's hidden motives in pushing this agenda, they've missed the most obvious: the Bush administration has realized at great pain via Iraq that it can't achieve much in the world without more effective multilateralism. The challenges increasingly defy unilateral solutions: terrorism, international crime, pandemic threats, global warming, nuclear proliferation.”
Since the UN has been singularly ineffective on all those scores and the US has managed to sign all sorts of bilateral and multilateral agreements, not to mention put together coalitions of the willing as in the post-tsunami weeks, it is not clear where Mr Kempe gets his certainties from.

Not from Mr Bolton, that’s for sure. John Bolton may have shown himself to be a hard-working, pragmatic diplomat (largely what he always was) but he has not changed too many of his opinions, as is clear from the quotations in the article:
“If we have a good story on reform, I'll tell it to the Hill. If we don't, I'm not going to spin it. What they know is that I am is a tough negotiator for U.S. positions.”
That is not so different from John Bolton saying that he is not there to represent the UN in the United States but the US in the United Nations.

Nor does he show himself to be all that optimistic about that famed reform, which is, according to Mr Kempe, being opposed on all sides in the organization:
“We're two months beyond the September summit and we are not making the kind of progress we would like.”
Very diplomatic. We are getting absolutely nowhere because the tranzis and free-loaders do not want to end the endless subsidies to the lifestyle they have become accustomed to, would be nearer the mark.

Meanwhile the American Enterprise Institute has published a Report Card from America: UN Reform by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell. The first paragraph gives the background:
“We were co-chairmen of a bipartisan task force that was authorized by the U.S. Congress late last year to study ways to make the United Nations more effective. The group spanned a very wide range of political and ideological perspectives, and we couldn't agree on everything. But when we issued a consensus report in June, what was most striking was the extent to which we were able to find common ground, including our most important finding, which was ''the firm belief that an effective United Nations is in America's interests.''”
That does not mean what Mr Kempe says in his article. Clearly a strong UN that had no pretence to world government, that did not try to lay down some nebulous international law, that did not pander to dictators, that was accountable for the vast amounts of tax money it spends, that lived up to its own Charter and stayed within it, would be in America’s and many other countries’ interests. But it probably would not be the UN as it has developed over the fifty years of its existence.

The Report Card goes through a number of subjects: Human Rights and Genocide Prevention, Darfur, Human Rights, Management Reform and Catastrophic Terrorism. In each section it recommends a course of action for the US and the UN jointly, and on each point it sadly admits that little if anything has been done so far.

The final paragraph is considerably more emollient than anything Mr Bolton seems to have said but, as it happens, considerably less realistic:
“As others have said, UN reform is a process, not an event. Yet, it is reasonable to be concerned about the lack of progress at the September summit, which as the largest gathering of world leaders ever, provided a signal opportunity. It will continue to take concerted leadership by the United States, working with the world's other democracies, to help the United Nations meet the enduring goals of its Charter.”
It seems unlikely that SecGen Annan will discuss any of these matters with the Chinese leaders. Alas, it remains true that there is an impossible contradiction in the UN: the “enduring goals of its Charter” cannot be met by an organization most of whose members do not recognize those goals as being valid or necessary.


As clear as mud

The Daily Telegraph's claims on the EU budget, spread over the front page of today’s edition have done little to add light to an increasingly complex situation.

Written by David Rennie, the Brussels correspondent, with Toby Helms, the paper has it that Blair is “ready to surrender EU rebate with no payback”. Such an outcome would hardly be a surprise, considering Blair’s firm “red lines” on the EU constitution, which became perforated lines, and then pink lines and then no lines at all. Blair, if nothing else, continues the dishonourable tradition of so many of our prime ministers, of talking tough and then giving way under pressure.

However, The Telegraph adds a novel twist, relying on unnamed "Whitehall sources" to suggest that Blair is planning to split the rebate into parts that he can defend as "fair" - including Britain's rebate from the Common Agricultural Policy - and others that are less easy to justify, including spending on enlargement.

By contrast, though, The Times has it that our beloved leader is holding firm on the rebate, and has indicated that he was ready to call a halt to next month's European Council, rather than compromise on the rebate.

That was this morning, and later in the day, with the Telegraph story clearly in mind, journalists tackled the prime minister’s official spokesman (PMOS) during the daily briefing. The PMOS was uncompromising, stating that the rebate was an "indivisible whole". Blair;s position on the rebate was in line with what he had said in the summer and in various speeches to the EU Parliament, Mansion House speech etc., etc. In other words, nothing had changed.

That did not stop Barroso pitching in today, telling Blair not to reverse the legend of Robin Hood by robbing poor new east European members to pay the rich in the European Union's budget.

Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said Barroso had had a long and "very frank" exchange of views with Blair, later telling a news conference, "You all know the old story of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. The president has made it very clear that he does not expect the British presidency to take the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, taking from the poor to give to the rich".

Meanwhile, the newly appointed German chancellor Angela Merkel has told her own told parliament that she was prepared to contribute to a reasonable and durable compromise that served all of Europe. "But one thing is also quite clear," she says. "The new government will emphatically pursue German interests. Given our budget position, we cannot accept any excessive financial demands in the light of our own problems."

All that makes the situation just about clear as mud. We are going to have to wait until Monday when the formal British proposal is presented to the meeting of foreign ministers of the EU member states, when we will then be able to pick over the bones of the deal.


Oh I can't resist this

Simon Jenkins, that doyen of the MSM, and a man whose ability to get things wrong comes second only to Lord Rees-Mogg, was pontificating in the Sunday Times. Among other things Mr Jenkins informs his readers of the following:

"That Blair and Bush should have discussed bombing the Al-Jazeera building in Qatar is hardly surprising. They agreed to bomb the headquarters of Serbian television during the Kosovo war."

While Bill Clinton was President? Sheesh, that's smart.


The EU paradox

You cannot fault Jacques "Wheel" Barrot for lack of ambition. Despite the criminal record that dare not speak his name, as EU transport commissioner he is planning to set up what might be the granddaddy of all EU agencies. Never mind the European Railways Agency, says our Jacques, he wants an all-embracing TransEuropean Transport Agency.

This is according to Lloyds List, which reports that the new agency is being mooted in “an internal document”, with Jacques arguing that a separate agency is needed to oversee the EU's “burgeoning transeuropean transport network”.

The "Transeuropean Transport Network Executive Agency" would have similar staffing levels to the newly created European Maritime Safety Agency: about 100 when fully operational. But it would oversee a budget of potentially more than €3bn ($3.5bn) a year and would consist of experts committed to "higher quality and effectiveness of project management".

The undated memo suggests the commission take a formal decision to create the agency early in the New Year, allowing the body to come into being some time in the following months. Its rationale is that the commission, in its present organisational form, "might find it difficult to handle the financial and technical management of a budget that has more than tripled," the memo adds.

That is, of course, if the budget settlement is agreed, which looks uncertain at this time. But the fact that the commission is planning yet another of its agencies to take out a huge chunk of work currently handled by member states is yet another example of the paradox of the EU. One the one hand, the construct is dying politically, and even its own acolytes are losing faith. On the other, the pace of integration continues unabated.

But then, so they say, the Roman Empire was already in decline when it commissioned some of its finest, most grandiose buildings. Perhaps this is what we are seeing now, the new agencies being the Roman equivalent.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Getting round the Karlsruhe Court

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries is trying very hard. Well, she is quite trying, especially as far as the German Constitutional Court and the länder are concerned.

Frustrated in her attempt to use the European Arrest Warrant to extradite a German national who had been accused of financing terrorist organizations and activities to Spain by the Karlsruhe Court’s decision on July 18, she has now produced a draft amendment to the European Arrest Warrant Act, which has been sent round the governments of the länder and relevant interest groups for comment.

Under the proposed new law
“criminal offender would not be able to avoid extradition on the basis of citizenship if the crime committed were related in some important way to another country. This would be the case, for instance, if a murder were committed abroad. German nationals would also be extradited in cases involving terrorist acts or international drug trafficking.”
There is another amendment, which should gladden the hearts of the human rights groups. Until now the Constitutional Court has always maintained that if the extradition of a German national is demanded, the case should be carefully analyzed to establish whether extradition is commensurate.

This rule would, under the new law, apply to foreign nationals as well, as long as they are long-term, legal residents, particularly if they have a German partner.


A really serious matter

What to make of the bizarre situation where member states found to have allowed the operation of "secret CIA detention camps" are being threatened with loss of their EU voting rights?

This is according to the Guardian today, and many others, where the EU justice and home affairs commissioner, Franco Frattini, said there would be "serious consequences" if reports of CIA jails in Europe turned out to be true.

The finger is being pointed at Poland and Bulgaria, the latter not even a member, with Frattini stating yesterday that he "would be obliged to propose to the Council serious consequences, including the suspension of voting rights in the council."

This, of course, is redolent of the fracas in 2000, when the "extreme-right" Austrian Freedom Party received 52 seats in the lower house of Parliament, giving it a share in government. Led by Joerg Haider, who had earned notoriety after making remarks interpreted as praising of Hitler's Germany, was quickly blackballed by the other 14 (then) member states. Amongst other things, Austria was permitted to join in only the most formal of discussions concerning EU business, and was excluded from any unofficial negotiations.

Of course, the brave Frattini's is somewhat into camps himself, proposing as Italian foreign minister the creation of transit camps in the Mediterranean – Libya was suggested - for illegal immigrants as a way of countering the wave of human traffic heading for Europe. Dubbed at the time the EU’s concentration camps, in August 2004, Berlusconi went so far as to discuss the details with that well-known humanitarian, Colonel Ghaddafi.

A year previously, Frattini's ministerial colleague, Umberto Bossi, had come up with a slightly more radical scheme, suggesting that boats carrying illegal immigrants should be shot out of the water. In Corriere della Sera, he was quoted as saying, "After the second or third warning, boom... the cannon roars… Without any beating about the bush. The cannon that blows everyone out of the water. Otherwise this business will never end."

Needless to say, there was then no suggestion then, or a year later that Italy should be drummed out of the EU. Shooting nig-nogs or locking them up in concentration camps is quite acceptable. But helping the Americans keep Islamic terrorists off the streets – now that is a really serious matter.


Zapatero is bored

Last weekend, in case you had not noticed, was the Euro-Mediterranean Summit in Barcelona. And, according to The Spain Herald it at least served one purpose.

It made us realise, says the paper, that Prime Minister Zapatero gets supremely bored during these international summits. This they learned this thanks to an "indiscrete microphone" that picked up his conversation with a staffer who said "I'm going to find you an interview so you don't get bored stuck here for four hours." Clearly, those working for the Prime Minister know him well. The Spanish Prime Minister cares nothing about what comes of these Summits. He goes to the photo session, passes the time and that is that.

In full flight, the paper continues:

The "indiscrete microphone" in Barcelona, far from being anecdotal, has revealed this Prime Minister’s frivolous attitude toward his job. Where is he defending Spanish interests? Where is his concern for upholding principles that benefit Spain? Where is his drive to put Spain's general interests above his own personal goals? Zapatero has no clue how to negotiate international forums (we already knew this), but now we find out he does not even have the least concern in gaining a presence in these world events. We always had the impression the Prime Minister was like "an octopus in the garage", but now we have proof.

Zapatero gets bored at these Summits and cares little about their results. What the conclusions say is of no consequence. The only important thing for the Prime Minister is being able to "sell something". The content doesn't matter. Zapatero and his aids have show us their rude and simplistic natures.

Zapatero’s exceedingly low political profile is worrisome. And it is noteworthy how little ambition this man has to secure Spain in a privileged spot on the international political scene. What, then, interests the Prime Minister? Such a lack of seriousness is frightening. Moreover, knowing that in Brussels negotiations are beginning over the EU budget and how to divide up the funds, we can have very little hope that this man, who cannot negotiate and lacks the bravery to defend our interests, will accomplish much for Spain. Zapatero is bored. And that says it all.
Actually, he is not alone. We know from past reports that Blair gets extremely bored as well, and he can hardly be the only one, as the Zapatero account reveals. What a way to run a railway, though – a group of bored men (and the occasional woman) gathered round a table talking at each other, each wishing they were somewhere else.

Mind you, we are with Zapatero on this one. We know exactly how he feels, and all we have to do is write about what goes on.


Monday, November 28, 2005

A job for the Euro-Army

Seeing as the Euro-Army isn't actually going to fight anyone, we have found a use for it - implementing the End of Life Vehicles Directive.

Culled from the North archives.


What does it take?

The "think tank" which calls itself "Open Europe" has laboured mightily and produced a report on EU regulation.

Entitled Less regulation – four ways to cut the burden of EU red tape, it runs to 28 pages, adding another useful contribution to the corps of literature on the burden of EU legislation.

However, the report starts with an introduction from Sir John Egan, past president of the CBI, who welcomes Barroso's recent promise to build a "bonfire of regulations", but then notes that, "so far we seem to have seen a lot of smoke but little fire."

Despite Barroso's good intentions, the EU's production of new regulations is actually increasing at an alarming rate. Of the 22,000 pieces of legislation on the EU statute book, about 12,000 have been introduced in the eight years since 1997, compared to 10,000 during the forty years from 1957 to 1997. Thus, concludes Egan, "Look closely at what the European Commission's 'war on red tape' really means and the sad answer is: not very much," then citing Le Figaro's description of the current deregulation initiative as "largely cosmetic".

Much more of this is found in the body of the report, painting a comprehensive picture of the failure of deregulation at the EU level. But, instead of drawing the obvious conclusion – that deregulation in the EU is simply a non-starter – the Open Europe wonks simply come up with four wonderful ideas for reducing red tape.

First, they want the EU to abandon the idea of "better" regulation and focus on less regulation. Then, the EU should adopt the Dutch deregulation system, conducting a proper economic audit of the whole body of existing legislation, following a Dutch target of reducing administrative costs by 25 percent.

Third, they write, MPs at Westminster need far greater powers to raise the alarm about upcoming EU regulations at an early stage. The current EU scrutiny committee is seriously under-powered to deal with the flood of EU legislation. Finally, they want it made compulsory for the EU to carry out proper Regulatory Impact Assessments before legislating.

One need not waste time evaluating all these proposals as they fall at the first hurdle. Given the very evidence that the unit itself offers, the chances of the EU adopting a policy of "less regulation" is precisely nil.

This is not just because the commission is fundamentally incapable of carrying out such a programme, it is also because regulation - in the context of the Monnet method – is the primary tool of economic integration, from which political integration is intended to follow. Thus, the primary purpose of the commission is to create regulation and to ask it to do less is like asking for less sex in a brothel.

Thus, while one would like to applaud the work of Open Europe, all one sees is this mind-sapping head in-the-sand attitude, leaving us to ask, what does it take for them to see the blindingly obvious?


So farewell, then Bob Kiley

Well, not quite farewell, as the now resigned transport commissioner is staying in his £2.1 million "pad" in Belgravia, will collect the unpaid bonuses (which have no connection with achievement) and continue to draw an estimated salary of £100,000 a year as a "consultant" to Hizonner, the Mayor.

Transport for London, meantime, remains an expensive and inefficient part of the unaccountable governance of this city, as described again by OneLondon.


Iranian bloggers become news

Give journalists time and they will get the news. Several days after this blog (and one or two others) ran the story of Iranian bloggers and their importance in the fight against the tyranny of the Mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Daily Telegraph has decided to run a story on it.

At least, they recognize that this is a story of great importance. The article gives some details of the government’s activity:

“The authorities have reportedly spent millions on programmes designed to filter cyberspace and block access to controversial sites, with names such as "regime change Iran", "free thoughts on Iran" and "women against fundamentalism".

As part of the most recent clampdown, reported in the reformist newspaper Shargh, Iran's Telecom company has ordered all service providers to block access to, a free service enabling users to track their favourite weblogs and be informed when they are updated.”

Bloggers and their readers use ever more ingenious methods for circumventing all these programmes and clampdowns and the government is clearly beginning to feel that the battle is one it is losing.

It might have been useful for the article to have linked the story of the bloggers and their desperate battle with Iran’s tyrannical government, described by Baroness Nicolls, for some reason as

“an advanced form of democracy in the region”,

with the ongoing attempt to take control of the internet away from ICANN in the United States, but that would be too much to expect.


Voluntary integration

Philip Johnston excels himself in his "Home Front" column in The Daily Telegraph today.

Dealing with the vexed question of the European Evidence Warrant – which follows on from the European Arrest Warrant – he postulates the scenario based on David Irving, the British historian, who is in an Austrian jail facing trial on a charge of denying the Holocaust.

This is a crime in Austria and in several other European countries, but not in ours but, while Irvingwas arrested in Austria for two lectures he gave in 1989, imagine, writes Johnston, if Austria could order the Met to search Mr Irving's home and office in England for evidence, and seize papers and documents. "Could it possibly be right for the British authorities to enter a person's home at the request of a foreign court to obtain evidence for the prosecution of a crime that is not a crime in Britain?" he asks, then continuing:

Yet that is precisely what is proposed under the European Evidence Warrant (EEW), which is due to be agreed by EU justice and interior ministers this week. This is yet another plank in the gradual development of a common European judicial area. If anyone seriously believed that the rejection of the proposed constitution marked the high-water mark of European integrationist ambitions, then they have not been paying much attention to what has being going on in the criminal justice sphere.

Already, we have Eurojust, which advises on prosecutions; Europol, which has grown from a small, complementary intelligence agency into a large operational force; a putative European public prosecutor, an office that would probably have been established by now but for Britain's opposition; and the European arrest warrant, which can be exercised in any of the 25 member states for 32 crimes.

This edifice has been set up almost without public debate. Indeed, anyone who suggests that common judicial procedures look suspiciously like the trappings of a state is regarded as either a Europhobic zealot or someone who favours organised crime and terrorism. But the fact is that the perfectly reasonable concept of "mutual assistance" in criminal justice matters, first outlined in 1999, has been taken much further than suggested then.
What is both fascinating and appalling is that The EEW is the latest addition to this process and is due to be agreed before the end of the year. Yet, adds Johnston, you could be forgiven for not having heard about it:

The Commons committee that scrutinises EU laws has been tracking its progress through various stages of negotiation and is to hold a debate on Thursday. It is fiercely critical of the powers that the warrant bestows on prosecuting authorities and especially its impact on the doctrine of dual criminality, which states that no one can be extradited for a crime that is not also an offence in this country.

However, since the EU wants to treat itself as one country for judicial purposes, it would like to do away with dual criminality and has been gradually watering it down. The 32 crimes for which the European arrest warrant can already be exercised include offences such as xenophobia and racism, for which there are no British equivalents. The one concession to dual criminality is that, if the "offence", such as Holocaust denial, is largely committed on British soil, extradition cannot take place. But even this safeguard is likely to be abolished when the matter is reviewed in five years' time.

The EEW continues to chip away at the concept. In a report published ahead of this week's debate, the Commons scrutiny committee said: "If a foreign authority were to regard the publishing by a journalist of an article trivialising war crimes as the offence of 'racism and xenophobia', or the paying of officials for information about fraud or mismanagement of public bodies as 'corruption', then. under the EEW, a journalist who had written such an article or arranged for such payments here would be at risk of a search of his home and office in this country in support of foreign criminal proceedings."

The committee adds: "The doctrine of dual criminality is more than a mere technicality, as it gives the United Kingdom citizen - or any other person within the jurisdiction - a guarantee that he will not be pursued by police and prosecution authorities for his conduct which is lawful in this country. In our view, this proposal too lightly discards this guarantee."

The committee expressed "in the strongest terms our concerns that the measure could and would be used by foreign authorities to subject persons in this country to the exercise of police powers when, under the laws of various parts of the UK, they have done nothing wrong".

Imagine if the Government had proposed that the police should be able to search an individual's home and office, and impound his personal belongings, even though he had not committed a crime nor was suspected of one. Consider the parliamentary rows, the impassioned speeches about the rule of law, the inevitable defeat for the Government in the Lords.

Yet European laws that drive a coach and horses through some of our most cherished legal safeguards are enacted with hardly a whimper of protest, despite the best endeavours of the parliamentary scrutineers.
Johnston tells us that this week marks the last chance to stop the EEW becoming law and, because it requires unanimity, it could be blocked with just one dissenting vote. But despite the misgivings of the Government, Britain does not intend to use its veto. The warrant is now one of those shibboleths that must be bowed to in the name of anti-terrorist policy, even though it predates September 11 by at least two years and should be considered on its own merits. It was given fresh impetus after the July 7 bombs in London and EU governments decided to push it through by the end of the year.

Therein lies the paradox. At one, we have our government – and particularly Gordon Brown - railing against the depredations of the EU and the imposts from Brussels. Yet justice and home affairs issues – under which the EEW falls – come under the notorious "third pillar" established by the Maastricht Treaty, which means that the member states, not the commission, propose new laws, and any decision must be unanimously approved by the Council.

Therefore, as with defence and other issues, this is not a question of the big, bad commission imposing laws on us, relying on qualified majority voting to get its proposals through, but of what we are doing to ourselves – or more specifically what our own government, with the approval of Parliament, is doing to us.

Integration in this area is wholly voluntary and, without coercion, it is Mr Blair and his minions that are setting the pace. That says a great deal for the priorities of our masters.


Stacking up the air miles

The great leader Blair is in for a busy week, embarking on – according to the Scotsman - "a frantic round of diplomacy in a last ditch bid to secure a deal from the EU budget." He is to hold talks with seven of the 10 EU accession countries in an attempt to win support for what are being called "British compromise proposals", prior to the European Council on 15-16 December.

Having already held talks with the Maltese premier last Saturday in Malta, and on Sunday night with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's prime minister, on the margins of an EU-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona. his next stop is Kiev. He will arrive Wednesday for an EU-Ukraine summit on Thursday and then fly to Tallinn for talks with the accession countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before flying on to Budapest for talks with Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

As for the great "compromise", the Financial Times is reporting that Britain is to propose significant cuts to the budget, with some of the continent’s poorest countries losing aid. This, we are told, is "a move to help resolve the row over the UK's €5bn budget rebate."

Having already hacked off Chirac, this ploy seems to be calculated to upset just about every one of the new accession countries. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Poland's new prime minister, is already expressing concern at losing part of the €60bn of net EU transfers it was expecting by 2013, while others may join the fray.

The idea is to cut €871bn from the budget proposal, releasing cash to allow the British presidency to cut the net payments of the Netherlands and Sweden. Crucially, the savings could be used to cushion the impact on the UK if, as expected, Blair agrees to negotiate away part of the rebate.

On the basis of his recent and forthcoming travels, however, Blair might resolve the issue rather more painlessly by the simple expedient of donating his air miles to the EU.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Another reason for not surrendering the internet

As this blog has pointed out before, the idea of the internet being run “by the world” is not only preposterous (how precisely is the world going to run it as most of the world has no say in the way individual countries and societies are run?) but downright dangerous.

This is not just because handing anything over to the UN (responsible most recently for the oil-for-food scam) is a lunatic idea but because the proposal emanates from and is enthusiastically supported by some of the world’s worst tyrants (and the European Union with Britain as part of it).

While the idea was proposed by Iran, whose rulers have a serious problem with the country’s bloggers, the communist rulers of China were not far behind. They, too, have a problem.

The number of Chinese bloggers is estimated to be between one and two million. Some blog in Chinese, some in English and many bring news from other websites onto their blogs.

Now, one can argue that even 2 million bloggers is a small drop in a very large ocean, as far as China is concerned (though one must not forget that there are many bloggers outside mainland China, who can be read by Chinese internet surfers). But in a country where, despite some naïve glorification by Western liberals who do not look too far, control of political opinion is still paramount, even such a relatively small number is a problem.

According to an article in Thursday’s International Herald Tribune
“Under President Hu Jintao, the government has waged an energetic campaign against freedom of expression - prohibiting the promotion of public intellectuals by the news media and imposing restrictions on Web sites, like requirements to register domain names.

The government has also pressured search engine companies to bar sensitive topics, particularly those dealing with democracy and human rights, and has heavily censored online bulletin board discussions at universities and elsewhere.

So far, the Chinese authorities have mostly relied on Internet service providers to police the Web logs. Commentary that is too provocative or too directly critical of the government is often blocked by the provider, and sometimes the sites are swamped by opposing comments - believed by many to be from official censors - that are more favorable to the government.

Blogs are sometimes shut down altogether, temporarily or permanently. But the authorities do not yet seem to have an answer to the proliferation of public opinion in this form.”
With the growth of broadband usage blogging has really taken off and those that are closed down, often reappear under a different name (that is if the blogger in question is not arrested, having been denounced by Yahoo or some other western provider).

Not all the blogs are directly political. Many are personal or humorously subversive. In a system where the personal is political these, too, become a potential danger.

Clearly the Chinese government and its Ministry of Interior that keeps a police force dedicated to the control and censure of the internet are afraid that, even with the help of Western firms, desperate for contracts, they may lose the battle against the blogosphere. How much easier would it be if they could exert some control on who could and who could not sign up on the inernet, as they would be able to do, should the “world”, a.k.a. some international committee set up by the UN be put in charge.


Turkey in two minds

Manouchehr Mottaki, Iranian Foreign Minister, but also the Islamic Republic’s former ambassador to Japan and, before that, to Turkey, is planning a visit to the latter this week.

Mr Mottaki’s history is quite colourful. According to Iran Focus

“As a radical Islamist in his student days in India’s Bangalore University, Mottaki was a fervent supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini. He returned to Iran during the revolution and joined the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soon after the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979. After taking part in the bloody campaign against Kurdish dissidents, Mottaki moved to the Foreign Ministry, where for some time he was the IRGC liaison officer.

Mottaki was appointed Iran’s ambassador to Turkey in 1985 and it was during his tenure in Ankara that the Revolutionary Guard-turned-diplomat became involved in a number of terror attacks and assassinations of dissidents, according to Iranian opposition figures and defectors. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, at least 50 Iranian dissidents were kidnapped or assassinated in Turkey by Iranian secret agents often working closely with diplomats from Iran’s embassy and consulates.

On Mottaki’s watch, the Iranian embassy in Ankara and the consulate-general in Istanbul were turned into safe houses for agents of Iran’s notorious secret police hunting down Iranian dissidents, according to exiles.”

In 1989 Ambassador Mottaki was asked to leave Turkey as his involvement with terrorist activity became known. Now he is returning for a visit, much to the dissatisfaction of human rights groups and Iranian dissident groups in the West.

Simon Bailey of the London based Gulf Intelligence Monitor maintains that this will not help Turkey in its efforts to strengthen its democratic credentials for membership of the European Union. But there seems to be little indication of the EU making any sort of representation on the subject. Mottaki is, after all, Foreign Minister and the EU never quarrels with anybody’s foreign ministers. Well, not with any dictatorship’s foreign minister. Some EU politicians do display a certain petulance when senior American politicians travel to Europe.


The government gets away with it

Looking at the print edition of The Sunday Times this morning, I could not help but feel a little smug on seeing the headline, "Carrier delays put navy's air defence at risk". After all, I did this story on 29 October, nearly a full month ago.

At least, I thought, the paper did run the story, albeit tucked into the gutter on page 8, leaving the front page to a photograph of the rowers who plan to cross the Atlantic in the nude.

Referring to the online edition for a link, however, put a different perspective on the Times's "scoop". It had been replaced by a much, much more important defence story, headed: "MoD probe into naked marines' initiation fight", the writer slavering over the details of "naked marines" shown "reportedly cheering as two new recruits are ordered to fight each other."

Being far too serious, the carrier story had been relegated to three short paragraphs at the end, the only new fact surviving being the news that the overall cost of the ships is predicted to climb from £2.8 billion to as much as £4.2 billion.

In a week where there have been important, even sinister developments in the (lack of) defence of our nation, the government must be counting its blessing that the media is so utterly useless on defence issues, and so easily distracted by by trivia.

It is to Booker in his Sunday Telegraph column, therefore, that adult readers must turn for some serious defence news – having got past the front-page story on sex slaves, which no doubt had readers enthralled.

Booker weaves together the pieces that have appeared on this blog, writing that last week moved up by several notches the slow-motion catastrophe unfolding over Britain's defence policy, ending our "special relationship" with the US and committing us to total dependence on our EU partners:

First, EU defence ministers confirmed their moves towards creating a "European defence industry", which is in practice committing Britain to waste billions of pounds buying equipment from our EU partners, when we would formerly have bought superior and cheaper equipment made in the US or Britain.

Second, President Bush had to cave in to the US Congress's wish to end the release to Britain of sensitive technological information, on the grounds that we can no longer be trusted not to pass this on to other EU countries or China. This spells an end to such joint Anglo-US defence projects as the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Third, the Ministry of Defence provided "non-answers" to questions put by MPs, including the Tories' front-bench spokesman Gerald Howarth, on the recent decision, revealed in this column, that we are to lose our last explosives-making facilities, making us wholly dependent on explosives imported from abroad. The MoD refuses to say where all the explosives for Britain's Armed Forces will in future be made.

Meanwhile the National Audit Office covered up for the MoD by producing a joke report on various recent defence projects. It congratulated the MoD for bringing in on time the Javelin anti-tank missile, without admitting that this has been available since 1996, and that we only bought it from the US after wasting £109 million on a Continental version that did not work.

The NAO approved the Army's biggest ever truck purchase from the German firm MAN, without pointing out that the trucks failed to meet specification and that better vehicles could have been bought from two US-British consortia. The report congratulated the MoD on "saving £157 million" on its order for a French missile for the Eurofighter, without pointing out that it could have saved £900 million by buying the US equivalent.

The NAO also fell for MoD spin that it had "saved £145 million" by reducing the efficiency of its three planned Type-45 destroyers, equipped only with French anti-aircraft missiles and costing £1 billion each. It did not explain that we could have followed the example of the Australian Navy by buying US-designed ships, British-built and equipped also to fire cruise and anti-submarine missiles. Complete with missile systems, these would have cost only £600 million each, saving £1.2 billion for much more capable ships.

Finally the Queen gave Royal Assent to the MoD's scrapping of our last county-based infantry regiments, to be merged into new "large regiments" to fit the British Army to the needs of the "European Rapid Reaction Force".
Not a good week, concludes Booker. "But the Government gets away with it, not least because defence now arouses so little interest," he adds. How appropriate that the Sunday Times is so quick to prove his point.


A price too high

You would think that Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the free-market Adam Smith Institute, would know better. But here he is, in the pages of The Business today, offering a peon of praise to the EU's commission for its attempts to "liberalise" Europe's rail industries.

For sure, the railways on the Continent are classic examples of the heavily-subsidised state-owned dinosaurs, typified by the French-owned SNCF, and Butler makes a good case for breaking up the state monopolies and allowing the wind of competition to rip through the sector.

But, without showing any sign of understanding what is going on, Butler writes cheerily about the commission wanting to be "proactive promoters of market entry and competition, and functionality independent of ministers".

Reference to the commission’s website, however, reveals the true – and predicable – agenda. As we pointed out in respect of the commission’s activities in the energy sector, it is not liberalisation in which the commission is expressing an interest, but integration.

Under the guise of promoting competition and all the free-market values that Butler espouses, the commission is seeking to detach the railways from their national bases, only then to re-order them on a supranational level, under the control of the commission, responsible to its own European Railway Agency.

Integration of the railway system was in fact first attempted way back in 1952, by the then European Coal and Steel Community, with Mr Monnet's High Authority – the forerunner of the present commission – arguing that there was little point in standardising cross-border prices for coal and steel if there were large variations in rail freight charges and conditions.

Then, as always, the ultimate objective was to foster a state of interdependence, breaking down the ability of individual nation states to act independently, making them reliant on the supranational government. Back in the 50s, this was a step too far, but the fact that the process was attempted all those years ago is a salutary reminder of the longevity of the ambitions of the integrationists, and their sheer, dogged persistence.

Nevertheless, that there should be better co-ordination between national railway systems, cross-border co-operation and liberalisation. Such moves would be in the economic interests of the countries of Europe and could be best managed by a series of intergovernmental agreements, using the established mechanism of the convention.

That is the direction Butler should be looking. After all, it was said of Mussolini that his great achievement was to make the railways run on time, but no one would suggest reintroducing Fascist dictators for that reason. Similarly, rather than applauding the commission's attempts to make the trains run on time, he should recognise that the price is economic and political integration. That is a price too high.


As advertised by Booker

As a tailpiece in his incredible shrinking column, relegated to the penultimate page of The Sunday Telegraph, Booker has managed to get in a plug for our new edition of The Great Deception. He writes:

Last weekend at the annual conference of the Bruges Group, Dr Richard North and I launched a new paperback edition of The Great Deception, our best-selling history of the EU (Continuum, £9.99). This has been extensively revised and updated, to include the story behind the rise and semi-fall of the EU constitution.”

When the first edition appeared in 2003, it was praised by historians and commentators as by far the fullest and most revealing account of the "European project" to date, and sold more than 10,000 copies.

Last weekend all 50 copies of the new edition on sale were snapped up. But anyone who tries to order it
via Amazon must be careful to look for the new subtitle "Can The European Union Survive?" Thanks to the legendary idiosyncrasy of that computerised bureaucracy, it still shows the cover of the old edition, by which some readers have already been misled.
To assist our readers, the correct cover is shown above. Most of our readers will easily recognise the aircraft and some may be able to identify the missile – it is of course the French-designed Meteor air-to-air missile. Its appearance on the front cover of our new book, substantially updated from the original, is not a coincidence.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Buried in trivia

Sometimes a coincidence happens which is too important to ignore. This is one of them.

On my desk for a few days now has been a copy of an article from the October edition of the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) Journal, headed "Britain's Armed Forces Under Threat", with a strap line reading: "A journalist's lament" (online here, but subscription only).

The article is by Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, some time defence correspondent and one of the few military historians, in my opinion, who understands the technology of warfare and its role in shaping events.

Anyhow, Hastings is in "lament mode", concerned at the indifference of the media and the public in general – to say nothing of the politicians – about defence issues. He also echoes a refrain oft rehearsed by this Blog, the absence of an informed media debate on the Services, one reason for which, he believes, is unwillingness of serving officers to give private briefings to journalists. In that context, this section caught my eye:

In the absence of informed private briefing, media debate on the Services is conducted at the shallowest possible level. For instance, many perceive a strong case for the large regiments policy. However painful for those units affected, the single battalion structure seems doomed. Yet, in the absence of effective, top-level briefing, media coverage of this issue lapsed into a familiar howl of anguish about cap badges, which does no service to the real interests of the corps of infantry.
Lo and behold! What do we see in The Daily Telegraph today? An article, no less, headed "Dismay as regiments lose their historic cap badges".

Only passing references are made by the authors, Ausian Camb and the Telegraph’s excuse for a defence correspondent, Thomas Harding, to the changes that have given rise to the new regiments and the cap badge controversy.

The reforms have been implemented to allow soldiers' greater career choice and family stability by giving them a permanent fixed base, they write, only then adding that: "It will also allegedly provide the Army, at a time when it is increasingly becoming an expeditionary force, with a greater number of battalions ready for operations despite axing the numbers from 40 to 36."

There, tucked in is that all-important reference, "an expeditionary force", a massive change in role for an Army which, since the Second World War has put most of its resources into BAOR, its cutting edge being the armoured division - and, rather conveniently, equipping the Army for its role in the European Rapid Reaction Force.

While we would not disagree that the symbolism of cap badges is important, the fact that so this is, effectively, the main topic when it comes to a major force restructuring is a massive indictment of the "dumbing down" of the media. They do us no service burying important issues in a mountain of trivia.


The march of integration

Our first instinct, when we started this blog, was to make a running commentary of all the developments in the EU, keeping our readers up to date with all the news emanating from Brussels.

We soon abandoned that idea, not least because of the weight of information, but also because of the repetitiveness and sheer tedium of much of the subject matter. That perhaps, as we have observed before, is the real genius of the EU – making vital subjects so utterly boring that no one takes any notice of them, leaving the officials to get on with their plans for integrating Europe, undisturbed by the glare of publicity and the scrutiny that comes with it.

Hats off, therefore, to the Spectator this week, therefore, which has given space to a long article by The Times European correspondent, Anthony Browne, who, under the heading, "Brussels bites back", reminds us that, while the French and Dutch "no" votes may have killed off the constitution, they certainly didn't kill off European integration.

Browne, who is not our favourite correspondent, nevertheless, does a competent job in picking up on recent actions by the EU to illustrate his thesis, starting with a fictional scenario whereby a crash in central London of Banana Republic Airlines Flight 101, which killed 453 people and created a swath of destruction across Islington.

This, he takes as the last straw which provokes Britain's withdrawal from the EU. "Few could understand," he writes, "how the judges in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg had the power to overturn the secretary of state's ban on the airline for its poor safety record, giving it the right to enter UK airspace." He continues:

As the body-count mounted, not even the most ardent Europhiles wanted to justify the fact that a panel of unelected and unaccountable judges with no known expertise in aviation safety had the power to overrule the British government on banning airlines from flying into Britain. Public blame of the EU was sealed when it emerged that the reason no one could remember the British government handing over this power to the EU’s supreme court in Luxembourg was that ministers had never publicly announced it — no statement in Parliament, not even a press release. They had gone along with the usual EU method, agreeing things behind closed doors.

You may think I am making this up, but the only bit that’s not true — yet — is the accident. You won’t have read about it in the papers or heard it in Parliament, but the government has indeed agreed in principle to give up its final say on which airlines fly into Britain as part of a harmonised EU aviation-safety regime. The main part of the regime — which, an official admitted to me, involves a wholesale transfer of powers from the UK's Civil Aviation Authority to the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne — was announced last week by the European Commission. Whatever the merits of transferring control of aviation safety in Britain’s skies from London to Brussels, Luxembourg and Cologne — and they do exist — don’t expect to hear a debate about it. "It is very politically sensitive," one EU official told me.
Browne then continues with other recent examples of EU take-overs, many of which we have covered on the Blog, but the article still makes compelling reading. It is available online, from the link provided above, although free registration is required. It is worth the trouble if you have not already done so.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Failure equals success

It is rather fitting that the National Audit Office "Major Projects Report 2005", published today, should have on its front cover a large colour photograph of a Javelin missile blowing up a tank.

In a report, pre-empted by Lord Drayson in a "puff" published by The Telegraph TEXT on Wednesday, the MoD is applauded for getting a “grip on spiralling costs”, with the over-all forecast cost on the 20 biggest defence projects falling by £699m in the year to 31 March.

One of the examples of this new-found "grip" is the very Javelin missile, which is featured at length in the report and merits two further large colour photographs. In July 2005, according to the NAO, the Light Forces Anti-Tank Guided Weapon also known as Javelin entered service with the Army some four months before the expected delivery date of November 2005 approved at Main Gate. Training was completed before the in-service date was declared and the equipment is fully operational.

All this sounds ever so good, but for the fact that its introduction represents the ultimate failure of European defence manufacturing and a massive waste of money by the MoD. Thus, as we pointed out in August, the “success” of the MoD on this missile is simply an example of New Labour and its "spin" machine – and the NAO has fallen for it, hook line and sinker.

The Javelin is in fact a US-designed weapon, produced by Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, first issued to US forces in 1996 but ordered for the British Army only in January 2003, to replace the 20-year-old Milan missile. It was not the MoD's first choice of weapons system, as the preferred weapon was the Euromissile MR Trigat.

However, by June 1999, substantial delays had been experienced in the missile development. The UK had become dangerously exposed as existing stocks of the Milan missile were running down, the government was forced by July 2000 to withdraw from the project, writing off £109,314,000 in development costs, then to buy the off-the-shelf US system – which, in any event, had better performance than the proposed MR Trigat.

But equal sleight of hand is being deployed with other projects. We are told that the MoD has "saved" £145 million on the Type 45 destroyers, albeit at the cost of "reduced capabilities", which is regarded as reflecting "greater realism on the part of the acquisition community." Those "reduced capabilities" are the omission of the sonar suites from the new destroyers, which means the ships have no anti-submarine capability.

Yet, as we reported, also in August, we are spending £1 billion per ship, to include the French-made PAAMS missile system, while the Australians are buying the US-equivalent Arleigh Burke DDG-51 class – which they are building in their own yards – for a "mere" £600 million each.

Worse still, while the Type 45s are restricted to anti-aircraft warfare only – which makes them virtually redundant if there is no air threat – the DG51s can be armed with ASROC anti-submarine missiles or with Tomahawk cruise missiles for land attack. In other words, we are buying less for more and, because we are reducing capabilities still further, this is regarded as a success.

Then there is the European Meteor air-to-air missile intended to equip the Eurofighter, on which the government is "saving" – i.e., not spending - £151 million by reducing the number of missiles it will but. But, once more in August (that was a busy month) we reported that the US equivalent Raytheon missile was available as a package for £500 million and, instead, the MoD had opted for Meteor at a cost of £1.1 billion, now increased to £1.4 billion. Thus, saving £151 million on an overspend of £900 million is regarded as a success.

There are other savings as well – for instance, the MoD has cut £1.4 million from the ASTOR (Airborne Strand-off Radar) system, but only by not incorporating the originally specified flight refuelling system, which drastically limits range and endurance. Another £1.8 million is saved on the truck fleets, by buying MAN trucks, but again that has a price. The vehicles are unable to meet defence planning assumptions and are not equipped for all climatic conditions.

Effectively, failures are being dressed up and paraded as successes and, not only has the NAO swallowed it, so has today’s Daily Telegraph which dutifully reports: "MoD cuts equipment orders to save £700m", without one hint of criticism.

Of course, there is always the Conservative Party but one somehow doubts whether the current defence team will make a fuss. By such neglect does our current government get away with it.


Even more unaccountable masters

When I joined local government, some forty years ago, there was a worn patch of lino by my desk, scuffed by the generations of inspectors before me. When I suggested that we might replace the flooring, I was sternly reminded that it was ratepayers' money I wanted to spend. The floor was perfectly durable and would remain.

As for getting a protective overall, that was a story in itself. They weren't issued routinely as inspectors only observed - they didn't get "stuck in" – so normal clothing sufficed.

One day, however, the main sewer in the town surcharged, depositing its contents in the cellar of a local pub. That was put down as one of those things but, when the same thing happened a couple of weeks later, we had a very unhappy publican visiting us at the town hall.

I arranged for a site meeting with the water authority and, at the appointed time, two "suits" turned up. They blithely told us that the sewer was below capacity as there had been extra housing connected upstream. But never mind, they said, there was £500,000 in the budget (at lot of money then) to replace the sewer and works would start in a year's time.

My publican was not a happy bunny and he did not believe the suits either. The housing had been in about two years and we'd only just started having this problem. In a flash of inspiration, I asked if anyone had been down the sewer to see if there were any problems… blank stares.

No time like the present, I chirped and had my crew – which I just happened to have in attendance – lift the manhole cover. Down I went, and it was deep, about 50 feet. Lacking an overall, I too was in my suit, but what the heck.

In the narrow confines of the chamber, I had to contort myself to look up the barrel of the sewer, a nine inch main, and could just discern the shape of an obstruction. The next day, I got my crew down there and, believe it or not, they extracted a railway sleeper from the pipe. They had to cut it in sections to remove it and, to this day, we never worked out how it got there. The sewer ran free and the enlargement scheme was quietly forgotten.

Anyhow, on the day, there is me, a tad soiled and somewhat odiferous. In something of a mood, I jumped in the car and went straight off to the boss's office, storming in on his meeting with the committee chairman. Either I get an overall or you lose an inspector, I told him, dripping the evidence of why I needed one on his carpet.

By the time I got back to the office, after a shower and change of clothing, sitting on my desk, alongside the worn lino, was a pristine overall and – joy – a shiny pair of wellies.

But that was forty years ago, when we had councillors who could pop in at any moment and demand to know what we were doing - we never spent a penny until we had to. The same mindset went for civil servants, with HM Treasury suitably parsimonious, but not any more.

According to the BBC website, Ministry of Defence officials have spent £348,000 on flat screen televisions for their newly refurbished London office. The 134 state-of-the-art TVs cost £2,597 each, and despite outraged denials, their main use is to watch cricket – or so claims Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb, who says he was told they were great for watching Test Matches.

Myself, I reckon "Tellytubbies" is more their style, although my colleague thinks that programme is probably too intellectually demanding for MoD officials.

Mr Lamb, says that although it was "only a little example" it "smacked of central office profligacy" and was "symptomatic of the attitude" of government departments towards costs. But it is also symptomatic of "arrogance of office" - civil servants who know they cannot be brought to book and have now become our masters.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Our unaccountable masters: No 2

[Some of our readers would have followed the link to OneLondon and read this posting already. However, OneLondon is a somewhat more official blog than this one and the posting had to be removed. We have decided to put it up in its entirety on this blog.]

Plod Blair (Sir Ian of that Ilk) has called for a “public debate on the kind of police service Londoners want”. It is not entirely clear why he needs a public debate, as the MPS (or the Met as we used to call it) has been doing nothing but consulting with various people and organizations about policing. In fact, at various times they have been overwhelmed by comments from Londoners (though, presumably, these were not stakeholders and, therefore, of not importance) of what kind of police service they want.

We want the kind of police service that is visible in a slightly different way from the way it is now. In other words, we want police officers on the beat, paying attention to what is going on around them, not chatting to each other or playing with their mobile phones.

We want the kind of police service that does not cheerfully tell us that it is entirely our own fault if our houses are burgled, our cars are vandalized, our mobile phones are stolen and our children are attacked on the way home from school. And there is nothing they can do about it.

We want the kind of police service that does not respond with a “well what do you expect” type of shoulder shrugging or a merry laughter when a crime is reported.

What is there to debate?

And I can also tell Plod Blair what kind of police service we do not really care for. I found myself in genteel St James’s Square earlier today. Across the road from Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) there was a tiny, well-behaved demonstration of people shouting: “Poland stop your homophobia”. I assume an important Polish speaker was addressing the RIIA and a dozen people decided to demonstrate.

One side of the square and the street beside it was filled with police officers of every variety, some standing around, some chatting to each other, some exercising their ability to communicate with the community at large, by chatting to local shopkeepers.

I stopped to count the number of officers, whereupon one of them asked me what I was doing. I told him that there were more officers than demonstrators. He grinned widely and said that I was wrong: there were fourteen of them and only thirteen police. At that point another car drew up and disgorged two more of London’s finest.

Earth to Plod Blair (Sir Ian of that Ilk): we do not want this kind of police service!

Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), which supposedly supervises the MPS, without being able to do much about it or being accountable themselves to anybody, is very excited about the debate. It has held a conference, during which there were workshops, showcasings of “emerging models of local engagement” and discussions with stakeholders.There was also an intention to

“… review the role of borough-wide Community Police Consultation Groups (CPCGs)and discuss the new Safer Neighbourhood Community Panels and how they will relate to existing consultation methods.”

Jolly good. Will this reduce the crime rate or increase the clear-up rate? Don’t bother me with facts.

Catherine Crawford, the MPA Chief Executive issued a statement before the conference, the first paragraph of which shows the lady to have a very poor grasp of grammar but a good knowledge of meaningless jargon:

“If Londoners are to truly engage in the future of policing, and if citizens are to be truly at the heart of everything that the police do, this conference is particularly timely in discussing how we can do this in a real, productive and ongoing fashion.”

Sheesh. All we want is not to have our homes broken into or our children attacked on the way home from school.

Meanwhile, Plod Blair (Sir Ian of that Ilk) has taken time out from meetings with supermodels on the subject of their possible drug-taking (as Kate Moss has not been charged we must assume the evidence is negligible and the Superplods were wasting their time) to deliver this year’s Dimbleby lecture on the subject of policing.

Plod Blair, let us recall, was the man who went on radio to tell the world that the Met … woops … sorry …. MPS set a golden standard in counter-terrorism. The date? July 7, 2005. The time? Around 8.30 am, that is an hour or so before four bombs went off on London transport, killing over 50 people and injuring several hundred more.

Did the man ever apologize for his arrogance and inefficiency? Not on your life.

Plod Blair’s deputy it was, who told us on the same day that the words Islamic and terrorism cannot be used in the same sentence. Did he ever apologize for his stupidity? Don’t ask silly questions.

I may add that so far as anyone knows nobody has been arrested in connection with the 7/7 bombings.

Then came July 21 and London became the first city outside the Middle East to have had two bomb attacks within two weeks. Luckily for us, the second wave of would-be bombers consisted of complete amateurs.

Then came the infamous episode of the Brazilian electrician, the complete and utter mess made by the MPS and Blair’s attempts to cover up and deflect justice.And then came the endless demands for more power to the police and the disgraceful political campaigning for the 90-day detention clause in the government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill.

In the meantime, the crime rate in London, whichever way you fiddle the figures, keeps rising, even though people have given up reporting anything they do not need to report for insurance purposes. Violent crime, which is still reported, is on the rise. Well, what kind of policing do Londoners want, Sir Ian?

The Dimbleby lecture was an extended repetition of the same question: what kind of policing do Londoners want and how is it to be decided. The presumption is that Londoners want tougher policing and more power to the police. Well, errm, not necessarily. We want more efficient policing. But what are we to make of paragraphs like this one:

“In 2012, we will want Britain to be an open, diverse society, withequality of opportunity and freedom of movement for all, with the Olympics demonstrating and showcasing that Britain. Events in Paris - and in the Lozells area of Birmingham - show how fragile that vision might be and how incredibly important policing is to its realisation. The connection between the environment that local policing can engender and the way in which the Olympics will be policed is absolutely clear. The Olympics will not take place in a vacuum: they will be policed in a manner reflective of a wider Britain.

Who will decide? The police, the government, the media or you? This is not a time for a Royal Commission but for open thought. It is a time for politicians and commentators of every stripe and opinion actively to consider how citizens can be involved in a debate about what kind of police service we want. We need to embed the citizen in everything we do: we could make a small start, for instance, by insisting that the shortly to be created National Policing Improvement Agency should have a permanent and powerful citizens panel.”

It seems that nothing much counts until the wretched Olympics.But what is Plod Blair proposing? Well, not a lot, apart from the National Policing Improvement Agency, that is. We shall have lots of consultations and the public must get more involved. One could argue that since the public tends to be at the receiving end of both the crime and the run-amok policing that closes off whole streets for days on end because of an accident, it is already involved. But no, that is not good enough for Sir Ian of that Ilk:

“We need - you need - to move from policing by consent, which is the bedrock of our policing settlement but which is passive, to policing by direct collaboration, which is active. The police service needs public engagement and debate to help it fit the multi-cultural, open society to which the London Olympics aspire, a Britain in which I want to live and in which I want my children to live. That Britain cannot succeed without a police service to match. You need to decide what kind of police service we want.”

To which most of us would say: just do it. Stop concentrating on minor traffic offences, stop rolling out in enormous force every time a dozen people decide to demonstrate about some political issue, stop playing with endless toys. Find out what is going on around you, try to prevent crime and catch those responsible if you have not managed to do so. Not easy, perhaps, but nobody forced you to put that uniform on.

It seems, however, that Plod Blair and his friend PM Blair have their own ideas of what the police should be doing. Sir Ian quoted from the 1997 statement by the then incoming Labour government. According to this the “overarching purpose of the police service” is:

“… to build a safe, just and tolerant society, in which the rights and responsibilities of individuals, families and communities are properly balanced, and the protection and security of the public are maintained.”

The police service is there to build some kind of a society? The last time I read anything like this was in the instructions handed out by “Iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka (subsequently renamed many times and now known as the FSB) to his “knights of the revolution”.Have we really come to a situation in which the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (oh all right, the MPS) echoes the founder of the Soviet secret police?


The mystery deepens

As a result of researching the labyrinthine issue of defence procurement, readers will know that we have concluded that the MoD appears to be exhibiting a strong "Europe first" bias when it comes to major contracts for our armed forces.

But, as we indicated in a post, a couple of days ago one cannot also rule out the possibility of corruption affecting the choice of supplier and, to a certain extent, it may be that European manufacturers have bigger slush funds than their British counterparts.

In this context, it is very often the small clues that give the game away and, while we have no doubts that the MoD is operating a "Europe first" policy, one of the smaller (value-wise) contracts – this one for the Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle - does have aspects which are indistinguishable from corruption.

Not least is the admission from former MoD civil servant Andrew Simpson that, as an MoD desk officer, he initiated the Future Command and Liaison programme, which resulted in the procurement of the Panther vehicle, only for him then to move over and take a lucrative consultancy job for the Italian builders of the vehicle, Iveco.

Readers will recall that the Panther was entered into the procurement competition after the shortlist had closed, at the specific behest of the MoD. The MoD – presumably under the guidance of Simpson - then went on to select the vehicle, despite its unit cost of £413,000 against the clearly better competitor, the South African-built RG31M which was selling for £124,000 less, for each vehicle.

As an indication of just how good the RG31 actually is comes from the US, a country notorious for its reluctance to buy foreign military equipment. Yet, recently, it purchased 146 of these vehicles for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, and US troops have nothing but praise for them.

But what brings this issue into high profile is that, according to DefenceNews, the United Arab Emirates have now ordered 28 RG31Ms, adding another client to a long list which includes the United Nations.

More and more, the Panther contracts looks suspect, and it is increasingly difficult to explain why the MoD insists on buying second-rate European equipment at a higher price than other better equipment, and even more so than in this case, when the RG31 is built by a wholly-owned subsidiary of BAE Systems – the largest of the British defence contractors.

For our latest report, see here.



Dear old Auntie maintains that it has the highest standards in reporting but we, on this side of the debate about the EU and tranzis in general know the truth about that. Thanks to USS Neverdock, who has tracked down John Simpson's appalling comments about the July 7 terrorists being "misguided criminals". But then John Simpson is the man who still believes that the mock-fight between branches of the Securitate he witnessed in Bucharest, was a real revolution. Talk about "misguided".

Enjoy the moment

The Times this morning picks up on our story posted the day before yesterday on the saga of criminal penalties applicable to EU law.

Headed, "EU to take Britain's right to decide what makes a crime", by the egregious Anthony Browne, the strap-line runs: "Brussels has listed seven offences that it wants to become the first pan-European crimes", setting the scene for a highly alarmist report.

Far be it for us to undermine what is evidently a bonanza for Eurosceptics, so we can afford to revel in the statement that "Brussels unveiled detailed proposals yesterday that would for the first time create a body of pan-European criminal law and force member states to punish citizens who transgress it."

Continues The Times, "The ruling means that for the first time in British legal history, the British government and Parliament will no longer have the sovereign right to decide what constitutes a crime and what the punishment should be." And so on it goes.

The only problem for us is a certain irritation at the sheer amateurism of the piece. For a start, this is not, as Browne asserts, a ruling. It is simply a commission communication, setting out the commission's view on the ECJ judgement. And neither are these "pan-European" crimes. They are crimes, as determined by member state laws – albeit at the behest of the Community - and they already exist, having been defined by the Council under "pillar three" of the treaty.

But, as to the substantive point, it has always been implicit in the EU treaties that member states should adopt appropriate and proportional penalties, applicable to their citizens, for failures to comply with EU law transposed into their own legal codes. After all, if member states adopted the laws but imposed no penalties, the laws would have no effect.

What the ECJ judgement does, however, is clarify the commission's powers, giving the acquis primacy over "pillar three" decisions. It also states explicitly that the commission has the right to propose "appropriate measures of criminal law" but, "only on the condition that there is clear need to combat serious shortcomings in the implementation of the Community’s objectives" and to "provide for criminal law measures to ensure the full effectiveness of a Community policy…".

If media sources take exception to this, we are happy to see the outrage expressed, but the truth is that we have been subject to criminal laws imposed by our own government, in relations to offences created by the Community, ever since we joined the EEC. To that extent, our picture, showing the Royal Coat of Arms, has been a fraud for many years. When, as they do so often, our judges convict people for breaches of EU-inspired law, it would be more honest if they sat under a ring of stars.

Despite this, there is nothing especially new in the current developments, but, whatever. Enjoy the moment.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

She is there at last

Naturally, I am delighted that Germany has finally managed to follow in Britain's footsteps and elect a woman Chancellor and I hope that she will be as successful as our first woman Prime Minister was. Somehow, I do not think so at the moment but I may yet be pleasantly surprised.

After much agitation Angela Merkel was elected to be Chancellor by the Bundestag on Tuesday and spent yesterday travelling, first to Paris, then to Brussels. In Paris she came across her first difficulty: President Chirac, who insisted on kissing her hand. Merkel must have been wondering whether that was not too high a price to pay.

Anyhow, she had lunch in Paris and an afternoon snack in Brussels, we are reliably informed by Deutsche Welle. The fact that she visited Paris first of all is seen as a sign that she is keen to affirm that the Franco-German axis is at the heart of the European project.

In Brussels, Chancellor Merkel visited NATO Headquarters and reiterated her desire to see closer relations between Germany and the United States, soured as they were by her predecessor’s rather flamboyant anti-Americanism. Germany will not, she repeated, train Iraqi military personnel within that country but will do so in neighbouring states.

She voiced her strong support for NATO:
“NATO should be, I believe, the place where people turn first, where member states turn first, to discuss political issues of common concern. First and foremost we should try to pursue the approach that NATO is the place for such discussions. I believe that is very necessary ... only that way can we see to it that NATO continues to be a political alliance.”
Interesting phraseology. NATO is not just a political alliance but a military one; its purpose may be discussion in the first place but ultimately it is action. Does Chancellor Merkel not believe that? And has she asked her new best friend, l’escroc Chirac, what he thinks about it all? How exactly does Chancellor Merkel see the future defence architecture of Europe?