Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The sound of Salzburg

The meeting “The Sound of Europe” has come to an end with very little to show for the great event – but then what did anyone expect?

There have been various accounts of what, if anything, had been achieved and the one that made me laugh out loud was in the English language Wiener Zeitung:

“It was to be a talk on common values (such as music) and future trends but artists say it was all just hot air; politicians could not agree on whether or not Europe really was in a crisis but the president of the EU-commission, José Manuel Barroso, said it was a “wonderful group and music therapy”.”

Why anyone should think that politicians are the right people to discuss Europe’s art, music and culture in general, remains a mystery.

The answer is, presumably, that it was not that they were discussing but, as is their wont, they were using such words as “art” and “music” and “culture” to promote their own cherished project, European integration and the constitution, in the hopes that nobody notices that these are not at all the same concepts.

Even the Financial Times managed an ironic title: “Leaders sing the praises of the ‘European Project’”. Not Mozart precisely, though Richard Strauss might have been persuaded to write somewhat satirical music for an opera buffa.

The FT’s Brussels Bureau Chief seems to have been unimpressed:

“But as so often with such initiatives, the Sound of Europe conference in Salzburg was notable for the presence of the continent’s political, cultural and academic elite and the absence of ordinary citizens.

The only connection with the views of citizens was via a video presentation, inevitably hit by a technical glitch that left their voices unheard. The Sound of Europe began with the sound of the people’s silence.”

It seems that Dominique de Villepin and Jan Peter Balkenende assured the listeners that the people of their countries did not vote “No to Europe”. Probably not, since it is impossible to vote No to a continent. They did, however, indubitably vote No to the European Constitution and that is really the problem all the attendees (mostly, one understands from the older members of the EU) had to face.

On the whole, they seem to have been rather confused. On the one hand, Europe is all about culture, with poor old Mozart being the finest representative of artists rising above national boundaries. This clearly could not have happened without the EU, except that, wait a minute …. Mozart was born 250 years ago and the EU was not precisely a lively force at the time. (Though there were various attempts to integrate the countries whether they liked it or not. Step forward Louis XIV, Louis XV and Napoleon.)

Remembering this, Austrian Chancellor and temporary European President Wolfgang Schüssel called on all present to ensure that the EU is about more than just economics. How often have we heard that particular serenade? The trouble is that while people might just about put up with it being about economics (and increasingly less so), as soon as they fully realize it is about other things, they decide against it.

In fact, there was an awful lot that we have heard before:

“Both Mr Schüssel and Mr Barroso vowed to respond to demands from citizens that Europe stop interfering in areas that should be the domain of national or local authorities.”

All well and good but Commission President Barroso also

“… believes the European Union needs to take decisive policy action in areas such as energy supplies, better regulation and opening up the single market in services before troubling voters again with the constitution, with its raft of institutional innovations such as an EU foreign minister and full-time president.”

Inevitably, the prize for asinine comments must go to a theatre director:

“Others such as Jürgen Flimm, the German theatre director, said the problem was a lack of understanding of Europe’s cultural heritage, and that “workers in Romania and farmers in Bulgaria” needed to know more about EU culture.”

As Expatica, the English language news service from Belgium, explains, the whole shebang was criticized by the Austrian Social-Democrats, who held their own conference in Dublin, by the group of “independence and democracies” in the European Parliament and by anyone else who noticed that the conference included all the same suspects discussing the same matters.

Whatever happened to D for dialogue with all the citizens?

Never mind, Mark Leonard, the boy-wonder of NuLab and of the europhile intelligentsia in this country, was there and was quoted by the BBC. Interestingly, the BBC, which hosted the debate during which Master Mark was heavily defeated by Charles Dumas and myself, did not bother to ask anyone who may harbour doubts about the project.

Try as I might I cannot find confirmation of David Rennie’s account that there was a discussion about creating an EU news channel, heavily subsidized by the taxpayer. It is possible that the delegates in Salzburg were not aware that such a news channel, Euronews, already exists.

Maybe they were not aware of the French attempt to set up a rival to CNN, currenly floundering for lack of finance, as we have reported before.

Maybe, they actually meant something else. Not a news channel but a real TV channel with other programmes: documentaries, plays, crime series, soaps and reality TV shows. I think there are plenty of possibilities there.


The problem starts at home

Recently, we have posted two stories, exploring the phenomenon of the "regulatory mindset" (here and here), where we see the common skein that binds Whitehall and Brussels is the belief that there is no problem so big or so small that it cannot be solved by making yet another law.

To that extent, we aver, leaving the EU would not make that much difference for, as long as this mindset prevailed in Whitehall, our own legislators are just as capable of passing their own inane laws making our lives misery as those in Brussels.

For every law, however, there must also be the process of enforcement, without which any law is meaningless. It is also the case that, to an extent, a poor law can be improved by good enforcement and, vice versa: the intents of a good law can be undermined by bad or inadequate enforcement. And, of course, a bad law can be made even worse by clumsy or over-zealous enforcement.

It is in this latter area that the UK seems to excel. No EU law, it seems – whether it is slaughterhouse rules or financial regulations – is so bad that our gifted enforcement officials cannot make it inestimably worse.

Therein lies a major problem for Eurosceptics in that many of the more damaging effects of EU law that we have followed over the years have arisen not from the law, per se, but from the irrational and over-zealous enforcement by British officials. But the further, more fundamental problem is that these officials do not need EU law in order to make our lives misery. They are equally adept at applying their own brand of insanity to British laws.

That much is evidenced by a report in today’s Telegraph which recounts how a Rotherham couple have been issued with a £50 spot fine "in a dawn swoop" by council wardens for scattering winter feed for wild birds.

As if that was not bad enough, it seems that the couple, George and Janine Cooper were secretly filmed for four days by council officials as they made their "seed run" around their village of Kiveton Park, near Rotherham, South Yorks.

They were, according to the Telegraph, "shocked when two wardens appeared from the shadows and gave them the £50 fixed penalty notice for dropping litter. The wardens said that CCTV cameras had been tracking their movements for days."

In defence of the council action, a spokesman says: "Obviously we want people to be responsible and not put down too much food so that it piles up and may become a health hazard," while Rotherham's environmental enforcement officer, Richard Brammall, said the council had received a series of complaints from people in recent months about problems caused by a large number of birds. He added: "The problem was traced to a couple who were dumping large amounts of bread. They were asked to stop but the food kept on appearing."

You can actually see that there might be a germ of a problem here and it is more than possible that the newspaper has not told the whole story. But one cannot but marvel at the totally disproportionate use of resources and the cack-handness of officials in dealing with this issue – an example of what Booker and I came to call "the sledgehammer to miss the nut".

It is precisely this sort of thing that gives one the general impression that the system is spiralling out of control. We could add many other examples but one of the classics is the "reign of terror" being conducted by councils over parking, in an often illegal manner, against which Neil Herron is doing such sturdy battle.

While we all rail against the depredations of parking wardens, however, the greater complaint is the mad way the law is being applied (or not). Compare and contrast two situations.

One the one hand, I was told by a mini-cab driver that he had been issued a ticket when he stopped by the roadside to look at a map for directions. On the other, is a situation from my own experience. We live in a cul-de-sac which leads directly on to the main road, at the brow of a hill, alongside the flank of a tall building. When driving out, visibility is difficult at the best of times but, when vehicles park on the road right up to the junction, in defiance of the Highway Code, we are blind. You just have to nose out, very cautiously, and hope for the best.

Realising the danger, we wrote to the police, asking them to control the parking. We went to see them and even turned up at one of these ghastly "community meetings". No action was taken and, sure enough, a local health visitor, unaware of the hazard, was badly injured and her car written off when she tried what we have to do every day. And still no action.

Therein is encapsulated the wider problem, of which the EU is part, but in many people's eyes, only a very small part. It is hardly surprising that Euroscepticism has not set the nation alight, when there are so many other issues to be concerned about. To succeed, the Eurosceptic movement is somehow going to have to link all these issues together, making it clear that the EU is not the problem, but a symptom of a broader problem which is largely created by mad legislators with their equally mad officials.

In other words, the problem starts at home – as does the solution.


What kind of European Union?

British Euroscepticism "is a myth". So says Reijo Kemppinen, the head of the Commission's EU representation in the UK, in an "exclusive interview" with Euractiv.com.

He wants to move the British debate away from the "useless to be or not to be" discussion. The UK, he claims, is not more eurosceptic than other member states. Depending on how you define eurosceptic, more than half of Europe is. "The British people may have great reservations as to how the institutions work and how they have been built," he says, "but I don't think people will put into question the idea of having an EU, it is more a question of what kind of EU."

I am thus reminded of a joke in which Saddam Hussein came to New York to attend a meeting of the UN Security Council. The night before, he spends his time in his hotel watching Star Trek and the following day, on his way into the Security Council, he bumps into George W. Bush.

George W. asks Saddam what he thinks of New York, and Saddam launches into an enthusiastic tirade about American television and, in particular, Star Trek. But, he complains, the programme is biased. You have Americans in it, he says. You have Russians, Chinese, English, all the world is represented… even extra-terrestrials, but no Arabs. "Why is that?"

"Ah!", says George W. "That's because it is set in the future."

Despite Kemppinen's fond wishes, I have in mind the same future for the European Union.


Riding two horses

Just over a week ago, the aviation world was intrigued to see recently released photographs of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by BAE Systems, known as the Corax. Observers noted the resemblance to a cancelled US military reconnaissance UAV, while Defense Tech hinted that it could be associated with the joint UK/American venture code-named "Project Churchill", an effort focused on the joint, airborne command and control of the UCAV.

A report in Janes International Defence Review had already identified this "little-discussed effort" – described as "the UK's long-running and highly classified work into UCAVs and home-grown stealth technology". This, apparently, is still continuing, despite the MoD having cancelled the joint UK/US Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) programme, which included UCAV development.

Following that cancellation and the recent Defence Industry Strategy Review, when defence secretary John Reid announced that the UK had no plans to develop any further manned aircraft after the current generation, we have speculated on this blog that the UK was poised to join the French-led Neuron programme, being carried out entirely separately from the US projects.

So far, no announcement has been forthcoming but, late last week, the UK took a step into the French camp with the announcement that France and the United Kingdom were jointly to examine lightweight radar technology for use on small platforms such as UAVs, under the aegis of the European Defence Agency (EDA).

UAV reconnaissance has been collectively identified by EU nations as a key technology to develop in support of the European Rapid Reaction Force and their development remains one of the EDA's top priorities. The EDA already has issued the first of two small technology study contracts, in this case for line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight data links on long-endurance UAVs.

The Anglo-French project now appears to put the UK firmly in both the French and the US camps. Given the American sensitivity to technology transfer and the suspicions about technology leakage, and the fact that the French are technology partners with the Russians in the development of UCAVs, it remains to be seen whether the British position is sustainable.

Riding two horses, as any cowboy will tell you, can be an uncomfortable – if not dangerous – experience.


Monday, January 30, 2006

What's in a word?

This posting will have not guns in it. Not directly, anyway. Some of the people it is about have guns but I am not writing about guns. Not big guns or small guns; not rifles or shotguns. Got that? No blinking guns.

I am not against guns and I am not against people owning guns. I think this country was probably a better place when lots of people owned guns and learned at an early stage how to use them. BUT, I am bored with the subject.

So, having got that off my chest, let me turn to the subject of the posting: the EU foreign ministers. As we reported earlier they were due to discuss a common position vis-á-vis the new(ish) situation in the Middle East.

Then again, I have also expressed the view that a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas will not be all that different from the self-same authority being led by Fatah. If anything, this is easier to deal with as there can be no doubts about the organization’s intentions.

It seems that this is not crystal clear to everybody. How else are we to understand the curious phraseology of the EU foreign ministers. Or, to be precise, how are we to interpret the phraseology, as reported by the BBC World Service: “EU 'to keep funding Palestinians'”.

The story was summed up in the first paragraph:
“The European Union says it will continue funding the Palestinian Authority so long as its new government is committed to peace with Israel.”
The thing is, the new government will have Hamas in the majority, and the latter has never been committed to peace with Israel. How can there be a “so long as its new government is committed”?

Deutsche Welle puts it slightly differently. According to this, Javier Solana has stated that Hamas must change its attitude:
“They have been a terrorist organization. They have to change their methods and they have to accept that violence is incompatible with democracy. They have to also recognize Israel, because in the end what we are trying to do is construct a two-state model and to do that, you have to talk to the other.”
I suppose that does not say that money will not be forthcoming unless Hamas changes but there is the problem of it being listed as a terrorist organization.

Secretary of State Rice has made it clear that the American government expected the European ones to stay on side as far as Hamas was concerned and not go around handing out large sums of money while terrorism was openly glorified and Israel’s right to exist was not recognized.
“Supporting a peace process on the one hand... and on the other hand, supporting the activities of a partner in that set of negotiations which does not recognize the existence of the other partner, it just does not work.”
Meanwhile Angela Merkel, speaking at a joint press conference with Mahmoud Abbas, said quite firmly, that Germany would not support and, presumably, not give any money to an organization that would not renounce violence and refused to recognize another country’s right to exist.

Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, has called upon the donors to continue giving money, to ensure that the PA could continue to function and run the Palestinian territories. Since the PA was not all that successful in doing that before this election, that particular call does not seem to be rooted in anything except sheer panic.

A separate story on the BBC website tells us that the talks between the EU3 and Iran have once again ended “without progress” as nothing new was said by the Iranian negotiators. An impasse seems to have been reached on every front.


Fact checkers?

One of the more pompous claims of the MSM – in asserting their moral supremacy over the blogosphere – is that their stories are checked for factual accuracy by the legions of journalists, subs and editors, whereas mere bloggers can just post anything they like on the web, right or wrong.

One such story was undoubtedly the front-page scoop in the Sunday Times yesterday, revealing that "laws that threaten the British 'pinta' and traditional loaf of sliced bread are set to be waved through the European parliament this week."

This is precisely the sort of story, you would think, that is meat and drink (or bread and milk?) to our site but, knowing from experience that the claims of the MSM so often as empty as their stories, I held back until I had time to check it out.

Being rather busy checking the facts for one of my own stories, it wasn’t until today that I got down to the task and, sure enough – as some instinct had warned me – the story is utter garbage.

Far from banning the "pinta" as the Sunday Times asserts, what we are dealing with here is a rather boring piece of technical legislation, a directive "laying down rules on nominal quantities for pre-packed products, repealing Council Directives 75/106/EEC and 80/232/EEC, and amending Council Directive 76/211/EEC". Its purpose, far from banning the "pinta" is to remove the requirement to sell a whole range of products in specific quantities. In effect, therefore, the proposal removes the statutory requirement to sell milk in pints (this only applying to doorstep milk anyway), which is a far cry from banning it.

Nevertheless, this did not stop the Sunday Times launching into a fantasy of its own making, reporting, "Dairy farmers and British MEPs are fighting a last-ditch campaign to block the moves to harmonise packaged food across the European Union."

Then, to make its story, political editor David Cracknell rang up Mr Renta-Quote himself, Christopher Heaton-Harris, the Tory MEP, who – as he so often does - added his own tuppence-worth of garbage, demonstrating - as he so often does - that he did not have the first idea of what was going on.

This morning, the BBC website rode to the rescue of the EU, headlining "No EU threat to pint of milk" after having contacted a spokesman for the European Parliament in London.

The only outcome of this story, therefore, is to give the EU commission more ammunition to support its own claim that the British media does nothing else but peddle "Euro-Myths", while reinforcing the MSM's increasingly deserved reputation for producing garbage. Fact-checkers, they are not.


A long time coming

Rank clearly does have its privileges for, while we chunter away to ourselves on this blog, when a senior judge takes up an issue on the same point, it goes straight into the pages of The Daily Telegraph. The only consolation is that he too will be ignored.

The point the learned judge makes, in this case, is that there is simply too much law, set out in a piece entitled Judge attacks 'explosion' in new legislation.

The man in question is Sir Roger Toulson chairman of the Law Commission. But his recipe for improvement, we are told, is that there would be less need for new legislation if Parliament scrutinised existing laws after they had been passed.

In 1965, when the commission was established, there were 7,500 pages of new laws, including both statutes and secondary legislation. By 2003, that figure had grown to 16,000 pages, plus another 11,000 pages of European Union legislation. In 2004, the figure for domestic legislation had risen still further to almost 18,000 pages.

"There has been, over the life of the Law Commission, a legislative explosion," Sir Roger said. "It has been a steady progression: each government has legislated more than its predecessor." One reason, he says, was that life had become more complicated. Another was that Britain had become part of the EU.

The Telegraph leader takes up Toulson’s points (oddly enough, not reproduced on-line), asking what is the point of all this new law. Do you feel safer as a result of the 30,000 pages of new laws passed each year by this Government? Or freer? Answering its own questions, the result, the paper says, is in fact a society with more laws but less justice.

Actually, Toulson isn’t even off the starting blocks. Parliamentary scrutiny is all very well but would not be necessary if the laws did not exist in the first place. As we pointed out, in a post last December, the underlying problem is the "regulatory mindset", the belief that there are few problems in life that cannot be solved by a new law.

But, since we have rampaging law-factories in both Brussels and Whitehall – the only growth industry we have - nothing it going to get any better until we, the people, decide we have had enough and cast off our chains. And that looks like a long time coming.


In for the long haul

Never let it be said that EU funding does not create jobs – in Romania at least.

According to the Bucharest Daily News, prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu has decided at an extraordinary meeting of his government to approve the employment of 8,500 extra civil servants to ensure "efficient management" of EU funds and an "optimum absorption rate".

The employees will be divided among the ministries which deal with European funds and – guess what - most of the new employees - 6,000 - are being distributed to the Ministry of Agriculture. Given them time and they will reach the magic level of more bureaucrats than farmers. Then they will be truly "European".

Meanwhile, extra effort is going on "cross-border cooperation" with Bulgaria, aimed at spending the €50 million available to finance infrastructure, environment, economic development and cultural projects. This follows complaints that the "absorption rate" amounted to 12.14 percent for the year 2003, having declined from 44.68 percent in 2002 and 96.8 percent in 2001.

Hard work, spending all this money, especially if you're in it for the long haul.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Another one down

Sneaked out without, it seems, any announcement by the Ministry of Defence, yet another important contract has gone to a European supplier, this one in preference to a product developed by our own BAE Systems.

The contract in question is for an advanced mine disposal system known as Seafox (pictured above), worth "in excess of £35 million". It is to be built by the Bremen-based Atlas Elektronik GmbH, announced by the company and its British partner on 9 January this year.

Seafox, we are told, is an expendable, remotely-operated underwater vehicle that includes an explosive warhead used to neutralise the target sea mine. It is launched from the parent ship and guided to the mine using a combination of an on-board sonar and television sensors. Delivery and installation will commence early in 2007 and will continue over a period of three years.

The award was given in preference to BAE Systems "Archerfish" design, which was developed privately by the company in partnership with Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, at a cost of over £5 million. The innovative nature of the weapon was recognised during 2003 when it won a top gold award in the BAE Systems Chairman's Award for Innovation.

The ultimate accolade, however, came the same year, when Archerfish was selected by the US Navy, with the award of an $18 million programme to equip its Airborne Mine Neutralisation System programme, developing it for operations from the MH-60 helicopter.

The system was still being evaluated by the MoD in 2004 but it was dropped shortly afterwards. In January 2005 Labour MP Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North) in whose constituency the weapon was being developed, challenged minister of state for defence, Adam Ingram, about the programme, saying: "The Americans have grabbed it with both hands … We have lost a brilliant invention, and export potential for this country."

Offering no details, Ingram simply dead-batted the complaint, saying that Archerfish had been "deselected" in the competition "on the basis of its performance against the UK's requirement" – a requirement that has never been revealed.

The award to Atlas Elektronik, however, underlines another irony. At the time of the competition, the company was owned by BAE Systems. In 2005, however, BAE Systems decided to sell it, a sale that was held up when the German government refused to allow the French-owned Thales conglomerate to purchase it outright, this being considered against the national interest.

Eventually, at the very end of December, the company was sold to ThyssenKrupp and the European defence conglomerate EADS, each owning 60 and 40 percent respectively and, just over a week later, the MoD awarded the Seafox contract to it.

Needless to say, nothing of this has found its way into the national media, although the local Portsmouth papers have covered it fully – and rather well – following the defence aspects as well as the employment issues (click on illustrations to enlarge).

This of course, is merely the latest in a long line of contracts that have gone to European manufacturers, including the infamous missile system for the new Type 45 destroyers.

By coincidence, the first of this class, HMS Daring, is to be launched – weather permitting – in three days time, and event celebrated by Sylvia Pfeifer in the Sunday Telegraph. Not for one moment would you get any hint of what a disastrous project this has become from the gushing Mz Pfeifer but then, as with the Archerfish project, we have long given up expecting adult reporting on defence issues from the MSM.


They are going to meet

Tomorrow the EU foreign ministers will foregather in Brussels to discuss what the common line on Hamas should be in political and, above all, financial terms. Going on past experience, a common position is going to be next to impossible to work out.

So far, the European governments have been insistent that they will not deal with Hamas unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Germany has been particularly adamant on the subject and Angela Merkel, who is about to visit the Palestinian territories (well, does she ever stay at home?) has said that she will not meet the Hamas leadership.

So far, we have heard nothing from the Great Panjandrum, Javier Solana or, for that matter, l’escroc Chirac. Whatever happened to the French policy in the Middle East?

There are problems ahead. According to Deutsche Welle
“EU diplomats say time is of the essence, and the Europeans should watch how government building progresses and how the politics of Hamas develops.

If Hamas swears off violence and acknowledges Israel's right to exist, that would be a step in the right direction and a signal that the EU can continue channeling extensive financial aid to the Palestinian Authority without worry. But the ministers have not gone quite so far as to draft concrete demands for the Hamas or to threaten with financial consequences.”
So what are they going to do?
“Last year the EU headquarters in Brussels handed out some 280 million euros to the Palestinians. Combined with bilateral aid from the 25 EU members, the sum came to over a half a billion euros ($612 million). The EU is the single largest financial backer for the Palestinians, and stopping the flow of much-needed cash could seriously put a dent in Hamas's activities.

On Thursday, the European Union pledged continued support for the Palestinian economy even after Hamas won the legislative elections. So far no strings have been attached to this offer, but the 25-nation bloc has warned that the new government must be committed to peaceful relations with Israel.”
It is, as we know, not the Palestinians who received all that lovely moolah but the Palestinian Authority and a good deal of it disappeared, ne’er to be seen again. That, at least in part, is the reason for the Hamas victory.

It would appear that the EU wants to go on pouring money into the Palestinian Authority, no matter who runs it and where the money is going to but needs to find a way to get round those pesky rules about terrorists (and the general shock at the Hamas victory).

There is, of course, former President Carter’s suggestion of channelling it through the UN, thus by-passing the legal problem. This has the merit of ensuring that a good deal of the money gets stolen before it ever gets to Hamas.

Meanwhile, Hamas is assuring all and sundry that they will not put up with financial pressure but will look for money elsewhere, that is the Arab world. This may turn out to be more difficult than they imagine. Some Arab governments will pay what will amount to hush money – here it is and leave us alone – but others are not that keen on encouraging another terrorist organization.

There is Iran, of course, but there are limits to its capacity for supporting outside causes. There is Hizbollah as well. Also, Hamas tend to be Sunnis and Iranians Shi’ites. That does not preclude deals but makes life a little difficult. But, above all, there are economic problems in the country itself. Unemployment runs at 25 per cent, there is serious discontent in various parts and bombs appear to go off in places where the President is expected to appear.

Still, judging by the cautious reporting, the new Hamas-led PA might not have to look to Arab countries for finances. What’s wrong with the EU? Why break the habit of a lifetime?


This stupid nation

The Business this morning ran two leading articles, headed respectively "The Stupid Nation (1) & (2)".

The first of the leaders refers to its front-page story which reports a "groundbreaking study of 10,000 children". This reveals that 11- and 12-year-olds are between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago in terms of their ability to think and reason, confirming the worst fears about the breakdown of the education system. It also destroys any hopes of the UK assisting the EU in achieving that oft-touted ambition of the "Lisbon agenda", becoming a "knowledge-based society", thus making "Europe" the "most dynamic and competitive" economy in the world by 2010.

The study, says the leader, has demonstrated "beyond peradventure" that children are regressing and becoming less capable. So, it observes:

This is ground-breaking stuff, with huge implications not just for British education but the country’s ability to compete and prosper in the 21st century. So nobody should be surprised that it has been almost wholly ignored by the British media: only The Spectator website (a sister publication of this newspaper) bothered to follow it up properly. Plain folk might regard it as a devastating indictment of our increasingly frivolous media that it did not dominate every front page and lead every news bulletin. But that would be unfair: the media had a dying whale in the Thames and the sexual peccadilloes of minor Liberal politicians to cover (to say nothing of a minor UKIP MEP ed), obviously far more significant than a story that raises grave concerns about the nation's future.
The paper continues on this theme in the second leader, noting that:

Fundamental questions of national strategy and defence procurement still make front-page news in America, France or Russia; but no longer in Great Britain, where such matters are deemed less worthy than the death of a whale or married politicians visiting rent boys.

No surprise, then, that hardly anybody in Britain is aware of the quiet transformation of the country’s armed forces – and the devastating impact this will have on Britain’s influence in the world.
And this it continues in a manner that demonstrates just how infantile our MSM has become:

Last week, a new Franco-British deal was signed for a joint aircraft carrier programme designed to carry the new American Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Britain also plans to build a new fleet of vehicles for the Army based on advanced networked information technology, a programme called Future Rapid Effects System (FRES). The combination of the carriers, the JSF and the FRES are fundamental to Britain’s current defence strategy for the foreseeable future; but the terrible truth is that every aspect of this three-pronged strategy is deeply flawed.

Because Whitehall mismanaged negotiations with Washington so badly, Britain never got agreement from America that it would have full access to the crucial JSF software codes necessary to have full control of the planes. The carriers will be delivered late and over budget. The FRES programme means buying into European systems considerably more expensive than the parallel American programme and considerably less effective; it also makes cooperation between British and American forces increasingly difficult – if not practically impossible. Given the extreme unlikelihood of Britain fighting a serious conventional war without America but in alliance with France and Belgium, this is a ludicrous development. But it is merely the latest in a string of procurement decisions aimed at making friends in Brussels rather than improving Britain’s forces. For many of Britain’s top officials, the most important thing is to be part of the latest European project regardless of how expensive, corrupt or foolish it is.

Britain’s new aircraft carriers are a case in point. They will not give Britain the capacity to project power or wield global influence; rather, they are being built to help Britain sit off the African coast with France, flying aid to corrupt regimes as part of European Union "humanitarian missions". If Britain was serious about projecting global power and influence, the strategy would be to build a new generation of bombers capable of hitting any point on earth with weapons or sensors in an hour, which is what America is doing. Such a project was begun under Margaret Thatcher but cancelled, and the patents classified, by Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke who preferred European integration over the global influence they thought now beyond Britain. The Heseltine-Clarke ethos is now in the driving seat of defence procurement and security strategy; Britain’s armed forces will be diminished as a result.
This, dear readers, it what a grown-up editorial in a grown-up newspaper looks like and it is perhaps no coincidence that it alludes to several stories we have covered on this Blog (here, here, here and here). But, if that is too meaty, well, at least we can rely on The Sunday Telegraph to tell us what is important. No wonder it has lost 72,000 (10.17 percent) circulation in one month, despite its "intelligent, beautifully written features" and "high impact news stories".



In his column in the incredibly shrinking Sunday Telegraph, Booker has picked up the story on the government's plans to introduce road charging using the EU'’s Galileo satellite system.

For Sunday Telegraph readers following the link from his column, the full story is here.


The church militant

Things are coming to a pretty pass when the Roman Catholic Church starts attacking a European Union institution, but that is precisely what is happening.

According to the Catholic newspaper, The Universe, Italy's highest-ranking Catholic has taken the EU parliament to task over a resolution on married and same-sex couples.

This is the resolution sponsored by Michael Cashman, the British Labour MEP. Its critic is Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's Vicar for Rome. Yesterday, he denounced it as "profoundly wrong and full of negative consequences". The Cardinal described the parliament's actions as "part of moral pressure aimed at weakening the very cornerstones of our civilisation".

He also said the Church could not accept "equating the rights of homosexual couples with those of true and legitimate families," emphasising what he called "the growing importance that specific anthropological and ethical problems are assuming, even in the political and legislative realm."

Not one for brevity or the catchy soundbite, Ruini also referred to the "widespread tendency in many countries and also presently in Italy, as different signs show, to introduce norms that, while they do not respond to actual social needs, would compromise the value and functions of the legitimate family, founded on marriage, and the respect due to human life from conception to its natural end."

I would not exactly call this a "backlash", but it is the first time to my recollection that a high official of the Catholic Church has made such an outspoken attack on an EU institution. Even in our increasingly secular society, that must stand for something.


It has begun

In the wake of what must be the stupidest “spy scandal” in history – the transmitter in the artificial rock – the Russian authorities have wasted no time in acting.

Let us not forget that late last year the Duma passed a law that was to put the control of NGOs into the hands of the security authorities, who acquired a great many rights. The NGOs’ lives were to be made quite difficult in administrative ways – many more forms to fill in, reports to make, officials to square.

There was also provision for shutting down or suspending organizations that undermined Russia’s security or, in any way, criticized Russia’s history and culture, this including, one must assume, the concept of authoritarianism, so ably reconstructed by President Putin and his siloviki.

The law was signed “almost secretly”, as Novaya Gazeta says, by the president, early in January, just as Russia was beginning her stint as the president of the G8. Still, he was obviously a little nervous because of the international outcry.

Lo and behold, there is a TV programme to tell the Russian people that all those nasty organizations are not really there to protest infringements of human rights or hand out money to groups in desperate need, such as orphanages and schools for disabled children. No sirree!

They are spying for the old Great Game opponent, the United Kingdom. And how are they doing it? By using a transmitter in an artificial rock (there is some doubt whether the right one was shown on TV or not), just like they do in fifties espionage textbooks.

All the same, it will end badly. The BBC World Service reports that the Russian government is already seeking the closure of one of the oldest human rights organizations in the country: the Russian Human Rights Research Centre, which is the umbrella organization for a number of well-known human rights groups, such as the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Soldiers’ Mothers.

These two have been particularly outspoken about events in Chechnya.

The Research Centre is not, apparently, being accused of espionage, merely of not filling in the requisite forms. We are told that they had not registered any information on their activity for the last five years.

The new law has not yet come into effect but the authorities are already busy.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Has Europe lost its soul?

That is the question asked by the writer on political, philosophical and relgious matters, Michael Novak in a paper, published on the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) site.

His conclusion is yes and he is worried that Europe will, through its obsession with collectivism and socialism, through its refusal to live up to its Judaeo-Christian heritage and through its disregard for its own history, repeat all the mistakes of the twentieth century in the twenty-first.

While I go along with many of his arguments, I do find the final paragraph puzzling:

“Europe will find during the next 30 years that it desperately needs alliance with the United States, for many reasons. It is utterly clear to Americans that in the immense challenges looming ahead in the 21st century--from China and India, as well as the Middle East--we will desperately need an alliance with a strong and united Europe. That is why the prospect of a Europe beset with sickness of soul, and with illusions about its own spiritual health, worry us deeply. We very much need Europe to be successful--and soon.”

Michael Novak, it seems to me, undermines some of his own arguments by misunderstanding European history. How else are we to interpret the implication that a strong Europe (yes, probably, the United States does need it, though not as much as all that) is a united Europe? Or, perhaps, he does not mean united in the political sense.

Too often American commentators, who study European developments and understand a good many of them, go astray by that sort of vagueness of definition.

Nevertheless, we cannot recommend the piece strongly enough to all our readers.


Losing the plot

For some little time now, I have been toying with the idea of penning a letter to Margery Proops, the famous agony aunt – if she still exists. My letter would be short and to the point, couched in the following terms:

Dear Margery, I am the co-editor of a "blog" on European Union affairs, and should be writing a clinical account of the goings-on in the organisation. Increasingly, however, I find its proceedings so utterly tedious that I am struggling to find the motivation to put fingers to keyboard. Instead of writing earnest analyses, I am more inclined simply to take the p**s. What is wrong with me? What should I do?
That, however, looks like being one of those great, unwritten letters of history (there's self aggrandisement for you). Before writing it, I availed myself of my own counsel. Often enough I have warned analysts to beware of trying to distil order and coherence from a confused situation, when the reality of the situation is that it is confused. Likewise, rather than search into my own soul for reasons as to why I find the EU boring, the more simple explanation is simply that the current behaviour of the EU is, er… boring.

What brings this on is the account in The Telegraph of the great Austrian presidency extravaganza in Salzburg, its "Sound of Europe" conference, something we flagged up earlier this month.

The conference, aimed at giving "fresh impetus to the spluttering European Project", has already run into trouble, with the assembled EU worthies not even able to agree amongst themselves that there is a crisis at all, much less come to a "consensus" on what to do about it.

Thus we have that towering statesman, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister, complaining that, "To talk about a crisis is not right... Such talk (is) a distraction from problems where the EU could prove itself, such as fighting terrorism, crime and pollution."

Hilariously, French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, "in a tough speech" went on to prove Balkenende right. After attacking the "rapidity" of enlargement as the proximate cause of EU troubles, he went on to propose a list of projects to bring the bring the EU back into line. Described by the Telegraph, as "distinctly modest", these included proposals for a Franco-German border police, co-operation over bird flu, and the creation of a committee to award "European heritage" status to tourist sites.

That indeed does make my point. In a week when the EU finance ministers were tearing themselves apart over the vexed question of VAT on hairdressers and French restauranters, now Villepin is agonising over "the creation of a committee to award 'European heritage' status to tourist sites."

Compare and contrast this with another piece in The Telegraph, which reports: "EU shows signs of panic on aid to Palestinians aid".

This records how the EU's "united front" over Hamas's shock win began to fracture yesterday as governments debated whether the EU should continue Palestinian aid payments, or suspend the flow of money until the group renounces terrorism.

Then there is the account which we picked up in the small hours of this morning, where the EU is planning to delay referring Iran to the Security Council, in the hope of attracting support from Russia and China for its action – despite the obvious hazards of such a delay.

Given the monumental importance of the events in the Middle East, and the imminence of a showdown that could have devastating effect on the global economy and the political stability of not only the Middle East by also Europe, you would have thought that, at the very least, the assembly in Salzburg would have ditched their navel-gazing agenda. A more grown-up reaction would have been to convene crisis talks, if only to emphasise the gravity of the situation.

Small wonder, therefore – as my co-editor constantly reminds us – the United States is increasingly regarding the European Union and it member states as an irrelevance; marginal players on the fringes of events, bogged down as they are on squabbles about hairdressers, obsessed with questions of "European identity" and awarding "European heritage" status to tourist sites.

More and more it is becoming evident that the "little Europeans" are unable to cope with the real world and are retreating into their fantasy world of trivia and irrelevancies. You cannot take them seriously, or even find them interesting. They are losing the plot.


A deadly combination

Possibly, the only way that Israel can be dissuaded from taking action against Iran is if the nuclear enrichment issue is referred speedily to the UN Security Council (pictured), followed by a credible threat of real sanctions in the event that the Mullahs fail to come into line.

That, at least is the theory, with Israel signalling that it is prepared to go down the diplomatic route for the time being.

So, given that time is of the essence, once again the European Union is demonstrating its gift for taking the wrong turning. Instead of pushing hard for a reference to the UN, it has decided to slow down its push, in the hope of winning support from Russia and China.

According to the Financial Times, it is now likely to offer Iran one “last chance” by delaying a substantive Security Council discussion of the file to March. It had originally hoped to secure a decisive referral as early as next week but the extra time would meet objections from Russia and China that the EU and the US have been "too hasty".

On this revised timetable, it looks like a final decision on whether the Security Council should proceed to consider action on Iran will not be taken until March, with a full hearing not taking place until some time later.

However, on 28 March, Israel will be holding its general election and, although Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert are running neck-and-neck in the polls, the current figures do not reflect the Israeli public response to the Hamas electoral victory this week.

The chances are that this development will strengthen Netanyahu’s chances which means there is now a more realistic proposition of seeing a hard liner at the helm on the day after the election. And amongst his first tasks will be to assess the whether to launch a strike against Iran.

Delay by the EU on the UN referral will not exactly boost confidence that a diplomatic solution is in the offing. With the clock ticking on the delivery of high-performance anti-aircraft missiles from Russia – plus the news that Iran is embarking on an emergency programme of hardening its enrichment sites – it seems possible that Netanyahu, far more than Olmert, is likely to give the green light.

Once again, therefore, we may see the deadly combination of EU ineptitude and Palestinian activism influence Middle East events for the worse, with the Hamas election providing the trigger that leads to military action against Iran.

Should that happen, of course, the question of whether Israel will move towards negotiating with Hamas will be speedily resolved. Amid the heightened tension that would follow any strike, any such outcome could be safely ruled out.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Shock wave or, maybe, not

As all the world knows, Hamas has done better in the Palestinian elections than expected, pulling ahead of Fatah. Understandably, this has caused a great deal of commentary.

The BBC called it a “stunning victory”, going so far as to describe Hamas as Islamic, a term they tend to omit when writing about suicide/homicide bombings. With slightly more understanding, perhaps, Deutsche Welle referred to a “shocking victory”.

The Guardian this morning wrote of a “shock victory” but it would, perhaps, be more of a shock to people who have been publicly proclaiming that the so-called peace process was stalled repeatedly solely because of Israel’s supposed intransigeance.

All the news services have been quoting various people, some named, some anonymous or semi-anonymous, in Arab countries, who were rejoicing in what they saw a victory to the people who had given their blood (and other people’s, of course). All of these are countries and people who are prepared to fight for the cause to the last drop of Palestinian blood and why the Palestinians allow themselves to be manipulated in this way has always been a mystery to me.

But is this really such an enormous change? In the first place, it was clear that Hamas will do well, as the splintering and quarrelling groups in Fatah had only barely managed to come together to produce a single list of candidates.

It appears from today’s coverage that numerous Fatah supporters had decided not to vote or to vote for Hamas “to teach Fatah a lesson”. The trouble with tactical voting is that the tactics might not achieve the results you wanted.

In the second place, what exactly is the difference between Fatah and Hamas? Hamas sends in suicide/homicide bombers and fights other Palestinian groups for ruling position. Fatah’s side group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade sends in suicide/homicide bombers and the whole group fights other Palestinian groups for ruling position.

So far equal, more or less. It is true that Mahmoud Abbas made it clear that he was prepared to negotiate with Israel but he had been unable or unwilling to disarm the militant terrorist groups (I bet, he is sorry now) and merely wrung his hands after every outrage and demanded that Israel desist from retaliation.

Furthermore, Abbas recently announced that money would be given to the families of “martyrs” or, as most of us would call them, terrorists.

Hamas, of course, does not even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and has already announced that negotiations are not on the cards.

The Daily Telegraph (and other newspapers and news agencies) reports that Sheikh Said Syam, “one of Hamas’s leading strategists in Gaza” has explained:
“Talks with Israel are not on our agenda, and our military wing will not lay down its arms.”
Interestingly, he has also added:
“Nor will our fighters become part of the Palestinian security forces. They will remain separate.”
Clearly, his strategy does not envisage a peaceful Palestinian state either. The seeds of a very nasty civil war lie in that statement.

In a way, that is quite useful. At least we can dispense with the charade of the peace process or peace negotiations. (That was my first reaction and I am delighted to see that Emanuele Ottolenghi, who teaches at the Middle East Centre in Oxford and is an international expert on the subject, said more or less the same thing in the National Review Online.)

Not that we shall. As the shock of Hamas victory dies, we shall see the same people popping up to tell us that, no matter what, Israel must make concessions and it is unreasonable of her to demand that the terrorist groups disarm or that they acknowledge her right to exist.

We are already hearing voices telling us that the EU should not just acknowledge Hamas (nothing else to do, after all they were elected) but continue pumping large amounts of money into the Palestinian Authority.

The voices on the other side of the Pond are more muted, though I understand former President Jimmy Carter, one of the least successful American politicians of the twentieth century, has been making similar comments.

According to Deutsche Welle, on the other hand, German politicians are questioning whether the EU should continue to pump the annual half a billion euros into the organization.
“Either Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist "or we'll think about letting the finances dry up," Gert Weisskirchen, foreign policy expert of the SPD told daily Berliner Zeitung.

"We can't give taxpayers' money to such a government," said Elmar Brok, a CDU member and head of the Foreign Council in the EU Parliament.

Other politicians have underlined that Hamas must fulfill the twin requirements of renouncing violence and recognizing Israel's existence before there can be further cooperation with the EU.

In addition, Hamas must formulate a concrete plan for disarming its various factions, others said, saying that future German future financial help to the region would hinge on the factor.”
Others, such as the Daily Telegraph leader, have encouraged politicians to separate Hamas leadership, that had decided not to boycott the elections from its hot-head “activists”. I must admit I do not remember the Telegraph making the same distinction between Sinn Fein and IRA but that was our problem. (Still is.)

On all sides we are told that Hamas must now abandon its violence or, more optimistically, that being in government will bring it to its senses and violence will gradually be abandoned. Both those arguments seem to me to be nonsensical.

It is the Hamas leadership and the many “activists” who stood in the election and are now in the Palestinian parliament, who are assuring us that they have not the slightest intention of abandoning the fight of sweeping Israel into the sea. If that involves missile attacks, bombs, explosions, so be it. If retaining power means violence towards other Palestinians, who do not obey the rules as laid down by Hamas, so be it again.

In the wake of the election results being announced, Reuters published a piece, entitled “Arabs see US changing stance on Hamas”. It was not so much a question of seeing as assuming.

“Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of the Egyptian Islamist movement, told Reuters that the vote for Hamas meant that Palestinians had opted for the choice of "resistance."

"(Israel and the United States) will have no alternative but to deal with Hamas ... The Americans will submit to this, especially as Hamas does not want to monopolize power," he said.

"The Americans will start secret contacts with Hamas and in fact they have already started. But in the first moments they will exert public pressure to try to make Hamas change some of its ideas," added Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian specialist on Islamist movements in the Middle East.”
What is so interesting about the various comments, apart from the already noted readiness on the part of Arab politicians and commentators to fight the battle to the last Palestinian, is the tendency for expressing views that echo those of the left in the West.
“The (Palestinian) voters have answered Israeli extremism with a Palestinian counterpart and I believe only those more extreme sides will produce peace," said Anani.

"We want hardline politicians in the face of the Israeli hardliners. We need that in order to deal with Israel, which gave nothing in return for ... concessions. We need an Arab Sharon," added political analyst Dawoud Sharayan, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud, a Qatari columnist and political writer, said Hamas was in a strong political position after winning elections while retaining its armed wing.

"But they are also humans who want to live in peace, so I believe they will start negotiations with Israel, but as equals, not like the Palestinian Authority that gave so many concessions which were not returned by the Israeli side," he added.”
Fascinating. What were those concessions, one would like to know. And what happened to the withdrawal from Gaza, the dismantling of the settlements, all carried out in the teeth of a great deal of Israeli opposition? Forgotten, apparently.

A Jordanian official commented more soberly:
“The Hamas victory could have enormous implications for the peace process and Hamas must now act responsibly to ensure the Palestinians don't lose more.”
But then, Jordan, unlike Qatar, has had her own problems with Palestinian militants and dealt with them in a ferocious fashion.

Which, of course, brings us to the question of what will be Israel’s reaction. There is an election coming there, as well. We can be reasonably certain that the half-hearted suggestion of withdrawing from the West Bank and, even East Jerusalem, made in the last few days by the acting Prime Minister, will now be put on ice.

The withdrawal from Gaza was made for various practical reasons but, also, in the hopes of changing the political situation. Now Israelis, who opposed it, can proclaim that nothing had been gained – quite the contrary. Those who had supported the withdrawal are likely to turn away from more concessions until something practical is given in return.

Many Israeli “doves” voted for Sharon because of Arafat. How many will vote for Netanyahu because of Hamas?

Well, what now? Is the fight for democracy over because it can produce anomalous results? As I see it, there can be several reactions when terrorists and extremists are elected in a hitherto untried democratic system.

One can try the Algerian method and call off the second round. That resulted in a bloody civil war, massacres and something like 150,000 dead.

One can abolish democracy completely and, indeed, that is usually what happens, though it is done by the victorious party. It is not clear whether Hamas will call any more elections, particularly if they cease to be popular. The late unlamented Chairman Arafat did not, after all.

The outside world can do little, beyond accepting the decision and watch warily how the new government treads. Handing over money without being able to monitor it sounds like an extremely bad idea.

What will actually change under the new rule? Very little, I should have thought. Despite the assurance of British journalists from the BBC to the Telegraph, nothing much has changed in the local districts Hamas had taken in the last lot of elections.

It is true that it will be difficult for the organization to keep its glamour and mystique when they have to deal with unemployment of rubbish collection. On the other hand, they are unlikely to wind up their security services, much of whose activity is directed against Palestinians brave enough to defy them.

An almost immediate set of victims will be the women of Palestine. While the religious aspect of Hamas is not always clear – many of the terrorist groups grew out of Marxist movements – they will undoubtedly use religion to impose controls.

How will they deal with the economy? After all, the Israelis are hardly likely to open the borders to let in Palestinian workers if an unknown number of them might be carrying explosives. What else is there?

A great deal of money from the West, of course, and I predict that it will start flowing again after a certain amount of foot-shuffling, particularly from Europe, both the individual member states and the EU. After all, they were rarely fazed by evidence that money to the PA in the past went astray.

The United States may hold out longer. There the decision will have to be taken by Congress and that body, unlike the State Department, say, is reasonably capable of understanding that Hamas does not intend a two-state solution.

Will the money help the ordinary Palestinians? Don’t be silly. Whether siphoned off to terrorists and their families or to individuals, little will change in financial terms. And Israel will go on being painted as the cause of the poverty and hopelessness.

How soon before the Palestinian people realize that they have made another mistake and try to correct it, and what will happen then, are all things that are impossible to predict. On the whole, they have not been lucky with their leaders.

Gaza has been sliding steadily into chaos and that is unlikely to stop. The fights between Hamas, Fatah, local chieftains and the Palestinian security services will, one assumes, continue, as will the burgeoning kidnap and ransom business. There is some indication that the existing security services are aware of what is going on and are not uninvolved.

The same might happen in other parts of the Palestinian territory.

(Rather nastily, I must admit that I cannot summon up any anger while the victims are dumb peace activists and their equally dumb relatives.)

The one thing, however, is clear: we cannot really be surprised by the results. This is the bloody legacy of Arafat, who had oppressed his people, stole their money, destroyed their economy and made any kind of a normal political life impossible. With the best will in the world – and we do not know if he had the best will in the world – Mahmoud Abbas could not have turned the PA or Fatah into viable political entities.

The EU bears its share of responsibility. Its blind and insane support for Arafat, no matter what happened, simply to annoy the Americans, has contributed to the bloody mess he left behind him and the even bloodier future.


Eat your hearts out boys!

My colleague will attend to the events in Palestine a little later today, once she has made a dent in her day job. Meanwhile, I have been slightly hors de combat, delivering another of the Civitas lectures on the EU to sixth-formers – this one to a group 120-strong in a school near Barnsley.

Going into my now usual routine, I gave a powerpoint presentation on the history of the EU, starting with the battle of Verdun and working from there. As part of that presentation, I show pictures of two artillery pieces form the battle, one French (below, left) and the other German (below right) and – since being "interactive" is all the range - I invited students to spot the crucial difference between the two.

I have repeated this exercise many times over the years, and even taken parties out to Verdun, where examples of the artillery are ranged in front of the Museum of Peace, and to this date, no one has been able to tell me.

As usual today, when I asked the question, there was silence but, just as I was about to move on and give the answer, a small voice piped up from near the back of the room – a young lady. "The French gun hasn't got a recoil mechanism," she said. Dead right. All those strapping young lads I've shown the pictures to and not one of them got it. The young lady puts them all to shame. My colleague would have been so proud.

Readers might, by now, be asking what a recoil mechanism on a 1916-vintage German gun has to do with the history of the EU – and the answer is, a great deal.

As they doing now, prior to the battle, the French government had been cutting back on arms production and, in the early stages, they were ranging against the Germans pieces of 1875 vintage. The Germans, with their more modern guns - fitted with recoil mechanisms – were able to fire seven shells to every one of the French which, in a battle where the French alone fired over 12 million shells was a grave disadvantage.

It was this huge disadvantage that nearly lost them the battle and which precipitated a crisis in the French cabinet, which led to the appointment of a French industrialist, Louis Loucheur, as armaments minister, charged with re-equipping the French Army.

To do so, he embarked on a massive manufacturing programme but, as the production of guns ramped up, Loucheur found he was running short of steel with which to make them. When he addressed that shortage, he found critical shortages of coal and, in an attempt to redress that with imports, found he was running short of shipping capacity.

From his wartime experience, Loucheur came to realise that the deciding factor in what was effectively, the first "industrial" war was not feats of arms, but industrial capacity – what he came to call the "sinews of war". In particular, he focused on coal and steel, reasoning that, if the independent capability of nation states to control the supplies of both was lost, then they could not go to war.

Hence, he came up with the idea of creating a superior authority to control the production of French and German coal and steel, in a bid to prevent a repeat of a war that had cost those countries so dear – and idea that was eventually to emerge in 1950 as the European Coal and Steel Community, the pre-cursor to the EU.

It was not Jean Monnet, therefore, who was the intellectual "father" of the EU, but that other Frenchman, Louis Loucheur, a man about whom few have ever heard, with fewer still recognising his pivotal role. And it all boiled down to a crucial difference between French and German guns. Well done that girl for spotting it. Eat your hearts out boys!


Until proven otherwise…

A constant refrain on this blog is the sentiment that not only is government not to be trusted, it is virtually a civic duty not to trust it – whether local, national or supranational.

This should not be from a sense world-weary cynicism but from a conviction that all governments are intrinsically malign and, if given an opportunity, will abuse their powers and waste our money.

The essential credo rests on the premise that we should tolerate government only because the alternative – having no government – is worse, but only as long as we, the citizens of a democracy, keep it in check.

Too often, though, the gullible "sheeple" believe governments to be a force for good, no better demonstrated than by the generally positive rating given to the EU over its environmental legislation, despite the appalling costs and the damage done.

It helps, therefore, occasionally, to bring the message home, addressing issues with which people are more familiar, to which they can personally equate. And there is nothing closer to home in this respect than crime, figures for which were released yesterday.

These figures reveal increases in major categories of crime. For instance, in the three months to September 2005, there were 315,800 violent incidents, compared with 304,300 in the same period in 2004 – an overall increase of four percent, with an 11 percent rise in the number of robberies. This is the biggest jump in street robberies for three years.

However, while acknowledging this rise – how could it do otherwise – the government points to its "success" in countering domestic burglary. This peaked in the mid-1990's and fell by 47 percent in 2003/04, albeit at a still massive level, the level in England and Wales then recorded at 943,000 incidents.

Furthermore, to explain the rise in street crime, police are trying to shift the blame to "teen-on-teen" crimes in which children attack each other for desirable items such as mobile phones, iPods and bicycles. This beguilingly simple explanation, however, does not even begin to do justice to the phenomenon.

What is happening, to a very great extent, is that crime is being displaced. In terms of burglary, householders, fed up with the rash of burglaries and police inaction have taken their own measures, have bought the improvements in burglary figures through increased vigilance and security, investing upwards of £430 million a year in security bolts and locks, in thief-proof double glazing and burglar alarms. And now that houses are not such the easy targets that they were, the thieves have moved elsewhere.

Similarly, reductions in car crime have been achieved primarily by insurers and car manufacturers, through features such as immobilisers, steering locks and car alarms. Yet this appears to have been offset by an upsurge in "car hijacking" – a crime normally associated with third world countries. Again, thieves have adapted their tactics to changed circumstances.

In an attempt at damage limitation, the Home Office glosses over the increased robberies and claims that the current British Crime Survey indicates that overall crime has fallen two percent, and violent crime by five.

This, again, is misleading. In the latter category, sexually related offences are not recorded, which makes overall estimation difficult. Additionally, violence against the person crimes are both notoriously under-recorded and acutely sensitive to variations in reporting procedures.

As to crime overall, there are huge gaps in the statistics. Neither fraud nor "commercial" crime are recorded in the Survey. Yet a study carried out by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that nearly 60 percent of businesses had been the victims of crime, while over a quarter did not report it. Other data suggest that police may record only between 1 in 100 and one in 1000 shoplifting offences, and anecdotal reports suggest that internet crime (also not recorded by the British Crime Survey) is a major growth area which the criminal justice system is struggling to contain.

In other words, there is considerable evidence that, where one category of crime is targeted, criminals simply change their behaviour to exploit other weaknesses. Then, as long as their are huge gaps in the recording of crime – and criminal activity is being displaced to non-recorded categories – global crime statistics are unrelaible. They could well (and probably do) conceal an overall rise in criminality.

Needless to say, the government does not in any way recognise (or acknowledge) this state of affairs. Instead, as reported by the Times website, Clarke is asking "why (the) public doesn't trust crime figures". To find out, he is spending public money on a review of "why the public refuses to believe good news that crime is falling."

Clarke has set up a group to look at how Home Office crime figures are compiled and published, "in an attempt to allay the public's exaggerated fear of crime and the perception that society is growing ever more lawless."

"I have been concerned for some time that Home Office crime statistics have been questioned and challenged," he says. "This has got to the point that most people seem confused about what is happening to crime in this country, he adds, stating, "Despite the fact that most crime categories are falling, fear of crime is still too high and public perception is often at odds with reality. That is why we need to look again at the statistics and find out why people do not believe them.”

But people are not confused. The reason why they don't believe crime statistics is because their own eyes and their own experiences tell them they are not true. They also know that their police are manifestly failing to get to grips with crime, witness the recent report that the Metropolitan Police spent more on paperwork than in fighting crime - £123 million compared with £62.2 million dealing with robberies and £42.2 million on house burglaries.

But here, at least, we can rely on our own senses. In how many other areas, though, do our different levels of government "inform" us, where we have no means of checking veracity? And if this government honesty cannot relied on the matter of our own personal safety and security, how can we believe it on anything else?

It is not necessarily the case that everything our governments do tell us in untrue but, in our relations with them, there should be no question of "benefit of the doubt". The presumption must be that, if not actively lying to us, they are attempting to mislead – until proven otherwise.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lib-Dims shock

We could, of course, post erudite comments on the fate of the Lib-Dims, but "someone" got there first – and did it better.


Poland still refusing to shut up

Several of our readers noted yesterday’s report in the International Herald Tribune of the Defence Minister Radek Sikorski’s statements about Poland’s future as he sees it (and finances, helped a bit by the British rebate partially disappearing, permitting).

He sees Poland as a major regional player, with strong defences – with 2 per cent of GDP agreed on as a reasonable proportion of defence spending – and every intention of overhauling the military. Furthermore, Poland is not going to give up its American alliance and will keep troops in Iraq (though reducing numbers) as long as it is necessary.

President Bush and both his Secretaries of State, as well Defence Secretary Rumsfeld worked long and hard to keep Poland and the other East European countries on board. This was not noticed nearly enough in the media here but there were many visits by the previous Polish President to the White House and there will, no doubt, be many by the new one.

Mr Sikorski himself, has excellent contacts in Washington, having spent years there and been a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Over and above that, there is the small matter of twentieth century history that the pooh-bahs of EU have not taken into account.

We, on this blog, have cast doubt at the economic influence that the new member states, clients one and all, can have on the EU’s development. But we have always maintained that enlargement has put an intolerable strain on the idea of the common foreign and security policy.

In fact, I claim to have spoken about this long before Rumsfeld or anyone else, at a conference in Oxford, before enlargement had actually taken place (and while there were still talks of the Conservatives in the European Parliament leading a new right-wing, eurosceptic, free-market group).

It seems obvious that, given the different developments in the two parts of Europe in the twentieth century, the attitudes to the United States, which is the crux on which the CFSP is based, will be different. East Europeans are not going to be anti-American and are going to be wary of Russia.

Sikorski puts it in a historical context:

“What has not yet happened is a growing together of a pan-European historical consciousness. I think the West Europeans have not fully taken on board our history, our misfortune and our suffering under communism, but also our history as part of the history of all of Europe.

Only when they do take it on, when they think of European history as a whole, will they understand some of our dilemmas and some of our attitudes.”

The problem is that for the western members to acknowledge all these historical peculiarites would mean destroying some of the basic and most cherished ideas that lie at the root of European integration and the common foreign and security policy.


Filling his satchel

"My department will examine the detailed technical issues about how road pricing might be introduced, including discussions with industry about future developments," says Mr Alistair Darling, transport secretary. "And we are asking everyone to help us to carry the debate forward and consider the choices before us."

But, without having waited for the outcome of that debate – or even noticeably encouraging it – Mr Darling's officials seem already to have made up their minds. Already his department has spent £93 million on the EU’s Galileo satellite global positioning system and now, it appears, they are conducting detailed discussions with a major German firm about implementing Galileo-based road charging systems.

This we learn not from Mr Darling’s department of course, but from an obscure online publication which tells us that T-Systems has announced the foundation of a new subsidiary, Satellic Traffic Management GmbH.

T-Systems just happens to be the IT division of the German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom. Its new subsidiary has been set up specifically to develop satellite-based road toll charging technology and market it internationally.

Called Satellic, it is based in Berlin and, besides offering satellite-based toll charging technology, the new company wants to spearhead "the development of innovative traffic-management systems,” helping toll operators in their “migration from microwave to satellite technology".

T-Systems itself developed the technology behind the first satellite-based toll system, operated by Toll Collect GmbH and Satellic expects the world-wide turnover in satellite technology applications to be at around €250bn by 2020.

Now we come to the crunch. In Europe alone, says the report, eight countries - the UK, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, Sweden and Hungary - intend to introduce a road toll charging system and Satellic is already involved in close talks in the UK.

Although no decision on the technology has been made, we also learn that Satellic bases its current product on the US GPS standard, but its parent company T-Systems, as a member of TeleOp, is part of the Galileo project. It hopes to provide IT services for one of the ground control centres, which will be based in Germany. Furthermore, Satellic says its traffic-management services can only be offered with satellite-based technology

A key issue, concludes the report, will be whether the highly-sophisticated satellite technology can be employed while keeping operating costs at bay - a key decision criterion for governments aiming to fill their satchels at minimum cost.

So now we know. All we need is the bit of kit like that pictured above (left) fitted to our cars and Mr Darling can start filling his satchel - at our expense.