Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Controlling the debate

The Fragrant One, over on her clog, is chirping away happily about what one British woman described as a "life-changing experience".

This was Tomorrow's Europe event last weekend, an exercise in what is called "Deliberative Polling" – "an attempt to use public opinion research in a new and constructive way."

The process, we are told, is designed to tell us what conclusions the public could reach, if people had the opportunity to get together, to gain "balanced information", and to become more engaged by the issues.

What that amounted to was collecting a "scientifically representative sample of the European population," composed of 362 citizens, "selected through a poll held in the 27 Member states of the EU".

It was then "informed" in a "balanced manner" and brought together for three days to the EU Parliament in Brussels, where the dupes were allowed to "deliberate" on the agenda set and controlled by their mentors, following which their opinions were gathered.

As the press release burbles (link above), "as a result of deliberating, the participants became dramatically more informed and changed their views about a number of important issues." That any group, addressing a carefully controlled agenda, and manipulated in a hot-house environment over three days would have amongst their number people who "changed their views", goes unsaid.

But what is delivered is a number of findings that are both pointless and irrelevant, except that they will be treated with undue reverence by the EU commission and its lackeys, who will cite them as evidence of what the "citizens of Europe" think and want.

No doubt, they will purr at the response to the question of whether EU or the individual member states "should play more of a role in decision making in certain policy areas," with "majority support for the EU rather than just the member states" in most areas: international trade (52 percent), military action (65 percent), climate change (83 percent), foreign aid (71 percent), energy supply (59 percent), and diplomatic relations (63 percent).

All of this is depressingly familiar, and more so when it represents yet another attempt by the Europhiliacs to by-pass the traditional standard of representative democracy – the popular vote in national elections – and to create a European polity by other means.

This is brought home by an interview of one of the organisers, Stephen Boucher from Notre Europe, who declares that, "Due to their recommending force," deliberative polls "can act as an incentives for politicians to take action." Such polls "could also help to bridge the gap between the EU institutions and its citizens, and increase acceptance for economic and social reforms."

In other words – reading the sub-text – this is but a device aimed at providing a veneer of legitimacy to EU actions, which were going to happen anyway, over which none of the "EU citizens" were allowed a vote (in case, of course, they say "no".)

Amazingly, Boucher concludes from the exercise that, if you pay the expenses of a carefully selected group to come to Brussels where you batter them for three days solid with your version of "balanced information", then it is possible, in your own terms, "to get them interested and better informed about complex policy matters, including the EU".

Only thus could you get them to agree that, "People want the EU to sort out its institutional difficulties before enlarging further," and that, "They accept the need for economic and social reforms, and want both their national governments and the EU to take action."

Viewed in isolation, this obviously lavishly funded exercise need not create any great alarm but, with the EU's incursions into the blogosphere and its funding of elements of "organised civil society" suggest a determined effort to dominate and control the public debate.

Quite how the Eurosceptic community should respond – if at all – is moot, but the signs are that the enemy is stepping up its activities and set to become even more formidable, as it challenges still further the very fundamentals of our democracy.


A load of rubbish

In addition to immigration, The Daily Mail also takes up the waste charging issue, with a long piece headed: "Barcode on your bin - and a £100 fine if you put too much rubbish in it".

Additionally, they commissioned Christopher Booker to do an opinion page but, with the news on immigration, this was displaced to become a "commentary" of considerably shorter length. However, Booker has sent us the full version (now also on-line), and we publish it here:

Yesterday came two further twists to the unending saga of what has become the best-kept secrets of British politics - the real reason behind why we are making such an unholy mess of the way we dispose of our rubbish.

First, following Gordon Brown's apparent U-turn on the Government's plans to introduce a "pay-as-you-throw" charge on emptying our dustbins, came the revelation that his ministers are still planning this new stealth tax in their Climate Change Bill.

Second, by no means unrelated to the first, came the warning by a committee of MPs that we may soon face a staggering £180 million a year fine from Brussels for being in breach of EU rules on the amount of our rubbish we send to landfill.

Scarcely a day has gone by in the past year without some new headline over the chaos which has been engulfing our system for collecting and disposing of waste.

There have been the endless rows over the glaring flaws in the new fortnightly collection system and the bewildering proliferation of different bins into which we now have to sort our various types of rubbish, including on the spot fines for homeowners accused of dropping even a single envelope into the wrong container.

Last year it was reported that no fewer than 40 percent of our binmen had experienced incidents of verbal or physical abuse from angry householders.
All this is in the worthy name of promoting more recycling of our waste. And yet it turns out that millions of tons of rubbish supposedly collected for ‘recycling’ are still being quietly dumped in landfill sites, or shipped out in containers to China and elsewhere, where much of it is not recycled at all.

Not the least scandalous aspect of this shambles, however, is the way our ministers never honestly explain to us why it is all happening.

The story behind what has become our best-kept political secret began 20 years ago when we handed over the right to decide our waste policy to Brussels under a European treaty. In the 1990s, led by countries such as Denmark and Holland, which were running out of space to bury their rubbish, the European Commission began planning a major new waste policy for every country in the EU.

At its centre was the so-called Landfill Directive in 1999, the aim of which was to phase out disposing of rubbish in holes in the ground, switching the emphasis to as much recycling as possible, while incinerating the rest.

In theory, like many ideas emanating from Brussels, it seemed like a laudable aim. But in practice there was no country in Europe on which the new policy would have greater impact than Britain, because traditionally we had landfilled much more of our rubbish than anyone else.

In fact we had already been developing a pretty efficient recycling system, for items such as paper and glass, relying on the free market. Our system for collecting and recycling old vehicle batteries was the most efficient in Europe.

Furthermore, our reliance on properly-regulated landfill had much to commend it, as a way of reclaiming considerable quantities of otherwise unproductive land, such as abandoned quarries, returning them to beneficial use.

But thanks to the EU we now faced effectively a far greater revolution in our waste disposal system than any other country in Europe, and it is this which has now reduced our own once-efficient system to chaos.

An early example of this was the way we were forced by another EU directive to abandon our system for collecting and recycling old car batteries and to replace it with one so much more cumbersome that the proportion of batteries recycled dropped from 97 percent to less than 80 percent.

In the past few years other directives have made it ever more difficult to dispose of all sorts of items, from fridges to old paint cans, predictably leading predictably to an explosion in flytipping.

At the same time, to meet the requirements of the Landfill Directive, our Government has been piling on local authorities and businesses an ever higher tax on every ton of waste dumped in landfill – currently £24 a ton and due to rise by £8 a year until it reaches a prohibitive £60 - with the fast-looming prospect that, after 2010, if we can’t meet our strict EU targets, we will face massive yearly fines from Brussels.

With this in mind, last year, co-ordinated by a quango known as WRAP, our local authorities began launching their new collection system, the bewildering array of bins, fortnighly collections and the rest, all in a forlorn bid to avert those EU fines (the MPs’ estimate of £180 million may well be an underestimate – Liverpool council alone predicts that its ratepayers will have to pay £30 million a year).

But almost a greatest scandal of all has been how so much of this policy has been based on a colossal act of official humbug. So long as the contents of our bins can be labelled as "waste collected for recycling", they count as a plus towards meeting our EU "recycling" targets - even if millions of tons are then shipped out to the Far East or discreetly landfilled.

Earlier this year an enterprising ITV programme West Eye managed secretly to film hundreds of tons of already composted waste simply being dumped into a Somerset landfill site. Similarly cynical operations are going on in many parts of the country.

The net effect of all this is that, in a desperate effort to comply with EU laws, we have the worst of all worlds. We have exchanged our once efficient home-grown waste disposal system for one that is creating chaos and unpleasantness in all directions (undermining the once friendly relations between bin men and the public).

In our efforts to placate the EU, we are paying ever higher taxes on the rubbish we still landfill, while pretending that much more of our rubbish is being recycled than it actually is – yet still facing the inevitability of those fines from Brussels which before long could be running into billions of pounds.

Meanwhile millions of fridges, TV sets, old cars, batteries, sofas, paint cans and piles of rubble are being chucked over hedges or left in lay bys – with the only response from our politicians being to demand yet more fines for fly tipping.

But their worst betrayal of all is that they will not explain to us openly why this is all happening. Had we not surrendered the right to decide our waste policy to Brussels in 1987, we would have been free to develop a waste policy suited to Britain’s particular needs.

Instead of which we are landed with a disaster entirely of the politicians’ own making: one which leaves them so little power to remedy the situation that all that is left to them is to dither over whether or not they dare charge us even higher taxes for a service they can no longer properly provide.
What is really amazing about this issue is the way, uncritically, the general public - and people who should know better - have accepted that Greenie/EU "landfill" is bad and should be abolished.

The big mistake, of course, was to allow the term "landfill" to gain currency. How different would be the perception if it was understood that, in many cases - such as restoring unsightly and dangerous quarries - the process is one of land reclaimation. Further, the methane generated from tips can also be recyled, used as a source of renewable energy.

That aside, "controlled tipping", as we used to call it, when run properly, it is the most sanitary, the cheapest and the most environmentally neutral way of disposing of rubbish that cannot be economically recycled (and that includes most household waste). But such is the grip of the EU agenda that few people will speak for a tried and tested process, and likewise speak out against vastly more expensive and environmentally damaging alternatives.

A conjunction of issues

Although covered by all the national dailies, it is the Daily Mail, as one might predict, which makes the biggest song and dance about the government admission yesterday that it got its figures for migrant workers "slightly wrong".

Er, no, says the Mail, "make that wildly, outrageously wrong". For months, ministers have been telling MPs the number of foreign nationals working in the UK has increased by "only" 800,000 over the past ten years – but now they confess they miscalculated. The true figure, according to the government "is an extraordinary 1.1 million" – and that excludes 400,000 UK citizens who were born overseas.

"How could a mistake on this colossal scale have come about?" the paper then asks but, depressingly, fights shy of offering an answer. Instead, it resorts to polemics, asking, "When will this Government get a grip?" – thus avoiding the simple truth that the government has lost control over our borders and cannot do anything other than estimate how many people are flooding in.

As the main story in the paper points out, official figures show more than 8,000 people from Eastern and central Europe arrive in Britain every day, taking advantage of freedom of movement within the EU.

Lamely, though, it says there is "no accurate count of how many return after short visits and how many stay on seeking employment," thus observing that "the Home Office has little idea of the real scale of the influx."

What the paper misses is that immigration officials are not permitted under EU law to interrogate entrants from the EU as to their intentions on entering this country, nor quiz them as to their activities or plans should they decide to leave. Any such move would be "discrimination" on the grounds of nationality and thus, again, contrary to EU law.

So it is that the immigration channels are set up to include British nationals and "EU citizens", so that anyone waving a passport from an EU member state can sail through the channel, on exactly the same basis as a British national. All the immigration officials can do is stand aside and watch.

It is that issue, more than anything else, which is so disturbing. Whatever one's views about the utility and benefits – or otherwise – about mass migration, the very fact that the government has no idea of the scale of the inflow of migrants taking up work, and no legal means of acquiring such information, means that any idea of controlling - or even predicting and thus managing the effects of – mass immigration, is strictly for the birds.

And, as we have pointed out, immigration from the EU member states does not just include indigenous Europeans. With the current EU rules – viz the notorious Directive 2004/38/EC – we are obliged to permit entry to recent immigrants from third countries, who have entered via any member state and acquired residential status – as well as giving free passage to their relatives.

It is this huge "back door" which further makes a nonsense of any attempt to craft a rational immigration policy – or any policy at all. As long as we buy into the European Union and its core policies of "freedom of movement" and "freedom of establishment", we simply do not have a policy, other than, "let them all come and go as they please".

Politically, the interesting thing is that, despite the inability of the Mail properly to identify the role (and effects) of EU law, we are nevertheless beginning to see to conjunction of two issues which the political élites really do not want to talk about – our membership of the EU, and immigration. So far, such debates as they cannot avoid have been kept largely separate - but this cannot hold.

Sooner or later, the two issues are going to come together in the public mind – it is already happening – and then the pressure for change will most certainly intensify. When this happens, the debate on the EU will be transformed.


The officials decide

Nothing better illustrates the malign way in which the EU works than the long-running GMO saga – and Austria's vain attempts to avoid the introduction of genetically modified maize.

The drama has been playing out since May 2000 when Austria drafted a Genetic Technology Prohibition Law, allowing its regions to declare themselves GM-free. As a result, the Upper Austria region imposed a ban, which the EU commission then declared contrary to EU rules.

After serpentine twists and turns, the situation came to a head in December last year when member states at the Council of Ministers refused to give the commission powers to force Austria to ditch its ban, an apparent victory for its government.

Not to be denied, however, the commission brought the issue back to the Council yesterday, having prepared its ground a little more thoroughly, when the vote was not sufficient to support Austria’s retention of its ban. But neither was there a majority for the commission, to authorise it to take action against Austria, creating – one would have thought – something of a stalemate.

Under the arcane rules of what is known as comitology, however, the issue now goes back to the regulatory committee, comprising offiicals of the member states, which approved GMO products in the first place. They now have the power to make the final decision, which is then rubber-stamped by the commission.

Thus it is that when formerly independent nations want to reject a product – for good reasons or bad – they must appeal to the 26 other member states of the EU. And, when they fail to attract enough support, they have their case referred to a panel of officials who are able to dictate what they should do.

With France also contesting their introduction, this is putting some of the member states at loggerheads with the commission over a highly sensitive issue, that will not go down well with the voting populations when they find that mere officials can over-rule their democratically elected leaders. But will it make any difference?

Pic: Josef Proell, Austrian Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, the Environment and Water Management, talking to Sigmar GABRIEL, (right) German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety – a sharp contrast with the picture in December last.


Plus ça change …

Somewhat belatedly I got round to reading Eamonn Butler’s IEA pamphlet, "Adam Smith – A Primer". I cannot recommend it too highly both to people who have always meant to find out more about Adam Smith but never quite got round to it and to those who have read the great man but would like a little brush-up.

While I would not like to take away the pleasure of reading this work from anyone, I cannot help quoting Dr Butler’s summary of the main ideas in "The Wealth of Nations" and the harmful ideas that great work was trying to defeat:

The most obvious theme is that regulations on commerce are ill-founded and counterproductive. The prevailing view at the time was the ‘mercantilist’ idea that a nation’s wealth was the amount of money that it possessed. This implied that to become richer, a nation needed to sell as much as possible to others, in order to get as much coin as possible in return; and it needed to buy as little as possible from others, in order to prevent its cash reserves leaking abroad. This view of trade led to the creation of a vast network of import tariffs, export subsidies, taxes and preferences for domestic industries, all designed to limit imports and promote exports.

Smith’s revolutionary view was that wealth is not about how much gold and silver sits in a nation’s vaults. The real measure of a nation’s wealth is the stream of goods and services that it creates. He had invented the idea, so common and fundamental in economics today, of gross domestic product. And the way to maximise that product, he argued, was not to restrict the nation’s productive capacity, but to set it free.

Another central theme is that this productive capacity rests on the division of labour and the accumulation of capital that makes it possible. Huge effi ciencies can be won by breaking production down into many small tasks, each undertaken by specialist hands. This leaves producers with a surplus that they can exchange with others, or use to invest in new and even more efficient labour saving machinery.

Smith's third theme is that a country's future income depends upon this capital accumulation. The more that is invested in better productive processes, the more wealth will be created in the future. But if people are going to build up their capital, they must be confident that it will be secure from theft. The countries that prosper are those that grow their capital, manage it well and protect it.

A fourth theme is that this system is automatic. Where things are scarce, people are prepared to pay more for them: there is more profit in supplying them, so producers invest more capital in order to produce more. Where there is a glut, prices and profits are low and producers switch their capital and enterprise elsewhere. Industry thus remains focused on the nation's most important needs, without the need for central direction.

But the system is automatic only when there is free trade and competition. When governments grant subsidies or monopolies to favoured producers, or shelter them behind tariff walls, they can charge higher prices. The poor suffer most from this, facing higher costs for the necessities that they rely on.

A further theme of "The Wealth of Nations" is how different stages of economic progress produce different government institutions. The early hunter-gatherers had little of any value. But when people became farmers, their land, crops and livestock were important property and they developed government and justice systems to protect it.

In the age of commerce, as people accumulate capital, property becomes even more significant. But this age is populated by merchants who have much to gain from distorting markets in their favour and who have the guile to use the political process to help them. Competition and free exchange are under threat from the monopolies, tax preferences, controls and other privileges that producers are able to extract from the government authorities.
For all these reasons, Smith believes that government must be limited. It has core functions such as maintaining defence, keeping order, building infrastructure and promoting education. It should keep the market economy open and free, and not act in ways that distort it.

It is so very sad to think that all the problems that Adam Smith outlined as being barriers to growth and economic prosperity are still considered to be sensible policies by the European Union, by our own political establishment and by far too many people who know no better but think they mean well.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lofty ideals of unity?

This is not about the European Union but another Continent that keeps pronouncing those "lofty ideals", usually encouraged by the europhiliacs, who would like to point to somewhere, anywhere that imitates the EU in its lunacy.

When it comes to Africa the situation is much worse, as most countries are in dire economic and political straits. I thought our readers would like to see this article that was published in July but has only come to my notice. It is by Franklin Cudjoe, director of a Ghanaian think-tank Imani and one of the bright young economists and political analysts in various African countries that would like to see them weaned away from destructive aid policies and onto policies that would allow economic growth.

If Gordon Brown really does want to put help for Africa at the top of his list or priorities (I seem to recall Tony Blair saying something similar at various times during his premiership) he could do a lot worse than consult Franklin.

Anyway, the article appeared in the Kenya Business Daily soon after the last African Union Summit during which those ideals of political unity were much in evidence:
We heard much at the AU last week of lofty ideals of unity, not least from Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi, but nothing of any use on the real disasters of Zimbabwe, Darfur, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Other failures such as corruption and election-rigging did not even feature on the agenda--although these remain the real unifying features of Africa.

Above all, there was not a whisper about property rights, the rule of law and market freedoms that would allow Africans to emulate the growth of Asian countries such as
Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea--which were as poor as we were at independence in the 1960s. Even the growth records of South Africa, Mauritius and Botswana are ignored as being somehow exceptional instead of being acknowledged as the direct result of sound economic policies.
That just about sums it up. Another version of the piece can be read on Imani's own website.

A question of trust

A fascinating survey has been posted on Tory Diary, with the headline, "Conservative members want renegotiation referendum if Treaty is ratified".

All the usual caveats must be expressed – that this is a self-selecting sample, and therefore unrepresentative of the wider community – but it is nevertheless a useful indicator of opinion on a more informed section of the community.

As to the survey, in short, the majority of the respondents (77 percent) believe that the EU Treaty amounts to a significant surrender of British powers and should be opposed, and 67 percent agree that a Conservative government should pass legislation setting British law over EU law on key areas of competence such as social and economic matters.

Crucially, on the post-ratification referendum issue, some 63 percent would support a referendum that mandated the incoming Conservative government to renegotiate back to the idea of a free trade area while, on the issue of tactics, 59 percent thought that Conservatives should focus on the issue of Brown's broken referendum promise rather than the specific constitutional implications of the EU Treaty

One the other side, only 33 percent thought that, once the Treaty has been ratified it will be very difficult to undo and that Conservatives would be unwise to promise to do so, while a mere 29 percent thought that the Tories were in danger of talking too much about Europe and should focus on the NHS, crime and other bread and butter issues.

The blog then quotes MP Bernard Jenkin, who says that, "We must clearly give serious thought to the consequences of ratifying the Lisbon treaty, alongside our determination to re-patriate employment and social policy. The question is not whether there should be renegotiation, but how it should be achieved."

All this, however, must be read in conjunction with Daniel Hannan's earlier blog, where he argued that, having made trust the issue, "the Conservatives need to be absolutely straight about their own position."

Hannan reminds us that, a month ago, David Cameron gave what sounded like an unequivocal commitment. Writing in The Sun, Cameron had assured readers: "Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations."

Cutting through to the key issue, Hannan then mirrors the concerns of this blog that "it now seems that this pledge might not apply if Labour has already ratified the constitution."

"Why not?", asks Hannan. "If the treaty is as bad as David Cameron says it is (and it is), it doesn't become any better for having received royal assent. If the case for a referendum is as powerful as he says it is (and it is), it is no less powerful when applied retrospectively." He then adds:

There is a danger, though, that voters will think that my party is getting in its surrender in advance, preparing now for a sell-out in government. After all …, parties traditionally make sceptical noises in opposition, but become pro-Brussels in power, and the Tories have what the police call "previous" on Europe. Few punters will give us the benefit of the doubt. …

It won't do any more to wink and say. "Well, of course, you know where I'm coming from on Europe". Whenever any MP says that, you can be sure that you don't.
Hannan concludes: "My party calls Gordon Brown a liar because of his sophistry over Europe, and we are right to do so. Let us play no games of our own."

On the other hand, The Tap blog argues that instead of us pointing out their "impossibility", Cameron's "cast-iron" promises of a referendum on the constitution should be treated as "a statement of which direction the Party wants to go". Cameron's detractors, he adds, "might like to stop standing around moaning, and help push us up the hill."

This is all very well, except that, as Hannan points out, the Tories have "previous" on Europe and we are not inclined to trust them. And the very fact that Cameron is being equivocal on his promise, appearing to resile from his earlier commitment, simply strengthens the suspicion and the lack of trust.

Thus, to the frustration of committed Party supporters who – rightly – point to the dire consequences of allowing a Brown government to remain in power, there are many of us who still withhold support from the Conservatives, simply because we are not prepared, wholeheartedly to back a Party which appears to be selling a false bill of goods. It is, as Hannan, so rightly puts it, an question of trust, as much for Cameron as it is Brown.

Our concern is strengthened by a weekend interview of Cameron, conducted by the Mail on Sunday when he is asked whether, if the EU treaty had been ratified by the time he became prime minister, he would have to accept it, Cameron answers, "No. Margaret Thatcher managed to recover the Budget rebate."

The reference to the "handbag routine", has been a constant theme in Conservative mythology, invoked by Michael Howard in June 2004, which we discussed then, and many times since. The inapplicability of this tactic was evident then as it is now and if Cameron is still invoking the "spirit of Thatcher" in the context of a "renegotiation" of the treaty - when the "colleagues" hold all the cards - it really does make you wonder about the quality of tactical thinking that is going on in his brain, and in the Conservative Party generally.

The Tory Home survey, therefore, is important in that it points the way forward for the Conservative Party. The European Union is an issue that the activists in the Party are prepared take on, and there is genuine feeling that this treaty must be fought to the end. Furthermore, the response of the Duty Europhile tends to confirm that it is an issue the Europhiles would prefer the Conservatives to avoid, which again signals that this is one to go for.

If Cameron, on the other hand, thinks he can retreat into his own "comfort zone" of domestic issues, and green politics, he is badly wrong. There are too many people – enough to make the difference – who are waiting for clear statements on the EU before they will commit their support to the Conservatives and, like the man said, it really is a question of trust.


Vain the ambition of kings

This is the second time. The first was in July, when Valéry Giscard d'Estaing told the world that differences between the (proposed) new treaty and the EU constitution, "are few and far between and more cosmetic than real".

Now, in a way that could be hardly more spectacular and public, he has written an open letter to Le Monde declaring, "the tools are exactly the same ones, only the order was changed in the toolbox".

Picked up by The Daily Telegraph, we learn that the treaty was "rewritten" in a different order just to avoid the need for referendums.

In the letter, he says that "the constitutional draft treaty was a new text, inspired by a political good-will, and replaced all the former treaties." For the treaty of Lisbon, the lawyers of the Council "reverted to the traditional way followed by the institutions of Brussels." This, he says, consisted of "modifying the former treaties by way of amendments."

Thus it is that the treaty of Lisbon is exactly in the line of the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. The lawyers did not propose innovations. They retained the text of the constitutional treaty, from which they extracted (broke out) the elements, one by one, and returned them, by way of amendments to the two existing treaties of Rome (1957) and Maastricht (1992).

Thus, Giscard confirms, the treaty of Lisbon ends up as "a catalogue of amendments" to the former treaties. It is illegible to the citizens, he adds, "who must constantly refer to the texts of the treaties of Rome and Maastricht, to which these amendments apply". But, "the result is that the institutional proposals of the constitutional treaty - the only ones which counted - are found complete in the treaty of Lisbon, but in a different order, to be inserted in the former treaties."

So does Giscard expose the "constitutional concept lie" so egregiously peddled by Brown and his cohorts, one which the high profile, pro-referendum campaigners have singularly failed to address.

But the question remains is why should a man who regards himself as the "father of the constitution" apparently put his treaty at risk?

At first sight, it looks like extraordinary arrogance – the most extreme form of hubris – but there may be a more pedestrian explanation: an old man's vanity. It was his constitution - his bébé - and he wants it recognised, to say nothing of his own part in producing it. Such is his confidence that it will go through, he is not worried by the prospects of a backlash. The dramatist John Webster (c. 1630) had it:

Vain the ambition of kings
Who seek by trophies and dead things
To leave a living name behind …
However, it seems inconceivable that Giscard's statements will have no political effect. Not least, published in a leading French newspaper, it must surely wake up the French to the fact that the result of their referendum is being ignored. And, in British politics, it so clearly exposes Brown's lies that surely he will have some difficulty repeating them with a straight face.

Of that, we can but hope, but in so doing, we take a little comfort from Webster, who said of the "vain ambition" that all the kings manage is to, "weave but nets to catch the wind."


Monday, October 29, 2007

The Duty Europhile instructs …

Have you noticed that, all of a sudden, the word "Eurosceptic" is out of vogue? For a while, we were "anti-Europeans" and now, quite suddenly, all the Europhile luvvies are referring to us as "Europhobes".

The explanation for this is quite simple – and it is not a coincidence. Deep within the recesses of the Foreign Office is the single desk, manned (or womanned) round the clock by the "Duty Europhile" – cat on lap – ready at a moment's notice to give the faithful their instructions on every conceivable issue. This is why the Europhiles always come up with the same line on just about everything.

Another example of this remarkable enterprise comes with both Mark Mardell – the BBC’s resident Europhile – and Peter Preston, in The Guardian simultaneously writing carefully crafted pieces on the trauma involved in leaving the EU. Coincidence, this is not.

First Mardell and his clog. He tells us that, "Divorce is not simple", then dwelling on the perils David Cameron would face if, as prime minister, he allowed a post-ratification referendum on the "Lisbon Treaty" (note: no longer a “Reform” treaty – the deception is no longer needed).

This is "very dangerous territory" intones Mardell, adding a few loving touches to spell out quite how dangerous – here lies a European Commission, which would be "incandescent with fury".

Then perish the thought, what if we all said "no"? Well, the options would range from full withdrawal, to some semi-detached relationship with the EU, but the process – any process - would be "painful" and "long-drawn-out". Worse still, those poor ministers who had hoped to turn their backs on Brussels would find themselves spending even more time there, negotiating the changes.

And of course, Mardell then adds – twisting the knife - "as we all know, there can be no institutional change under the Conservatives without a referendum. So ministers would be gearing up for another time-, effort- and money-consuming referendum on a new treaty."

But he hasn’t finished yet. He tells us: "While some (simple fools - unsaid) will say, 'It's simple, just walk away," divorce, separation, or even sleeping in different rooms, is not simple:

Other states might veer from wanting to punish Britain, to being merely stand-offish, but they wouldn't be helpful and would probably adopt a stance that would highlight the difficulties of disentanglement. The whole process would be top of the news half the time and absorb much of the prime minister's attention. And the cry, "What about schools?" "What about hospitals?" would go up.
I think we get the message.

But, just in case we miss it, there is Peter Preston. For him, getting out of the EU "will be bruising not blithe". A mere 741 words follow, ladling on the hardships, as we navigate a "route to the exit", which is "littered with obstacles". "This won't be like breaking your tennis racket and storming off court,” we are told. Instead, we face, "a thoroughly turbulent interim time of indefinite duration."

Actually, we knew this – or at least the saner Eurosceptics knew it, and one of the gross failures of the "movement" has been not to spend the time and effort developing an exit strategy.

But, although Preston lays it on thick, leaving in some ways is easier than he thinks, but in other ways harder. If he complains about having to unscramble all those Directives though, think of all those under-employed MPs who are having to be sent home because they have nothing to do.

For once, we could cheer them on their way, rejoicing as they sent Bill after Bill to the Palace for Royal Assent – all to repeal EU law and replace it with honest, decent British law (or none at all). Whatever the hardship, this surely would be worth it.

But wait – the Duty Europhile probably hasn't finished yet. Stand by for the next article on how difficult it would be to leave the EU, how bruising, turbulent, heartwrenching, dismal, traumatic, er ... Better leave it to the DE.


The new comedy act

Some of us have been mourning the departure of Prime Minister Kaczynski from the political scene, which undermined the position of President Kaczynski as the leading comedian of Europe. Some people can be funny on their own and some need partners. Would Morecambe have survived without Wise and vice versa? What is Flanagan Flanders without Swann? Or Laurel without Hardy? Where would the second gentleman of Verona be without the first one? (Actually, somebody might like to answer that as I have never been able to get through the play.)

Then there are comedians like Jack Benny, who can keep an audience mesmerized or in stitches of laughter all on their own. (As for his performance in the part of “the great, great Polish actor Josef Tura” in the 1942 film “To Be or Not To Be”, well, all I can say is if you have not seen it, find a DVD instantly.)

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the new Jack Benny Show, as presented by none other but President Vladimir Putin, known to his friends and enemies alike as Vlad the Impaler. (So is Lenin, of course.)

His latest idea? Well, he is going to open a think-tank in one of the capitals of the European Union, possibly Brussels but, given the coolth between Russia and Britain, maybe in London that will study freedom and democracy in Europe.

Of course, there is quite a lot to study and, possibly, Mr Putin and his siloviki as well as the new oligarchs (all buddies of Vlad) are the answer to the well-known fiscal problems of the eurosceptic movement. (Sadly, I am unlikely to get any funds. The last time I tried to go to Moscow, I couldn’t even get a visa. But my colleague might be able to put his financial affairs in order with President Putin’s help.)

Then again, it does not look to me like Vlad’s henchmen are all that interested in details like the position of the European Council or the fact that the European Union will acquire a legal personality.

What bugs them is the number of NGOs who have opened offices in Russia and, even if they have not, show their temerity by criticizing Russia’s human rights record. I don’t know, whatever next? People will be saying that journalists who are critical of the government get shot in that country, as do people who try to clean up the corruption. The cheek of it.

The Russian think-tank, if it ever happens, will be financed solely by Russia, as they now have such a lot of money to throw around, in the way organizations were financed back in the days of the dear old Soviet Union, but more openly. Glasnost is everything comrades ladies and gentlemen.

Its aim will be monitoring “the situation regarding the rights of ethnic minorities, immigrants and the media in Europe”. I suppose, this means that in return they will finally let independent observers into Chechnya, Ingushetiya and Dagestan. Pigs will take to the skies in large numbers.

Or they will allow observers, in return for similar courtesy, to Russian prisons, prison camps, police stations and border control points. Presumably, there will be greater openness about children’s homes, especially those for disabled children. No? Well, well, what a shame.

Actually, what the think-tank will concentrate on is an old, old story.
Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst, said one of the institute's priorities should be highlighting discrimination against ethnic Russians living in countries once part of the Soviet Union, like Estonia and Latvia.
So, what this comic act amounts to is another attempt to bully the Baltic republics. Interestingly enough, ethnic Russians in Baltic States (one wonders how they got there in the first place) appear not to be very anxious to rejoin their brothers and sisters in the great homeland. Far more of them have been using the freedom of movement aspect of the EU to make their way westward.

Perhaps the new think-tank will study this phenomenon, provide us with figures and analyze what those Russians do when they reach Germany, France or Britain. By the way, little piggies in Russian is porosyata.


I thought only Americans did nasty things

We Europeans are civilized, humane and gentle - just like we have always been in history. We would never think of waging wars, conquering people or mistreating those we do not like.

So goes the litany, which then continues with the words Bush, CIA, rendition in any order you would like. Or as Dirty Harry says from time to time on Libertas: "Redaction, rendition ... let's call the whole thing off".

But hey, what's this in the Spiegel? It seems Greece, that land of ancient civilization and anti-Americanism (I bet Plato couldn't stomach Bush) "may be in blatant violation of human rights norms".

Hmm, well that's one way of putting it. Apparently, coast guards have not just been turning away refugees from rather nasty parts of the world, possibly because they refused to blame the Americans and President Bush personally for their sorry plight, but have been torturing them.

Read the whole piece.


The other side of the story

Far it be from me to disagree with my colleague's analysis (gentle and kind, as ever) of the Boy-King's speech on immigration. In fact, I put up a comment along those lines on the ToryBoy Forum when the speech was trailed this morning.

However, before we get too carried away in blaming the EU (something I quite like doing rightly or wrongly) or the immigrants from other member states, let us look at the other side of the story and let us not mince any words about it - we have a catastrophe on our hands. It is called our education system, supplemented by our welfare system.

As it happens the Evening Standard today has an article, entitled "A lost generation of Neets". Neets, for those who are not familiar with the jargon stands for "not in education, employment or training". The article, whose main picture I nicked quite shamelessly, is by Joe Murphy, the Political Editor and gives horrifying figures for London.
Across London, a fifth of 18- to 24-year-olds - 153,000 people - are unemployed and doing nothing to gain the skills that would lead to a job.

In Camberwell and Peckham, 4,000 in that age group - 47 per cent in the area - are Neets, according to Commons library figures.

Other areas with a high proportion of jobless young people are Orpington (44 per cent), Brent East (42 per cent), Ealing North (41 per cent), Poplar and Canning Town (38 per cent), Greenwich and Woolwich (37 per cent), Dagenham and Hackney (both 35 per cent) and Tottenham and Brent North (both 34 per cent). London came joint worst in the regional league table for young people doing nothing.
There are four case studies, all from Hackney that give a very vivid picture of the situation and a very good explanation the fact "that businesses prefer to hire migrant workers rather than young Britons".

A separate section gives other figures:

* Under-16s: Parents or guardians can claim £18.10 per week for their first child and £12.10 for each additional child. Payments will continue until the age of 19 if the child stays in full-time education (eg A-levels) but end if they enter higher education (eg university). Children are not able to claim benefits themselves.

* 16 to 17-year-olds: Entitled to jobseeker's allowance of £35.65 per week. Have to demonstrate they are actively looking for work and attend a job centre every fortnight. Also able to claim housing and council tax benefit if they are no longer living at home with parents.

* 18 to 24-year-olds: Payments rise to £46.85 per week.

* Over 25: Payments rise to £59.15 per week.
The idea that firms should be forced to hire British lay-abouts instead of hard-working Poles, Estonians or French is a non-starter. Our businesses are already made as uncompetitive as possible by the paternal state.

One can certainly come up with some solutions for the future, so the situation is not perpetuated - not that I have heard any ideas from the Tories. One can start by prising the dead hand of the state off our schools and colleges; one can introduce a voucher system; one can concentrate on first-class training instead of tenth-rate so-called academic education; one can scrap legislation that prevents schools from introducing even the modicum of discipline - you know, the kind that teaches children to dress appropriately and turn up on time or, indeed, at all. And so on, and so on. But that is for the next generation, if we manage to convince our political class that the situation is catastrophic.

What is to be done with the lost 2 or, maybe, 3 generations of neets?


Taking us for fools?

No one will even begin to pretend they know exactly what the current situation is with immigration. That is part of the scandal, where successive governments have not only lost control of our borders, but the current government has no idea how many immigrants have entered, how many intend permanently to settle and how many will be leaving.

If that is the background to any debate on immigration, then it ill-behoves the leader of the opposition, the revered David Cameron, in making his first speech on immigration since becoming leader, to rely on "the statistical picture of what is actually happening". These statistics we know full well to be flawed, more so when Cameron cites the 2005 figures rather than more recent estimates.

Nevertheless, we are told that in 2005, 145,000 migrants to Britain were from the European Union, mostly from the new accession countries in the east, and accounting for around thirty per cent of the total. 91,000 were British citizens returning to live here. Another 189,000 came from the Commonwealth. And 140,000 from elsewhere in the world.

But then we see why those figures should be so attractive, as Cameron goes on to tell us that, in controlling immigration – which he says is necessary – the "first step", is "being clear about what we can directly control, and then controlling it." Of course, EU migration cannot be controlled, so one almost senses the relief when the Great Leader declares that "Non-EU migration, excluding British citizens returning to live here, accounts for nearly seventy per cent of all immigration."

Thus, on the basis of wholly inadequate and almost certainly incorrect figures, Cameron can guide us towards the conclusion that EU immigration as a smaller part of the problem and thus it can be ignored, in favour of the larger problem of immigration from non-EU countries.

With that as our vade mecum, he concedes that "we should bring down the level of net immigration to a more sustainable level" – although we are not allowed to know what that is. Instead, we are told this:

Of course overall non-EU migration includes asylum seekers, students and family members as well as economic migrants. But non-EU economic migration is something we can and should limit, and I cannot understand why this government has not done so.
Now, here we have an interesting problem because, according to Andrew Green of Migration Watch, writing last year in The Daily Telegraph, among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, some 30 to 50 percent of the second and third generations marry partners from their countries of origin. And, in Bradford, this figure reaches 60 percent.

The effect, he writes, is to increase the number of households greatly, adding to the pressure on housing, and setting back integration by a generation - assuming, of course, that people now living in those rather closed communities wish to integrate.

Now that would seem a significant target for immigration control but, as we see, Cameron excludes it. And well he might. No doubt this time he has been correctly advised that he cannot exclude such persons under EU law – our old friend Directive 2004/38/EC. This gives rights of residence to spouses of "EU citizens" – whether they are nationals of EU member states or of third countries. And of course, immigrants who are awarded British citizenship automatically become EU citizens as well, affording them the full rights under the directive.

Furthermore, this privilege applies to children, parents and in-laws. None can be excluded. Nor indeed can we exclude immigrants from other EU countries, who in turn have immigrated from non-EU countries and have been awarded citizenship of those EU countries. And that applies to their relatives as well.

Similarly, since we have handed over control of the admission of asylum seekers to the EU under Regulation 343/2004, nor can Mr Cameron hope to have any effect on this flow – it is out of his hands.

Thus, whittling down what is left to us to control, we thus find the essential element of Tory policy coming down to "explicit annual limits on non-EU economic migration," which will be "set at a level substantially lower than the current rate."

And how many "non-EU economic migrants" do we have entering the country each year? Well, Mr Cameron does not say – but it must be a tiny fraction of the total.

But, you will be pleased to know, the policy doesn't actually stop there. Apart from a new border police force to stop illegal immigration and restictions on any new EU entrants, says Cameron:

…we can and should do more in relation to marriages across national boundaries … a Conservative government will raise the minimum age for a spouse coming to Britain - and for the sponsor - to twenty-one … we will [also] insist that every spouse coming to Britain should have a basic level of English: the same level as those applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain because they work in Britain.
Sorry David! You can't do that. If the person wishing to have their spouse join them is an EU citizen, then Directive 2004/38/EC applies. That makes no provision for excluding spouses on the grounds of age, and you certainly are not permitted to require that they speak English. As long as they acted in accordance with the law of the country in which they married, no such conditions can be applied.

So, who are you trying to convince? Or are you – as you accuse Mr Brown – also taking us for fools?


Tells you everything you need to know

"The need to improve working conditions is a collective concern, prompted by both humanitarian and economic considerations", the EU commission tells us, to which effect it proclaims that, "Health and Safety at work represents today one of the most important most advanced fields of the social policy of the Union."

The commission also tells us that "the improvement of health and safety of the workers already started from 1952 under the European Coal and Steel Community" but it was not until 1978 that we saw the first of what was to become a torrent of legislation, with a new Directive (now repealed), this one rejoicing in the snappy title: "Council Directive 78/610/EEC of 29 June 1978 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States on the protection of the health of workers exposed to vinyl chloride monomer".

Next year, no doubt, the EU commission will be parading an important anniversary – thirty years of Community health and safety legislation - but, a mere 29 years on, however, we are beginning to see the results of all this effort, heralded by The Times in a headline today which reads: "Firms criticised over workplace deaths".

We are thus informed that, "Businesses, schools and hospitals in Britain are failing to prevent thousands of accidents and hundreds of avoidable deaths a year." Moreover, a total of 241 deaths were caused by accidents at work last year, 11 percent more than in 2005-06. Nearly one third (31 percent) of the deaths occurred in the construction sector.

The paper's source is a report commissioned by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), which, perversely, criticises the "complete failure of the voluntary approach to reducing injuries and fatalities in the workplace" and "has prompted calls for stricter health and safety laws".

But, as any employer will tell you, there is absolutely no shortage of health and safety law, witnessed by the consolidated list from the EU commission.

Many commentators have in fact argued that, after a certain point, there is an inverse correlation between the amount of regulation and safety. Beyond the basic minimum of laws – intelligently enforced – safety deteriorates rather than improves, with the increase in new laws. This is very much the same argument we get from Paul Smith of Safespeed, in respect of road safety law – borne out by the slackening off in the rate of reduction of road deaths, as the control regime gets more draconian.

But it is not only the quantity of law, but its (poor) quality, that has an adverse impact – as common sense might tell you. And, if you need an example, all you need to do is look at the latest creation from the EU commission. This also goes under a really snappy title, viz:

Directive 2007/30/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2007 amending Council Directive 89/391/EEC, its individual Directives and Council Directives 83/477/EEC, 91/383/EEC, 92/29/EEC and 94/33/EC with a view to simplifying and rationalising the reports on practical implementation (Text with EEA relevance).
Now for the good news. The first paragraph of the recital only contains one sentence. And the bad news? It is 559 words long – an absolute classic:

The preparation by the Member States of practical implementation reports as a basis for the Commission’s periodical reports on the implementation of the Community rules on the safety and health of workers, is provided for by Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (3), and by the individual Directives within the meaning of Article 16(1) of that Directive, namely: Council Directive 89/654/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace (4), Council Directive 89/655/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work (5), Council Directive 89/656/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace (6), Council Directive 90/269/EEC of 29 May 1990 concerning the minimum health and safety requirements for the manual handling of loads where there is a risk particularly of back injury to workers (7), Council Directive 90/270/EEC of 29 May 1990 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment (8), Council Directive 92/57/EEC of 24 June 1992 concerning the implementation of minimum safety and health requirements at temporary or mobile construction sites (9), Council Directive 92/58/EEC of 24 June 1992 concerning the minimum requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work (10), Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding (11), Council Directive 92/91/EEC of 3 November 1992 concerning the minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers in the mineral extracting industries through drilling (12), Council Directive 92/104/EEC of 3 December 1992 on the minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers in surface and underground mineral-extracting industries (13), Council Directive 93/103/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work on board fishing vessels (14), Council Directive 98/24/EC of 7 April 1998 concerning the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work (15), Directive 1999/92/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 1999 on minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres (16), Directive 2002/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibration) (1), Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 February 2003 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise) (2), Directive 2004/40/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields) (3) and Directive 2006/25/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2006 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising from physical agents (artificial optical radiation) (4).
And that tells you everything you need to know about the commission's approach to health and safety.


The Constitutional reform unrolls

If our readers think back to the first careless rapture of the Brown government (and how long ago that seems now) they will recall that the new Prime Minister in his efforts to distance himself from the previous one, in whose government he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years, they will recall that there was much talk of a constitutional change, nay, reform.

Well, the first stage of this “reform” is being unrolled, accompanied, I am glad to say with absolutely no fanfare from the media. Could it be that the hacks have finally learnt what these various initiatives are worth?

On Thursday, Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (there’s a Pooh-Bah-like title) stood up and made a statement to the House of Commons about “Governance of Britain” and how the new reforms will affect war powers, treaties, judicial appointments and protests. Well, actually, the statement was about the consultation documents that are being issued on those subjects and how the new reforms should affect them.

A fascinating speech it was, too. One cannot help wondering whether Jack Straw, who is not, by any means, stupid, knows what a lot of tosh he was talking. The three consultation papers, he explains are part of the Prime Minister’s vision of a “renewed relationship between Government and citizens” as set out by him back in July when he identified twelve areas in which the executive and the Prime Minister “should surrender or limit their powers”.

Apparently these are areas in which “exclusive exercise” by the Government “should have no place in a modern democracy”. One could argue that it is only in modern democracy as opposed to constitutional liberalism that the Executive actually managed to grab quite as much power as it has; one could also argue that much of this “grabbed” power can be abandoned or restored to the people and to Parliament (should the Commons part of it actually want any power, of which there is no sign) without any great announcements of constitutional reform.

First off, we have war powers.
On 15 May the government supported a motion in this House which declared that it was “inconceivable” that the precedents set in 2002 and 2003, when the Government sought the approval of the House for military action in Iraq, would not be followed in the future. The same motion called on the Government “to come forward with detailed proposals” on how this convention should be entrenched. Today’s consultation paper therefore explores a range of options, each aimed at formalising Parliament’s role. It suggests that this might be through a convention, through legislation, or by a combination of both.
When one looks through the relevant sections in the consultation paper, “The Governance of Britain – War powers and treaties: limiting Executive powers”, one finds various arguments about the difficulties that voting on war in Parliament would create.

The arguments are not stupid, as it happens. The question of our troops’ safety must be paramount and if a debate in Parliament jeopardizes that, careful thought must be given; then there is the issue of our commitment to our allies; the need to move fast in certain circumstances – most military engagements do not have the long run-up the Iraqi war did; the conundrum of when the engagement should be debated – a long way ahead, immediately prior to engagement or ex post facto after the troops have moved in; and so on.

In fact, the result is likely to be some form of codification of the government asking Parliament to debate war powers as and when it sees necessary, which is more or less the situation at present. Agree with it or not, there is no need for a huge fuss about constitutional reform.

In any case, that is not what MPs want. What they would really like is legislation that would retroactively abolish the debate and the vote. That way they can vote for a war when it is popular and shriek with horror that they had not been consulted when it becomes unpopular.

Moving right along with the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (could that be SSJLC?) we come to the question of treaties. Both the statement and the consultation paper goes to some trouble to explain the Ponsonby Rule:
According to this and with certain exceptions, the Government must lay a treaty as a Command Paper before Parliament for a minimum of 21 sitting days prior to ratification. It is then for Parliament to determine which treaties it wishes to debate. The Government believes that there may be value in putting this convention on a statutory footing, to establish Parliament’s right to decide and show that the actions of the Government are subject to the will of the people’s
Several points need to be made here and, for some reason, Mr Straw forgot to make them. Likewise, his officials forgot to put them into the consultation paper.

Firstly, let’s face it, there is no value whatsoever in wasting time going through a lengthy legislative process, if that is what will come out of this exercise, in order to put a well-understood convention on a statutory footing. It isn’t as if the Ponsonby Rule failed in what it can achieve.

The problem is with that “can”. Mr Straw seems to have forgotten that trade treaties, for instance, do not come under the Rule because they are negotiated and signed on our behalf by the European Union. Parliament can then debate all it likes but it cannot deny ratification.

The other problem not mentioned particularly is that of the various treaties that are become amendments to the European Communities Act. Is it actually possible for Parliament to decide not to ratify, say the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty, thus obviating the necessity to introduce the next amendment to the Act?

Finally, there is no mention that the forthcoming Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty allows for a Chief Panjandrum on the Common Foreign Policy (no longer called a Foreign Minister). While we are assured that foreign policy will remain in the domain of individual states, the High Representative will state the common position, where there is one and negotiate on its basis.

Coupled with the fact that the European Union will acquire a legal personality, that is, it will be in a position to negotiate and sign treaties beyond the trade ones (which are nominally signed by all the member states) the question of what will come under the Ponsonby Rule even if it is put on statutory footing will be considerably more moot than Mr Straw seems to believe.

I bet our readers cannot wait for the next few instalments of the constitutional reform as propounded by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who seems not be able to understand what it is he has agreed to in Lisbon not so long ago and what the implications are for the country.


There are limits …

Or, in the case of Germany, no limits. Despite somewhat less than subtle hints from EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, last March, that the German government should introduce a speed limit on the nation’s autobahns, Angel Merkel had decided to put her foot down, and allow her fellow citizens to keep putting theirs down. She has decided that there will be no upper speed limit on currently unrestricted roads.

In standing firm, Merkel is not only seeing off the EU commission but also snubbing her own coalition's junior party. Members of the centre-left Social Democratic Party had backed a proposal to introduce a general speed limit of 130 kph (80 mph).

Asked in an interview to be aired Monday on state-run ZDF television station what she thought of the proposal, Merkel flatly rejected it saying, "It won't happen with me."

Nor is Merkel buying the green agenda. The current high-speed tradition has come under attack for is excess carbon dioxide emissions, but the German chancellor argues that better traffic management systems would be a more effective way of preventing excessive emissions. The lengthy traffic jams that often clog the autobahn, are equally detrimental to the environment as high-speed driving, she says.

Now, if we could just get Merkel thinking about EU treaties in the same way as speed limits, perhaps we could make some progress.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

On the lump

You would have thought that the black economy was none of the European Union's business, this being a simple matter of tax evasion. And, as we all know, taxation (and tax administration) is a matter for member states.

If you thought this, however, you would be wrong. Here we have another example of how the ingenious minds in the EU commission manage to stretch the meaning of the treaties to make them all-inclusive.

In this case, as the commission gaily explains:

The legal framework on free movement of workers is a safeguard against undeclared work. Free movement of workers is a basic right laid down in the Treaty, which works effectively for several decades. The basic regulations date from 1971 as far as social security is concerned (including for the self employed), and from 1996 as far as the rights of posted workers are concerned.

Once cross-border workers (whether in dependent employment or self employment), are correctly registered to social security and labour institutions, they can be controlled in the same way as nationals. It is thus crucial that cross-border workers and their employers have a user-friendly administrative framework to comply with these regulations. This is why the changes in the regulatory framework would notably aim to improve administrative transparency and simplification in the interest of the user, on the basis of better cooperation between institutions across borders.
Thus is it on that slenderest of pretexts that that, because an administrative system which permits "undeclared working" – as the commission prefers to call it – affects the "free movement of workers", it comes into the maw of the EU legislative vice.

Thus it was that, last week, that the commission decided to step up the fight against undeclared work.

As part of that fight, it issued a report on what it has decided is a "complex phenomenon with multiple drivers", then offering that the main reason for undeclared work is "the mutual benefit for both consumer and supplier (i.e. avoiding taxes and administrative burden)". One wonders how much they paid their consultants to tell them that.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla (or his gifted staff) coming up with a raft of proposals which will be discussed by the European Council on 6 December and will in the fullness of time, spawn a whole raft of new legislative proposals.

Among the commission's proposals is a minimum wage, lowering work and social security taxes, increasing penalties for illegal work and cutting red tape.

Yet, intriguingly, the one thing which is also a huge drive of "illegal work", the commission does not even mention – generous and inflexible unemployment and social security benefits. One of the great problems many employers of casual labour find is that people are reluctant to sign off for short periods of work, and are equally reluctant to take low-paid jobs, simply because they lose out on cash and benefits.

But, despite the grip of the commission of this issue, they perhaps know better than to broach the subject of social security payments – much less suggesting that they should be reduced. That, even for the EU, would be a step too far.


Against all odds

It is something of a truism in the eurosceptic movement that we win arguments (when debating opponents, that is) but cannot put boots on the ground. The reasons for it are manifold and I shall leave it to the members of our forum to grumble away, though I hope all grumblers will explain whether they attended a rally yesterday anywhere in the country and if not, why not. Naturally, this applies only to people actually in the United Kingdom.

Against all odds, the London Pro-Referendum Rally went well. We filled Old Palace Yard, which may not be very difficult but given the uncertainty of the weather, not to mention the uncertainty of our supporters, there were worries even about that.

The speeches, off the top of a bus with a charmingly old-fashioned megaphone, were uniformly good. The speakers were Bob Spink MP, four MEPs: Niger Farage, Dan Hannan and Roger Helmer as well as Jens-Peter Bonde, who was quite hopeful about the situation in Denmark, Cllr Steve Radford, president of the Liberal Party and Neil Herron of the Metric Martyrs.

Sky TV was there for the entire proceedings but I don’t know whether they used any of the footage. Other media coverage beyond that mentioned by my colleague there is a very positive article in the Sunday Telegraph, though I suspect it was written from press releases sent out assiduously by our press officer, Andy Smith.

PA was there and several media outlets picked up their story though I have not yet located it but have been told of its existence. The AP story appeared in the International Herald Tribune, MSN and MSNBC, the American version. So, it is not precisely true that there was no press coverage at all. I shall update this piece as I find more articles or media references.

have noted several dissatisfied bloggers telling the world how disappointed they were when they got to the rally and implying, I am sorry to say, that somehow they were doing the world a favour by attending the event. One or two anonymous commenters on Prodicus (who, himself, very kindly mentions my name as that of one of the few sensible people there) go even further, lambasting the organizers (knowing nothing about them), the press coverage (clearly knowing nothing about the way the media works) and all attendees, not quite realizing that a blanket condemnation does not make them sound particularly sensible either.

One commenter says that he went around looking for bloggers and found none. To my certain knowledge (and Devil’s Kitchen will support me) there were several present. It’s just that we do not carry notices on our chests that say “Blogger”. How on earth was the anonymous commenter going to find any bloggers?

I am looking forward to Dan Hannan’s blog, which is being written in competition with this one. He will get there before me, is my prediction.

It is true that while several MEPs were present (Gerard Batten was there as well as those who spoke), there were no MPs apart from Bob Spink. Several of them, as I wrote before, have already cast a vote on behalf of their constituents for a referendum but too many refused to do so. It is not their absence that annoys me – after all, they do have constituencies to see to and the occasional other business – but the fact that they would not stick their heads over the parapet even to the extent of casting that symbolic vote.

In all charity, I shall not enumerate the MPs who had been invited to speak and who did not even bother to reply to the invitation. (Though why I should be so charitable, as these people made my life quite difficult I do not know. Must be that famous milk of human kindness.)

BNP members were present as we expected them to be but I do not share other people’s obsession with that party. They are neither the most evil and dangerous organization in this country nor its saviours in my opinion. As long as they behave themselves they can attend meetings and rallies. And they do behave themselves.

There is no question about it, unlike many a main-stream eurosceptic, the BNP members are well disciplined. Whatever they may say in private (none of my business, as it happens), in public they talk sensibly; hand out leaflets that are no more inaccurate than many other eurosceptic ones to anyone who takes them and do not insist on handing them to those who refuse; refrain from screaming abuse; and do not put on fancy dress costume.

Would that other eurosceptics were so sensible. For the record, let me point out that while fancy dress looks charming on children and entertaining on teenagers, it looks embarrassing on middle-aged women and even worse on middle-aged men. A serious political point on the nature of democracy and the shortcomings of our government is undermined by the presence of ladies dressed as Britannia. (And I don’t care who reads this.)

Nor do we get much out of idiotic posters that call Gordon Brown “quisling” (by someone who clearly does not know what the word means) or “Judas”. When I said we win our arguments against our opponents I meant just that. We never manage to persuade our so-called allies that their behaviour puts potential supporters off.

There was a fair amount of loud cheering, booing, shouting (some appropriate some less so) and heckling, though none so loud as Devil’s Kitchen, who yelled across the crowd to somebody who was heckling Bob Spink for being a Conservative (clearly assuming that he was Ted Heath in disguise): “Shut up you tw*t!” It worked.

So what did we achieve? Well, it is worth having a series of rallies (I am waiting to hear about the others across the country) to show that there are people who are willing to come out even in the drizzling rain. It is worth explaining in a way that will be understood across the country and the world what exactly is the problem with this treaty and why the people should be asked whether they accept it. But no, it will not, without additional pressure and a great deal of it, persuade Gordon Brown that if he really wants to be a reforming Prime Minister who believes in power being handed back to the people, whose it was in the first place, he must have that referendum.

That pressure will have to be applied by all of us.

[Most of the pictures published on this posting were taken by the “official” photographer of the Rally, Graham Stewart. The one of Roger Helmer and Dan Hannan is by Simon Richards of the Freedom Association and there are other pictures, by him on the TFA website together with a more detailed account of the speeches.]