Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More on the other Tory leadership election!

I was interested to hear that the Conservative MEPs have brought forward their AGM so as to elect or re-elect their own leader on the same day as the result is announced of the Cameron vs Davies election for the overall party leadership.

This is a clever move by Tim Kirkhope. Assuming he's re-elected, he will be able to say to Cameron that he, too, has a fresh mandate - to stay in the EPP in the European Parliament. Cameron's pledge to take them out does not have the support of the majority of Conservative MEPs, and opposition is growing now they realise that, in all likelihood, they will be sitting in near-isolation on the benches of the independents next to Jean-Marie Le Pen, Alessandra Mussolini and Robert Kilroy-Silk.

I have also caught sight of a publication by the “Bruge Group” – one of various euro-phobe Conservative organisations, written by Lee Rotherham, who it misleadingly describes as having been on the Convention that drafted the EU constitution – but he was most certainly not.

Lee Rotherham’s pamphlet gives the impression that he views continental Christian Democrats as a bunch of leftists. He also argues that the European People’s Party is neither European or popular on some rather curious grounds:

• He says that it is not European because “its Christian Democrat tenets do not belong to the Conservative parties of Europe” (Hey? Does one have to be Conservative to be European?)
• That it is not popular because it “is a top down construct that rejects the will of the people as expressed in referenda” (A “top down construct”? That’s a bit rich coming from the Conservative party which, perhaps more than any other party in Europe, was built historically from the top down and even today has only limited democratic structures. Most Christian Democrat parties are in fact member based organisations that do actually give their own members the right to elect their leaders. As to the EPP not respecting democracy, this too seems puzzling.

All political parties win some and lose some – Lee Rotherham himself will not have been happy with the outcome of most national referendums on the European Union as the overwhelming majority of the twenty or so held over the years in different countries, including Britain, have been positive. That the EPP is unhappy with the referendum results in France and the Netherlands whilst happy with the recent results in Spain and Luxembourg can scarcely be construed as the EPP behaving in an undemocratic way.

Anyway, these minor rantings from the Tory fringes are neither here nor there: the key question is whether the Tories will actually tear themselves away from their centre-right allies in the European Parliament and march off to the fringes. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament is hoping for the latter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I note that the remaining restriction on the export of British beef (which affects cattle over 30 months old) is now also likely to be lifted. If approved by veterinary experts in January, this will mean that British been will once again be sold without any restriction whatsoever across Europe, ten years on from being banned in the wake of the BSE crisis. All 25 EU countries will then accept all categories of British beef.

Readers will remember that France initially refused to accept British beef even for those categories that were declared safe some time ago (namely cattle up to 30 months old). We had to have recourse to the European Court of Justice for France to change its mind. All the other EU countries accepted British beef as soon as it was declared safe.

Outside the EU, there is little we could have done about the French ban - just as we have no mechanism for lifting the ban that remains on British beef across 80 other countries worldwide, including the USA. Inside the EU, all bar one country accepted our beef as soon as it was declared safe - and we had a legally binding procedure to deal with the one that didn't!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Despite the recent media focus on reforming the CAP and reducing agricultural spending - as one of the trade offs in the mega budget deal being brokered by Tony Blair - I notice that the press has given relatively little coverage to a major step forward in CAP reform achieved last week, namely the reform of the sugar market. This amounts to a 36% price reduction in sugar, bringing in market forces to play in this too-protected area, a significant budgetary saving and an end to the dumping of our sugar surpluses on the Third World.

If the government was really any good at spin doctoring, it would be shouting this from the rooftops. It amounts to another major step in CAP reform on top of those achieved already in recent years.

Sometimes out media and our ministers fail even to point out, let alone take credit for, the major reforms already achieved in the CAP!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tribune, the left-wing British political journal, last week reviewed a new book by historian Tony Judt on Europe post-1945 (Postwar: a history of Europe since 1945). Under the headline 'A continent mortgaged to its terrible past', reviewer Robert Taylor describes Judt's analysis of the birth of the European Union out of the remnants of six years of war:
Judt, perhaps more than any other, sets out a stark, almost unbelievable picture of a shattered continent close to utter annihilation in what must have seemed to many millions of survivors as the start of year zero. It is estimated that about 36.5 million Europeans died between 1939 and 1945 from war-related causes and more than half of them were non-combatant civilians. … Epidemics and chronic malnutrition stalked the continent. Civil wars and social disorders threatened to inflict with further misery. Many cities were little more than piles of rubble by 1945."
Taylor also ties his review to the modern EU:
"At a time when Europe as an issue is being trivialised in the British political debate, Professor Tony Judt has written a masterpiece on the history of our continent since the end of the Second Word War. It deserves a wide readership, not least among the Little Englanders and sceptics who are now once more dominant in both the Labour and Conservative parties."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A very useful summary of Parliament's position on the REACH (chemicals) proposal at first reading is available here, via Parliament's website.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yesterday, the Labour Movement for Europe relaunched as a campaigning organisation in a packed meeting in Westminster. Over 70 members, MPs and peers crowded into Committee Room 6 in the House of Commons to discuss the future organisation of LME and hear keynote speeches from Geoff Hoon and Douglas Alexander.

For too long, LME has been dormant while right-wing anti-Europeans have had their way in Britain. But the question of Britain's engagement with its European partners is far too important for the debate to be dominated by noisy xenophobes. Now is the time for LME to reawaken and rejoin the battle!

Over the coming months, I hope LME will be engaging in debate at every level—in Westminster, in Brussels, and most importantly on the ground in Britain.

At the relaunch event, a new website was also unveiled with a variety of campaign tools designed to support grassroots activists.

We desperately need a progressive pro-European voice to counter the myths and scare stories put about by the Tories and our eurosceptic media. Hopefully, in the future, LME will be that voice!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

For those who are interested in the details of the French Socialist Party following my last post, the three main factions are:
  • Socialistes pour Reussir à Gauche (supporting the motion drafted by Party First Secretary Francois Hollande, supported by Straus-Kahn, Royal, Lang, Aubry, Guigou and most of the other leading figures) whose motion obtained 54%. This motion supports a return in due course to the institutional issues in the draft treaty, meanwhile continuing to negotiate with Turkey, strengthening beneficial EU policies, strengthening the EP and working closely with other PES parties.
  • The Nouveau Party Socialiste (NPS), not the equivalent of New Labour but a far-left grouping around Henri Emannuelli, Vincent Peillon and Arnaud Montebourg, [who actually said “Nul ne peut douter du patriotisme de parti du NPS, qui a montré plus que d'autres qu'il savait respecter les choix collectifs qui nous engagent”, which must rank pretty high in the stakes of hypocrisy as they campaigned against the party on the European Constitution], whose motion obtained 23% of the vote. It is strongly anti-globalisation, strongly against the EU as it is now but in favour of building a “European Republic” with an avant-garde group of countries and domestically calls for a new Sixth Republic by cutting Presidential powers in France.
  • Rassembler à Gauche (around Mélanchon, Vidalies, Quilès and above all Laurent Fabius, a former Prime Minister on the right wing but who tried to make an opportunistic alliance with the far-left to boost his chances for the presidential nomination) which obtained 21%. Their resolution opposes a “liberal” Europe, calls for a new European Social Treaty, a moratorium on EU enlargement, a reform of the European Central Bank to limit its autonomy and a constituent Assembly to draft a new “short and clear” European Constitution.
There are also two smaller factions, with just over 1% each.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Over the weekend, I represented the Labour Party at the French Socialist Party Congress in Le Mans. It was both a political and a cultural experience!

The latter is best illustrated by the lunch arrangements: a nearby sports hall has great long tables set for no fewer than 2000 people to have a sit-down four course lunch complete with aperitif, wine and coffee - all delicious and served within 1 1/2 hours. Not quite what we're used to in Blackpool or Brighton!

Outside the Conference Hall, just like at Labour Party Conferences, there are stalls displaying the wares of think tanks, campaigns of all kinds, the Young Socialists, and so on. I find the exhibition of the history of the French Socialists most interesting - it makes splits in the Labour Party seem like genteel nuances in comparison.

The bookshop is a revelation - it seems to be de rigueur for every MP and MEP to have published a book. Works that I'd never seen before by most of my colleagues are on display. Elisabeth Guigou and Bernard Poignant kindly give me autographed copies of theirs.

Most delegates do not seem to regard Labour as a role model, considering us to be neo-liberal. I am, however, taken to meet one deputé (MP) who, I am told, is “very close” to us - but it turns out that this “closeness” is simply geographical as he represents Calais!

The conference itself is in a massive arena, where one can best see the speakers on big screens above the centre of the hall. Most delegates and others spend much of their time milling around, chatting, plotting and so on in the arena itself. TV interviews, including one with me, are carried out live in the middle of all this. The ambient noise level is therefore high and distractions plentiful. It's a bit like the European Parliament when the tail end of a debate is just before voting time - except that here in Le Mans, massive amplifiers ensure the speakers can be heard. Whether they're being listened to is another matter!

This changes when a major figure speaks - every third or fourth speech seems to be from someone hoping to be the Socialist candidate at the next Presidential election. The style is then like that of the Leader's speech at party conferences in Britain, albeit from aspiring leaders rather than serving ones. The French socialists only have a party congress every three years, and then only for three days, so it is a rare opportunity to appeal directly to members. The speeches are strong on rhetoric and short on detail: “nous ne sommes pas un parti fataliste mais un parti socialiste” (Fabius), and “Il faut élargir le domaine du possible” (Straus-Kahn).

Prodi was the principle foreign guest speaker, ostensibly because he represents the next likely victory for the centre-left in Europe, but in fact (I was told) because Hollande thought he well illustrated the need to be open to alliances with centre parties and to be pro-European. For this reason, apparently, Fabius refused to shake his hand!

The politics are complex. Prior to the conference, different factions (”courants”) table general motions each covering all policy issues. The membership then vote on these at local meetings held simultaneously across the country. The tally each motion gets then determines the strength of each faction and the number of delegates from each at party congress (and subsequently the proportional share of candidates on party lists at elections).

This time, several major figures (Hollande, who is the First Secretary i.e. current leader of the Party, Straus-Kahn, Royal, Guigou, Lang) had come together behind a common motion which obtained an absolute majority by itself. I gather this means they could constitute a “homogenous” party executive. However, the big issue is whether to negotiate a “synthesis” resolution with the two main minority factions (whose motions obtained just over 20% each) to show party unity and to bring some of their representatives onto the executive too. The leaders of each faction apparently want this, but the grass roots don't - especially from the majority who don't see why they should concede ground to the others, particularly those eurosceptics who broke from the party line (determined by a vote of all members) in the referendum on the European constitution. One of these Eurosceptics, Laurent Fabius, gave a speech claiming that he was not anti-Europe at all, but the reaction of many from the floor showed that his U-turns had left much bitterness.

During the last night of the Congress, the leaders of the three courants did nonetheless negotiate a “synthesis” resolution, which was approved by 571 votes to 3 with 18 abstentions and 22 “refusals to vote”. This compromise now constitutes party policy. On Europe, it affirms the party’s support for a federal perspective, a strengthening of the common external tariff to protect European industry, democratic control of the Central Bank, the adoption of a directive to safeguard public services from competition, opposition to the Services Directive, the drafting of a new constitution focussed on the values and institutions of the Union, and an increase in the EU budget to 2% of GDP, notably through additional corporation tax.

The choice of the party's candidate for President will only be made next year through a vote of all party members. All the names mentioned above (and more) are in the running. I find the idea of a President called Royal quite intriguing - and entirely appropriate for the monarchical style of the French Presidency! There is extra intrigue here as her husband is also an aspiring candidate – Francois Hollande.

There is just one problem: their voting system to choose the candidate. Just as for the Presidential election itself, the internal party ballot has two rounds, with the top two candidates going through to a run-off. But with so many candidates, what if the top two are from the extremes of the party with, say, 18% each, the mainstream candidates splitting the majority courant into several scores of around a dozen % each? After all, this is what happened in the Presidential election proper three years ago, letting Le Pen through to the last round. Shouldn't they introduce, I asked, transferable preference voting at least for their party ballot? I was mostly met with blank looks as this system is not known to them, but some at least asked me to explain how such systems work. I assure them that if the Labour Party can use it there should be no problem for their members either to get used to it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Yesterday saw Parliament's full vote on the Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) legislation, which aims to introduce a coherent testing regime to ensure that the chemicals used in everyday products are safe.

I am strongly in favour of the REACH legislation being brought into effect in its most effective form possible, along with my Labour colleagues and the rest of the Socialist group in which we sit in the European Parliament.

However, in the European Parliament, no political group has an absolute majority and the European People's Party (including the UK Tories) is the largest group. These political realities have made it difficult to build a majority in support of as strong a piece of legislation as I would have liked.

So I voted in favour of two compromises. One, negotiated between the Socialists and the Greens and Liberals, covered scope, substances, authorisation information, transparency and limitation of animal testing. The other, negotiated with the centre-right, covered which chemicals would have to be registered. These compromises are not ideal, but they are the best deal currently possible, given the political majorities in the Parliament.

We do need to test chemicals. Recent medical evidence shows that each one of us has 300 more chemicals in our bodily tissues and blood than our grandparents did. We also know that there are increasing rates of asthma, cancer and other diseases which probably originate from chemicals.

Some in the chemical industry argue that such testing is costly. But anyone who recalls the asbestos tragedy will know that money invested in the testing now can save thousands of lives and millions of pounds downstream. With the burden shared with our fellow countries in the European Union, this is well worth doing.

Along with the rest of the Socialist Group, I also supported all the amendments that were recommended to us by animal welfare organisations who sought to reduce the testing of chemicals on animals as a result of the new legislation.

I believe that the final compromise was the best possible outcome that could have been achieved, given the political make-up of the Parliament. The draft legislation will now pass to the Council, where the Ministers of the 25 Member States will examine the text adopted by the Parliament. If they agree our text, it will become law. If they decide it requires further amendment, the text will come before the Parliament for a second reading. I will do all I can to ensure that the compromise is not weakened in any further readings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Yet again the eurosceptics raise the old chestnut of the EU Court of Auditors stating that "93.5% of the EU's accounts are subject to fraud and corruption" - a piece of eurosceptic nonsense which, through repetition, has become increasingly believed by many people.

In fact, if you look at the reports of the Court of Auditors then you will see that every year since 1994, which was the first year it had to produce such a statement, it found that the accounts are reliable, the revenues have been handled in a legal and regular way and the spending commitments are legal and in order. They also found no evidence of fraud anywhere in the budget.

Where, then, are the problems? They lie in spending handled by member states – not by the European Commission itself. This amounts to more than 80% of the budget and it is the responsibility of individual countries such as Britain. It is at that level - not at EU level - that there have been mistakes.

If anyone wishes to verify for themselves what the Court of Auditors have said they can visit its website.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Browsing through a new publication of the European Parliament's information office for the UK in London entitled "What are your MEPs doing about the environment?" I notice that there are no fewer than 13 British MEPs on the European Parliament's committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Yet there is not a single member from UKIP!

This committee probably deals with more European legislation than any other - and rightly so. The environment is one of the areas where it makes absolute sense to have common laws and standards across Europe; pollution does not respect national borders and it would be next to useless for countries to try to address these problems on their own.

Yet UKIP has chosen not to place even a single MEP on this committee. Is this because they're work shy? After all, and they haven't taken up their full allowance of places across the board, and this isn't the only committee they ignore. Or is it because they don't want to be seen to be doing anything constructive in terms of European legislation, preferring to shout general obscenities from the sidelines rather than actually get to grips with the detail?

Monday, November 14, 2005

I'm somewhat apprehensive of the 'Grand Coalition' government being formed in Germany. What will happen when it becomes unpopular - as all governments do, but this one perhaps more quickly than others given its need to compromise widely differing views?

If both main parties are sharing the blame and voters want to vote for the opposition, it could mean that the extreme parties will do well. The only time the neo-nazi NPD ever came close to reaching the 5% threshold for representation in the Bundestag was during the last Grand Coalition in 1967-69. There's a danger that, this time, disaffected CDU/CSU supporters vote for the far right and disaffected SPD supporters vote for the former communist “Left Party”. This in turn would make coalitions other than a grand coalition more difficult to achieve, and a vicious circle would be started. Let’s hope it doesn't get that bad.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Two visits to Parliament this week provoked some thoughts: the Archbishop of Canterbury and representatives of ethnic minority senior citizens.

The Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, was making his first ever visit to the European institutions in general and Parliament in particular. He told MEPs that he saw a great moral purpose to the EU, namely the vision of reconciliation, understanding and peace that lay behind Schuman’s initiative in starting it all off, but felt that the moral purpose had been neglected as Member States had focused more on pragmatic cooperation. The recent enlargement to eastern Europe, however, brought the moral argument back to the fore.

If I understood him correctly, Dr Williams said that European society was a result of centuries of dialogue, discussion and argument between Christianity and the variety of societies that had existed and developed over the ages, and between the Church(es) and political authorities. This had resulted in the argumentative democracies we now enjoy. The interactive pluralism that has developed is fundamental to our shared Europeanism, and the different strands of this argument influenced each other. For instance, the secular/human rights/enlightenment culture had only emerged thanks to the Christian notion that all souls were equal, which, over time, had helped undermine the acceptance of slavery and infanticide.

But Europe is not exclusively Christian, and Dr Williams emphasised that it should not be claimed that the definition of Europe is linked to Christianity. He supported Turkish accession to the EU, provided it meets the conditions, including respect for its minorities (which includes religious minorities). He added that minorities, in current member countries too, must be given space to express themselves in the public sphere. Is that what's been lacking in France?

Meanwhile, the ethnic minority elders, whom I had the privilege of addressing and welcoming to Parliament, came from Leeds (with help from the City Council), Gothenburg, Gent, Bucharest and Dortmund. They had been meeting to compare their situations and the particular problems that many elderly people from ethnic minorities face in terms of isolation, language difficulties and particular illnesses. Their work involved two of the most important challenges facing all European countries over the next decades: ageing population and integration of ethnic minorities. Even when no common European legislation is involved and the issue is largely one for national policy-makers to deal with, the EU can still provide a framework for learning from each other, comparing best practice and contrasting successes and failures.

The group was also a reminder that the EU’s moto of “Unity with diversity” refers not just to the diversity between countries, but the even greater diversity within countries too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A constituent challenged MEPs from Bradford "to write to the Shipley Target and assure local voters that they are backing amendments to the proposals on chemical testing that will reduce the testing of such chemicals on animals". I am happy to write in and provide some assurance.

The whole point of having a common Europe-wide programme of testing the safety of chemicals (REACH), rather than 25 countries each duplicating each other with their own programmes, is to reduce the amount of testing necessary - saving costs and preventing unnecessary animal suffering.

We do need to find ways of testing chemicals. Recent medical evidence shows that each one of us has 300 more chemicals in our bodily tissues and blood than our grandparents did. We also know that there are increasing rates of asthma, cancer and other diseases which probably originate from chemicals.

Some in the chemical industry argue that such testing is costly. But anyone who recalls the asbestos tragedy will know that without money invested in the testing now can save thousands of lives and millions of pounds downstream. With the burden shared with our fellow countries in the European Union, this is well worth doing. And if it can be done while minimising animal testing, so much the better.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Which Tory leader-candidate is the more eurosceptic? It's hard to say. Both are playing to the eurosceptic gallery, but I get the impression that although neither want to be held hostage to unworkable pledges, both have allowed themselves to be bounced further than they would have liked by some of their supporters on the lunatic fringe.

David Davis was John Major’s whip when the Maastricht Treaty was approved by the House of Commons, and is therefore mistrusted by the eurosceptics. He was later Minister for Europe during the start of the negotiations on the Amsterdam Treaty. I saw him close up at this stage, because I attended those talks as an advisor to Elisabeth Guigou, the European Parliament representative.

At that point he was trying to be all things to all people. He is now persevering with that tactic, pledging to hold not just one, but two referenda on opting out of (rather than trying to change) some European policies (selected by him) that we have, up to now, agreed with our neighbours.

As the Independent put it in their leader (subscription required):
“His proposal to hold two referendums on 'bringing back power' from Europe is also unrealistic. Has he considered the implications of tearing up treaties with our continental neighbours? It is a Eurosceptic fantasy to imagine that this can be easily done. The trouble with virtually all of Mr Davis's policy ideas is that they give the impression of having been formulated in a previous era."
Davis has, however, not yet pledged to take the Tories out of the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament where they now sit with the likes of the German Christian Democrats, the Swedish and Danish Conservatives, Mr Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the French Gaullists and so on. Perhaps he realises that such a course would leave their MEPs totally marginalised and without influence in the European Parliament.

But Mr Cameron has proposed precisely that, to the consternation of the majority of Tory MEPs. Perhaps for this reason, combined with their mistrust of Davis, he has received the support of the most extreme and obsessed Tory eurosceptics such as David Heathcoat-Amory, Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan and the maverick Roger Helmer.

But I have another suspicion. Maybe Cameron has calculated that such a promise is eye-catchingly attractive to the eurosceptics, but would in fact never need to be delivered upon, as the MEPs would veto it? Perhaps he's less eurosceptic than he wants his supporters to believe. After all, he's apparently chosen Edward Llewellyn, a fellow Old Etonian and relatively sensible Europhile who once worked for Chris Patten, as his chief of staff. And he also let slip to the Telegraph’s Comment column that he feels "we should be proud of the fact that we are a leading member of the European Union".

Who knows? But one thing seems certain: the Conservatives will continue to pull themselves apart over Europe!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Good to see the new chair of the Dutch Labour Party is my former MEP colleague Michiel Van Hulten. The new leader of the Danish Social Democrats is similarly a former colleague, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Both were in the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform, which worked with me on the “Corbett Report” (link to PDF) which reformed the European Parliament’s internal Rules of Procedure three years ago. Their support was important in helping shape a package capable of getting the necessary majority.

They join a long list of Socialist parties now led by former MEPs: Francois Hollande of the French Parti Socialiste, Elio di Rupo of the Belgian Parti Socialiste, Piero Frassoni of the Italian Democratic Left, Robert Fico of the Slovakian Social Democracy and Borut Pahor of the Slovenian Social Democrats (who is still serving as an MEP!). I wonder when Britain will follow this trend?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Watching Tony Blair appear on BBC's Football Focus was interesting (direct link to BBC online video here). Will the press pick up on his tongue-in-cheek references the fact that Alan Shearer announced his retirement at the end of last season but has since persuaded to stay on, which he has done to great acclaim? Or will the newspaper’s lobby correspondents consider football programmes to be beneath them, thereby missing this potentially telling analogy?

They will also have missed the BBC digging out of their archives the full original interview with Blair, from ten years or so ago, following which he was pilloried for having claimed to remember watching Jackie Milburn play for Newcastle when he was a kid. The press claimed this was an outrageous example of spin, as Blair was too young to remember that - only four when Milburn retired. Well, it now turns out that what Blair actually said was that he started watching Newcastle play as a kid after the Milburn era. He had never made the claims quoted in the press at all! So, far from this being a casebook example of political spin, it was in fact a casebook example of media distortion…

Friday, November 04, 2005

A recent exchange of correspondence in the FT made me laugh. First came an article entitled 'The unavoidable English language', discussing the spread of English vocabulary into other languages. Within a couple of weeks, the following two letters had appeared on the letters' pages:
From Mr Florian Lennert.
Sir, With only a little schadenfreude I read the fascinating article “The unavoidable English language” (September 24) regarding the takeover of the global linguistic hinterland by the wanderlustig Anglo-Saxon language. This phenomenon clearly is a welcome manifestation of the zeitgeist and serves as the leitmotif of a contemporary weltanschauung. Clearly, a language blitzkrieg would not be desirable, would create a lot of angst and would lead to a not so gemütlich lebensraum for all. So we language doppelgänger should accept this diktat of realpolitik and not abseil into weltschmerz with a rucksack full of schnapps. Instead we should celebrate the glitzy gestalt of English, our ersatz language of choice.
And subsequently:
From Mr Jem Eskenazi (not a nom de plume).
Sir, I read Florian Lennert´s excellent letter (October 1) while waiting for my fiancée who was shopping for some lingerie (not too risqué, but with a certain je ne sais quoi and just a hint of décolletage), from a cute boutique hidden in a cul-de-sac in our neighbourhood (a sense of savoir-faire makes keeping one´s eyes glued to the FT de rigueur in such a milieu, lest one appear gauche or make a faux pas).

While having a tête-à-tête with her afterwards in a gourmet restaurant (we ate à la carte; she had the soupe de jour as entrée and I had the escargots, which were a tour de force only bested by the plat de résistance, the courgette soufflé – the raison-d´être of this niche establishment, founded by a young entrepreneur, that reinstates the joie de vivre in the most depressed soul), we wondered whether your writer was right in giving a “budget” as an example of an English word used in French.

Au contraire, it is a French word – bougette – adopted by the English during the 15th century. C´est la vie!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

After Liverpool FC’s 3–0 win against Anderlecht in the European Champion’s League, I couldn’t help notice the discrepancy between their domestic and their European performances. In Europe this season (Champion’s League and Supercup) they have won 9 out of 11 matches (82%). Domestically (Premier League and Carling Cup) they have won only 4 out of 10 (40%). They've also lost three times as many matches domestically (3) than in European competitions (1).

But then, I suppose we’re all better off in Europe…!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

There's more news today on my report a few days ago that Tory MEPs will resist any attempt by a new leader to forcibly detach them from the mainstream centre-right Christian Democrat group in the European Parliament. David Cameron has indicated that he would want his MEPs to set up a new, eurosceptic right-wing fringe group rather than continue to sit with centre-right colleagues from across Europe. According to The Times, whose headline is CAMERON IN DANGER OVER 'CLOUD CUCKOOLAND EURO POLICY':
"He announced the policy without consulting Timothy Kirkhope, the Conservative leader in Europe, who was so alarmed that he insisted on a meeting yesterday in which he set out the consequences to the young leadership hopeful. Under the party's rules, it can leave the EPP [Christian Democrats] only with the agreement of its leader in Europe…

"Sir Robert Atkins, the MEP for North West England, a former Conservative minister and a Cameron supporter, has written to local Conservatives describing Mr Cameron's policies as 'cloud-cuckoo-land'…Another Cameron supporter, Philip Bushill-Matthews, the MEP for the West Midlands, issued a press release last night urging Mr Cameron 'not to create new splits over Europe when he should be uniting our party to replace the present Government'."