Friday, December 30, 2005

One extra achievement of the UK Presidency just before it finished - which therefore went almost unnoticed - is the new agreement that the EU Council of Ministers will hold its co-decision discussions and votes on proposed EU legislation in public, with immediate effect.

This meets a long-standing demand of the European Parliament, which considers that votes on legislation should be in public in both branches (Council and Parliament) of the EU legislature. How else can the public see who is accountable for decisions and national parliaments control their country's minister? Of course, the results of votes were already published, but this extra transparency is an important improvement.

Only a few months ago, the leaders of the Labour, Liberal, Conservative, Green and even UKIP MEPs signed a joint letter supporting this. Will they be united in their applause? Don't count on it!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Catching up with recent press articles, I came across an article by former Director of the Thatcherite Institute for Economic Affairs Russell Lewis, who claims that Britain would be better off outside the EU. His argument, citing the well known eurosceptic academic Patrick Minford, is that Britain's economy will be increasingly held back by European regulations. He cites the minimum wage, arguing that if it were raised by 50% "social costs would rise by 20% and unemployment by 5.7%".

Whatever the veracity of his calculation, the existence of the minimum wage, and even more so its level, has nothing to do with the EU. It is not required in any EU legislation; some EU countries don't have a statutory minimum wage. Britain introduced its one only seven years ago by a purely national decision.

Lewis goes on to warn that some continental countries have deficits in their pension schemes and that "if Britain were obliged to share the burden of their deficits, the bill would be 7% of the country's GDP". But why on earth would we have to share this burden? It has never been on the cards. On the contrary, the Treaty contains a "no bail-out clause" specifying that each country is responsible for its own finances. Messrs Lewis & Minford are surely aware of that, yet they prefer to deliberately mislead and use scare tactics.

It doesn't stop there. The article makes a whole set of preposterous claims: that the EU will stop us from trading in services with the rest of the world, that there is no internal free trade in services, that there will be "harmonisation" of state pensions, and so on.

What is alarming is that the eurosceptics know that, if they repeat such claims often enough, most non-experts will begin to believe at least some of them. Remind me - was it Goebbels who said the bigger the lie, the more effective it was?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I was struck by how the assumptions and myths propounded by the eurosceptics in Britain have come to dominate even the thinking of many of us pro-Europeans. Sometimes we all-too-readily concede arguments that are based on nothing more than endless repetition.

Take, for instance, the evidence that Lord Wallace of Saltaire gave to the European Reform Forum (page 19 of this PDF document). He played to the gallery in complaining that the European convention (whcih drafted the constitutional treaty) "did not go far enough into the whole subsidiarity issue and did not open the box that it was supposed to open, which was marked 'returning competences from the Union back to national governments'".

This is simply not true. The first few months of the Convention's work was precisely around the subject of "what do we want to do together?", in order to examine whether the EU's field of responsibilities is too large, too small or about right.

The conclusion was that it was about right: because after all, the EU only ever deals with those matters which the member states have unanimously agreed that it should. Where they have done so, it is not because they are predisposed to handing over their powers to "Brussels", but because there is sufficient reason to convince them all that common action in the matter is beneficial. And even where the EU has been given the authority to act, the degree and intensity of EU action is determined by the member states themselves, as it is the Council of Ministers (and the directly elected European Parliament) which adopt European legislation and policies, not the European Commission.

Lord Wallace bemoaned suggestions that there should be a harmonisation of the maximum level of alcohol allowed in the blood stream before a person's driving licence is withdrawn, stating that "for all I know, South Carolina and North Carolina might have different views on that, so I do not see why Belgium and Luxembourg should not have different views on it either". That is a perfectly valid standpoint - and indeed different EU countries do have different laws on this. But the difference between the US system and the EU one is this: in the EU, those arguing to have a harmonised rule have to persuade the European Parliament and ministers from national governments to support it. So, unlike in America, it cannot happen without the agreement of the member states themselves!

Friday, December 23, 2005

This year, as every year, fishing ministers have announced their agreement on the following year’s quotas just before Christmas. This year, as every year, there is a reduction in quotas for many species. This year, as every year, it is a smaller reduction than proposed by the European Commission, which is itself less than recommended by scientists.

The big problem with fishing is declining stocks - due both to years of over-fishing and to new technologies able to pinpoint fish locations relatively easily. The only possible response is to limit fishing, giving stocks a chance to recover. This has to be a commonly agreed system: if each country set its own quota, there would be free-loading and the policy would be totally ineffectual. Fish have an unfortunate habit of swimming from one country’s waters to another, so efforts by one country will be wasted unless everyone takes part.

But in the process of reaching agreement, ministers all have the same objective: they want to minimise cuts to their own fishermen (because immediate cuts mean immediate job losses, instead of possible job losses next year). Each country's ministers wants to get other countries' quotas down while maintaining those of our own fishermen. In the end, the annual deal is always too lax, meaning that the following year there will be still more pain, and ultimately the whole industry is put in jeopardy.

This year, scientists recommended a total ban on cod fishing, arguing that there is a real danger of stocks falling to a level from which they will never recover, as happened in North America. In the end, ministers meeting in Brussels agreed only on a 15% cut in the catch levels for cod (and for herring and whiting, with a 13% cut in haddock).

Will this be enough?

Mike Park, vice-president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said that in political terms the deal was as good as could have been achieved, and he believed the industry had turned the corner:
"In reality, it does mean a reduction in the income of some sections of the fleet. But it's a balanced package and I think there are opportunities at the start of next year where we could maybe recover some ground. Cod is only one of the stocks and every other stock in the North Sea now is on the way up."
And indeed, ministers agreed a 30% increase in North Sea prawn quotas, a 5% rise in Irish Sea monkfish and a 3% increase in the catch level for hake in most fishing grounds.

But the long-term trends suggest we should be cautious about such optimism. I notice that the conservation group, WWF, said it made no sense to continue to allow targeted fishing on North Sea cod when it was on the brink of collapse. Their spokeswoman, Claire Pescod, said:
"In doing so, they are ensuring that this iconic British species has virtually no chance of survival or recovery."
For some, though, any cuts are an opportunity to make short term political capital out of the distress that reductions inevitably bring. For them, the long-term is of no interest if they can cash in on this distress.

Take, for instance, the Scottish National Party, whose fisheries spokesman Richard Lochhead railed against the "failure to stop Brussels imposing more damaging cuts on Scotland":
"On top of all the cuts of recent years, these latest cuts will impact on fishermen who only just managed to stay afloat in 2005. The Scots fleet achieved everything asked of it and met all its conservation targets yet has been handed down another unjust anti-Scottish deal.”
Note that the blame is on “Brussels” and, of course, any reduction is only targeted at “us”. No hint of any shared responsibility to protect our resources. No mention of the fact that over-fishing has brought about this situation in the first place. No recognition that a failure to act now will only cause further pain in the longer run. Could there possibly be any better example of an irresponsible political statement?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Today's Independent has a leading article on Europe that is well worth reading:
Just the previous day, Mr Blair had appeared before members of the European Parliament in Brussels. Confident, combative, uninhibited, the Prime Minister seemed to be in his element. It was a pleasure to hear a British politician speaking so unapologetically as a European. His exchanges with Nigel Farage of UKIP were especially choice. Although he sat "with our country's flag", Mr Blair scolded him, "you do not represent our country's interests". He followed up with the curt rebuke: "This is 2005, not 1945."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tony Blair's report to the European Parliament on the budget deal went quite well. It was the UKIP MEPs who made fools of themselves, by their childish antics of coming in early to bag the second row of seats all to themselves, decorate them with large Union Jack flags and stage a walk-out just before the end of the debate on the grounds that only two of their MEPs had been called to speak. For the record, among the British parties, 3 Conservatives were called, 3 Labour (including me), 2 UKIP, 2 Liberal and 1 Scottish Nationalist - hardly unfair towards UKIP, given the numbers of MEPs from each party!

Anyone interested in reading a full summary of the debate should click here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

If you actually wade through the details of the EU budget deal, there are some interesting points which make the deal look even better:
  • On agriculture, spending will actually fall by 7.3%. And the new member states will be fitted in under that ceiling - not just the ten who joined last year who are currently being phased in to the CAP, but also Romania and Bulgaria! This amounts to a large reduction (about 20%?) in agricultural spending in the 15 old member states.
  • Contrast this with the overall rise in spending in other areas: spending on research (to boost our economic competitiveness - part of what Tony Blair wanted in calling for a more future-oriented budget) will rise by 75% between 2006 and 2013.
  • Economic help to less prosperous regions (which will continue to include some UK regions) will rise by about 6%. This means that it, and not the CAP, will be the largest item in the EU budget. Spending on police and judicial cooperation will more than double. External aid will rise by about a third.

Meanwhile, the announcement in Hong Kong at the WTO talks that the EU has agreed to phase out all remainig agricultural export subsidies by 2013 is also welcome news. Coming straight after the summit, it shows that the commitment to further agricultural reform is indeed serious.

Finally, I see that the much-commented-on adjustment to the UK rebate will be phased in over two years in 2009-10, giving the Treasury plenty of time to plan ahead. And as to the equity of the UK's contribution, I note that it will increase by 63%, while French contributions will rise by 116% and those of Italy by 130%. These two countries have the same population as Britain, and the deal means we will henceforth make broadly equal net contributions. As they have slightly smaller economies than Britain, it means their net contribution will be a higher proportion of their economies than Britain's.

Monday, December 19, 2005

So we have a budget deal! Or, at least, a negotiating position that the Council of Ministers can take to the negotiations with the European Parliament in order to decide the final outcome. (This is an aspect that most newspapers seem to have overlooked!)

Even before the deal was clinched, I had to defend the government's position on the BBC's Newsnight programme and on Radio 5, against Tory accusations that it was a sell-out. A "sell-out" that will see the size of the UK rebate increase over the coming years, and the overall size of the EU budget as a proportion of GDP remaining well below what it has been in recent years, despite enlargement! Frankly, nobody else in Europe believes that the UK has been lax in defending its interests - rather the contrary, that it has been too successful.

In fact, Tony Blair had a thankless task in trying to reach an agreement on the budget. He had to reconcile the six countries who wanted to limit EU spending to 1% of GDP with those who wanted a much larger budget. He had to deal with Mr Chirac, who wanted to ring-fence all agricultural spending. He had to deal with the expectations of the new member states, who understandably want the kind of assistance to poorer countries that the EU has provided in the past. He also had to deal with the frankly rather less defensible demands of some long-standing members seeking to preserve their privileges – such as Spain wanting to remain a net beneficiary to a greater extent than the much poorer central European countries, and Luxembourg which, in per capita terms, is both the richest member state and the biggest net beneficiary! He had to deal with all those who thought that a cost-free way (for them!) to increase resources was to eliminate the British rebate. So it is a tribute to his negotiating skills that he secured a deal at all!

In the absence of an immediate new cut in agricultural spending, there will be no change either to the UK rebate, which remains intact, other than the adjustment in favour of the new member states mentioned above. But the absence of a new cut to agriculture should not blind us to the major changes to the CAP that have already been achieved - see my blog entry for 15 December. If I have one criticism of the government, it is that it fails to make people aware of this (and its other) achievements in the EU.

Friday, December 16, 2005

In today's Yorkshire Post, Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel writes an excellent piece on the reform of the CAP - not just what is to happen in the future, but what has already happened:
"It may have escaped people's notice, but despite Britain's clamour for reform at the EU summit in Brussels, the Common Agricultural Policy has just been radically reformed.

"At the start of this year, the way farmers are supported in the 25-nation EU changed dramatically. Unfortunately, attitudes towards the CAP have apparently failed to evolve at the same pace.

"The popular caricature remains of an outdated policy which rewards farmers for producing crops that no-one wants and which pays no heed to environmental concerns.
Nothing could be further from the truth."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Some thoughts on the budget that have not been highlighted in the media:
  • The original British rebate was agreed over twenty years ago when Britain was one of the poorest member states and when 2/3rds of EU spending was on agriculture. It is now one of the richest member states with just over 1/3rd spent on agriculture.
  • If the UK rebate was left intact without any adjustment whatsoever, it would see Britain becoming the smallest net contributor by 2013, with only Cyprus paying less. The rebate was never intended to provide us with a windfall, simply to make sure we did not pay more than our fair share.
  • Britain's current offer (to adjust the rebate to the benefit of the new, poorer member states) will lead to Britain, for the first time since we joined the EU thirty years ago, paying roughly the same as France and Italy (two countries who are of equivalent size to Britain). In the past, Britain paid more than double what France paid and several times the Italian contribution (in net terms).
  • A more radical adjustment of the British rebate will not take place until there is a more radical adjustment of agricultural spending. Britain made this clear from the beginning.
  • The current proposals, including the adjustment of the rebate, will lead to Britain paying in an extra €8 billion over 7 years (i.e. €1.14 or £bn.0.77 per year), Britain’s fair share towards the cost of enlargement. This comes to about 2.55 % of our defence budget or just under 4 pence per person per day.
  • In practice, helping these poor but high growth economies to develop will boost their demand for British exports: trade with the new member states has already increased by 400% since 1990, 10 times the rate of growth of the rest of the world!
  • It is also in our interest to have increasingly stable societies in central and Eastern Europe. The high human and financial (about £4b) costs of sorting out Bosnia and Kosovo demonstrate why this investment now is good value.
  • The payments to central and Eastern Europe are lower than envisaged in the Commission’s original proposal – in return, Britain has proposed speeding up procedures so that they can access their dues more speedily.
  • Britain is not alone in making overall agreement difficult: Spain insists on remaining a net recipient of EU funding to a far higher degree than the much poorer eastern European countries. France refuses to countenance much more agricultural reform. The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Austria also want to limit the increase in their contributions through special arrangements similar to Britain’s.
  • The overall level of the EU budget remains limited to just over 1% of GDP and has been coming down as a proportion over the last few years. This means that, with enlargement, we are getting “more Europe for less”. The sums involved are anyway relatively small.
  • In any case, the UK rebate will rise from €5 billion to €7 billion (£4.7 billion).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The saga of the Tories leaving the EPP Group (or not) shows no sign of abating. Interestingly, discussions were held last night between British pro-European MEPs from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. Where will this all lead? Then I noticed that there were no Tory or UKIP MEPs present in the chamber this morning when a British Minister presented the budget on behalf of the Council Presidency. (Were they all out plotting a merger?)

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some more quotes from Conservative MEPs, showing what they think of David Cameron’s plan to force them out of the EPP Group.
“We would… find ourselves in the company of The League of Polish Families (racist and europhobic), the Danish People’s Party (Ian Duncan Smith banned us from even talking to them!), the Italian Fascist Party, and of course UKIP. This is a pretty much unappealing ragbag of fringe politicians and I, and the great majority of my Conservative colleagues, view that prospect with great distaste.”
(The Rt. Hon Sir Robert Atkins MEP, Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in Europe, in letter to Conservative colleagues, 19 October 2005)
“Leaving the EPP won’t speed up a solution. It would simply slow it down. David Cameron – assuming it is David – has said he is the unity candidate. I just do not believe he will wish to create disunity on his first day, simply to appease a very vocal minority. “I would not move. I think a large number of us would not move, for a very simple reason. We have made a clear manifesto commitment, which each of us had to sign, that we would stay for the duration of this parliament.”
(Philip Bushell-Matthews, Tory MEP, on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, 6 December 2005)
“We would have to sit around the table on a weekly basis with these fascists and nutters that nobody else will sit with. I tell you now that I refuse to do that. I don’t care who’s ordering me to do that. I won’t come back and stand for election as a Conservative in Scotland when I’m sitting in a group with Le Pen”
(Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson in the Sunday Herald, 11 December 2005)
“Of course we do benefit from being members of a large group… The centre-right is where we want to be politically”
(Timothy Kirkhope, leader of the Tory MEPs, in the FT, 13 December 2005)
“I have no intention, after 30 years of elected service to the Tory party, of breaking my word and leaving the EPP-ED group in the European Parliament. If ordered to leave the EPP-ED, which I was recommended to join by Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Kohl, I shall ignore any such instruction, which would be in breach of Parliament’s rules on the independence of elected members.”
(Christopher Beazley, Tory MEP, in the Telegraph, 13 December 2005)
“The Cameron strategy ignores the fact that MEPs make European laws – are these laws of 'second order' importance? Working with the EPP we can win crucial votes. We will be a lot less use to those we represent, lined up only with assorted Estonian Rightists and Slovenian Woolgathers… Oddly, he seems not to understand."
and
"God knows who his alternative allies are. Aides are said to be shaking the hedges of Eastern Europe: so far the only possibilities may be Polish and Czech peasant nationalists, three eccentric Swedes, a French protectionist Eurosceptic, and two MEPs from the Netherlands' extreme Christian party, which wants to stop Sunday bicycle riding. Mr Cameron has vowed to work with the government in the British national interest how can he do so as part of this barmy army?"
and
"If Mr Cameron does withdraw the British Conservatives from their alliance with the EPP, I am certain that he will be back again in a few years, trying to negotiate re-admission. So whatever happens I intend staying with the EPP to keep the place warm for my party when it returns to its senses."
(Caroline Jackson MEP, in the Times, 14 December 2005)
"I can't believe that a leader of the Conservative Party would seriously contemplate breaking the last remaining international link that the party enjoys… The alternatives [to EPP membership] are frankly barking."
(Edward Macmillan Scott, Tory MEP, in the Daily Mail, 9 December 2005)
And it's not just MEPs:
"Some of our really hardline people apparently have persuaded him that he must break ranks and leave all these Christian Democrats and Scandinavian Conservatives and Gaullists and start walzing off, looking among the ultra-nationalist right in central Europe. …What a pity to insist on finding some new, slightly head-banging… eurosceptic position to take up as his first act in the leadership"
(Ken Clarke, on the BBC Politics Show, 11 December 2005)
January 2006 - update: Some more quotes. First, from the Tory election manifesto for the 2004 European elections:
During the 1999-2004 Session we were allied members of the Group of the European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED). This agreement means that Conservative MEPs will remain allied members of the EPP-ED parliamentary group for the duration of the 2004-2009 legislature. It provides us with a powerful platform to promote our distinctive vision of Europe, while at the same time allowing us to work constructively with all parties of the European centre-right against the threat posed by the Left in the European Parliament."
(Conservatives European election manifesto, June 2004) (pdf)
"Simply by following our manifesto commitment, the party is now telling us we are de-selecting ourselves. This is driven by an extreme minority group within the Conservative delegation who are more interested in leaving Europe than leaving the EPP."
(Edward McMillan Scott, Tory MEP, in the Telegraph, January 2006)
"I urge David Cameron not to encourage colleagues to break such a clear pledge, not to weaken our ability to deliver our manifesto commitments, and not to create new splits over Europe when he should be uniting our party to replace the present Government."
(Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP, in the Birmingham Evening Post, 1 November 2005) (not available online)
"I know some Daily Telegraph readers are concerned about our alliance with the European People's Party. But the most eurosceptic political party in the EU - the Czech ODS, led by President Vaclav Klaus - is a member, too. Like Mr Klaus, I believe in fighting for change from within Europe."
(Michael Howard, in the Telegraph, June 2004)
"Our sole guide [to our actions] is the Conservative Manifesto on which we were elected and our Leadership decides absolutely and without external pressures of any sort how Tory MEPs will operate."
(The Rt. Hon Sir Robert Atkins MEP, Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in Europe, in letter to Conservative colleagues, 19 October 2005)
"I simply cannot afford to have my political opponents in the House of Commons suggesting that I am isolated from the mainstream Conservative parties on the continent of Europe"
(William Hague in 1999)
"It would be a political mistake. You are either in one of the two biggest groups or out in the cold."
(Inigo Mendez de Vigo, senior MEP from the Spanish Conservative 'Partido Popular')
"Withdrawing from the EPP in the European Parliament would I think be a very curious thing to do, because if we withdraw from that group, where do we sit? Do we sit in splendid isolation? That's not a way to exercise leverage and have an effect on events in life. Or do we sit with the barmy-army of obscure right-wing continental politicians in the European Parliament?"
(Quentin Davies MP, Politics Show, 30 October 2005)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It is wrong to say there has been no CAP reform. There has. Reform needs to go further, but much has already been done:
  • The beef mountain, butter mountain, wine lake and so on of a few years ago have disappeared as a result of a first round of reform in the 1990s.

  • CAP funding has fallen from some 70% of the budget 20 years ago to just 40% now and is scheduled to fall still further.

  • The most recent CAP reforms have been characterised as “the biggest revolution in farming since the war” by the NFU. It involves bringing to an end the intervention into agricultural markets to maintain high prices, thereby benefiting the consumer, and instead helping farmers by direct payment to farms in exchange for them respecting environmental, health and food quality criteria. It is more market-based and environmentally friendly.

  • Even the 2002 agreement, now under review, to freeze agricultural spending at it current level until 2013 is in fact a significant reduction in real terms as the freeze is not fully indexed to inflation and 12 new member states all have to be squeezed in under this ceiling. This amounts to a reduction of nearly a fifth of agricultural spending for the 15 old EU member states.
On top of that, the government secured a reform of the sugar regime last month. This itself will save €4 billion to consumers. Although there is still an argument about how much we should help Caribbean sugar producers affected by this agreement, it does mean that our internal CAP subsidies will fall now in this field too.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Some choice quotes from David Cameron:
"I don't think it would ever come down to leaving the EU."
(David Cameron in the Telegraph, 22 October 2005)
"There is no doubt that a single currency would have a number of benefits. Transaction costs and exchange-rate risks would be eliminated and, as a result, trade would increase substantially."
(David Cameron, in a memo as special adviser to Norman Lamont, quoted in the Times, 15 December 2005)
"Also, a central bank and a single currency, if established in the right way, could help to make Europe a zone of permanently low inflation."
(Same memo)
“Enlargement of the EU is wholly welcome”
(David Cameron in the Commons, 13 February 2003)
“I have huge respect for countries in eastern Europe that have broken free of the communist yoke and I welcome them into the EU—I think that their joining is extremely important”
(David Cameron in the Commons, 9 December 2002)
And one from his recent opponent:
"Well, I mean - am I right wing? I'm in favour of low taxes, so I suppose that's right wing. I'm known to be a euroskeptic, so I suppose that's right wing."
(David Davis, on Breakfast with Frost, 22 May 2006)
Does anyone think that rows on Europe in the Conservative party will fade away?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A handy link for those interested in the Common Agricultural Policy and its ongoing reform: figures on CAP subsidies are now available online broken down by individual country.

http://www.farmsubsidy.org

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Within hours of his election as the new party leader, are Tory MEPs heading for a clash with David Cameron?

As a sop to the Eurosceptic right, Cameron had previously pledged to withdraw the Conservative MEPs from the main Conservative group in the European Parliament, the Christian Democrat EPP. Tim Kirkhope, the leader of the Tory MEPs, made sure he was re-elected by his colleagues the very same day - and by an even bigger majority than Cameron - on a mandate to stay in the EPP.

As I said in my blog of Nov 30, this is a clever move by Kirkhope. He can say to Cameron that he, too, has a fresh mandate - to stay in the EPP. 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. Unless, that is, they can find enough allies to form a new political grouping.

Since rule changes (that I drafted) a few years ago, you need MEPs from at least five countries to form a political group. So an attempt to find allies took place this Monday and Tuesday in Parliament, when Dan Hannan - one of the most eurosceptic, pro-withdrawal Tory MEPs - organised a conference in Brussels of what he called a "new alliance against European integration" - the Alliance for an Open Europe. To it were invited a number of potential partners for an anti-EU grouping, ranging from right-wing Polish and Czech parties to an MEP from Ian Paisley's DUP! There were also assorted American participants. Among the keynote speakers was Paul Belien, connected to the extreme-right Flemish Vlaams Belang party, widely considered to be neo-fascist.

No doubt to hide their rather extremist composition, or to try to appeal to less extreme parties, the meeting adopted a remarkably bland (though pretentiously named) "BRUSSELS DECLARATION". Its ten points read as follows (with my comments on each point):
"1. We uphold the values that have always infused European civilisation: personal freedom, private property, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law."
"Always infused"? Tell that to the victims of 20th century fascism and communism - never mind the almost total absence of such values in previous centuries. It is, in fact, the establishment of the EU that has helped secure these values permanently in recent decades.
"2. We recognise that the richness of European culture lies in diversity, variety and pluralism."
Good - they support the EU's motto, 'Unity with Diversity'.
"3. We fear that, in its pursuit of ever-closer union, the EU is progressively abandoning these values."
How? After all, they are among the conditions for EU membership.
"4. We posit a new and better European dispensation, in which power is devolved to the lowest practical level, and in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to those they will affect."
This is the principle of subsidiarity, a fundamental principle of the EU which is already enshrined in the treaties.
"5. We acknowledge the special loyalty that citizens owe to their nations, and believe that the primary democratic unit should be the sovereign state."
Maybe. But surely not the only one? Isn't it possible to be loyal to both Scotland and Britain? Or to Catalonia, Spain and Europe?
"6. We support a broad and loose European association, in which all European states can comfortably participate."
So, they support the EU after all?
"7. We believe that, within the constant nexus of a European free market, states should be free to integrate to the extent that they wish, and in such combinations as they please."
How can they miss the fact that countries have chosen to do so through the EU?
"8. We want to limit the jurisdiction of international institutions to cross-border issues."
That is essentially what the EU does now.
"9. We look forward to a world without trade blocs, in which European nations take their place as part of the wider Western family."
So, a "world" without trade blocs but a "Western" family. It's not very clear what they're after.
"10. We pledge ourselves to work, in our home countries and in the forums and councils of Europe, for the achievement of these goals."
Wow!

To sum up, it seems that the strategy of the eurosceptic Tories is to team up with some quite extreme right-wing parties in Europe, but to disguise this through woolly ‘motherhood & apple’ policy statements. Nice move...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's so unusual that it's worth a mention: a reasonably accurate portrayal of the EU's powers by a UK newspaper! So, newspapers can print things other than eurosceptic scare stories…
"The EU's spectre is manifestly not haunting Europe

"In most areas of public life, acts of parliament are still passed in Westminster and Holyrood, without reference, or much reference, to Brussels. Most [EU] regulation is, however, directed to ensuring that the single market (essentially a British creation) works fairly and effectively.

"We have a European Parliament with less power than the Scottish Parliament - it can't make law on its own as Holyrood can; a European civil service (the Commission) which may have too great a power of initiative, but which again is not an autonomous law-making body; and the Council of Ministers. That body has real powers, but these are limited by the various treaties."
Amazingly, this comes three days after an FT leader said:
"Criticism of Europe's Central Bank is misplaced

"… The ECB'S institutional framework looks increasingly superior to the competing models in the UK, America and Japan."

Monday, December 05, 2005

There will be much in the press regarding Britain's rebate negotiations. I recently wrote an article for the Guardian on the subject:
France cannot hold the rest of Europe hostage to its addiction to agricultural subsidies - especially when one sees who actually benefits from these subsidies: not so much the poor peasant farmers of the Massif Central as the rich industrial farmers of the Paris basin.

Friday, December 02, 2005

This week, UEFA were in town, mainly for an event in the European Parliament in support of the Kick Racism out of Football campaign. After discussions with MEPs, UEFA have agreed to take a more vigorous line with clubs where racist incidents arise on or off the pitch, such as the recent racist abuse directed at black England players in Spain or the anti-Roma banners displayed at some recent games in Romania.

I also had meetings with UEFA about their worries about football being used for money-laundering, including money of Russian origin, and also the issue of whether their 'home-grown player rule' for clubs for next year might fall foul of European law. I advised them on how to avoid that. The home-grown player idea is well worthy of support; as is the new idea (over which I claim paternity rights!) of limiting the size of squads that any club can use in a season, which aims to stop "hoarding" of players by top clubs.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in a blog entry that I'd noticed from a recent Parliament publication that UKIP don't have a representative on the Environment Committee. I went on to bemoan UKIP's inactivity in the European Parliament, especially in such a crucial area of legislation.

A week or so later, I received an undated letter on blank notepaper with no address, but which appears to have come from Tom Wise, a UKIP MEP. It complains that my blog entry on 15 November was inaccurate - in fact, that I "based the whole entry on incorrect information".

I found this rather odd. As I wrote at the time, my claim was based on an official publication of the European Parliament Information Office in London (to whose website I provided a link) on the work of the Environment committee. This publication gives a full list of UK members and I observed that there are no fewer than 13 members from the three main parties, plus the Greens, Plaid Cymru and even Sinn Fein - but not a single member from UKIP.

However, I now find that since this booklet was published (only three months ago), UKIP has taken measures to ensure that there is now one UKIP member on the relevant committee - still not a full member, but a substitute - namely Mr Wise. No doubt this is as a result of the embarrassment caused by Parliament’s publication - the timing is too significant to be regarded as a coincidence.

However, all is still not entirely well. I also note that, according to the minutes of the Environment Committee placed on Parliament’s web site (click here - scroll to page 14 of this document for a list of MEPs who attended), Mr Wise has not attended a single meeting of the committee, despite having put himself forward as a substitute member! (Unless, again, he has done so very recently, since the most recently available minutes.)

Any joy I may have in seeing UKIP MEPs finally beginning to do some work in this Parliament by taking up a place on a committee is somewhat tempered by the fact that this membership appears not to be an active one!

I have written back to Mr Wise, clarifying this and suggesting that he withdraws his allegations about how "misleading" he finds my blog entry. In fact, I rather think it is his protestations that more accurately fall under the category of "misleading"!