A note for the eurosceptics:
(Copyright Prospect magazine)
UK Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber
A note for the eurosceptics:
The latest wheeze of Dan Hannan and some other eurosceptic MEPs is to claim that the European Parliament is trying to 'gag' them!
What to do about the EU constitutional treaty? That's the question we debated yesterday and voted on today.
An update on the campaign to halt the now infamous Europe-wide mailing scam that calls itself the 'European City Guide'. The last time I posted about this, it was good news: the international campaign against the ECG was starting to bear fruit, with police seizing evidence from the offices of a parent company in Switzerland and a criminal investigation underway.
One favourite eurosceptic line is that the European Union has developed with barely any reference to public opinion, and in fact without democratic support. This kind of claim is usually tossed into anti-European arguments as an aside, and therefore too often goes unaddressed.
"He who is limping is still walking."
Don't just take it from me: even the Lib Dems concede that Tony Blair's presidency of the European Council was a success! So says Andrew Duff MEP:
Credit to Blair for a successful presidency
"…The prime minister’s most admirable performance came not at the start of his presidency but at the end, on December 20, when he reported back to MEPs after the critical meeting of the European Council the previous week.
"On this occasion Blair had to explain and justify the agreement on the EU’s multi-annual financial framework for the period 2007-13. For Blair it was much more than a public relations outing because the parliament has the power to approve or reject the package proposed by the European Council and, within certain parameters, to adjust figures between headings.
"His presentation – which skilfully mixed confidence and contrition - was admirable, not just for its content, but also for the way in which he bashed ‘reactionaries’ and derided ‘commentators’."
So Austria wants to review the EU constitution. I wrote in the Guardian on the subject:
"The reasons which led all 25 governments to agree that our enlarged EU needs a new rulebook have not simply disappeared. …
"The French "no" campaigners argued that rejecting the constitutional treaty would lead to a re-negotiation where the text could be "improved" - although they did not all agree on what those improvements might be. Nonetheless, it is clear that their intention was to kill the text but not the process - and possibly not all of the text.
"According to the most recent opinion polls, 64% of Dutch and 65% of French people want the constitution to be re-negotiated rather than killed off.
"In that sense, the ball is in the court of France and of the Netherlands. It is up to those countries to say exactly what it is they consider necessary in order for the process to be revived. If they consider that there is no scope whatsoever for agreeing anything along the lines of the constitutional treaty, they must say so and save the rest of us a lot of time."
The BBC were yesterday trumpeting a Radio 4 poll which produced some very odd results. The poll, organised by the Today programme's 'Who Runs Your World' season, apparently found that 22% of listeners believed Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, to be “the most powerful man in the UK”.
"the BBC did not say how many votes it received and there were signs that the number might have been quite small. Voters had to be keen enough to check into the Today programme website and were encouraged to make their own comments when they did. The last messages left before the final count were five days old and only one person wrote in to comment on the result yesterday."The plot thickens.
“The UK Independence Party admitted yesterday that it tried to rig the poll on the Today programme to find out who runs Britain. … UKIP and Dan Hannan, the fiercely eurosceptic Conservative MEP, both admitted to the Guardian that they had separately sent e-mails encouraging supporters to vote for Mr Barroso. … Mr Hannan said last night: ‘I had no idea UKIP were doing it. I was going to take sole credit for it.’”So the mystery is solved, and another instance of UKIP’s media strategy lies exposed. All rather embarrassing for the BBC, of course, but sadly no surprise for those of us more accustomed to eurosceptic propaganda tactics. I won’t hold my breath for an apology from Mr Knapman, who, let’s not forget, claimed to find the results “quite shocking”.
“Politics should be done through rational argument, not by manipulating the media.”
The UK Presidency ended as the clocks chimed in the New Year, and it's worth evaluating what was achieved. The balance sheet is surprisingly positive; surprising, that is, compared to the assessments of many of the armchair commentators whose agenda precludes them from saying anything positive about the government or the EU.
Their good work is ignored by the media - yet they are at the receiving end when the tabloids, or even serious newspapers, wrongly blame them with their far-fetched fantasies.
A good media story, like a good film or a good play, works best with villains and heroes… People like conspiracies too and I think you have to accept that is the way the world works.No doubt. But if you combine that liking with a deliberate agenda on the part of a substantial proportion of the media to go out and get you, then you have an uphill struggle to get any sympathy - whatever the facts.
It is with immense sadness that I learned of the death of my friend and colleague Phillip Whitehead MEP on New Year's Eve.
"It was the fourth coming: Tony Blair back in Brussels once again to wrap up the 6 month UK Presidency of the European Union. No one in his position has been so often, nor brought tardy parliamentarians back to their duties in Christmas week. It's a job for six months, but the first two get lost in the summer break, if you have the second half of the year. And this is not little Luxembourg where all the public jobs are swapped around and the prime minister's duties are part Rutland, part Ruritania.
"Let us remind ourselves. July began with the Olympic triumph and that extraordinary dash across the world to snatch the prize from Chirac. Within hours the Gleneagles G7 summit (which Blair has also chaired) was stupefied by the worst terrorist attack on our shores and its consequences. He has had Iraq as a running wound. He has had to take his government through the climate change negotiations in Montreal, the world trade talks in Hong Kong, and keep the EU show on the road. And this was no ordinary show. Enlargement meant more costs. The rejection of the constitution meant more confusion. All this came bang on the button when the EU budget perspective for the next seven years had to be agreed among twenty five member states who are only just learning to work together. That too came down to the Brits.
"So when Tony Blair walked into the overcooked atmosphere of the European Parliament last week his opponents were voluble. Never has there been such a turnout of the massed ranks of the United Kingdom Independence Party. UKIP (or 'we speak, you-kip', as it's often called) was wide awake now. A semi-circle of snowy-haired Rotarians, weighed down by their pound signs, sat behind their toy flags. These turkeys thought Christmas was for them. Surely here they could get across the message that Johnny Foreigner, the 'cheese-eating surrender monkey', had cheated we honest patriots. Enlargement, to them, is all cost, no opportunity. 'Spending money on the sewers of Budapest', their leader called it. UKIP's fellow travellers pitch in. One, whom I vaguely recognise, waved a copy of the Sun, and talked of treason. I reach for my moral scruples. This sort of hooligan talk is no more typical of our politics than the skinheads on the terraces are representative of the great game they demean. Most of our colleagues know that, but some must have doubts when this uniquely British phalanx of misty-eyed, deerstalker-wearing loons hits town.
"Blair must have seen them as a godsend. Every politician prays for a heckler persistent enough and brash enough to be the perfect foil. These, after all, are the clowns who solemnly held demonstrations in favour of the French winning the 2012 Olympics. These are the prodigies of paranoia, who claim that Britain is, like Chechnya, due to fight its way out of the evil empire. Some of them inveigh against corruption, accounts not signed off and the like, without much evidence that they can read an expenses form themselves.
"So I confess to a great surge of Christian spirit, of the rightness of things, when Blair hit back. Here is a man beset, not just on policies, but by new, younger rivals (poor dozy Charlie Kennedy will be collecting his P45 any day now) and fractious rebels. He has upset many of the complaisant traditions of the EU 'pledge now, pay later' culture. Federalists and habitual big spenders dislike him with a Ukippian fervour. Yet he was, on his feet in the last round, the consummate politician. Travelling back to the airport in a van with a whole platoon of the grumpy old men I found he had stirred UKIP too. "Class act",…"not a word wrong", the super patriots were mumbling, happy that he had eaten them alive on TV.
"How well did he do over these six months? The best audit thus far comes from Chatham House, which calculates that the UK achieved about 80% of its objectives for the Presidency. It has made a better budget deal possible, which reduces the amount spent on agricultural support, raises that for research and development, and fields a proportion of the British rebate to help pay the cost of enlargement and world development. A tenner a year for that, if you believe in diminishing the gap between rich and poor, doesn't look like treason to me. If you don't want safer chemicals, or data retention to combat international terrorism, or action on climate change - and many people don't - this presidency is not for you. The budget doesn't begin to do enough for consumer protection, or culture and education. The Parliament still has to have its say on that. The big review of the CAP, so long obstructed by the French, will be in the massive hands of Gordon Brown by 2007: no surrender monkey he! There is more work on that front. Others may seem less of a success with time. The Brits launched entry talks with Turkey, and rightly. But the sight of our former Europe Minister Denis McShane being duffed up in a Turkish court, where he was a courageous witness for free speech, reminds us that enlargement is bumping up against its own frontiers.
"So I feel a sense of festive cheer. The mince pies will taste better on Sunday, with the sweet sense that our country played fair and played hard. Even the massed ranks of UKIP could scarce forbear to cheer."
Phillip Whitehead MEP
23 December 2005