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Straight Talking goes Electronic - January 2002

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

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Dear Colleague

Belatedly catching up with the 21st century, I have decided to run a trial electronic version of my regular Brussels newsletter. We have collected the e-mail addresses of Conservative councillors and agents across the East Midlands. The good news is that we have nearly twice as many addresses as for the old snail-mail version. Sadly, of course, some on the old list do not have e-mail addresses. If this electronic approach is well received, I will plan to phase out the paper version.

Unfortunately I will be a bit restricted on photos and graphics as I recognise that many people's software will not allow them to open documents in desk-top-publishing format.

Please, if you appreciate news from Brussels by e-mail, pass this on to friends and colleagues who may not have received it - and invite them to let me have their e-mail addresses to add to the list. If for any reason you prefer NOT to receive future e-mails, let me know and we'll delete your address.

Convention on the Future of Europe

You may have thought that with Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice we had enough European Treaties to be going on with, but they plan a new Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), and a new Treaty, in 2004. This is expected to create the last piece of the federalist jigsaw, a European Constitution. But they have a new wheeze for setting the agenda. There will be a "Convention" (like to one convened for the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights, if you remember that). It will include MEPs, MPs from national parliaments, and representatives of member-state governments.

We do have a small piece of good news here. It seems that one of the two representatives from Westminster will be the Rt. Hon. David Heathcoat-Amory MP. He is absolutely sound on the European issue and will stand up robustly for British interests and independence. If I may put in a small commercial at this point, David has written the preface for my next book, a sequel to "Straight Talking on Europe". Publication in the spring. A taster from David's preface: "The EU is a vast political conceit, driven by an élite who are remote, expensive, arrogant and wrong". But of course the bad news is that the majority outcome of the Convention will be more Europe, more integration, more centralisation, and the evisceration of the nation state. Coming soon: a Europe of regions governed from Brussels. They are calling for a great public debate, but like all debates on the European issue they will only accept one answer. The Danes voted against Maastricht in 1992, and were told to go away and vote again until they got the right answer. The Danes have voted against the euro, and the Irish against the Nice Treaty, but both will be told to reverse their decisions.

Germany in Trouble

It is expected that the European Commission will today send Germany a warning letter over its public finances. This is a glorious irony. It was the Germans who insisted on the so-called "Stability and Growth Pact" alongside the Euro. They wanted to keep the spendthrift Italians under control and ensure that the euro would be "A Mark with a suntan" and not "A Lire with a spiked helmet". Yet it is the Germans, in recession and suffering damage from the euro's one-size-fits-all interest rate, who are the first victims. Leftie Chancellor Gerhardt Schröder is in trouble. An election looming, unemployment stubbornly high, no welfare reform and public finances up the spout. His challenger, centre-right Edmund Stoiber is certainly in with a chance.

Euro Damage - Now its Official!

Conservatives have been saying for years that the euro's one-size-fits-all interest rate would do huge macro-economic damage. But now, surprise surprise, the European Commission is saying so too! In its 2001 economic report, it says "risks of overheating were identified in most of the smaller euro-zone economies. In particular Greece, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Finland suffered from excessive demand pressures......the creation of a single currency area implies the loss of monetary adjustment mechanisms in response to economic shocks". So now we know. Portugal is apparently facing very serious problems, and no one knows what to do about it.

And they don't even mention Germany, where (see above) the euro interest rate is too high and causing recession. The euro is bad economics, and can only get worse.

Selling it on the Doorstep

The truth is that the economic arguments for keeping the Pound are strong and hard-edged - but complicated, and almost impossible to get over in thirty seconds on the doorstep. Let me offer you a couple of homely analogies that seem to work

I hope you get on well with your neighbours. But imagine for a moment that your neighbour knocked on your door and said "I've had a brilliant idea. Let's set up a joint bank account between us - I'm sure we'd save a few pounds on bank charges". No matter how well you get on with your neighbour, you'd probably say that you prefer to keep control of your own money, thanks very much. A very close parallel to the Single Currency, with a joint bank account in Frankfurt (which would have control over our gold and foreign currency reserves, by the way).

For the second one, I am indebted to Charles Tannock, a London MEP, who was a consultant psychiatrist before coming to this madhouse! A doctor goes into a ward of twenty patients, and asks the nurse to take their temperatures: "But I'm in a bit of a hurry", he says, "So Nurse, just give me the average figure!". If he bases his diagnoses on the average temperature, he will be wrong for most patients. If we accept the euro's one-size-fits-all interest rate, we will have the wrong rate for most countries, most of the time.

Inward Investment - Britain Winning!

Advocates of the euro constantly tell us that inward investment (FDI) into the UK is at risk if we keep the Pound. When challenged with the plain fact that Britain does much better than euroland countries at attracting FDI, they look knowing and say "Ah, but it's slowing down you know". Labour MEP Neena Gill tried this one on me, on Midlands BBC TV. So I decided to get the facts. The DTI figures up to 2000 show Britain retaining the lion's share of FDI, although in the single year 2000 Germany nudged ahead of us in the rankings, purely because of the Vodaphone/ Mannesman deal. But on Jan 22nd the FT published United Nations (UNCTAD) early figures on 2001. The headline says it all "Britain regains ranking on inward investment".

And as my colleague Dan Hannan likes to point out, we've had an opt-out on the euro ever since Maastricht in 1992. If investors thought that was a good reason to stay away from the UK, we'd have seen it by now. The fact is that keeping the pound is no disincentive to inward investors, and as the structural problems of monetary union become ever more obvious (see above!), being out of the euro will be a positive attraction.

The Nanny State - Literally!

We often use the metaphor of the Nanny State to describe the EU's intrusive, prescriptive regulation - telling us how to climb ladders (the Rickety Ladders Directive) or what truckers should have for breakfast (the Greasy Spoon Directive). But sometimes a metaphor bites back and becomes the simple truth. We have the Bullman report coming up soon in the parliament, and I was astonished to see an amendment calling for a European policy on - wait for it - crèches! I'm all in favour of crèches, and I commend enlightened companies who offer child-care to attract mums back into the work-force. But an EU policy on crèches? Spare us!

Tory Delegation Elections

In December we had elections for officers of the Conservative MEP delegation. The results have greatly strengthened the Euro-realist tendency within the delegation. Theresa Villiers, the enormously sound and effective London MEP, becomes Deputy Leader with an enhanced rôle. Chris Heaton Harris (who needs no introduction in the East Midlands!) is our new Chief Whip. Martin Callanan, from the North East, becomes PPS to the Leader, Jonathan Evans. And Robert Goodwill from Yorkshire has joined the bureau of the delegation ("Bureau" is euro-speak for management committee). I believe that on the whole we have done a good job in the first 2½ years of this parliament, but with these new appointments I feel sure we will be able to do better for the second half.


I hope you have appreciated these random jottings from Brussels. I have tried to keep the points short and (hopefully!) interesting. Please let me have any comments or feedback that occur to you.

Best regards,
Roger Helmer