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Straight Talking - September 2010

Love Europe. Hate the European Union

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Strasbourg

Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for Conservative Party members and activists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about developments in the EU. If you receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the
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Sign the Pledge for an EU Referendum!

It is preposterous that the Coalition is seeking to set up a referendum on proportional representation, which no one but a few Lib-Dem anoraks actually wants, yet it is refusing a referendum on EU membership, which large numbers of people want passionately.

In the UK, opinion polls now suggest that an EU referendum might well deliver an "Out" vote, while across the EU, the Commission's own Eurobarometer survey shows that only 42% of citizens -- less than half --- believe that EU membership is a good thing. We last had a referendum on the EU in 1975, so you'd need to be over 55 today to have been able to vote in it. It's time for a new look at this most fundamental question of how Britain is governed, and whether or not we want to be an independent, democratic nation.

The EU Apparatchiks haven't given up. Britain now seems to have accepted EU financial regulatory supervision, which threatens huge damage to the City of London. Plus EU pre-vetting of member-state budgets. There is growing pressure for the end to the British rebate, and for direct EU taxes. The EU is flexing its muscles on the international stage, with a huge new diplomatic service -- the EU External Action service, or EEAS.

It's no good saying that we won't accept an EU super-state -- we've got one, and the only way out is to get out. We've been talking about European reform for thirty-five years, while we sink deeper into the quicksand.

So thank heavens for my good friend and colleague Dan Hannan, who today launches a national campaign for an EU referendum. Read his blog at http://is.gd/f0h3U, and visit the campaign website at www.eureferendumcampaign.com. Above all, please sign the Referendum Pledge! And get your friends and relatives and associates to sign too. Tweet it to your followers. If you're involved in an organisation, put it in your newsletter.

Let's strike a blow for Freedom, Democracy and Independence, for a Britain that rules itself, where our votes count for something.

EU Tax plans

My colleague Derk jan Eppink MEP in the ECR group has issued a splendid release on plans for EU Taxes, which I felt I had to share with you.

Derk Jan Eppink, MEP for Belgium and a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, has hit out strenuously at plans for EU taxes, revealed today by the EU’s Tax Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, who told the Financial Times Deutschland that “the door is open to think about revenues that are not claimed by (national) finance ministers.” He said that the current system whereby 76 per cent of the EU’s budget is paid for by national contributions “was not the intention of the founding fathers.”

But Mr Eppink, a former Commission insider whose recent books “Life of a European Mandarin” and “Bonfire of Bureaucracy in Europe” predicted calls for EU taxes earlier this year, said: “Unsurprisingly, the Commission’s main entry gate may be open to EU taxes, but I am sure ordinary taxpayers will close all doors and windows. No wonder the Commission is launching it in August as its midsummer night’s dream”.

Mr Lewandowski’s spokesman, Patrizio Fiorilli, told the media today that “the time is now to look into alternative sources of income for the EU budget,” adding that in late September the Commissioner will set out a series of options for EU taxes, including a levy on air transport, a tax on financial transactions and the allocation of some of the funds from the planned auction of greenhouse gas emissions permits.

Mr Eppink saw the irony of the remarks. “The time is now only because the Commission is taking people by surprise when they are in the middle of their summer holidays, while tanning their bellies. It’s a well-known bureaucratic trick for announcing unwelcome things.”

Mr Eppink remarked “this shows that EU taxes are an end in themselves for the Commission so that it can expand the powers of the EU indiscriminately rather than focus on its core tasks”. In fact, he continued, “the EU has no need to raise its own taxes. Each year, it cannot even spend all the money it gets from national governments. In 2008, 4.5 billion euros remained unspent in the structural funds sector alone.

Furthermore, major parts of the EU budget are spent in a way that is not approved by the EU Court of Auditors. At a time when all citizens are obliged to tighten their belts, the EU tax proposal sends the wrong signal. It will only add to the total fiscal pressures on the citizen. Even Lewandowski admits it. His plan must be fought tooth and nail. Let Brussels tighten its belt too.”

The MEP concluded by pointing out that he had already pre-empted the move by setting up a website, www.noeutax.eu , and launching a European Citizens’ Initiative to prevent the introduction of EU taxes. “We need a million signatures from at least a third of the EU member states. I am confident we will get them, because the citizens are paying more than enough taxes already. They don’t want additional tax bills from Brussels.”

An embarrassing climb-down in Strasbourg

I blogged recently about the parliament's extraordinary decision to offer MEPs a financial inducement (or rather a penalty for absence) to attend Commission President Barroso's "State of the Union" address this morning in Strasbourg. As I Tweeted earlier, they were treating MEPs rather like hired extras in a film set -- there to make up a crowd scene.

The parliament's "Conference of Presidents" was taken aback by the huge wave of contempt and derision that greeted their decision. Someone described it as "like a meeting of Brezhnev's Soviet Duma" (only there the penalty was a life-time in Siberia). And not only from the usual suspects. Even that Goody-Two-Shoes europhile the Lib-Dem MEP Sarah (Baroness) Ludford was on record with her opposition. But at least the parliament had the good grace to climb down and withdraw the threat.

I went anyway. Barroso's speech was a wonderfully rich tapestry of cliché and wishful thinking. Growth. Jobs. Progress. Economic renewal. Financial regulation. Freedom, Justice and Security. Competitiveness in the face of globalisation. European defence and security. A European Foreign Service. And an initiative to cut €38 billion from the cost of red-tape (don't hold your breath!). As many speakers pointed out, this was about Barroso's vision for the future, and very little to do with the State of the Union as it is today.

Then Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP Group, spoke. His constant theme was "The citizens are calling for more Europe!" (I don't know which of the citizens he's been speaking to -- not one of my 4.2 million constituents has ever told me they want "More Europe"!). It was only last year that we Conservatives left the EPP, and I was thinking about how we might feel about Daul's speech if we were still in the EPP's maw.

The best speech came from Nigel Farage. While the "State of the Union" title was a clear attempt to ape the USA, Farage pointed out a key difference between Barroso and a US President -- US presidents are elected by the people. And (argued Farage) the true state of the union is shown in the Commission's own EU Barometer study, which demonstrates that confidence in the EU and its institutions has dropped dramatically over the last year, and that only 42% of citizens now regard membership of the EU as a good thing.

My op-ed piece in the Washington Times

I seem to have become a columnist for the Washington Times recently.
Read my latest piece on climate change

Chris Huhne, Changer of Climates

On July 26th, ConHome published my article on Chris Huhne and wind power, and next day I put it up on my own blog I received the following comment from “Fenbeagle”, and I thought it was so delightful that I had to share it with you:

Chris the Huhne. Changer of Climates. Builder of the rods of lightning. More numerous than the Henge and Menhir builders of the British protectors of the secret of the Megalithic yard. Breaker of wind. Whose wands cover the lands of Britannia, and, yea, even the tides of Canute. Slayer of Horus. Dazzling in the rays of Aten. Denier even, unto Atom. Hewn from the very rocks of Zeus, making the lands tremble with their thunder.........and Energy Secretary.

You think he might be overdoing things?

Solar Power? At least it’s better than wind!

In August I wrote a blog piece on the extraordinary “Feed-In Tariffs” being offered by electricity companies (under orders from the government) to householders who install Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Currently you can get up to a 10% return tax-free on your investment. Compare that to buying an annuity (say) where you’d be lucky to get 5%, and that’s taxable.

But there are also favourable terms for farmers. Indeed a recent piece in The Sunday Telegraph was headlined “Renewable energy is the cash crop of the future”. Farmers tend to have buildings like barns, cowsheds and milking parlours that offer large exposed roof areas. If they face more-or-less south, they could be ideal for PV. So how much sense does PV make? Like wind, PV is very expensive – much more expensive than coal or gas or nuclear. Like wind, PV is intermittent and unpredictable (though perhaps a little less unpredictable – at least you know not to expect it at night!).

Both wind and PV will dramatically increase the cost of electricity to consumers and industry, since the massive subsidies in each case will ultimately be paid by electricity consumers, under the complex structure of Renewable Obligations and Feed-In Tariffs.

But at least PV is better in one key respect. Unlike wind, PV is silent. And unlike wind, solar panels are relatively unobtrusive. A 400-foot wind turbine in the vicinity will affect the value of your house. PV panels on the farm next door will not.

So as I say in my blog, PV (like wind) is sheer lunacy from a public policy point of view. But it’s a whole lot less objectionable than wind. And as an economic proposition for households (and farmers), on current terms, it’s practically irresistible.

The Home Office will review the EAW

Many of you will be familiar with the ongoing struggle of two of my constituents against the absurdity of the European Arrest Warrant (the EAW). Matthew Neale and David Birkinshaw, whom the press has come to know as "The Derby Two", were extradited from the U.K. to a Latvian prison in the summer of 2009 under the provisions of the EAW. They were held without charge or trial for ten weeks under conditions which the former Latvian President described as "not fit for animals".

Following their eventual acquittal they were then called back for a “second stage” in the Latvian criminal proceedings (a procedure which borders on “double jeopardy”). A second hearing in Riga found all charges dropped against Mr. Birkinshaw, though Mr. Neale is expected back in court this October.

With the change in National Government, I felt this would be a good opportunity to call on Home Secretary Theresa May to revaluate our participation in the EAW -- which can be used by a rural magistrate in Bulgaria to demand the extradition of a British national on a trivial charge. It is a frightening thought that any of the twenty-seven member states (soon to be twenty-eight with Croatia, or possibly Turkey in the coming years) can use this power to force defendants to take the stand under judicial systems which may not meet the standards we expect.

I was informed in a response from the Home Office that, following summer recess, they have decided to review all extradition agreements -- worldwide, including the EAW. I'll keep my hopes high, but will continue to warn constituents of this new risk taken by travelling abroad.

Blog Round-Up...

Wind Farms: Arguing the Case
Forcing consumers to label themselves as either NIMBY advocates or anti-environmentalists is no choice at all.

It's the Political Biography Season
Former, and potentially future, UKIP Leader Nigel Farage has released his autobiography: "Fighting Bull", an aptly punned title indeed.

Education Policy: A Step Too Far
Is it sharp elbows that get more middle-class children into better schools -- or heredity?

The War on Drugs: Will we Ever Win?
We've been losing "the war on drugs" for decades. Maybe it's true that the only thing the drug barons fear is legalisation.

What's actually going on in Strasbourg?

Each plenary session brings with it a new set of debates and events. Our ECR group will be listing major items in the Parliament at our group website. I am told this information will be updated prior to each Strasbourg session.

Science and faith

As Frank Sinatra sang: “Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”.

Well OK, I’ll mention just one. In the early Nineties I was working in Seoul, Korea, and I was invited to attend a lecture in Seoul by Stephen Hawking. I was desperately keen to go, but I had a meeting booked at the same time with the MD of a key customer. Torn both ways, I finally decided to do the decent thing, go to my meeting and miss the Hawking lecture. I’ve regretted it ever since. I couldn’t remember, today, the name of the Korean customer, or why it was important to see him. But I can remember Stephen Hawking, and I may never have another chance to hear him.

Of course I read mathematics at Cambridge (1962/65), and Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – a Chair once held by Isaac Newton – which adds to my interest. Nevertheless, I think Hawking is wrong to argue that new discoveries in mathematics or astrophysics can disprove the existence of God, however much Richard Dawkins may relish the idea.

I don’t pretend for a moment to follow Hawking’s abstruse mathematics. But I find it simply not credible that the Universe should emerge from nothing, which seems to me, at least, to suppose that an effect can be its own cause (and if the Universe can spring from nothing all by itself, then presumably God – or anything else – could do the same, and the whole scientific structure of cause and effect would be lost). Hawking may well have understood, better than anyone else, how the Universe came into being, but no amount of physics will answer the metaphysical question “Why?” (Though our ability to ask a question does not mean necessarily that any meaningful or satisfactory answer exists).

I always like to recall the Mediæval cartographers, who recognised the limits to their knowledge, but rather than leave boring gaps in the corners of their maps, chose instead to populate the unknown areas with mythical beasts, dragons or improbable marine creatures. My view is that despite all the amazing advances in science, it is asking too much for our species, on a rather ordinary planet orbiting a rather ordinary star in an odd corner of a fairly ordinary galaxy, to expect to understand everything in the Universe, to comprehend all knowledge. The amount that is unknown is presumably infinite. But no matter how much we know, our body of knowledge remains finite, so no matter how much information we acquire, no matter how much science we do, the unknown remains infinite.

Some people choose to define God in terms of the gaps. He is out there in the unknown, along with the Mediæval cartographers’ mythical beasts. Others choose to define him in terms of the “Why?” question, rather than the “How?” question which is (or may be) the preserve of physics. But that comes down to faith – either you believe it, because it seems plausible and the arguments persuade you, or (like Dawkins) you are happy to recognise the great unknown, but see no reason to populate it with speculative life forms, whether God or dragons.

My point is that physics and faith are essentially different things, dealing in different questions, and you cannot use ideas from one field to prove or disprove anything in the other. Physics cannot disprove religion, any more than religion can disprove physics. Not even Stephen Hawking.

Quote of the Month:

Sunday Telegraph on energy policy (Aug 15th): “What the UK is doing is the most expensive way of making emissions reductions”.

Poetry Corner: Ernest Dowson

Dowson was an obscure Victorian poet who tragically died of consumption (TB), aged only thirty-two, in 1900, and whose slim genre was soon forgotten as the fashion for modernism and T.S. Eliot took hold. I take the view that little worthwhile music, or literature, or art, or architecture was created after around 1920, and the same seems to be true of poetry.

Even my great hero James Elroy Flecker, who just about failed to become a First World War poet (he died, aged thirty, also of TB, in Davos in 1915), the great romantic who gave us “The Golden Road to Samarkand” and “Hassan”, was tempted by modernism, as his “Oxford Canal” shows.

Yet amazingly Dowson has given us the title to what is arguably America’s greatest popular novel, “Gone with the Wind”, plus the title of a well-known stage play and film, “The Days of Wine and Roses”. And he provided the inspiration for the Cole Porter song “Always true to you darling in my fashion”, from “Kiss Me Kate”. The song refers to a Dowson poem with the refrain “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion”.

For an obscure poet who died young and rapidly fell out of fashion, he did rather well at contributing telling phrases to the language. So if I may try your patience just a little more, let me offer you the whole of one of his shorter poems – only eight lines. It might look well on a gravestone.

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Alas for Dowson, and for Flecker. For them, the days of wine and roses, the weeping and the laughter, were indeed all too short.


As is the tradition of most parliamentary bodies, the European Parliament was on recess for most of the month of August. Unlike the tradition of most parliamentary bodies, that translates to our being required to participate in the so-called “Travelling Circus” from Brussels to Strasbourg not once but twice in the month of September, to make up for the lost session.

I do not intend to send out an electronic newsletter during the second session (scheduled for the week of the 20th) unless some great event or action takes place which is worth noting. So you can expect my next newsletter for the week of 18th October. Until then, don't forget to visit this website, follow me on twitter @RogerHelmerMEP, and post a comment on my blog at http://rogerhelmermep.wordpress.com.