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Straight Talking - April 2003

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

Please feel free to distribute this newsletter or to quote from it. If you want to go onto the e-mail list please click here.

A minor victory

Often we sit through voting sessions in Strasbourg watching sensible amendments voted down, and daft and damaging reports passed. It can be very discouraging. But then sometimes we get a conspicuous success. On March 12th we voted down the Thomas Mann report on European Social Policy.

It was completely unacceptable to Conservatives, full of the European social model, and proposals for EU taxation policy. We voted innumerable amendments, but when it came to the final vote on a show of hands, it seemed like a very close result. Some of the lefties, ironically, voted against because they saw it as not sufficiently socialist!

But despite the close result, the Labour Vice-President David Martin MEP, who was chairing the session, said "That's approved" with great confidence.

Any member can demand an electronic check on a doubtful show of hands, and this often happens on amendments, but I cannot recall it happening before on a final vote. But I was so doubtful of the outcome that I shouted "'CHECK!" at the top of my voice, and Chris Heaton-Harris, sitting next to me, joined in. We had the electronic check, and sure enough the Noes had it by a majority of three.

Had it not been for our East Midlands Tory decision to make a fuss and demand a check, the report would have been considered approved. Some days you win, and it's very satisfying.

Facing up to the gendarmes

It was General Patton who said he'd rather have a German Division in front of him than a French Division behind him. I seem to end up with groups of French gendarmes in front of me more often than I should like.

It was more than three years ago that I and other colleagues had our famous stand-off with the riot police in the Champs Elysées, when we were protesting in Paris against the French beef ban. So it was with a sense of déja vu that I faced up to a line of riot police outside the Strasbourg parliament on March 10th.

They were quite rightly protecting the parliament against a dockers' demonstration, but there were no dockers in sight when we arrived. The police were seriously over-zealous, and we had some unseemly shoving and shouting when they denied us access to the building. One policeman was particularly difficult. Apart from the uniform, he looked just like the French cartoon character Asterix -- short and broad with an improbable moustache. But he went all camera-shy when a Danish colleague, Ole Andreasen MEP, tried to photograph him!

For the full story, see here.

A Political Dilemma

I arrived in Strasbourg on April 7th to find that the Socialists had tabled a motion to delay voting on European enlargement. Apparently they want to punish the accession states for (mostly) supporting the coalition over Iraq. We Tories have a three-line-whip to oppose the delay.

Now I believe that joining the EU will probably be bad for the accession states, and will almost certainly be bad for the East Midlands (especially our farmers), so I would be inclined to support any delay or obstacle to enlargement.

But how can I possibly vote to "punish" the accession states for supporting Britain and America on Iraq?

Facing an impossible dilemma, I revert to the first two rules of politics, which are (1) If in doubt, follow the Party whip; and (2) if possible, vote against the socialists.

East Midlands food tasting

Don't say that life in Brussels is all work and no play! On March 18th I visited an East Midlands food tasting, organised by the EMDA office in Brussels. I was delighted to discover the Welland Valley vineyard, a stone's throw from Market Harborough, offering an excellent light, dry white wine.

To share the experience, click on their web-sites:

English Wine Producers
Leatherbritches Brewery - Traditional English ales from Ashbourne.
The Cheese Society - Fine English cheeses by mail order
The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop
The Samosa Company (UK) Ltd - Authentic hand-made Indian delicacies
Dickinson & Morris - Hand-made Melton Mowbray pork pies

Victory for Commissioner Patten at Oxford

Congratulations to former Conservative Chris Patten, who has just been elected as Chancellor of Oxford University. As a Cambridge man, I was not qualified to vote. But as Anthony Howard remarked in The Times, Patten is a leading critic of American "imperialism", and a joint architect of the EU's discredited Common Foreign and Security policy. His election decisively vindicates Oxford's reputation as the home of lost causes.

Quote of the month

"We need an independent foreign policy in our British national interest". Thus spoke the Rt. Hon Ken Clarke MP at a recent dinner near Nottingham. Sadly, however, it was clear from the context that he meant "Independent from the US", not "Independent from Brussels". Indeed his next sentence, as near as I can remember, was "Britain is increasingly seen in Brussels as a satrap of the Americans, and this is undermining our influence in the EU".

You might want to try swapping "America" and "the EU" in that last sentence, and see how it reads. I am passionately in favour of an independent British foreign policy in the British national interest, but I believe that our national interest, now and in the foreseeable future, requires a strong transatlantic alliance.

The EU's pretence of a "Common Foreign Policy" has been shattered by recent world events, and the sooner we repudiate this discredited concept, the better. As Ken says, we need an independent foreign policy in the British national interest. Not a policy driven by Schroeder and Chirac.

(I had to look up "satrap" on the internet. In case you were wondering, it was the name given to governors of provinces in ancient Persia. By extension, it means a subservient ruler, or in the modern idiom, President Bush's poodle).

Harrogate Spring Conference

The Harrogate Spring Conference was an excellent event -- I was particularly encouraged by a new, more confident tone in IDS's two speeches.

But one of the high points of the event was the speech by Digby Jones, Director of the CBI. In a passionate tirade against Gordon Brown's taxes and Brussels regulation, he made a remarkably telling point. If Brussels red tape keeps piling up, he said, "the boardrooms of Detroit, of Tokyo, of Seoul and of Johannesburg will conclude that the UK is no different from the rest of the EU".

This is a vital point, which we cannot repeat too often. Inward investment has been attracted to the UK by lower taxes and a more relaxed regulatory environment.. These competitive advantages are being eroded by Labour's increased taxes and Brussels' torrent of regulation, and there are already signs that our share of inward investment is falling.

There are those who claim that this is because we have not joined the euro -- but they are wrong. I read a recent statistic showing that just 4% of inward investors quote "access to the EU market" as a reason for coming to the UK.

The Hunting, Fishing and Conservation Inter-Group

I am a bureau (management committee) member of this Inter-Group (cross-party single-issue group), and I was sitting in a meeting on March 12th listening to a Spaniard and a German, both very earnest, telling us at great length about myxomatosis and classical swine fever, their effects on wild populations of rabbits and boar, and possible routes for inoculation.

As I tried to concentrate on the technical complexities, my good friend and colleague the noble Earl of Stockton MEP, grandson of former PM Harold MacMillan, passed me a hand-written note which read as follows:

Unfortunately there is not an inoculation to deal with a new and serious infection that is sweeping across Europe: "Lingua superloquatia iberica" -- it has a sub-strain "Porcus Germanicus"

Bill Turncoat Dunn in Space Alien Search Shocker

On Wednesday March 19th I attended a meeting of the parliament's Industry and Research Committee, where Commissioner Busquin was presenting a Green Paper on the European Space Programme. Our friend Bill felt that there were not enough interesting ideas to engage the public's imagination, so he called for funding for "SETI" -- the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

SETI programmes have been running for some years in the USA, so far with no positive result.

I am a great enthusiast for astronomy and space research. But with the crises in pensions, health and transport, surely it shows a bizarre sense of priorities to ask for EU taxpayers' funding to put little green men into the Commission's Green Paper. Bill would do better to search for intelligent life amongst the Lib-Dems.

But in one respect at least, he was uncharacteristically frank. He was not concerned about the intrinsic merit of SETI. It was all about seeking to engage public opinion with the EU in general, and the EU Space Programme in particular. The federalists are constantly searching for wheezes to engage public opinion in the EU project -- and throwing money at them. But as the Commission's research shows, the public remain profoundly indifferent.

Liverpool Graffiti

"America has got George Bush, Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Stevie Wonder. We've got Tony Blair, no cash, no hope and no b***dy wonder!"


Please remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for more background on current parliamentary business and other issues.