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Straight Talking - September 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.

Outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Italy!

I was in the Chamber on July 2nd when the new "President-in-Office of the Council", Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was attacked in ungracious terms by a German Socialist, Mr. Martin Schulz. Not one to take hassle quietly, Mr. Berlusconi hit back, saying that Mr. Schulz would be an ideal candidate to play the Commandant in a new film about a Nazi concentration camp.

This might have passed as good knock-about stuff, except that Berlusconi (described as a right-wing politician, and subject to innumerable accusations at home about his business dealings) is a hate figure for the humourless lefties. His comments have led to a diplomatic crisis, and soured the start of the six-month Italian Presidency, which now seems set to accomplish little.

It is salutary to stand back and see these two founding states of the European project savaging each other like ferrets in a sack.

But I am less concerned with Berlusconi's colourful and ill-judged comments, than by his vision for Europe. He wants more political integration. He wants the EU to become a great military power in the world. He wants Russia and Israel to join the EU. And his solution for the EU's economic malaise? More spending by the European Central Bank!

This is naïve, half-baked, old-fashioned Keynsianism. Berlusconi may be regarded as right-wing, but there is nothing in his programme that would resonate with British Conservatives. The solution for Europe's economy is deregulation, especially of labour markets, and lower taxes to encourage industry and stimulate consumer demand.

Berlusconi's vision of a militaristic EU with bigger government and higher spending owes more to the statism and corporatism of Mussolini's fascists than to the kind of liberal (small "l"!) economics that Conservatives want. Yet we continue to sit with Berlusconi's "Forza Italia" party in the EPP-ED parliamentary group.

Animal Welfare: Transportation of Horses

During the summer I met with the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) at Snetterton. The European Commission has come up with new proposals on animal transportation, but their idea of a "rest period" for horses in transit is twelve hours on the lorry. Horse lorries can reach extremes of temperature -- stifling in summer and frozen in winter -- and horses are extremely difficult to feed and water in the truck.

Together with ILPH, I will be pursuing this issue with the Commission, and doing what we can to make the dreadful suffering of these animals a thing of the past.

Campaigning in Saxilby

Meg Davidson and other Conservative activists in Gainsborough have distributed questionnaires in and around Saxilby, and have had 127 replies. Of these, four were in favour of Britain joining the euro -- and 123 against!

92% say we should leave the EU

A few weeks ago the Jeremy Vyne show (formerly the Jimmy Young Show) on BBC Radio 2 had a debate on whether Britain should leave the EU. The OUT side was represented by that doughty Euro-realist Lord Pearson of Rannoch. They had a record response to the telephone vote -- over 14,000 calls. And an astonishing 92% wanted Britain out of the EU! Strange that this amazing result got so little coverage on the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation's regular news channels.

Of course as Conservatives it is not our policy to leave the EU entirely. But if it becomes impossible to negotiate acceptable terms for our continued membership, then we shall have to face up the question, whether we like it or not.

Flying the flag in Strasbourg

My office in Straz looks out over the grim oval compound we call the exercise yard. Black windows look out from dun-coloured stone. I decided to brighten the scene by hanging out a Union Jack towel from my window -- the towel a gift from a previous stagière, Pippa Needs. After all, if the Germans can leave their towels on the deck-chairs, why shouldn't I hang one out of the window?

In the plenary session on June 30th, one of our "Quaestors" (MEPs' shop stewards), Mary Banotti, saw fit to complain, on a point of order, about the flag. Mrs. Banotti, despite the Italian name, is in fact Irish, as is the President of the parliament, Pat Cox. There is something very touching about an Irish Quaestor complaining to an Irish President about the display of a Union Jack.

Apparently Mrs. Banotti can't be quite sure from the outside whose office it is, so the flag stays until she finds out, and shows me the rule requiring me to remove it. But Pat Cox's reply to Mrs. Banotti was a classic. Referring to a demonstration during the Iraq war, when dozens of flags saying "PACE" (Italian for Peace, apparently) were hung out of windows, he said "All I can say to you, Mrs. Banotti, in your role as Chairman of the College of Quaestors, is PACE!".

Quote of the Month

Letter in the Sunday Telegraph, July 6th

Just which part of "Civil Servant" does Alastair Campbell not understand?

Estonian Propaganda

On Sunday August 24th, I was in Jogeva, a small town in Estonia, to see the European Commission's Campaign Bus for the Estonian referendum (which takes place on Sept 14th). They were distributing tendentious propaganda, and a particularly egregious example caught my eye. It was in the form of a glossy post-card, produced by the Estonian Res Publica party, and bearing the EPP-ED logo, so it was presumably funded (partly) by our money (since Conservative MEPs are associate members of the dodgy EPP-ED group). The post-card featured a smiling male model.

The caption read "Vote YES for sexier men!". It argued that in the EU, men on average drink less and live longer than Estonian men, and therefore Estonian men would become more sexy if Estonia voted YES.

Please note today's date. It is not April 1st. I wish this were a bad joke, but it is the plain unvarnished truth.

A German diplomat made a speech calling for a YES vote, and I reminded him in no uncertain terms that his direct interference in an internal Estonian political debate constituted a serious breach of Article 41 of the Vienna Convention.

He sought to justify his behaviour by claiming that this clear and overt campaigning in the referendum campaign was "Promotion of German Culture", although, bizarrely, the jazz band supporting the event had played "Land of Hope and Glory", and not the Beethoven/EU "National Anthem".

A more detailed account of my Estonia trip, and a copy of the postcard, is available here.

Inward investment: the big lie

Euro-luvvies have one shot left in their locker. They're writing to the papers claiming that Britain is losing the battle for inward investment, because we're outside the euro. And they're quoting OECD figures.

They're wrong. The truth is we're still number one on Europe, and we're holding our share very nicely. To see the evidence for this, see this piece.

Federalism: blessing or curse?

Former US President Ronald Reagan once wrote a paper on Federalism. The first paragraph read:

"Federalism is rooted in the knowledge that our political liberties are best assured by limiting the size and scope of the national government".

So we have a paradox. In the USA, federalism means limiting the scope of central government. In the EU, it seems to mean passing powers to Brussels.

At the end of July, Chris Heaton-Harris and I went to Washington at the invitation of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national association of state legislatures. We addressed a workshop on federalism, and I came home much clearer in my mind about what the Americans mean by the word. For an explanation of the paradox, see this article.

God and the EU...

During the drafting of Giscard d'Estaing's Constitution for a People's Republic of Europe, there has been a great debate as to whether God should be explicitly mentioned, to reflect the Christian tradition of European culture. After all, America prides itself on being "One nation under God", and Giscard's drafting process was self-consciously modelled on the Philadelphia convention of 1787.

In the end, the theists have been defeated. There is a reference to "shared spiritual values", but not to God specifically. I hear that the Bishop of Saint Albans has taken a view on this question. What is the point, he asks, of being at the heart of Europe, if it has no soul?

...and the Spectator's take on the issue

Several constituents have drawn my attention to an article by Adrian Hilton, in the Spectator (August 30th), in which he looks at the Roman Catholic Church in the context of the EU. Personally I've never had much time for the hysterical conspiracy theorists who see the EU as a Popish plot, but Hilton makes a good case that the interests of the Papacy and the EU project may be convergent. To see the article on the Spectator website click here.

Political correctness gone mad!

Recently I was talking to an adult-education teacher in Leicestershire, and I was astonished to hear that they're no longer allowed to use the word "brainstorm". Apparently this might offend people who feel that they're not very brainy. Instead they have to say "starburst". But won't this offend people who feel that maybe they're not stars?

The euro -- a political project

Tony Blair wants us to believe that the euro is about economics. Everyone in Brussels knows that it's primarily about political union, and that the economic effects are secondary (and damaging). I am indebted to Anthony Coghlan of Trinity College Dublin, a leading figure in successive Irish "NO" campaigns, for a long series of quotes from senior European leaders confirming this point.

The list is too long to include here, but I'm posting it on my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com. Meantime, how's this for a taster?

"It (the introduction of the euro) is not economic at all. It is a completely political step". Romano Prodi, Commission President, Interview on CNN, January 1st 2002.

A pilgrimage to Salisbury Cathedral

Sara and I spent our summer holidays in a remote country inn in Dorset (where one night, quite by chance, we discovered Oliver Letwin dining at the other end of the bar!). On the way down we stopped at Salisbury Cathedral. It's a wonderful building, and I wanted to look again at the memorial to a young officer, Edward Wyndham Tennant, who died aged 19 on the Somme on Sept 22nd 1916.

The epitaph reads "When things were at their worst, he would go up and down the trenches, cheering the men". And further down: "He gave his earthly life to such matter as he set great store by: the honour of his country and his home".

This same country for which Edward Wyndham Tennant gave his life, is the one that Tony Blair proposes to turn into an off-shore province in the People's Republic of Europe, when he ratifies Giscard's Constitution next year.

Tennant fought in the trenches. We shall fight on the doorsteps. But the cause is the same: the survival of our country.


A reminder: early in July, my UK office moved from Blaby to:

11 Central Park, Lutterworth,
Leicestershire LE 17 4PN
Phone: 01455 558447
Fax: 01455 558636

E-mail addresses, and Brux & Straz details, remain unchanged. The Press Office operation with Emma McClarkin also moved from Nottingham to the same address in Lutterworth.


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