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Straight Talking goes Electronic - March 2002

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

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Let's Renegotiate the treaties!

Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram has been making some pretty stirring speeches recently. His speech a few weeks back on sovereignty was a classic, challenging the concept of so-called "shared sovereignty", in Gibraltar or Europe, as a sham and a deceit. Sovereignty shared is sovereignty surrendered. Either the British people can make their own decisions through their own democratic institutions, or they can't. Sadly, across a range of key policy areas, we no longer can, as competence has been transferred to Brussels.

Ancram's speech on March 13th about the UK, Europe and America was splendid. He insisted that we should maintain our transatlantic posture and not sacrifice it to European integration. He reiterated our commitment to a Europe of sovereign nation states. And above all, he boldly used the one key word I was looking for -- RENEGOTIATION. And on March 17th, Maggie Baroness Thatcher added her voice to the call for a radical renegotiation.

We have handed far too much power to Brussels. The present situation is unacceptable. The status quo is intolerable, and further integration unthinkable. We must renegotiate the treaties to return key powers and competences to the nation state. These must include at least agriculture, fisheries, social and industrial policy, and all areas of taxation. And we must repudiate EU involvement in foreign policy, defence, justice and home affairs.

So what will be left? Well, simply what we thought we were voting for in the 1975 referendum -- free trade and intergovernmental co-operation. And if we had the sense to combine a European free trade area with NAFTA, into one great big North Atlantic free trade area, we could cease to regard "Europe" as anything more than a geographical convenience.

A pretty average plenary week in Strasbourg

The sun shone in Strasbourg, and the trees were covered in cherry blossom. But the regulatory torrent rushed on. During the March Strasbourg plenary week (March 11th -- 15th) we voted through some pretty hairy stuff.

The Noise Directive: We managed to get through some amendments to exclude music from the directive, so that pubs will still be able to have singers, and orchestral players won't need to wear ear muffs. But the directive will still create significant problems for many businesses.

The vitamin directive: We have had an extraordinary torrent of e-mail lobbying on this issue, so much that it jammed up the parliament's computer system. We even had a display lorry driving slowly round and round the building, its "NO TO THE VITAMIN DIRECTIVE" message clearly visible from the coffee shop. In my view the protesters were right (if infuriating), and I voted for a wrecking amendment. Sadly, it failed. So now we have created a whole new level of regulation and cost, damaging the competitiveness of a significant industry and possibly denying consumers valuable food supplements, for no conceivable benefit.

Voting against Queen and Pope. An absurd measure, political correctness run riot, came from the Women's Committee. Entitled "Women and fundamentalism", it called for the total separation of church and state (as well as "the secularisation of the family" and support for lesbians). The effect is to challenge the status of any head of state who is also head of a church. I think the primary target was the Pope (as head of the Catholic church and head of state of the Vatican), but it would also compromise the Queen's position as head of the Church of England. There is a legitimate debate to be had as to whether our Monarch should also be head of the church (I happen to favour the status quo ), but it is OUR debate, and I am gravely offended that any European institution should dare to interfere.

Although our EPP colleagues in the parliament voted for the offending paragraph, even they were so nauseated by the whole package as amended that in the end they decided to vote against it. In a close finish, 242 to 240, it went through. Let's hope the Commission and the Council have the sense to spike it.

For more details of plenary business, see my web-site.

A busy Friday

Crufts: On Friday March 8th I visited Crufts at the NEC, Birmingham. It was the hounds day, and I love hounds. I have been doing a lot of work with the Kennel Club to head off threats of draconian EU anti-dog legislation, prompted by the hysteria in Germany against so-called "dangerous" dogs -- like the loveable Staffordshire Bull Terrier. And I took the opportunity to visit many competitors from the East Midlands (photos on my web-site).

Asylum seekers' accommodation centre: Driving across to Nottingham, I had a brief meeting in King Edward Court with Zoë Aylward, who has taken over the press office for myself and Chris Heaton-Harris from Sally McNamara (who has taken over as my researcher in Brussels). Then on to Hemswell Cliff, a village in Lincolnshire where the Home Office proposes to put an "Asylum Seekers' Accommodation Centre". This will house 750 asylum seekers, mainly single young men, in a village with a population of only 400.

There are some Army families in Hemswell Cliff, with soldiers away on active duty. It is a bitter irony that British soldiers serving in the Balkans may worry about the possible risks posed to their wives and families by Balkan youths back in Hemswell. I have written a robust letter to Lord Rooker, the Minister responsible, calling on him to think again.

Haddock'n'Chips: Then on to Cleethorpes for a Great British Haddock Supper with Grimsby & Cleethorpes constituency associations. I have to admit that this was a mile or two off-patch -- but I had sought permission from my Yorkshire colleagues! I was invited by Martin Vickers, who is agent for Gainsborough, but also Deputy Chairman of Grimsby. Wonderful to sit eating British haddock by the North Sea coast, but tragic to think of the state of our fishing industry under the infamous CFP.

Hunting: EU Commissioner supports "Middle Way"

In Strasbourg in March I attended a meeting of the hunting and country sports intergroup in the parliament, which was addressed by Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström (see photos on the website). I asked if she thought that the proposed hunting ban in England would conflict with EU human rights legislation. She dodged the direct question, but gave a strong endorsement of hunting. "I come from the north of Sweden, where every second household is a hunting household. I understand the issue, I understand the depth of feeling. That is why we must have a negotiated solution to the hunting question".

Coming just days before the debate at Westminster, where MPs will discuss three options -- no change, an outright ban, or a "middle way"-- this was a PR gift. The headline on the press release read "EU Commissioner backs middle way".

Farmers and the Euro

There were rumours that the NFU intended to take a tougher stand in favour of the euro, believing that it would be an instant panacea for farmers' woes. The assumption is that we would join at a lower-than-current exchange rate, so that farm subsidies in euros would be worth more in Pounds. But this is a highly suspect proposition. What few people know is that we don't get to choose the exchange rate at which we would join. It will be recommended by the Commission and approved by ECOFIN, the council of finance ministers.

In theory we have a veto. But if Blair had won a euro-referendum, how could he come back from Brussels and say it was all off because he couldn't agree a rate? And joining at too high a rate would not help farmers -- it would just lock in their problem.

In any case with expansion planned for the EU, the CAP will inevitably be wound down over the next ten years. The EU cannot afford it in an expanded union. So the NFU would have us sell the family silver for a very short-term advantage, if any. My letter on this subject to Ben Gill, President of the NFU, is posted on my website.

Quote of the Month

Daily Telegraph, March 15th : "Ever more exotic health and safety rules, ruinously expensive employee rights and a fantastic web of regulations and obligations which pour out of parliament every year". I couldn't have put it better myself. And of course most of this exotic, ruinous and fantastic web comes from Brussels, and is merely rubber-stamped in Westminster.

A Flying Visit to Malta

On Friday March 15th I made a flying visit (literally) to Malta, as a guest of the Campaign for National Independence (CNI). I arrived around 5:00 p.m., and went to the Chamber of Commerce at 7:00 for a TV interview and a rally, where my speech was video'd by another TV station. Dinner followed with The Times of Malta. Next day I recorded a long radio interview, attended a committee meeting of the CNI -- and had around two hours of sight-seeing before catching the plane home.

As a politician, I am always wary of jokes at the expense of foreign nationals, so you can imagine that I was cautious when a Maltese asked me "What makes a Maltese cross?". But confident that I knew the answer to this school-boy chestnut, I replied "Stamp on his foot". "No" the Maltese replied lugubriously, "Send him a tax return".

The brave, under-funded NO campaign of Malta faces a torrent of EU propaganda which is carpet-bombed into every area of national life -- media, education, business, government. Indeed their courage under fire calls to mind the heroism of the Maltese people sixty years ago under the Luftwaffe's ferocious onslaught. My task was to try to redress the balance a little bit.

I did not go to tell the Maltese how to vote in their upcoming referendum. As I said, it is their own sovereign decision. But if they vote to join the EU, it will be the last sovereign decision they ever make.

Euro ads hit UK

Returning to Heathrow Terminal 4, I was astonished to see ads placed by the European Central Bank with the slogan "The Euro: Our Currency". These are commonplace in Euroland, but they are just plain false in the UK. They are an unwelcome and unwarranted intrusion into our national debate. I have registered a formal complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority, and copied the British Airports Authority and the ECB for good measure.


That brings us up-to-date with events in Brussels. Remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.org.uk for more background.

RFH 18 March, 2002