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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.

Two For one in September!

I usually issue the e-newsletter during our monthly Strasbourg week, but we get two Straz weeks in September to make up for the one we didn't get during the summer recess. So, a second September letter. An embarras de richesse, or over-kill? You be the judge!


Sweden: A Famous Victory!

Or as the Sun put it: "Valiant Vikings give V-sign to the euro!"

I'm not normally a worrier. But on Sunday September 14th, the day of the Swedish euro-referendum, I had the most gut-wrenching anxiety about the result. Following the tragic death of Anna Lindh, Sweden's charismatic Foreign Secretary and a leading figure in the Swedish Yes Campaign, the media (especially the BBC!) were talking-up the probability of a sympathy vote supporting the Yes Campaign, and one eve-of-vote opinion poll actually showed a tiny lead for the Yes camp.

Having believed for some weeks that a No vote was practically certain, the idea that it was now too close to call was deeply unsettling. So the announcement at 8:00 p.m. (UK time) that exit polls showed a 4% No lead were welcome -- but left room for doubt. By 9:00 o'clock there was no doubt, and the Noes had it by an astonishing margin of over 14%.

This was not just about the euro. Commentators from Stockholm to Brussels, including Commission President Romano Prodi, recognised that it was also a huge vote of No Confidence in the European project as a whole. It was a blow struck for freedom and democracy by ordinary voters, against the political elites and the Brussels machine. The worm has turned. Well done the Swedes.


Brent By-Election -- the untold story

Brent was disappointing, but in a left-wing constituency (it was once Ken Livingstone's seat), a Labour protest vote was always going to go to the Lib-Dems.

But on the same day, September 18th, no fewer than nine local council by-elections were held -- two in the East Midlands. Spread across the country, with a combined electorate not too far short of Brent, these were much more representative. And the results tell a very different story. We Conservatives got a higher share of the vote (45%) than Labour (25%) and Lib-Dem (16%) added together!

We held four seats and gained two. The Lib-Dems started with two and lost them both.

Congratulations to our candidates Cllr. Liz Yates, who won Sutton Bassetlaw, and Cllr. Kevin Rontree, who held Collingham in Newark & Sherwood. Liz got over 87% of the vote, and Kevin over 66%. I suspect our euro-results next year will be more like those local by-elections than like Brent.


The European Constitution -- and how to fight it!

88% of the British people think we should have a referendum on the proposed EU constitution. The Conservative Party, MPs of other parties, trade unions, the media are demanding one. Yet Blair on September 9th again refused, arguing that the constitution "doesn't change the fundamental constitutional relationship between Britain and the EU" (although privately he told the Cabinet that it was "More important than the Iraq war and would affect Britain for generations").

What can we do in the face of such recalcitrance? One thing you can do is to write to your local paper. Whether you're a regular or a first-timer, please write this week -- write now -- and demand a referendum.

Some facts. The Constitution will:

Force us to give up our British veto in 30 additional areas (or more, depending how you count them)

Reduce our voting weight to below 10% of the EU -- and, for the first time, below Germany's

Give control of asylum and immigration to Brussels, along with transport and energy

Require us to give "active and unreserved support, in a spirit of loyalty" to the EU's common foreign and defence policy. Defence sourcing will come under EU control

Give the EU a "legal personality", making it autonomous from member-states, and opening the way for Brussels to take over Britain's permanent seat on the UN Security Council

Create a permanent EU President (who will out-rank the Queen) and an EU Foreign Minister

Give the EU a duty to harmonise economies and social policies (the courts will use this point to over-rule any tax opt-out that Tony Blair may get)

Make explicit the supremacy of EU law over British law

Create an EU Justice Department and Public Prosecutor able to undertake cross-border investigations (and backed by the EU Arrest Warrant)

Enshrine the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes clauses that can be used to limit our rights, and to deny us free speech.

Jack Straw and Peter Hain say that it is "Just a tidying up of the treaties". But Valery Giscard d'Estaing (who chaired the drafting committee) says it is "a great leap forward for European integration", while Commission President Romano Prodi concedes it is a "giant step". I know which view I trust!


Harold MacMillan, Earl of Stockton: His grandson's take on the European Union

Alexander, the present Earl of Stockton, is currently a Conservative MEP for the South East region, and grandson of the First Earl, affectionately known as Super Mac, one of our most distinguished Conservative Prime Ministers. Alexander served on the Convention on the future of Europe, which under the Chairmanship of Valery Giscard d'Estaing has drafted the proposed EU Constitution.

So I recently consulted Alexander on his views about the tripartite relationship between the Conservative Party, Great Britain, and the EU. He wrote to me as follows (and kindly gave me permission to quote his letter).

"I believe that this is the decisive moment for the Conservative Party. Either the Party adopts policies on Europe that reflect the views of the vast majority of Party members: i.e. that Britain should re-negotiate the treaties, and if that fails, withdraw from the Union, as allowed by the Constitution for the first time; or continue to impose the historical position of my grandfather, Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major in continuing Britain's association with developments in Europe.

"This has now become an issue which must be decided by the membership, and those who are unwilling to go along with the judgement of the Party must be allowed to go their separate way".


Amen to that, say I.


The Estonia story -- continued

I have recently been twice to Estonia at the invitation of the NO campaign. One of Labour's 2004 East Midlands euro-hopefuls, Elizabeth Donnelly, has taken me to task in the Nottingham Evening Post. She's number six on their list -- although we expect only five East Midlands seats in 2004!

What am I thinking of, she asks, wasting my time gadding about in the Baltic states when I should have been in Brussels attending to my constituents interests? (Although both times I went on the weekend). So I was amused to find myself in a lift in Strasbourg with Philip Whitehead, who of course is a sitting Labour MEP, and is #1 on the Labour list for 2004. A propos of nothing very much, he said "I'm just off to Estonia for the weekend to engage in a referendum debate"!

Nice to see a Labour candidate with egg on her face. I wonder if she'll now take Phillip to task for wasting his time in Tallin!

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw mentioned my Estonia visit in the House recently, and unwittingly achieved something that the rest of us had found very difficult -- breaking through the Estonian media's disgraceful embargo on No Campaign stories. As a result, I have become a minor celebrity in Estonia, and Estonian TV have booked an interview with me in Brussels today (Sept 10th).

Stop Press: We now have the result in Estonia. They voted two to one in favour of accession, which was no surprise, given that the No Campaign was out-spent at least twenty to one, and the Estonian people felt they had the Russian Bear breathing down their necks. But I feel it was worthwhile to try to ensure that the Estonians at least had a chance to hear both sides of the case.


Quote of the Month (1)

Tacitus, the Roman historian, wrote "Corruptissima republica plurimae leges", "The worst republics have the most laws". For the record, the EU has 97,000 pages of law -- the aquis communautaire -- and it's growing by the day.


Quote of the Month (2)

Norman (Lord) Tebbit at a lunch at the English Speaking Union, at Charles Street in London, on September 9th: "Opinion polls show that more voters would like to leave the European Union tomorrow, than plan to vote Conservative at the next General Election. Surely there must be a message there somewhere?"


The Great Employment Lie

For those who may have missed Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph on Sept 14th, he took up the europhile claim that "3 million jobs depend on the EU", which we hear over and over again from Labour apologists. This number comes, apparently, from a report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), and its Director Dr. Martin Weale.

But Dr. Weale says of the claim, "In many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts", and goes on to describe it as "pure Goebbels".

The truth is, of course, that NIESR said that the jobs depended on trade with the EU. They do not depend on being a member of the EU, still less on joining the euro.

There is no reason to believe that trade, or jobs, would suffer if Britain were to leave the EU altogether. Indeed, for the last ten years US exports to continental Europe have grown around twice as fast as Britain's -- despite the fact that we're in the EU and the USA is not. And so far as I know, the USA has no plans to drop the dollar and adopt the euro!


Conclusion

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

RFH