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Straight Talking - December 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.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and A Conservative New Year!

At last! Good news from Brussels!

The breakdown of the IGC on the Constitution over the weekend is good news. But remember it broke down over what is in effect a technicality -- voting weights. Heads of government including Blair were prepared to concede massive transfers of power to Brussels, and (via the "Charter of Fundamental Rights"), to the unaccountable ECJ.

So we are still right to demand a referendum, and to remind Blair that he can't give away our independence without at least asking us first. This is merely a reprieve -- not a final victory.

….and good news from Iraq!

Wonderful to hear that the tyrant Saddam has been apprehended. The interests of justice demand that we give him a fair trial -- and then hang him!

Influence, European style

On my way to the airport on Monday November 17th, I heard the President of the European parliament, Liberal Pat Cox, on the BBC's Today programme.

He seemed very exercised about Gordon Brown's earlier comments on "fiscal federalism". His proposition seemed to be: UK politicians like Gordon Brown shouldn't play "the euro-sceptic card". We should be good Europeans. If the UK does what it's told, we shall acquire an enormous amount of "influence" in the EU.

The only problem is, when we seek to exercise this nebulous "influence", we shall be reminded to do what we're told.

Influence: a practical example

In Brussels, Conservative MEPs are members of the EPP-ED political group, which is well to the left of the Conservative Party, and is passionately federalist. With a number of colleagues, I have campaigned against this relationship, and currently the EPP is under notice from the party that we want radical changes, or we will terminate the relationship in the next parliamentary term.

On November 20th, in Strasbourg, we voted a report on the progress of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Constitution. Our Conservative leader in the European parliament, Jonathan Evans, tabled an amendment calling for national referendums, in line with our Conservative campaign for a referendum.

Our colleagues in the EPP not only failed to support the Evans amendment, but whipped against it. So much for "influence". When an issue vital to British interests comes up, influence evaporates.

After the 2004 euro-election, there will be an opportunity to set up a new, genuinely Conservative group in the parliament (working title: New Europe). Even in a new group we will not agree about everything, but we will agree about freedom, enterprise, the transatlantic alliance and the nation state. With MEPs from existing member states, and from the new accession states in central and eastern Europe, we will at last be able to oppose further European integration, and start to turn the tide.

Referendum Campaign

In mid-January, we will be running a major campaigning initiative across the region, calling for a referendum and inviting the public to sign our petition. More details soon.

This is just the start of our activity in the run-up to the June euro-elections, and we need local support on the ground. Can constituencies please look at running petition-signing efforts in high-streets and market-places during the weekends of January 17th and 24th. Euro-candidates will be able to support, diary permitting -- get your requests in fast!

Nothing is easier or more fun than getting the public to demand a referendum on the draft Constitution. Please, let's maximise the spin-off from the advertising and give it our best shot.

Death of the British Rocking-Horse?

The EU's Standardisation Committee has proposed, as a safety measure, that the seats on children's "activity toys" should not exceed 60 cms in height (or two feet in real money!). This would effectively outlaw the traditional British rocking horse (although curiously it would not apply to bicycles or real horses!).

On November 27th I visited Tom Cobley, a traditional maker of hand-carved rocking horses, in Greetham, Rutland. He is alarmed at the prospect that a business that has kept him and his family in work for twenty years could suddenly be swept away in a moment of carelessness, almost by mistake.

He is also concerned about the proposal to ban hunting, which would deny him his regular source of horsehair for rocking-horse manes -- the nearby Cottesmore Hunt.

I am contacting the British Standards Institute (which sits on the EU standards committee), and the British Toymakers' Guild, to try to mitigate the damage and save the rocking horse. In the meantime, if you want the toy of a lifetime for a much-loved grandchild, or if you have a splendid but battered rocking horse in need of refurbishment, visit www.rockinghorses-by-tom-cobley.co.uk

Rugby World Cup

Well done England! It may be decades since we last celebrated a sporting victory on this scale, but that makes it all the more welcome.

French President Jacques Chirac reportedly hailed the result as "A victory for Europe". Dream on, Jacques, dream on.

£300 million well spent?

As a tax-payer, you may be interested to hear that the European parliament has just spent rather more than £300 million of your money to purchase the Strasbourg parliament building, housing 700 or so MEPs. The good news is, this is a fair bit cheaper than the Scottish parliament, where they have spent £400 million (and rising!) to house a mere 129 MSPs. Taking the cost per parliamentarian, Edinburgh is over seven times as expensive as Straz.

The bad news is, we already have a perfectly good (indeed a much more commodious and accessible) European parliament building in Brussels, so the £300 million spent on the Strasbourg building is a total and utter waste.

UK outperforms Eurozone

I have just received the October 31st briefing note from Global Britain (visit the web-site at www.globalbritain.org), and I was struck by some key statistics. In terms of GDP per capita in the EU, the UK has slipped from #4 in 2001 to #6 in 2003, largely because of exchange rate movements. But the countries ahead of us, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Holland, are all small countries. Britain is ahead of all the bigger countries -- Germany, France, Italy.

I still meet people who imagine that France and Germany are more prosperous than the UK. They're wrong. Britain is 8½% ahead of France and Germany, and 19% ahead of the eurozone average. The three "Outs" (non-euro EU countries -- UK, Denmark, Sweden) are all in the top six, and the outs on average are 22% ahead of the eurozone.

Norway and Switzerland, non-EU countries, are ahead of all EU countries except Luxembourg.

Patricia Hewitt lays an egg

My constituent Patricia Hewitt MP, who is also our Trade Minister, made a classic gaffe when she went to open a new warehouse for Caterpillar logistics in Leicestershire recently. She told them how much she admired their shiny machinery and their big yellow JCBs.

JCB is, of course, one of Caterpillar's major competitors. Ouch!

Quote of the Month

Debating the so-called "Stability and Growth Pact", French Finance Minister Francis Mer said it would be folly to enforce the pact blindly given the experience of Portugal, which had been "driven into irredeemable recession" by diktats from Brussels. (Daily Telegraph, Nov 26th).

Not so much Stability-and-Growth. More Stupidity-and-Sloth.

And another quote:

Gisela Stuart MP, Labour's representative on the so-called "Convention" that drafted the EU Constitution, and a member of the 13-strong "Praesidium" of the Convention, seems to have had a change of heart. She has said that Britain should not ratify the Constitution as it stands. "Its main purpose", she says, "is the political deepening of the Union". She has called for a free vote in the Commons, and seems almost ready to call for a referendum.

A blast from the past

In November, I attended an awards dinner for ethnic minority enterprises at the Village Hotel in Chilwell, Nottingham, organised by First Enterprise. Along with two Labour politicians, I had been invited to speak. In the interests of brevity, they gave us only three minutes each, but that's 50% better than we normally get in the European parliament!

Checking the table plan, I found that our former colleague Bill Turncoat Dunn had also been invited. Clearly the organisers had decided that two MEPs would have much to say to each other, and they had thoughtfully put us both on the same table.

It was a black-tie event, but for some reason Bill had decided to come in a lounge suit, in an indeterminate shade between brown and grey. He enjoyed his first two courses, but abruptly left before dessert or coffee -- and before the awards which were the whole purpose of the event. Whether he had another pressing engagement, or just couldn't face hearing me speak, I can't possibly say!

Another Tory joins the Straz team

These days they're calling it "The Anglo-sphere". Irish-American writer and commentator P.J. O'Rourke called it "Very Great Britain Indeed". Winston Churchill simply spoke of "The English-speaking peoples". But whatever you call the global community based on the English language (the Commonwealth plus the USA and Ireland), we share a common sentiment and tradition that continentals envy but fail to emulate.

Perhaps that's why I enjoy the bracing free-market air of Washington so much better than the stultifying leftist consensus of Brussels. Perhaps that's why I've nearly always hired staff from Anglo-sphere countries.

James Yeomans was a brilliant young Australian law-student who helped me out in Strasbourg during our regular Straz weeks. He went on after graduation to join the Australian Foreign Ministry, and I predict a sparkling career for him.

This week I engaged another Australian in Straz. She's twenty years old, reading business studies, and is a former surfing instructor. She has an infectious enthusiasm for conservative politics. She was christened Victoria Vidler, but all her life, she tells me, she's been known as….. Tory! Welcome on board, Tory.

One for the book-shelf

I'm just reading the new book by Christopher Booker and Richard North, "The Great Deception: The Secret History of the European Union". I'm hugely impressed. It follows the history of the European project from its first stirrings in the 1920s to today's draft Constitution. It's authoritative and well-researched, yet highly readable, full of incidents that resonate today.

The early chapters explain Churchill's attitude to the EU, and make it clear that although he wanted continental states to integrate, to avoid a further war, he never intended Britain to be part of a European Union.

I recommend it for the Christmas stocking of anyone who is concerned about Britain's relationship with the EU. Published in hard-back by Continuum at around £18, its ISBN number is 0-8264-7105-6.

Bruges Group Paper

The Bruges Group has just published a new pamphlet on the Constitution, by John Bercow MP, "Subsidiarity and the Illusion of Democratic Control". I have argued for years that the concept of subsidiarity is little more than a propaganda trick to reassure euro-sceptics that integration would be limited, when in fact the agenda is to create a United States of Europe.

John Bercow makes exactly that case, with the clarity and robustness which have become his trademark. In his Conclusion he says "It is time to stop and to reverse the ratchet whereby the UK is drifting towards a European State". Amen to that. The paper is available from The Bruges Group on 0207 287 4414.

The CBI sees the light

I've been arguing for months that the draft EU Constitution would damage the UK by imposing the failing EU Social Model, and that any red-line veto that Blair obtained, for example on tax, would be over-ruled by the European Court. Now the CBI is saying exactly the same thing, and pressing the government to take a tough line. Well done, Digby Jones (he's the main man at the CBI). Better late than never!

Merry Christmas

It's almost Christmas. Another year gone -- and the last full year of this European parliamentary session. We can look forward to the euro-elections in June with much more confidence than I would have thought possible a couple of months ago. May I wish you all a Happy Christmas -- and a Conservative New Year!