What's New
Speeches & Articles
Newsletter - Jul 2012
Contact Information
Photo Album
Parliamentary Highlights
MEPs' Transparency

The Freedom Association
Visit the
Freedom Association

Straight Talking - January 2004

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.

Happy New Year!

The IGC/Constitution fiasco

On Monday December 15th, immediately following the breakdown of the Brussels IGC on the draft Constitution, I used the "One Minute Intervention" rule to address the plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg. I said:

"Mr. President,

I should like to congratulate Spain and Poland for their courageous and principled stand at the recent IGC, which resulted in the failure of this wretched draft Constitution. (Mixed reaction!). I only regret that it failed on voting weights, which are simply a technical issue. I would rather the Constitution had been rejected in principle, because it represents a massive step in EU integration, for which there is no public appetite.

Mr. President, there is a disturbing parallel between the political ιlites of the EU, on the one hand, and of the former USSR on the other.

Both were obsessed with their own narrow vision of the unification of their continents.

Both showed an arrogant disregard for the ambitions and aspirations of ordinary people.

And eventually, Mr. President, we shall be able to say that BOTH FAILED."

Normally when I make a euro-realist intervention, the President of the parliament, Irish Liberal MEP Pat Cox, does his best to come up with some humorous put-down. This time, he bit his tongue and said nothing.

The European People's Party

I'll be honest. No voter on the doorstep has ever asked me about the EPP, the political group that we Conservative MEPs sit with in the European parliament. So does it matter? I and a number of colleagues have felt ever since 1999 that we are sitting with the wrong group (albeit as "associate members" with our own whip), and have campaigned for a change.

And the attitude first of William Hague, and then of IDS, was (I paraphrase) "Well of course you're right in principle, and I agree with you, but now is not a good time to rock the boat". Of course it's never a good time to rock the boat -- especially with a Euro-election in the offing. Why not just keep quiet and accept the status quo?

Let me tell you what the EPP is about. In their Action Programme for the current parliament they say "We have already taken a great step forward by introducing the Single Currency. But the euro is not the final objective.... for the EPP it is the foundation-stone of a new era".

What will their new era be like? They want:
•   A European Constitution -- with no national vetoes
•   A single European income tax
•   A European police force and justice system
•   Pan-European political parties with a common electoral system
•   Harmonised EU policies on asylum and immigration, energy, transport
•   Britain to give up its UN Security Council seat to the EU -- which would also represent us on the IMF and the WTO
•   An EU Foreign Minister with a common foreign, security and defence policy

In short, they want everything that we as Conservatives most oppose. And on top of all that, they're arguably to the left of New Labour -- not a "centre-right" party at all.

It's time for a change. We need to be working now with like-minded MEPs from existing member-states and the new accession states to form a proper Conservative group in the 2004/09 parliament.

A straw in the wind

In December, we had the last Conservative MEP delegation elections before next year's euro-election. Most places were filled unopposed. Jonathan Evans (Wales) continues as Leader. The only contested vote was for Deputy Leader. The incumbent, John Bowis (London), is seen as a supporter of the status quo within the EPP, while his challenger, Robert Goodwill (Yorkshire) is for forming a new group.

In a cliff-hanging finish, and to the astonishment of the old guard, Robert won, by a narrow margin. Better still, after next June's election, we expect a modest but decisive swing in the balance of the delegation, in a euro-realist direction.

What a difference a change of Leader makes!

I was a great supporter of IDS, but I was very aware that on the TV he sometimes looked a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. What a contrast with Michael Howard! When I see him at PMQs, he reminds me of a fox eyeing up a lone chicken. Lean and hungry, but brimful of confidence, enjoying every minute, and relishing the prospect of a kill. Go for it, Michael! That Little Red Rooster in Downing Street is ready for plucking.

Bill throws down the gauntlet

Well, not so much a gauntlet. More like a damp mitten. He has published, on a web-site, "A few questions to put to Conservative MEP Roger Helmer". The pulling power of BND in the East Midlands can perhaps be judged from the fact that not a single member of the public -- NOT ONE -- has ever put one of these questions to me. However I am happy to answer them -- and to suggest a few questions that BND might like to answer. See my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for a list of Bill's questions, my answers, and my suggested questions for Bill.

Bill's technique is the classic LibDem smear. He takes partial and highly selective quotations, adds his own gloss, and cleverly confuses what I actually said with his own additions. But read it for yourself on the web-site, if you think the old turncoat is worth five minutes of your time.

Quote of the month

Richard Balfe, the MEP who joined us from Labour a while ago, referred in a speech to the EU's much-loved "Precautionary Principle". Loosely stated as "Do nothing that might not be entirely safe", it's a recipe for doing nothing and banning everything. It epitomises our risk-averse culture. Richard said:

"If we're going to have the Precautionary Principle, let's apply it first to the extension of EU regulation!".

The wicked lie of subsidiarity

The idea of "subsidiarity" is a snare and a delusion. It is a propaganda device to enable the European institutions to pretend that they're passing powers back to member-states, when in fact they continue to do the exact opposite. I cannot remember any instance where any power has been passed back from Brussels to the member-states.

Two amendments, on different proposals, that might have protected the rights of member-states came up in Strasbourg in December.

The first, on the Veterinary Medicines Directive, would have protected existing distribution arrangements for equine medicines in the UK. It was voted down -- and unless we can pull it back at a later stage, that is bad for horses, bad for horse owners and horse charities, and bad for the industry that distributes equine products.

The second was an amendment to allow the shooting seasons for wild birds to be set by member-states, to suit local circumstances, climate and wildlife management practices, rather than being set centrally in Brussels. After all, a date which is right for Lanzarote is unlikely also to be right for Latvia.

Both these amendments were lost. Two clear opportunities to vote for subsidiarity, but the European parliament showed its true colours and voted for centralisation. It is a fundamental principle of the EU that any powers hoovered up into the "occupied field" of the acquis comunautaire can never be taken back. Not, at least, until the next British Conservative government takes back control of fisheries.

A Country Sports Day

On December 14th Sara and I were privileged to be guests at the Christmas Lunch of the East Lincs Hare Hounds, where I was guest speaker. They were a wonderful crowd, and quite as strongly opposed to European integration, and to this wretched Labour government, as any Conservative meeting.

The same evening I attended a seventieth birthday party in my own village. The Birthday Girl is a stalwart of the village who has run the village pony club week and opened her fields for the village Horse and Dog Show for years, ridden with the Fernie, and organised fund-raising events for the Macmillan Nurses and the Countryside Alliance, as well as being a busy farmer's wife, a parish councillor and a church warden.

The party was attended by upwards of a hundred people, plus a horse, and three fox-hounds from the Atherstone Hunt (hounds who had previously been "puppy-walked" on the Birthday Girl's farm).

We often say that country sports are the backbone of rural social life. I hope that this short sketch of a Sunday in December proves the point.

The huntress at the check-out

Over the holiday, Sara and I were doing the weekly shop at Tesco Rugby. Our check-out operator was a lady of mature years. She caught sight of the Waterloo Cup badge on my Barbour jacket, and asked if we were hunting people. Then we got the story of her life, most of which seemed to have been spent hunting across the Midlands. She had followed the Pytchley, the Woodland Pytchley, the Atherstone, and more besides.

As she rightly said, her experience gives the lie to Labour's myth that only toffs hunt. Not many toffs work check-outs at Tesco.

A visit to Prague

In December I made a flying visit to Prague, in the Czech Republic (one of the "accession states" joining the EU next year), to talk with like-minded politicians. I met the Mayor of Prague, Pavel Bem. He is a member of the ODS party, which is Conservative in all but name. In his magnificent Mayor's Office they have a suite of rooms designed in the twenties in Art Deco style, which has miraculously survived intact through the Communist period.

I dined with a number of Czech Senators. I have previously expressed my concerns about European enlargement, but there is at least one up-side. There are a number of parties like ODS in the accession states who will become our natural allies in the battle against further EU integration.

The Unemployment Committee

I recently attended a meeting of the Employment Committee (or as I call it, more accurately, the Unemployment Committee) in Strasbourg. They were debating a proposal to remove the "derogations" (opt-outs) from the Working Time Directive (WTD) -- with worrying consequences for a range of occupations, especially doctors (it will cause havoc in the NHS) and truck drivers (we simply don't have the new drivers we'd need if existing drivers work a shorter week).

Even this wretched Labour government can see the damage this proposal would cause. Yet the Socialist spokesman on the Committee, Labour MEP Stephen Hughes, argued against the derogations -- so against Labour policy.

It took a Lib-Dem, Liz Lynne (W. Midlands), to argue the UK government case -- and she actually said that that was what she was doing. I of course put forward a good Thatcherite position -- that the proposal reduced labour market flexibility, damaged European competitiveness, and conflicted with the so-called "Lisbon objectives".

They claim that the WTD is needed to ensure health and safety. But that's a specious excuse. In reality, they're driven by:

(A)    A woolly idea that a shorter working week will reduce unemployment -- an idea spectacularly disproved in France with its 35-hour working week, and

(B) A desire to export the continent's competitive disadvantages to the UK.

I concluded by asking ( a bit cheekily) whether we were in conflict with the "Right to Work" in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, by denying workers the right to work more than 48 hours a week. After all, most MEPs exercise their right to work more than a 48-hour week -- how can we deny that right to our constituents?

Gisela Stuart sees the light

Gisela Stuart MP was the Labour party's representative on the so-called "Convention" which drafted the EU Constitution. She was also the only woman on the thirteen-strong "Praesidium" (Steering Committee) of the Convention. She went into the project as a starry-eyed pro-European, but it appears she's seen the light. Her paper "The Making of the European Constitution" is a stunning indictment of the Convention -- and by implication, of the EU project. A few quotations make the point.

"It is clear that the real reason for the Constitution -- and its main impact -- is the political deepening of the union".

"The Convention brought together a self-selected group of the European political élite".

"Unfortunately the Convention focused only on what more could be done at the European level, rather than looking again from first principles at what is best achieved at national level".

"But for the voter, the crucial question is 'can I get rid of them if I don't like what they're doing?'. This has always been a problem with the EU institutions, and the Constitution does nothing to resolve it".

"I had great sympathy with the suggestion of my lap-top spellcheck; which, whenever I typed in the word Giscard, replaced it with 'discard'!".

The Making of Europe's Constitution, Gisela Stuart MP, Fabian Society, 11 Dartmouth Street, SW1H 9BN; £6.95; ISBN 0 7163 0609 3.


That's it for now. Please remember to check this website for more background on current parliamentary business, full details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.