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Straight Talking - February 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.

Saving the Red Ensign

An issue came up in the parliament in January that illustrates (A) the awful depths of EU stupidity; (B) the way daft issues can sneak up and bite your ankle. There was a seemingly innocuous report on a proposal clarifying the rules for the transfer of registration of merchant vessels from one registering authority to another. But an Italian socialist sneaked in an amendment which would require the merchant shipping flags of all EU member-states to have the EU's wretched circle of yellow stars quartered-in.

This was supposed to make ships "more easily identifiable". The Euro-luvvies are constantly looking for every opportunity promote awareness of the EU. In that sense, this is a bit like the equally daft proposal to replace "Made in Britain" labels with "Made in the EU".

Of course the existing Red Ensign has the Union Jack quartered-in anyway, so the EU flag would have obscured all or most of the Union Jack!

We managed to flag up the issue (forgive the pun!), and got the proposal voted down in plenary. A small victory for common sense -- and a reminder of the need for constant vigilance!


Hutton enquiry

I liked Michael Portillo's reported comment on Hutton. "It couldn't have been more favourable to the government if Alistair Campbell had drafted it". Hmmm. Yes. By the way, how do you spell "WHITEWASH"?

Or as Boris Johnson put it in the Telegraph, "It is just flipping unbelievable. He (Tony Blair) is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet".


Jacques Delors sees the light!

Former EU Commission President Jacques Delors is a bÍte noir for euro-realists, and one of the main guilty men responsible for driving forward EU integration and undermining the nation-state. So it was refreshing to find that according to news reports, he has not only seen the error of his ways, but has confessed publicly.

He says that the euro-zone has failed to exploit the potential of the Single Currency, and that therefore with hindsight the Brits were right to keep the Pound.

I have submitted a Written Question to the EU Commission asking if they agree with their former president.


A legal challenge to EU political party funding proposals

Those light-fingered lads from Brussels are getting ready to dip their sticky fingers into your wallet again. This time it's funding for pan-EU political parties. The opening shot is £5 million, but the socialists have already tabled an amendment to double it.

The proposed funding rules would discriminate against euro-realist parties. Although in theory they could apply, in practice only pro-integration parties are keen to develop pan-EU parties in the first place.

So I have linked up with a group of 26 MEPs, from many countries and all shades of the political opinion, to mount a challenge in the European Court of Justice, on the grounds that this discriminatory proposal is contrary to EU treaty law. Like most law-suits it will be expensive and take a lot of time, but it's well worth it. If we lose, at least we shall draw public attention to this integrationist plan. And if we win, it will be a famous victory. For more on this, see this page, or visit www.euobserver.com. And watch this space!


Welcome Isaiah!

Last year's Brussels stagiere (intern) Steve Crews has moved on, and we've been joined by Isaiah Bozimo, a law graduate with dual British/Nigerian nationality (see the new team photo on the contact page). Isaiah probably couldn't avoid his legal destiny -- his father is a Minister of Police Affairs in Nigeria, and his mother a Chief Justice of the High Court!

Isaiah should be with us until the summer, so he looks like being the point man in the Brussels office during the euro-elections, when the rest of us will be pounding the phones and the pavements.


No, of course regionalisation is not a European plot!

Those who favour the regionalisation of Britain insist that it is a home-grown project -- Prescott's childhood dream. Odd, then, that the EU's Committee of the Regions has published a booklet entitled "Major steps towards a Europe of the Regions and Cities in an Integrated Continent". A bit of a give-away, really!

Meantime we've just seen a very interesting opinion survey on regionalisation. Asked if they want elected regional assemblies, respondents showed a scant majority in favour. But after being presented with a very balanced slate of the key arguments in favour and the key arguments against, there was a dramatic swing to strong opposition. The argument is there to be won!


A back-handed compliment

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond spoke at a Burns Night supper in Brussels on Jan 26th. After some ritual jibes at political opponents, he said a remarkable thing. "Mind you", he said, "I preferred Margaret Thatcher to our present Prime Minister. At least when she took us into a war, she told us why!".


Seminar: Working Time Directive

Bernard Howard, who runs a trucking company in Corby, organised a seminar in January for business people who will be affected by changes to the EU's Working Time Directive (WTD). Idea for Constituencies: an event focussed on an issue may have more pulling power than a "Business lunch -- meet your MEP" event!

There are two issues here: (1) the extension of the WTD to additional categories of workers, like mobile workers (e.g. truckers), health and hospitality, and (2) the proposed withdrawal of the UK's WTD opt-out.

This will cause havoc in the NHS as doctors' hours are reduced. And a contributor from the floor of the meeting, who operates a trucking business, said that there will be an acute shortage of HGV drivers, causing employers to bring in drivers from Eastern Europe who may be trained to lower standards.

The second speaker at the event was Richard Arnold, an employment specialist from local law firm William Browne. He remarked "There is a pleasant irony here -- and we lawyers like irony. A measure intended to protect health and safety will have the effect of making Health Services across the EU inoperable". It may also make the roads less safe.

The proposed ending of the UK's opt-out (which allows individual workers voluntarily to opt to work more than 48 hours a week) will damage labour market flexibility and competitiveness. Click here for more on this.


Quote of the Month

January 25th was Burns night -- and also my birthday! Burns, sceptical of the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England, said: "Alas I have often said to myself, what are all the boasted advantages which my country reaps from a certain Union, that can counterbalance the annihilation of her Independence and even her very name?!". My word, how that resonates today!


Housing development at Syston

Tony Greatorex, a Conservative Councillor at Syston, Leicestershire, has been campaigning against an unpopular housing development which will put hundreds of new houses on a green-field site close to the town, without adequate roads and infrastructure. Tony fears a huge rise in congestion and pollution.

With our help, Tony submitted a petition to the Petitions Committee of the European parliament, which is chaired by my Conservative colleague Roy Perry. I spoke up for Tony's concerns. The Commission spokesman (sporting a green scarf to emphasise his environmental sensitivity) told us that the Commission was unable to intervene at this stage (many will perhaps feel relieved at this news). But the Committee agreed to write to the Brussels Representation of the British government expressing concern over the issue.

Not, perhaps, a famous victory, but a little extra help for Tony in his campaign for peace and quiet and fresh air in Syston.


So what do we vote for in Strasbourg?

A couple of particularly egregious reports went through plenary in January, on the vexed question of asylum and immigration. The Moraes and Pirker reports call for "a common European asylum policy" and "common management of borders" (to complement the EU Corps of Border Guards currently being set up). And they propose to extend the right to vote in British elections to third country nationals! Needless to say, we Conservatives voted against, but as often happens, we won the arguments and lost the votes.

Of course no one would pretend that our British Labour government is doing an adequate job on asylum policy -- but there is almost no problem that Brussels can't make worse! The ability to control national borders is a defining feature of the nation-state, so naturally the EU institutions are keen to do away with it. They are also keen to broaden the criteria for asylum. Certainly EU control would compromise efforts to stop illegal immigration, and to curb terrorism, drugs and disease.

Meantime, press reports (Sun, 19/1, Express, 20/1) indicate that large numbers of disadvantaged minorities, especially gypsies, in Poland and other EU "Accession States", are gearing up to come to Britain, which they can do as of right from May 1st. Other major EU countries -- France, Germany, Italy -- have exercised a seven-year "derogation" to delay immigration from accession states until 2011. Our government, in its wisdom, has elected to open the floodgates immediately.


EU parliament: plenary voting participation rates

In the last four years I have participated in 88% of plenary votes. This compares with an average for our political group of 78%.


Quick takes

"   Commission rules against Ryanair -- cheap flights at risk.

"   Proposed lyric for the "EU national anthem" (Beethoven's "Ode to Joy") submitted to EU Commission president Romano Prodi -- it is found to contain references picked up from Stalin's USSR anthem.

"   Lib-Dem MEP Bill Turncoat Dunn votes against an amendment designed to protect the UK's permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

"   Massive reduction in EU regional funds for the East Midlands anticipated as money is diverted to the "Accession States" which are joining the EU in May.

If we get some good news from Brussels, I'll let you know -- but don't hold your breath!


German vernacular

Last November I was invited as a guest speaker at a tourism conference in Albufeira, on the Algarve in Portugal. I've just seen a write-up on the event in a German magazine. Under a picture of myself, the caption reads "Alles roger! EU Parlamentarier Roger Helmer". Consulting my German colleagues, I find that "Alles roger" is a colloquial German expression, meaning (more or less) "Thumbs up!" or "Everything OK!". Now there must be some way I can use that !


A slogan for the euro-elections

At a recent delegation meeting in Straz, we discussed plans for the June euro-elections, and the possible shape of a new slogan. Everyone felt that the 1999 slogan "In Europe, not run by Europe" had worked magnificently (even though it may not stand up to rigorous critical analysis -- is it possible to be in Europe without being run by Europe?). We felt quite nostalgic about it. Indeed some members wanted simply to use it again.

I suggested we should keep the same theme, but try to up-date it. How about "In Europe -- but not for long!"? If you have a hot idea, please e-mail it to me!


Transportation of live animals

The EU Commission has come up with new proposals on the transportation of live animals. I have done a lot of work with the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), who are very concerned at the transport of horses for the meat trade from central and eastern European countries (some of them "accession states", but some not). The conditions under which these horses are transported to abattoirs, mainly in southern Italy, are unspeakable.

But the Commission proposal is not a lot better. The horses will get mandatory "rest periods" -- but they will be left on the lorry in the rest periods! So they may be in the same lorry for a week at a time. You can imagine the impossibility of feeding and watering adequately, the extremes of temperature in summer and winter, the filth and squalor, the injuries as stressed and terrified animals lash out at each other.

The Commission also wants an end to the "minimum value rule" which prevents cheap British equines (e.g. Exmoor ponies) being exported for meat. This rule apparently breaches Single Market trade rules. But the Commission's alternative, according to ILPH, offers much less protection.

This is a hot issue for British Conservative MEPs. I have just organised a letter, drafted jointly with the ILPH, to Commissioner David Byrne which has been signed by 20 MEPs. We shall be fighting for rules that provide real protection and genuinely humane treatment for animals in transit. And we shall be demanding that the rules be effectively implemented. Too often the EU demands new rules when what's needed is the effective enforcement of existing rules.


A cold day in Loughborough Market

Chris and I have joined constituency campaigns and market-stall initiatives on the Constitutional referendum in Loughborough, Market Harborough, Lincoln and elsewhere. The response has been excellent, with hundreds of signatures collected on each occasion.

On Saturday Jan 17th, I joined a market stall run by Luke Smith, Vice-Chairman political at Loughborough. We were following on from the extensive local press advertising campaign across the region (Jan 15th). I was there for three hours, with Pauline taking over at noon.

Apparently we collected 450 signatures on the day. It is hugely encouraging to see the positive response of the public on this issue.

But there is still a lot of confusion on the Constitution amongst the public. Chris and I have published a one- page "Questions and Answers" on it -- click here for more details.


Conclusion

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.

RFH