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Straight Talking - March 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.

Michael Howard's block-buster in Berlin

I must confess to some trepidation when I saw the Daily Mail headline on Feb 12th -- that Michael Howard would use a major speech later that day in Berlin to position the Conservatives as "more positive about the EU". I need not have worried.

The tone of his speech was very different from either William Hague or IDS. He was relaxed, confident, positive, engaged, without a hint of stridency. But the content was sound as a bell. He argued, rightly, that the EU lacks public affection because there is no European public opinion, no European national identity, no "demos" (Greek for people).

The EU, he said, was supposed to free-up our markets, and help us to compete globally. But the burden of regulation was having the opposite effect -- damming the flood of enterprise that should be sweeping across the continent. Reform, he said, is simply not happening.

He called for a flexible Europe. The irreducible minimum for a European Union is the Single Market, plus perhaps some cross-border environmental issues, and everything else should be optional and menu-driven. Instead of being forced to use a veto, it should be understood that member-states should be free to adopt new areas of co-operation on a voluntary basis, and stand aside from those they judge to be against their interests.

I was particularly delighted by his comment on a "two-speed Europe", as I have repeatedly made exactly the same point in practically the same words. "I am not talking about a two-speed Europe. That implies we are all agreed on the destination, and only differ about the speed of the journey. I don't want to reach the destination that some of our partners aspire to. But I don't want to block their aspirations".

So what would this mean in practice for an incoming Conservative government? We will repatriate fisheries and foreign aid, and radically renegotiate the CAP. There were strong hints that we should reinstate our former opt-out on the social chapter. And we will reject the Constitution, not merely because the contents are unacceptable, but because the idea of an EU Constitution is wrong in principle.

"There is a world of difference between an association of nation states bound together by treaty, and a single entity, call it a state or not, deriving its authority from its own constitution".

Michael Howard has the right vision for Europe. All we have to do is to get him into Downing Street so that he can crack on with it!


Quote of the Month

"What is the point of keeping our national currency if we don't keep the nation that goes with it?" John Redwood MP

And a second quote!

American commentator and humorist P.J. O'Rourke, in his hilarious take on economics, "Eat the Rich": The free market is ugly and stupid, like going to the mall. The un-free market is just as ugly and just as stupid, except there's nothing in the mall, and if you don't go there, they shoot you.


HELP US WIN THE EURO-ELECTION!

We're in planning mode now for the election. If you're able to offer help during the vital period from May 10th to June 10th, please let us know by e-mail. If you're able to commit to telephoning (just ten calls a day for ten days would be a huge help), or leafleting or canvassing in your area -- or even a small cheque -- every little helps. I look forward to hearing from you.


Live animal transport

In February, the EU parliament debated the Commission's proposals for rules on live animal transportation. Along with North West MEP Jacqueline Foster, I had tabled no fewer than 23 amendments, worked out in close consultation with the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH).

We focussed on (A) ensuring that animals are unloaded for overnight rest-periods -- the Commission would allow them to stay on the vehicle for days at a time; (B) ensuring that animals arriving from outside the EU (e.g. Eastern Europe) are properly rested and checked on arrival; (C) finding a way to prevent low value equines (e.g. Exmoor ponies) being exported from the UK for slaughter.

The current "Minimum Value Rule", which has prevented low-value exports, has been ruled incompatible with the Single Market. So far DEFRA seems to have failed to agree a robust alternative with the Commission.

There is a long way to go on this issue, but we will keep up the pressure to end the appalling suffering of horses imported to the EU for their meat.


Euro goes from bad to worse

Recent headlines include:

Brown set to end Blair's euro-dream. The Chancellor may rule out a euro referendum in this parliament when he makes his budget speech on March 17th

New poll confirms that Labour members oppose euro entry: A new ICM poll out this week revealed that Labour party members would reject the euro in a referendum by a margin of 52 to 41 percent. As with voters as a whole, it was young party members aged 18 - 24 who are the most opposed to the UK joining the euro. (Guardian, 24 February). In the past, opinion polls have suggested that Labour voters are hostile to euro membership because of the detrimental effect scrapping the pound would have on public services.

EU Commissioner Bolkestein warns "accession states" against early euro entry

Support for the euro dropping in the euro-zone itself.

For more on all these stories, visit www.no-euro.co.uk


Quick takes

   A Feb 16th report in the Daily Telegraph says that Holland and Germany are in a panic over a flood of very high quality, high denomination forged euro bank-notes.

UK government borrowing data show that in 2003 we were in breach of the Maastricht conditions, with borrowing at 3.1% of GDP.

Last week when I bought a banana in a parliament coffee-bar I noticed that it was dead straight for at least 80% of its length -- EU regulation EC No 2257/94 is starting to bite!

Sir Howard Newby of the Higher Education Funding Council warns (March 4th) that the number of students from the EU accession states coming to British universities may quadruple after May 1st, from 5000 to 20,000, putting huge pressure on places for British students, and on budgets.


Business Forum in Brussels

During the last week of March, a group of Conservative MEPs including Chris and myself organised a two-day Business Forum in Brussels. It was well attended, with representatives from some of the top FTSE 100 companies, as well as several Westminster MPs, including David MacLean, the Chief Whip, and Stephen O'Brien, Shadow Industry Secretary.

The hard, day-to-day slog of scrutinising legislation, passing amendments and resisting excessive EU regulation may not be glamorous, but it is vitally important, and it is gratifying to know that British business appreciates it.


Common Fisheries Policy comes to Rutland Water

And Carsington Water. And Graffham water. Sometimes the things that happen in Brussels are just so weird, so surreal, so lunatic, you couldn't make them up. That's why it's impossible to satirise the EU. It's already self-parodic.

My good colleague Struan Stevenson MEP, Chairman of the EU Parliament's Fisheries Committee, was astonished to discover that the CFP applies not only to fish in the sea, but also, potentially -- wait for it -- to inland waters as well! And the competence to do this already exists in the treaties. They don't even have to ask member states!

This arose because Poland, set to join the EU in May, has major commercial inland water fisheries, and it wants the EU to exercise powers over inland waters so that it can claim CFP subsidies for these operations. ("Gravy train runs into Polish lake").

Of course no one seriously expects the EU Commission, or the Spanish fishing fleet, to set up commercial fishing operations on Rutland Water. But it is quite conceivable that Brussels might come up with inappropriate conservation measures which could, in future, apply to British inland waters. Needless to say, Conservatives will oppose any extension of the CFP. Indeed, we are committed to leaving the CFP. Michael Howard has described this as "a Day One Task" for an in-coming Conservative government.


How much trade do we do with the euro-zone?

Euro-luvvies go round claiming that we do "60% of our trade with the euro-zone". So it was good to get the 2003 figures from Global Britain (visit www.globalbritain.org). And the truth? Well we did 59% of our exports of goods to the EU 14. But only 37% of our exports of services!

And of course the euro-zone is smaller than the EU 14 (Denmark and Sweden are not in the euro-zone), while the "Rotterdam effect" means that the 59% figure is overstated (goods going to the USA or Asia may be trans-shipped via Rotterdam -- these are counted as EU exports when they really go outside the EU).

After these distortions are taken out, Global Britain estimates that around 45% of our trade is with the euro-zone. And of course the overwhelming majority of our massive global investments are also outside the euro-zone.


Political correctness strikes again!

Most Conservatives I've talked to are appalled at the insensitivity of Ann Winterton MP, who has yet again told a dubious joke with racist overtones at what she said was a private dinner. It was so private that our own Broxtowe Labour MP Nick Palmer was there. He leaked the story to the press, resulting in Ann's discomfiture.

So it was a beautiful piece of poetic justice to read in the Daily Mail that Nick himself had previously distributed rather similar jokes, and had even posted them on his web-site! Metaphors about pots and kettles spring to mind.


Conservative MEPs and the EPP-ED group

In my last newsletter, I set out my concerns about our relationship with the ultra-federalist EPP-ED Group in the EU parliament. I have opposed this relationship, and campaigned for a new Conservative group in the EU parliament, ever since I was elected in 1999.

There has been considerable to-ing and fro-ing on this issue in recent weeks. Michael Howard has listened to both strands of opinion in the delegation, and Michael Ancram and others have talked to both the EPP and to other potential partners.

As you may have seen in the press, our new leader has now made his decision, and the delegation will be staying with the EPP, on terms which have been described as a great improvement, but which in practice (in my view) will make little difference. I am disappointed, as I believe we have missed a great opportunity. But it is now time to put aside what is, at the end of the day, essentially an internal parliamentary matter, and to focus on the bigger picture -- which is to ensure a Conservative victory in June in the euro-elections!


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