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Straight Talking - April 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.

Blair caves in on EU referendum!

For months we have been campaigning for a referendum on the EU Constitution, collecting signatures in draughty market places and freezing high-streets. The Sun and the Mail have kept up the pressure. And now Blair has bowed to the inevitable and agreed to hold a referendum. This is a victory for the Conservative Party and for the British people.

All those who campaigned, and worked so hard collecting signatures, as well as all those thousands of voters who signed up, can take credit for this achievement. They deserve and enormous THANK-YOU.

Now we must insist on an early referendum, and a straightforward question.

Our slogan for the June euro-elections will be "Put Britain First". By common consent, our 1999 slogan "In Europe, not Run by Europe" was a winner -- although I confess I liked the second half better than the first half! But I agree with the whole of "Put Britain First". Indeed I've had "Putting Britain First" on my business card for two years.

The great news is that our euro-election slogan transfers seamlessly to the referendum campaign: "Put Britain First -- Vote NO!"

Warning: June 10th is NOT polling day!

In an all-postal vote, June 10th is not polling day in the traditional sense. There will be no polling stations, no desperate knocking up at 8:15 on Thursday evening. June 10th is more a closing date than a polling day.

The majority of all East Midlands votes will actually be cast in the last week of May, which will be the high point of the campaign. After that, it will be a case of steadily focussing on Conservative pledges and supporters up to June 10th, getting out every last vote and making sure no ballot forms are left behind the clock on the mantelpiece.

Please, can all party activists plan to devote as much time as possible between May 25th and June 10th to getting the vote out, either by door-knocking or by telephone.

Euro-election planning

During May and early June, the whole euro-team will be blitzing the East Midlands. Over the next few days, Zoe Aylward from the CHH office will be calling constituencies with details of the days we will be planning to visit, and discussing how we can use the candidates most effectively in each location. We know we can count on your support -- many thanks.

Petition to save our vitamins!

On Tuesday 6th April Chris Grayling and Tim Yeo launched the Conservative Party's e-petition to demand that the Government does more in Europe to save hundreds of vitamins and food supplements, that have been used safely for years in this country, from being withdrawn from our shelves under the European Food Supplements Directive which the Labour Government passed last year.

The petition is supported by Consumers for Health Choice and will see health food shops around the country running a postcard campaign in support of our initiative. Please sign our e-petition at www.conservatives.com/vitamins and forward this to as many people as you can encouraging them to sign too.

Christopher Booker tells it like it is

Many Conservatives will have been surprised by Christopher Booker's Sunday Telegraph column on April 18th. He discusses the Party's decision to re-affiliate with the EPP group in the Brussels parliament next time round.

He also reports, correctly, that most Tory MEPs signed Chris Heaton-Harris's censure motion condemning the Commission for its failure to address fraud issues, especially at Euro-Stat. And that we were all asked by Jonathan Evans to withdraw our names, because Jonathan, having signed initially, later decided that for tactical reasons it was not the right time for this motion.

As Booker reports, there are seven names of Conservative MEPs remaining, including Chris's. You may like to know that I am also one of them. I cannot see any tactical reason to risk giving the impression that Conservatives have gone soft on EU fraud -- least of all a few weeks before the euro-elections. Our 1999 euro-manifesto contained an explicit commitment to fight fraud in the EU institutions.

We have seen some appalling arm-twisting and bullying tactics by the EPP (and, to be fair, by other political groups) to get members to withdraw their names. One German CSU (EPP) MEP was threatened with expulsion from her party and removal from their euro-list unless she withdrew her name. For days the numbers see-sawed as some withdrew, while others added their names, but finally yesterday (April 20th) the final version was tabled, with enough signatures. It will be debated today, and voted in the May plenary.

So why are the EPP (and others) so dead-set against a censure motion on fraud? Easy. They don't want to vote against it -- and appear soft on fraud just before the election. But they don't want to vote for it -- and damage confidence in the EU Commission, and therefore in the whole EU project. So they just wish it would go away.

They are so keen to promote their European ideal that they just don't care that it's corrupt to the core. And they're content to sweep scandal under the carpet. This time, they failed.

Quote of the month

In the "exercise yard", the gloomy oval pavement at the heart of the Strasbourg parliament's hollow tower, a new art-work has appeared. It's a glass sphere, as high as a man, made of curved hexagonal panels of glass joined by metal fixtures. The outsides of the panels are smooth, but the insides have complicated patterns in deep relief.

According to my good friend and colleague Alexander Earl of Stockton (MEP for the South West), the piece serves as a metaphor for the EU parliament, and indeed for the whole EU project. "From a distance, the sphere looks simple and transparent and rather attractive. But when you get up close, it's opaque, and fiendishly complicated".

Or as an assistant of mine put it, "When I worked for you in the UK, I was quite comfortable with your line on Europe, but I wasn't emotionally engaged with it. But now that I've worked in Brussels, and seen it close up, I'm angry with the European project".

A visit to the National Forest

On April 16th I visited the headquarters of the National Forest at Moira, near Ashby-de-la-Zouche. This is a project to promote reforestation across a large part of the East Midlands (and a little West Midlands too). It provides grants to farmers and other land-owners to plant new woodland, which is frequently accompanied by related activities -- tourism and equestrian businesses, for example.

It seems that the Forest is also sparking quite a range of other rural industries as well. The Forest's theme park and interpretative centre, "Conkers", also at Moira, is well worth a visit. See my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for a photo of the visit.

I intend to work with the management at the National Forest to help raise their profile, and assist their excellent work.

Horses -- live exports

We Conservative MEPs were delighted when we managed to get an amendment passed to the Commission's proposals on live animal transport. This amendment would allow member states to ban exports on "moral grounds" -- i.e. for animal welfare reasons. This could prevent the resumption of UK exports of low-value equines for horse-meat.

The problem now is that this Labour government doesn't seem to understand the issue, and will not give a clear commitment to take up the "Moral grounds" exemption.

I am continuing to work with the International league for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) on this issue. Their Spring 2004 newsletter, just circulated, contains a whole page story (page 6) on the issue, which recognises the work which Conservative MEPs have done on the problem.

Britain's National Interest

I commend a new paper from the Bruges Group by Kenneth Minogue, Emeritus Professor of political science at the LSE, pointing out that the whole concept of the national interest, and of nationhood itself, is under attack from below -- by the politically correct chattering classes -- and from above, by trans-national institutions, most of all by the EU. He adds "Both our identity and our security as an historic nation are under threat from both directions".

It is a remarkably readable and well-informed analysis, full of original and compelling insights, and I commend it to you. Bruges Group on 020 7287 4414. Price 4.

While we're at it, "The Strangulation of Britain", by Bill Cash MP and Bill Jamieson, is worth a read. It gives an excellent summary of the impact of the Constitution, and why we're implacably opposed to it. They say we need "fundamental reform that addresses the realities facing the nation-states of Europe today on a treaty basis, not a new, all-encompassing Constitution that strengthens, reinforces and entrenches existing policy failures". European Foundation, 62 Brompton Rd., SW3 1BW. Price 2


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.