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Straight Talking - May 2004

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

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The EU Constitution: A silver lining

With all its problems, the proposed EU Constitution may offer us an unexpected opportunity: a chance to look again at the European project as a whole, a chance for the British people to express a view on integration.

The euro-zealots have been very clever and successful. The project has proceeded by stealth, by incremental steps. The ratchet has turned slowly and inexorably towards political union. Each turn of the screw -- even Maastricht, which so excited the political classes -- was not enough to get people out on the streets.

But now in their arrogance and hubris, the euro-luvvies have abandoned the incremental approach in favour of the Big Bang. The Constitution sweeps away the slow accumulation of treaties, and replaces it at a stroke with a recipe for political union.

Despite what Labour says, the referendum on the Constitution will not be a vote on leaving the EU. But it will be more than a vote on the Constitution alone: it will be a chance for the people to give a verdict on the story so far.

And a NO vote (far from leaving us "isolated and excluded", as Blair claims), will give the government of the day -- and pray God it will be a Conservative government -- a powerful democratic mandate to re-negotiate the terms of our membership, and to create the kind of open, flexible association of independent nation states which most Conservatives want. That is a prize worth fighting for.

"What if we say NO to the EU Constitution?"

This is the title of a new paper from the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), by Lord Blackwell. It sets out conclusions similar to my comments above, and it does so with remarkable clarity, and with references directly to the draft Constitution. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Lord Blackwell assures us that we cannot be excluded or marginalised, and that we will instead have a very strong negotiating position. He also discusses at some length the sort of new arrangements we might make to ensure continuing access to the Single Market, while dramatically cutting the burden of EU regulation, massively reducing our financial contribution to Brussels, and above all, ensuring our right to independence and self-determination.

The paper is available from the CPS, 0207 222 4488,

Chris Patten goes native

EU Commissioner Chris Patten, once the darling of the Conservative Party, has described the decision to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution as "ludicrous". In doing so, he demonstrates a monstrous contempt for democratic values and the views of voters -- an attitude all too common among the Brussels political classes.

He wonders why euro-sceptics fret about the loss of sovereignty to Brussels, when (he says) the last couple of years have shown us to be subservient to the USA. I am astonished that a senior politician can ask such a question -- or that he should be unable to see the answer!

The fact is that the decision to ally ourselves with the USA following September 11th was taken by a freely-elected British Prime Minister, and Blair took the decision because he believed it to be in the British national interest.

We can have a legitimate debate as to whether Blair was right, and whether his policy was really in the national interest or not -- I happen to believe that it was. But either way, it was a choice taken freely by a free country.

Patten may not have noticed, but the US Congress is unable to pass any laws which would be binding on British subjects in Britain. Brussels, on the other hand, can and does, often in defiance of the views of our elected government. It is Brussels, not Washington, which is choking our economy with red-tape, and undermining our democracy and our right to self-determination.

Another doyen of the party's dwindling rump of euro-phile dinosaurs, Michael Heseltine, published a profoundly misleading piece on the Constitution in the Daily Telegraph of April 26th. I have sent him an open letter with a detailed rebuttal

Labour: when do repeated U-turns become a tail-spin?

The media have hailed Blair's climb-down on the referendum as a mighty U-turn, and so it was. But it is only the latest in a long line of U-turns.

During the 1983 general election, a young candidate called Tony Blair said in his election address "We will negotiate withdrawal from the EEC which has drained our natural resources and destroyed our jobs". Well yes. But how times change. Blair is now a passionate, an evangelical, a swivel-eyed, lip-quivering advocate of everything European.

Two years ago the government was against an EU Constitution entirely. Then they changed their minds. A year ago, they were against the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights. It had no more legal force than the Beano, they told us. Then they said it could exist, but merely as a broad statement of principles (although the European Court immediately started praying it in aid, and building it into case-law). Now they accept it as part of the Constitution -- so it will be binding on Britain if the UK ratifies.

Last week Blair was asked if a NO vote in the referendum could result in a second referendum, as happened in Denmark in 1992 (Maastricht) or in Ireland in 2001 (Nice). I saw the clip on television myself. Blair was adamant -- you had to accept the word of the people, you couldn't come back and ask the question again.

This time within hours -- that very afternoon -- the Downing Street Press Office was desperately rowing back. The Prime Minister had been misunderstood. No one knew how things would be after a NO vote, and no assurances could be given. Surely the fastest U-turn on record!

Meeting with US General Tommy Franks

Chris and I met US General Tommy Franks in Austin, Texas on Friday April 30th. General Franks planned and led the 2003 Allied invasion of Iraq, the longest, fastest and most successful armoured advance in the history of mechanised warfare.

The General briefed us on the development of US policy on Iraq, and the strenuous efforts which were made to achieve a diplomatic resolution, before the decision to proceed with the invasion. He also summarised for us the evidence he had given to the 9/11 Commission in Washington.

We were in Austin for a national conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organisation of conservative state legislators, and we conducted a round-table session for them on transatlantic and EU policy issues.

It was refreshing to be amongst politicians who believe in free markets, limited government, and individual liberty. They call it "Jeffersonian Principles", after Thomas Jefferson. We call it Thatcherism. But either way, it's a far cry from the stifling, intrusive bureaucracy of the EU's centralised system."

The photo of Chris and me with General Franks should be on the website soon, if we can retrieve it from the photographer!

Business turns against the EU

In an opinion poll of 1000 Chief Executives published on April 28th, 59% believed that the EU Constitution would be bad for their businesses, while 18% thought it would be good. This is a huge turn-around since the 1975 referendum on the Common Market, when business was overwhelming in favour of a YES. Tony Blair thinks he can win, so he says. But nobody believes a word he says any more.

Thanks to Joanna Lumley

Some time ago, Joanna Lumley, the glamorous star of Absolutely Fabulous, came to Brussels to campaign on the issue of animal transport -- a cause on which I have worked hard with the ILPH, amongst others. I had a picture taken with Joanna at the time. She has kindly agreed to allow us to use the picture in our East Midlands euro-election address. She is not, of course, making any political statement, but I am delighted to have her permission to use the picture to illustrate an important aspect of our work over the last five years. Thank you Joanna!

Wind power or solar power?

On April 26th I attended a briefing given by the European Photovoltaic (solar power) Industry here in Brussels. They are making huge strides in volume and in cost-reduction, but sadly they have a long way to go before they become competitive with conventional power. The good news is that they have developed PV roof-tiles that look quite attractive -- far more so than the old glass boxes with water-pipes that we used to see!

Meantime I get a huge post-bag from constituents opposed to on-shore wind-farm schemes, and I have great sympathy with them. Wind turbines are a blight on the landscape, they make a distressing low-frequency noise that carries great distances, and there is growing evidence that they present a much more imminent health threat than the much-maligned mobile phone masts.

The construction and erection of wind turbines consumes huge amounts of energy, but they deliver only an intermittent trickle of power in return.

The killer for wind farms, in economic terms, is that the wind is unpredictable, so wind power requires conventional back-up. Running conventional capacity as intermittent back-up is hugely inefficient. Off-shore wind-farms offer a better proposition on several of these counts -- but they still cut up albatrosses into thin slices. Let's hope that the costs of solar energy become competitive soon.

The rumour mill

Brussels runs on rumours, not all well-founded. But I have a couple of corkers for you, and I believe they are probably genuine.

An un-named Commission official, quoted in the current issue of EU Reporter, says "Of course the Constitution gives practically everything to Brussels. The ring-fences are designed to be eroded over time".

And another un-named Commission official, but one who has worked on the monetary union project for more than ten years: "I don't think the euro can survive for more than five years. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I am moving my personal investments outside the EU because I believe the EU will introduce exchange controls".


This is my last newsletter before the euro-election. I expect the next one to be in July.

Remember to use your postal vote -- there will be no polling station on the day! Our election plans are in place, our literature is being printed, we are ready to go. I have seen the final artwork for the election address, and I am delighted with it, both for political content and design. We are confident that if everyone plays their part -- as I am sure everyone will -- we shall have a night to remember at the count on June 13th. We shall have a strong team of Conservative MEPs in Brussels, committed to putting Britain first, opposing the euro and the EU Constitution -- and campaigning tirelessly to see Michael Howard in Downing Street, and a Conservative government in power again.

There is much that we MEPs can and will do in Brussels. But the solution to the EU problem -- the creation of a flexible Europe of independent nation states, trading and co-operating together -- can only be delivered by a Conservative government in Westminster.

Please remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for more background on current parliamentary business, full details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.