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 goes Electronic - April 2002

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

If you would like to receive Roger's newsletter by email, click here
The passing of an age

Surely all of us have been heartened by the great outpouring of public affection and respect which has marked the death and lying-in-state of the Queen Mother. The left-wing press thought that public apathy would damage the monarchy. They could not have been more wrong, as thousands queued through the night to pay their last respects to a great lady and a great Queen.

These profound events have focussed public attention on the Monarchy, and press reports say that expressions of interest in holding street parties to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee have increased threefold following the Queen Mother's death.

Personally, I found that the synthetic celebrations of the Millennium left me unmoved. I feel, and I am sure many will agree, that the Queen Mother's funeral represents the real end of the twentieth century, and marks the passing of an age. We shall not see her like again.

Get on with the job, Mr. Aznar!

On March 20th, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, currently the President-in-Office of the European Council, told MEPs in the European parliament in Brussels that the recent Barcelona summit had been "a success". He assured us that progress was being made on modernising the European social model and making European labour markets more flexible and competitive. "We can forget about the old, sclerotic Europe with furred-up arteries", he said.

During questions after Aznar's speech, I held up a Daily Telegraph report showing that the Commission that very day was issuing new proposals to extend expensive additional benefits to temporary workers. These new costs would reduce the availability of temporary work, which is a vital stepping-stone back into the labour market for the unemployed, for young people, and for women who have left the labour market temporarily for family reasons.

I added that I had sat on the parliament's Employment Committee (or as I call it, the "Unemployment Committee") ever since the Lisbon summit two years before (the one that set the hubristic objective of making the EU "the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010"), and had seen a torrent of onerous and repressive employment regulation passed.

These regulations would reduce competitiveness and add dramatically to costs and bureaucracy in business, especially for small businesses. It was not good enough for the Council to talk about progress to more flexible labour markets while the reality was exactly the opposite. "When are you going to stop talking and start taking action?", I demanded.

Aznar dodged the issue in his reply. But I shall continue to pursue this issue in the parliament. We want action, not words.

Shakespeare to the rescue

Last night (April 9th) I attended a dinner-debate in Strasbourg on the opening-up of European financial markets. One of the key speakers was a man with the unlikely name of Doctor Van Leeuen, an official of an obscure Euro-quango called CESR, which I think stands for the Committee for Economic and Securities Regulation. The acronym CESR is pronounced "Caesar".

Mr. Van Leeuen gave a particularly opaque and tedious speech, which had financial experts yawning over their poached fish, and Chairman Christa Randzio-Plath (sic) tapping her watch. At the end of the speech, our new recruit to the Tory delegation, ex-Labour MEP Richard Balfe, passed me a note. It was a quotation from Shakespeare: "I come to bury CESR, not to praise him"!

EU Tax harmonisation costs jobs

Last week we received a worrying survey from the European Fine Art Foundation, entitled "The European Art Market in 2002". It finds a 7% drop in EU art sales since 1998, and concludes that "European taxes and regulatory structures have led to a widely-held perception that Europe is a complicated, costly place to do business".

Martin Summers was MD of London's Lefevre Gallery which closed recently. He blames the closure on "the effect new EU taxes are having on the British market". Art expert Dr. Bunny Smedley, writing in the European Journal also points to EU taxes, especially:
  1. An increase in VAT on imported artworks, and

  2. The infamous "droite de suite" levy, a royalty to the artist or their estate on any sale up to 75 years after the artist's death. This will be imposed from 2006 on all sales above 1000 euros. The government could have vetoed this, but didn't.

Too many Conservatives have relied complacently on our veto on tax issues. But the government fails to use it, and EU taxes are already costing business and jobs in key economic sectors.

Euro intro fuels inflation

According to Germany's Bundesbank (which gave up control of German monetary policy to the ECB in 1999), the introduction of euro notes and coins has contributed significantly to German inflation at the beginning of 2002, especially in small outlets and service industries. And a German opinion poll shows that 81% of Germans believe that the euro introduction has fuelled inflation.

Certainly my breakfast in Brussels has gone up from 175 Belgian Francs to 202 -- or 5 euros!

Of course the pro side argues that euro price transparency will eventually help to bring prices down and reduce inflation, because those of us with no calculators will be able to compare prices directly between different countries. If you meet anyone planning to fly to Milan to buy cheaper toothpaste, please let me know.

Is Labour a British government?

We usually refer to our government as the British government. But this Labour government seems more and more like an anti-British government. They're furious that 98% of Gibraltarians want to stay British, and Jack Straw is pressing ahead with his shabby, shameful deal to shuffle off responsibility for the Rock to Spain.

Meanwhile they have offered every possible concession to Irish terrorists, and imposed an unfair settlement on the Ulster Unionists, whose one crime is that they want to stay British. And they are making it clear to East Midlands voters that their future is as European citizens, not British subjects. My view is that I was born British and no one has the right to take my nationality away from me. And I support those 98% of Gibraltarians who take the same view.

Quote of the Month

Iain Duncan Smith, in his speech at the Spring Conference in Harrogate:

"This Labour government has had more summits than the Himalayas, more Tsars than Imperial Russia, and more five year plans than Stalin".

Former federalist sees the light

Edward MacMillan-Scott MEP was leader of the Tory MEP group from before the 1999 election until last December, and was widely regarded as a closet federalist (an appellation which, to be fair, he denied). But he has now been reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying that the European project is going too far, too fast, and that if it cannot be transformed into a looser, more flexible association by 2004 (in other words, by the next IGC and after the so-called "Convention"), then its future will need a serious review.

"Maggie was absolutely right...there are profound constitutional issues at stake, that should be put to a referendum".

When someone like Edward says something like that, he deserves our respect and attention.

EPP group calls for European Constitution

Conservative MEPs are allied (not full) members of the EPP (European People's Party) group in the parliament. I have always questioned this relationship, because the EPP is arguably to the left of New Labour, and is passionately federalist.

I have just received a draft copy of the EPP's policy document on a European Constitution, and I am horrified by it. They speak of "the success story of European integration" and discuss ways to promote it. "We must fight scepticism". They want "a European partnership with a political component". They want a "comprehensive concept for a European constitution".

They reject national sovereignty, arguing that "sovereignty can only be exercised on a larger scale". And of course they want to establish legal competences for the EU in every conceivable policy area.

I find these proposals intolerable. They would mark the effective end of the nation state, and with it the end of democracy as we know it. I am calling on our British delegation of MEPs to make it clear to the EPP that the adoption of these proposals by the EPP would force us to terminate our association with their group.

Mel Read MEP gets sense-of-humour failure

In a recent newsletter I recounted a light-hearted piece of gossip from the corridors of the parliament. Former parliament president Nicole Fontaine had published her memoirs under the French title "Mes Combats", and wags in the parliament were suggesting that the German edition would be called "Mein Kampf". Both loosely translate into English as "My Struggle".

But my Labour MEP colleague Mel Read decided that this was a gross affront to an ex-president of the parliament, and got up, all po-faced and politically correct, on a point of order in a full plenary session of the parliament, to make a formal complaint against me (I'll be putting a transcript on the web-site).

I don't think anyone but Mel took it too seriously, and I thanked her for giving such a good plug to my newsletter. Perhaps she's been working to hard. She certainly needs to lighten up a bit.

March for Saint George

On Sunday April 21st, I along with others will be addressing a rally in Trafalgar Square to celebrate St. George's Day (April 23rd). It is organised by a pressure group called SOS (Save Our Sovereignty), not to be confused with the European Parliament's Intergroup SOS-Democracy, of which I am a member. I've been invited to address the rally, and I may have a few words to say about the importance of the nation state as the fundamental guarantee of democracy.

We'll be assembling at Embankment Tube Station at 12:30 p.m., before moving off at 1:00 p.m. on the short march to Trafalgar Square. If you're in London that weekend and would like to join us, please come along.


That brings us up-to-date with events in Brussels and Strasbourg. Remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.org.uk for more background on current parliamentary business and other issues.