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Straight Talking - November 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.

Crisis in Strasbourg -- a triumph for European Democracy?

The events in Strasbourg in October regarding the appointment -- or non-appointment -- of a new European Commission are being hailed as "A triumph for European Democracy", or "The European parliament coming of age". But what actually happened? Commission President-Designate Mr. Barroso pulled the vote because he thought he would lose it! That's democracy?!

The word "European" is becoming a sort of oxymoronic qualifier, negating the meaning of the word that follows. It is rather like the word "social", in phrases like "Social Market". A social market is not really a market, and "European democracy" is not really democracy. Come to think of it, much the same applies to "European parliament"!

What happens to the European Commission now? It seems that the old, discredited Prodi Commission will remain in place until the new one is agreed, although there seems to be no legal basis for this in the treaties.

Problem is, the Prodi Commission is out to lunch -- and has been for months!

Meantime British Lib-Dem MEP Graham Watson, who is also leader of the European Liberals in the parliament, has made a comment even more obtuse that usual. He says that the shenanigans over the Barroso Commission are "a defeat for the euro-sceptics". Hang on a minute. We've had a Grade One Crisis in the EU institutions, on the very eve of the formal signing of the EU Constitution in Rome. I reckon that's worth several percentage points to the NO Campaign in a future referendum. Can Graham Watson please explain how that adds up to "a defeat for the sceptics"?

I offered the following contribution to a web-site which invited comments from MEPs on the non-election of the Commission:


A Commission for the wrong kind of Europe

Many MEPs were planning to vote against the Commission because of Mr. Buttliglione's position on gender issues. I had no problem with Mr. Buttiglione -- I take the view that fairness and tolerance should extend even to Roman Catholics with traditional opinions.

I should have voted NO because the Commission is committed to a vision of Europe that is diametrically opposed to the Conservative view. They want more integration and centralisation, fewer powers for member-states. They want the euro currency and the EU Constitution. They want a country called Europe.

Perhaps worst of all, no fewer than 19 out of 25 Commissioners said in Written Answers that they would proceed with implementing aspects of the Constitution within their portfolios ahead of ratification. This shows an appalling contempt for democracy and the views of our electors.

We now expect to be offered, in November, a modified Commission, but one suffering from the same negatives (in my view) as the first. It is not yet clear how the Conservative delegation will vote. I will follow the whip if I can, but not if required to vote "Yes".

Is there any Commission I would vote for? Yes. If they promised to dismantle the EU and convert in into a free trade area within their five year term, I should happily vote for them.


A trip to Estonia

On November 9th I went to Tallinn, Estonia (I had been there previously during their accession referendum), and met the Estonian Employers' Confederation (the CBI equivalent). I had the opportunity to draw their attention to the huge damage that the EU Constitution could do to business and competitiveness in the EU in general and in Estonia in particular. They had clearly not been exposed to this potential hazard before, so it was worthwhile trip.

I left a copy of the Vote-No Campaign's excellent booklet "The European Constitution -- What it Means for Your Business". For your copy, visit www.vote-no.com


The Death of Yasser Arafat...

In October, Barbara Plett, a BBC correspondent, said her eyes filled with tears as a helicopter lifted a very sick Yasser Arafat from his compound in Ramallah on the West Bank, and he set off on his last journey to a French military hospital. Now he is dead. A great State Funeral has taken place in Cairo, where leaders from the Arab world and from further a-field delivered their eulogies.

This is the man who over three decades masterminded atrocious acts of terrorism, from the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 to today's suicide bombings. He is the man who plundered the Palestinian treasury, and subverted funds from tax-payers around the world (including a gullible EU), and used the proceeds to promote hatred and racism and black propaganda. He is the man who was offered a fair and honourable settlement of his people's long suffering, at Camp David in 2000 by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and turned it down.

As ex-President Clinton remarked, Arafat never quite made the transition from revolutionary to statesman. His greatest crime is that he had in his hand a solution to the long tragedy of Palestine, and he failed to grasp it.

If you have any tears to shed, save them for someone more deserving.

But there is a silver lining. With a newly re-endorsed and invigorated US President, and hopefully with a more pragmatic Palestinian leadership emerging, prospects for a Middle East settlement are, if not good, at least better than they have been for a long time.


...and the curious fall of Boris Johnson

Poor Boris. Poor Conservative Party. We have few enough media personalities in the party, people the voters feel good about. Boris was one of them, and we seem to have sacked him for a personal foible which may have been reprehensible, but was really no concern of ours. We must try to stop shooting ourselves in the foot ahead of the General Election.


Quote of the month

"A Happy Slave is the greatest enemy of Freedom".
(Seen on a flyer in Tallinn)


A "must read" book!

I'm just reading P.J. O'Rourke's book "Give War a Chance". It's iconoclastic and hilarious -- I find myself laughing out loud. But it has some clear political messages as well. O'Rourke is an unashamed and unreconstructed champion of freedom and Jeffersonian principles, and refreshingly, he seems never to have heard of political correctness. If you read only one book this year, read this one. It would make a great Christmas stocking-filler for any Conservative.


Belgian Courts thrust a dagger into the heart of democracy

In an unprecedented move, Belgian courts have banned the country's most popular political party, the Vlaams Blok, on trumped-up and specious charges. The most worrying thing is that their underlying complaint of xenophobia is based on the Blok's policy of secession from the EU, and from Belgium, and its tough immigration policy -- both criticisms that could be applied to the British Conservatives.

As my friend and colleague Dan Hannan MEP has pointed out, they never banned elections in the old Soviet Union. They just banned political parties that disagreed with the state. The parallels between the Soviet Union and the European Union grow by the day. For more on this story, see this article.


The Avro Vulcan XH558

On Sunday October 24th I had the privilege of attending a meeting of the "Vulcan to the Sky" project group at Bruntingthorpe airport in Leicestershire, just a couple of miles from my home. They have already raised much of the money needed to get this magnificent aircraft back in the sky, with collaboration from industry including Rolls Royce and British Aerospace.

Soon there'll be a referendum on the EU Constitution, and the snake-oil salesmen will tell you that the EU, despite all its faults, is worth it because at least it has kept the peace in Europe for the last sixty years. Nonsense. It was aircraft like the Vulcan, which provided our nuclear deterrent in the Cold War, plus NATO and the transatlantic alliance, which kept the peace and faced down the USSR.

To contribute to this hugely worthwhile project, visit www.vulcantothesky.com. For more on this story, with pictures, see this article.


Of eggs and aluminium

Can two industries as dissimilar as egg production and aluminium smelting have a common problem? Yes, as I recently found in back-to-back meetings in Brussels. Both fear that EU regulation will move jobs and production to cheaper third countries, outside the EU.

An amusing twist: Bill Newton Dunn had earlier criticised me in intemperate and unparliamentary language for voicing industry concerns over the EU's chemicals directive, REACH. I was completely mistaken, he said. Industry was perfectly happy with the REACH proposals. In the lunch with the aluminium industry there were four MEPs: myself, two other Tories and Newton Dunn. And the industry side, without any prompting from me, launched into a scathing attack on the damage REACH would do. I managed to keep fairly quiet, although I couldn't resist interjecting "I hope you're listening to this, Bill" at one point!

The German government reckons that REACH will cost Germany a whacking 2.7% of GDP. That's an extraordinary burden for a single directive.


EU to Fund Campaign on Constitutional Referendums

The EU Constitution has been signed in Rome, and the European Parliament has approved information funding for the ratification process.

Although no rules or guidelines have yet been set down for this funding, which will total 9 million, MEPs have approved the appropriations as part of the 2005 EU Budget currently passing through the Parliament.

The text of the budget raises this funding from 1.5 million to 9 million, stating that the Parliament: "considers it unacceptable to allocate only 1.5 million to the information campaign "Debate on the future of the European Union" in view of the coming referenda on the European Constitution and the campaign on "Freedom, Justice and Security"; has therefore substantially increased this amount, in order to promote a broad public debate"

Not only are they intent on undermining our independence and self-determination. They want to use our money to convince us that it's a good idea.


Warning to Australia -- European Invasion

My Australian Assistant Tory came bursting into the Strasbourg office this morning, reaffirming my belief that Turkey should remain outside the EU. She had (unusually) come in by taxi, and her French taxi driver was incandescent at the possibility of Turkey joining the EU -- and Turks coming to take unskilled jobs, like his.

He felt that if that happened, his only recourse would be to emigrate -- to Australia!


It's George W. again: Four More Years!

I know that I'm out of line with UK opinion (and perhaps even with Conservative opinion) on this, but I'm delighted to see President Bush re-elected, with more votes than any US Presidential candidate in history.

I'm not an uncritical fan of George W. I opposed his steel tariffs and his farm subsidies. I worry about his deficit. And with 20/20 hindsight, I agree with those who say that post-conflict planning in Iraq left a lot to be desired.

But I will always support a Republican who favours low taxes and national security against a wet tax-and-spend liberal Democrat who seems uncertain what he believes. "I have a plan", said John Kerry. But he omitted to tell us what it was.

I am however disappointed by the churlish official reaction of our Party to the President's re-election. Apparently we find it "inappropriate" to congratulate the President. I think this attitude is mean-spirited, ill-judged, counter-productive and unacceptable. I utterly repudiate it. In July, in a key-note speech to a Republican Conference in Seattle, I told the delegates to "Go out and win in November". They have. And I'm delighted.


Lincolnshire Area Dinner

On November 6th, the guest speaker at the Lincolnshire Area Dinner was Michael Murphy, First Secretary Political at the US Embassy in London. Speaking of the USA's policy of pre-emptive strikes, he said there were three ways in which a nation could forfeit its sovereignty. By committing genocide; by harbouring and supporting terrorists; or by posing a threat to its neighbours. In my response, I pointed out that there is of course a fourth way a state can forfeit its sovereignty: by ratifying the EU Constitution!


Countryside Alliance Bonfire

On November 5th, we burned Tony Blair and Alun Michael in effigy, together with a copy of the infamous Hunting Bill, on Melton Mowbray airfield, on a bonfire the size of a house. I was proud to be invited to speak from the back of a trailer to a thousand hunt supporters, alongside local MP Alan Duncan (we agree on hunting, not on George W.!) and officers of the Alliance. This is a vital issue for animal welfare, for conservation and the countryside, and for rural communities and economies. We cannot afford to be beaten.


Victory in the North East!

Two days after Bush's victory in the USA came news of the regionalisation referendum in the North East (in which my friend and colleague Martin Callanan MEP was a key player). I'd have been happy and relieved to get 51%. I'd have been delighted by 60%. But the actual outcome -- 78% -- leaves me speechless! This is the death of Labour's regionalisation agenda. And tell me -- with that gone, what is John Prescott actually for?

Three themes emerge that bode well for the up-coming referendum on the EU Constitution.

First, the sort of people who campaigned successfully for a NO to regionalisation are by-and-large the same team which will oppose the Constitution.

Second, as even the BBC's Andrew Marr observed, a sub-text of the campaign was the belief of many people (correct, in my view) that ultimately regionalisation is an EU strategy for the Balkanisation of Britain, to create a Europe of regions governed from Brussels. And the voters didn't want that.

Thirdly, a distrust of sharp-suited politicians bringing instant top-down solutions from London. Or as a Telegraph editorial movingly put it, voters preferred the organic and traditional against the synthetic and rational.

All these factors are helpful as we look ahead to the referendum on the Constitution. We don't want to be complacent, but I honestly can't see how the YES side can win it.


Conclusion

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