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Straight Talking - January 2005

Working for the post-EU Europe
Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

Please feel free to distribute this newsletter, or to quote from it. It is primarily written for Conservative Party members and activists in the East Midlands, but may also be of interest to others concerned about developments in the EU. If you want to go onto the e-mail list please click here.


European Parliament endorses the EU Constitution
Celebrating the Constitution with your money

On Wednesday January 12th, the European parliament voted by 500 to 137 with 40 abstentions to approve a glowing report welcoming the draft EU Constitution, and urging the public to support it -- despite the fact that so far, only one member-state has ratified it.

Not content with voting for it, they decided to celebrate by hanging vast "YES" banners from the fifth floor of the "Great Rift Valley", a huge six-storey elongated atrium within the Strasbourg parliament building, next to the Hemi-Cycle. They organised a massive party, with champagne, canapés, fireworks, balloons, and a laser light-show projecting YES slogans on the outside of the building. And a Japanese band. Yes, honestly, a Japanese band. Heaven knows why.

They invited a large number of "bien pensants" -- euro-quisling opinion-formers in the Commission's pocket, plus compliant journalists from across the continent. Curiously, there seemed to be no UK journalists. Maybe they thought that Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun would spoil the party.

And of course there was the usual round of press conferences and one-sided "debates", in which the opposition to the Constitution was conspicuous by its absence.

This whole shebang cost around a quarter of a million pounds, which seems an unjustified extravagance when hundreds of thousands in Asia are still suffering from the results of the tsunami. Indeed my colleague Chris Heaton-Harris wrote to Mr. Borrell, President of the parliament, suggesting that the event be cancelled and the money sent to the disaster appeal. He got a dusty answer.

Counter attack

We didn't want to spoil the party, but we didn't want them to have it all their own way. Conservative MEPs all voted NO, except for one who sent in a sick note -- no doubt a federally transmitted disease! Many of us raised protest placards in the chamber, and the German press next day carried an excellent photo of myself and Chris with our placards.

We displayed a twelve-foot by three-foot banner. We borrowed the slogan of the anti-war movement, "NOT IN MY NAME", and added the words "Tories against the Constitution".

I made one extra addition. One of the irritants in our relationship with the EPP group is that they require us to display their logo on any material funded, through them, by parliamentary allowances. I regard this as a deliberate attempt by the EPP to humiliate the Conservative delegation. Normally, we make the hated logo as small as possible -- I find a quarter of an inch is good. However, because this anti-Constitution banner is so clearly and spectacularly at odds with EPP policy, I decided to put on a nice big EPP logo. About three feet high, in fact. Red faces in the EPP camp, but they have only themselves to blame.

Another parliamentary group, the ID (Independent Democrats) organised vertical NO banners of their own, which they intended to hang in the Great Rift Valley alongside the parliament's YES banners. But parliament security forcibly removed them. I was personally threatened by security, who tried to remove our banner, and only by physically resisting and unseemly shoving in front of the TV cameras did we hold on to it. One of the young lady assistants ended up in tears having been roughly handled by security guards.

A very tall person in a monster costume carried a copy of the Constitution and a placard that read "Devouring Democracy". Later in the day we took the Monster to the visitors' desk and asked for a pass: To our astonishment, they proceeded to photograph the monster and issue a monster pass with the monster photo on it (you may see it in the press soon). It doesn't add to my confidence in the idea of Identity Cards!

After the indoor events, the party moved outside to the exercise yard in the hollow tower, and someone (heaven knows who) threw confetti from a high window, which drifted down on the crowd. Each little piece of paper bore the word "NO!". It fluttered down for several minutes, looking for all the world like a swarm of butterflies -- certainly the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in the parliament.

OK. So they were cheap-and-cheerful stunts. But they had a serious purpose: to show the world's media, and our constituents, that there is opposition to the Constitution right here in Strasbourg, at the heart of the European parliament. We may have lost the vote, but we will not be silenced.

An outrage against democracy

Imagine for a moment that the Labour government, to promote a YES vote in the referendum, were to cover the Palace of Westminster in banners and bunting and laser-light shows, using public/parliament money, not Labour party funds. Imagine that they unleashed heavy-handed security guards to assault MPs who dared to take the opposite view. We should be outraged. It would be a gross affront to the democratic process. They would be hounded from office.

Yet the European parliament does so, and we seem to accept it as par for the course. It's not good enough. It's time to get angry. Very angry.

The arrogance of the European institutions, as they ride rough-shod over the views of ordinary people, is breathtaking. One MEP was crowing that they got 500 Yes votes. OK, I said, and that's about what you can expect in the British referendum, as well.

The price of betrayal

One of the two co-authors of the parliament report on the Constitution was British Labour MEP Richard Corbett. This, remember, is the Constitution which, if we ratify it, will mark the end of Britain as an independent nation. This is the Constitution that sets the cap-stone on the construction of a country called Europe, in which Britain will be no more than an off-shore province.

It seems that Mr. Corbett received an additional €3,000 from the parliament to promote his report. So now we know the exchange rate. €3,000 is worth thirty pieces of silver.

Treasurer of the Tory MEP delegation

In December, I decided to abandon the habit of a lifetime (or at least of my first parliamentary term!) and stand for one of the "jobs" in the delegation. On December 14th, I was elected Treasurer, in a tight race, and rather to the surprise of a number of members. As an elected position, this role is not subject to the patronage of the leadership (unlike say spokesmanships or the Whips' Office), so I shall continue to be able to take a robust line on European issues.

It means that I become an ex-officio member of the bureau (management committee) of the Conservative delegation -- and also sit on the EPP-ED group Treasurers' Committee, which should be lively and interesting.

As I have often written, our membership of the EPP group means that a scandalous amount of "our" money (the per capita funding that the parliament makes available to MEPs) -- well over £½ million a year -- goes directly to the federalist EPP. I shall rate my success or failure as Treasurer largely by whether I can resolve this issue.

EU Parliament votes to admit Turkey

On December 15th, the EU parliament voted two-to-one to admit Turkey, an enormous and very poor Muslim country, to the EU, or at least to start accession negotiations. Conservative policy is to support Turkish admission, but I am afraid I cannot agree. I broke the whip repeatedly, and voted against.

Yet again, MEPs have put their dream of "building Europe" ahead of the interests of their constituents, and ahead of common sense.

I have set out in earlier newsletters the complex reasons for and against Turkish accession, and why I come down against it. But in a nutshell, the admission of such a large country to the EU's political union would represent a further dilution of Britain's sovereignty and independence. I don't think that East Midlands Conservatives had that objective in mind when they selected me as their candidate.

Can MEPs actually achieve anything?

Sometimes this job is frustrating. While we can knock the rough edges off some bad legislation, there are so many damaging decisions made here which we are powerless to stop. Often people ask me if we can achieve anything at all.

I take the view that the most important part of my work is done outside the parliament, seeking to influence opinion in the wider world, and to rally opposition to EU integration, the euro and the Constitution. I spend a huge amount of time and effort in the East Midlands doing just that.

And sometimes I have the opportunity to reach beyond the UK. Recently I have been making use of the excellent booklet "The Constitution: What it means for your business" from the Vote-No Campaign. I have arranged for it to be translated in the Baltic States, and circulated by the Estonian Employers' Confederation. And in December, through my contacts in Washington, a mailing in my name, with the booklet, went out to 165 prominent legislators and business leaders.

Opinion in Washington is shifting, with key politicians starting to question the previously unqualified US support for EU integration. I am proud that I and Chris Heaton-Harris have played some part in that process.

Meantime, I cannot commend too highly the work of the Vote-NO campaign, and its leader Alex Hickman. Visit www.vote-no.com and see what they're up to. Better still, subscribe to their excellent e-newsletter on campaign issues.

A date for your diary: February 19th

On December 11th, the Fernie Hunt met at Manor Farm in my own village in Leicestershire. David Attfield, the landowner and farmer at Manor Farm, bravely made a short speech of welcome, despite age and infirmity. He recalled that the hunt had first met at Manor Farm in 1929, 75 years ago.

As we challenge the hunt ban, it is right that we focus on the big issues of animal welfare, countryside management, biodiversity, the rural environment and economy, rural communities and civil liberties. But let's not lose sight of the detail, of the golden threads woven into the very fabric of country life. Let's not forget the Fernie Hunt meeting at Manor Farm for 75 years. And let's go out, in great numbers, to support our local hunts on February 19th, ban or no ban.

Hunting exhibition

In Straz in December, the parliament's Hunting & Conservation "Inter-group" (cross-party single-issue group) mounted an exhibition, so I used it as an opportunity for a photo-op (with hunting-horn!). I was a member of the group's "bureau" (management committee) in the last parliament, and I look forward to continuing to work with continental colleagues, and with the Countryside Alliance, in this parliament.

Now it seems that even the EU Commission is supporting hunting. The European group of hunting organisations, FACE, which includes the Countryside Alliance, has produced an excellent dossier on the benefits of hunting for the environment and biodiversity, with case histories and examples. The Commission was so impressed that it plans to put a link to the FACE dossier on its web-site.

Heavy hits on my website

My web-meister, John Wilkin, reports that the average daily visits to my website last month reached nearly 180 a day. It seems that word is getting around. In particular, I wrote a piece entitled "The benefits of EU membership?". Apparently a lot of people use Google to search for "The benefits of EU membership", and it leads them to my site.

Much of the credit goes to John Wilkin for his excellent management of the site. But it's good to know that between us we seem to be spreading the word.

Note by John Wilkin: The figure will almost certainly be higher for January than it was for December. The site had 394 visitors on January 12th - the busiest day since I started recording.

Information of sorts

People around the European Parliament have found previous editions of the pocket-sized "Le PE en Poche" invaluable. Produced by the staff union, SFIE, it lists every department, head of department and MEP together with addresses and telephone numbers, as well as containing a wealth of other useful information.

The latest edition, however, contains some interesting errors, almost reminiscent of Monty Python's famous "Hungarian-English dictionary", which was full of mischievous mistranslations. Arch Eurosceptic Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, for instance, is listed as "Antonio Farage", a British Liberal. In my own case, I becomes Sebastiano (Nello) Helmer and I'm given a free transfer to the UEN group!

Quote of the month

Roger Bootle of Capital Economics, writing in the Sunday Telegraph of January 2nd with his predictions for 2005 - "Believe it or not, the euro-zone is my leading tip for an economic area ... to slow down" (my emphasis -- RFH)

P.J. O'Rourke writes again

In a recent newsletter I recommended the book "Give War a Chance" by P.J. O'Rourke, America's leading political satirist. I am now reading his latest book, "Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism". A taster: "Terrorism is conducted by losers. Winners don't need to hi-jack airplanes. Winners have an air force". Or how about: "Personally, I'd start the War on Terrorism with Gerry Adams. At least we know where he is".

Pity the poor school-children

I was recently invited by a Lincolnshire secondary school to support their poetry competition. Children were to be asked to write a poem on the subject of "Bullying". I replied that I should be happy to support their competition, but could they not find a more positive and up-lifting topic on which to focus young minds?

They have now written to say that their competition has been postponed because it clashed with a similar initiative from the Department of Education, on exactly the same topic. It will now take place later. And their new, up-lifting topic? "Binge drinking/alcohol abuse".

Conspicuous by his absence

I have just received a colourful, and official, photo-montage of members of the East Midlands Regional Assembly (EMRA). There is the line of photos of East Midlands MEPs, including the perma-tanned Kilroy-Silk, and the heavily bearded Phillip Whitehead. Only one seems to be missing. Under a blank rectangle of white space is the name W. Newton-Dunn. 'Nuff said.

The Indian Ocean disaster

The tsunami in the Indian Ocean has shocked the world. If it has a silver lining, surely it is the huge outpouring of generosity by governments, organisations and millions of ordinary people, touched by the massive suffering, especially in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. So much has been written about this tragedy that there is probably little I can or should add.

But the BBC's reporting of the relief efforts has been disgraceful, as a Sunday Telegraph article pointed out on January 9th. While the UN and the EU have done what they do best -- statements, press releases, conferences -- the first and by far the biggest action on the ground was undertaken by the Americans, ably backed by the Aussies. Twenty ships including two aircraft carriers, dozens of helicopters, thousands of people, deployed in a matter of days. Many thousands of survivors in Aceh province can thank the Americans, and almost no one else, for their survival.

But from the BBC's coverage, you would never know it. The BBC mind-set is "EU/UN good, USA bad", and they do their best to avoid crediting the Americans. Then in a recent news programme they broke their silence, to announce that a US helicopter had had a slight mis-hap at Bandar Aceh airport, with two persons injured. Journalists have a stock joke about the world's most boring headline. The leading contender is "Small earthquake in Chile: few injured". The BBC's effort is in the same league.

Tony and Gordon: the soap opera

Conservatives can take some comfort from the spat between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor. Just when you thought it was as bad as it could get, it got worse. I love Gordon Brown's quoted remark that he would never again trust anything that Blair told him. Shades of IDS and his "Nobody believes a word you say".

Can I ask you, please, to repeat after me: "Labour splits. Labour splits. Labour splits". It has a nice ring about it, doesn't it?


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