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Straight Talking - March 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.

The truth about the EU constitution

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw claims that the EU Constitution limits the powers of the EU. EU politicians -- and the Constitution itself -- tell a different story

Jack Straw, Today Programme, 9/2/05 - "...what this does is say thus far and no further…it literally limits the power of the European Union"

German Europe Minister Hans Martin Bury, Die Welt, 25 February 2005 - "The EU Constitution is the birth certificate of the United States of Europe… The Constitution is not the end point of integration, but the framework for -- as it says in the preamble -- an ever closer union."

The Constitution itself: Article 17: Flexibility clause

If action by the union should prove necessary .... and the Constitution has not provided the necessary powers, the Council of Ministers ... shall take the appropriate measures

The Constitution provides for further integration without limit, and without approval of national parliaments

The Spanish referendum

After a huge effort by the Spanish government to maximise turnout in the first popular referendum on the EU Constitution, fewer than one eligible Spanish voter in three endorsed it. And opinion polls showed that a whopping 90% of voters had no idea what the Constitution is about.

In many countries, including the USA, there is a recognition that significant constitutional changes require a higher degree of democratic legitimacy than day-to-day decisions. They may set a threshold for turnout -- say 50% -- or for the majority -- say two thirds. No such rules applied in Spain. Why? Because they know perfectly well that they could not pass that test.

The Spanish result is being hailed as a huge success, an example for Europe to follow. If the Spanish result is a huge success, it is difficult to imagine what failure might look like.

That Strasbourg demonstration

As mentioned last month, I and others were assaulted by the parliament's own security guards when we attempted to unfurl "NO" banners following the parliament's vote on the Constitution on January 12th. An article in the EU Reporter (an in-house magazine) by the independent journalist Jim Gibbons, Feb 14th, reads:

"Roger Helmer pointed out that he'd been man-handled by security staff. Sadly, I have to concur with his view". Jim was with the video team that came to my rescue, and saw the whole thing. He continues "I saw lobbyists with 'Yes' T-shirts being ushered through the throng, while those with 'No' slogans were denied access". Welcome to democracy, EU-style.

Great Opening Lines

The American Constitution starts with the ringing words: "We, the people.....". The EU Constitution, on the other hand, starts with the words "His Majesty the King of the Belgians......". Tells you all you need to know, really.

Czech take on the EU Constitution

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has published a list of ten reasons to oppose the EU Constitution. Full details here.

Thank you, Derbyshire ladies

On March 4th I was privileged to speak at the lunch following the South Derby­shire Ladies' AGM. They presented me with a gavel, hand-crafted and beautifully inscribed by one of their husbands. It came with a card saying "To help you knock some sense into Brussels". I was touched. And I return to the Brussels coal-face with renewed vigour and relish.

War drums in the Taiwan Strait

On March 8th, we learned that the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) is passing legislation to "allow" it to take military action against China. A couple of months ago, I attended a meeting in Strasbourg with a delegation from the PRC, and I was shocked by the casual way in which they insisted that a war to re-take the "renegade province" of Taiwan was not only possible, but inevitable.

In this context, the EU's determination (with the connivance of our Labour government) to lift the arms embargo on China, and supply high-tech European weaponry to the PRC, is not merely ill-judged. It is wicked.

An Airbus dinner

On March 2nd I dined in Brussels as a guest of Airbus. I was interested to learn that if an Airbus client specifies Rolls Royce engines (from Derby), then something like 50% of the aircraft's value is built in the UK. The wings are made at Filton, Bristol, and I have a verbatim quote from a production line worker at Filton. "The way it works is this: we make the air, and the Germans make the bus".

Daily Telegraph, March 7th

Two items: The paper carries a big story on Chris Heaton-Harris's demand for an end to the lunatic commuting of the European parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg twelve times a year, and a cost of around £130 million a year. And on a later page, we find a story saying that the IMF has warned of a collapse of confidence in the euro if Germany and others decide to water-down the so-called "Growth and stability pact" that under-pins the currency. As Bill Cash put it, "No stability, no growth, no pact".

Green shoots of democracy in the Middle East

The post-conflict period in Iraq has been traumatic and tragic. So the claims of the American right that toppling Saddam would lead to a spontaneous outburst of democracy across the Middle East have been easy to dismiss as hopelessly optimistic and naive.

Yet something new is happening. Iraqis turned out to vote in huge numbers, despite intense intimidation. With the fortuitous death of Arafat, we see the stirrings of common sense in Palestine, with demands for democracy, transparency and an end to the culture of corruption. In Lebanon, popular calls for democracy have forced the resignation of the government, and seem set to force the withdrawal of Syrian forces as well. Egypt has declared that the next Presidential election will have more than one candidate.

Suddenly, the hopes of the neo-cons look more realistic.

A constant advocate of their position has been Daily Telegraph columnist Mark Steyn. And as Boris Johnson wrote recently, tongue-in-cheek, "If there is one thing worse than a stridently triumphalist American neo-con, it's a stridently triumphalist American neo-con who seems to be right".

Her Majesty shares my taste for Colonial wines

The IOC Delegation assessing London's bid for the 2012 Olympics were entertained to a lavish banquet at Buckingham Palace in February. In view of the fact that London's chief rival seems to be Paris, the Palace set aside centuries of tradition, and presented the menu in plain English, not the usual French, language of la cuisine.

French wines were also snubbed. An English sparkling wine was served as an aperitif, while New Zealand wines accompanied the food. European wines did not make an appearance until the port, close to the end.

One of my colleagues expressed his regret that the Queen was obliged to butter up a bunch of third-world apparatchiks in the first place, but that perhaps was a comment too far.

Give foxes a sporting chance

If the hunting ban sticks (which looks doubtful), foxes will be culled by poison, gassing, or snares. Or they may be shot, with more or less accuracy. Either way they may creep off to die of gangrene in a ditch, suffering agony for hours or days.

The hunted fox has a better than even chance of getting clean away, and if taken it will die in seconds in a rush of adrenaline. At least hunting gives the fox a sporting chance, and a clean death. The ban is a disaster for animal welfare, and for the fox.

I attended the meet of the Fernie Hunt at the Kennels at Great Bowden, Market Harborough on Saturday Feb 19th. There was a huge and heartening turnout -- more even than at the traditional Boxing Day meet -- and the mood was one of anger and regret, but with a huge determination to press on and test this unjust law to destruction. At the same time, Melton Mowbray, the heart of English fox-hunting, was brought to a halt by a meet of four hunts.

The previous Monday, in bitter cold, I had attended the first day of the Waterloo Cup in Lancashire. A brilliant day's sport. Sixty courses run and only four hares taken. The Waterloo Cup has been running since 1836, but coursing goes back four thousand years, to the very borders of pre-history, and perhaps earlier.

With the ban on coursing, the outlook for hares is even bleaker than for foxes. Owners of coursing estates are even now shooting hares wholesale, as the only way to deter the very nasty people who will continue with illegal coursing. The hares that take a clean hit are the lucky ones. As with foxes, many hares will limp away with broken limbs to die at length and in pain.

If you challenge the antis, and point out that that foxes kill millions of hares and rabbits every year, while legal coursing takes less than 200, they reply "Yes but foxes hunt naturally. What we object to is people setting greyhounds to pursue hares". So there you have it. They don't care a scrap for the hare. They just hate the people involved.

Euroscepticism in the Wall Street Journal

On Feb 18th, ahead of George W. Bush's visit to Brussels, the WSJ European edition ran a Page 2 story "US President has some fans in Parliament". Written by Mary Jacoby, it featured the work that I, Chris Heaton-Harris, Martin Callanan and other are doing to forge links with American conservatives.

As with most newspaper articles, there were a few errors of fact, and lines that made me wince. For example, I was described as "the informal leader of a band of British, Polish and Czech conservatives in the EU parliament" -- a position I have neither sought nor claimed. But on the basis that any publicity is good publicity, and because it stressed the salutary role of some of the new member states, it was a good piece.

Click on this link for a later version of the same piece run in the WSJ's US edition, on Feb 23rd. The article makes positive mention of our good friends the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, and was well received by both. WSJ is of course the most respected conservative news­paper in the USA.

George W Bush on the EU Constitution

The week before George W came to Brux, there were alarming rumours in the corridors that he planned to endorse the EU Constitution, as part of his "charm offensive". This would have been a thank-you to Tony Blair in exchange for his support on the Iraq war. Apparently Peter Mandelson had been in Washington a couple of weeks earlier, and was rumoured to have brokered the deal.

We caused enquiries to be made through some of our friends in Washington, and received assurances from "sources close to the White House" that the rumours were unfounded.

Sure enough, in the Bush interview in the Telegraph of the 19th, he said "I'm wise enough not to comment about the EU Constitution, since I don't have to do anything about it". Sighs of relief all round -- especially when he went on to make clear his discomfort with talk of a separate EU defence identity outside NATO, and with the idea that the EU should somehow "counter-balance" the USA.

Oddly, Charles Moore in the same Daily Telegraph was airing the same rumour, despite the explicit denial on an earlier page of the paper.

Quote of the month

Russell Kirk on Arthur Balfour, in his book "The Conservative Mind":

"He was one of those fortunate gentlemen who can walk over fresh snow without leaving tracks. He was a master of ambiguity and compromise".

I admire that. I've never been very good at ambiguity.


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