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Straight Talking - May 2005

Love Europe. Hate the European Union

"The European Union is a post-democratic institution."
Vaclav Klaus, President of The Czech Republic, interview, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 2005

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 2005 Election: some progress, but not enough

Congratulations to Brian Binley MP (Northampton South), Peter Bone MP (Wellingborough) and Philip Hollobone MP (Kettering), on their splendid victories. Congratulations to Mark Simmonds (Boston & Skegness) and Edward Garnier (Market Harborough) for fighting off determined challenges. And commiserations to Damien Collins (Northamptpton Nth), Andrew Griffith (Corby), Andrew Bingham (High Peak) and our other candidates who fought excellent campaigns but didn't quite make it this time.

I shall be writing a substantial commentary on the lessons of the 2005 General Election, and its implications for Conservative strategy and policy (including European policy), which will be on the web-site in June.

But Blair's wings are clipped, and we are back to real politics again. How will Blair cope with his rebellious back benchers? When will Brown take over, and how will the timing relate to the EU Constitutional referendum? Who will lead the Conservatives, and how will he be elected? We may not have won the election, but there is much to play for.

And let's never forget that more votes were cast in England for the Conservative Party than for Labour.

Whatever happened to UKIP?

UKIP failed to make much impact. They may have cost us a few seats, but I suspect not many. They lost hundreds of deposits. And as for Veritas, despite all his public profile Robert Kilroy-Silk was lucky to save his deposit in Erewash.

The day before the election, the Telegraph wrote: "You can't help feeling sorry for UKIP. They're a single-issue party whose single issue never surfaced during the campaign". Arriving at the Northampton count on the day, the first person I met was East Midlands UKIP MEP Derek Clark, who was also the UKIP parliamentary candidate in Northampton South. I greeted him cheerily and recounted the Telegraph's comment. To my astonishment, he petulantly stamped his little foot and declared that he wouldn't speak to me again! I'd been too horrid! Later on he lost his deposit.

It's a hard lesson, but I'm afraid Mr. Clark will have to learn that if you can't laugh at yourself now and again, there are plenty of people who will be only too happy to do it for you!

Thanks to the hunters

As I've campaigned up and down the East Midlands, and beyond, I've been struck by the huge support we've received from local hunts. They've turned out in all weathers to canvass and to deliver leaflets. I only hope that we in the Party can match them in their passion for their cause. Indeed one of our PPCs (I'd better not name him!) suggested that we need a reverse take-over of the Party by the Countryside Alliance!

Nationally, some twenty-nine anti-hunt MPs were unseated, including (sweet revenge!) the odious Peter Bradley in The Wrekin.

So thank you, guys. Let's test this unjust hunt ban to its limits, and beyond, until such time as we are able to repeal it. And let's give foxes a sporting chance in the field. Tally ho.

The French Connection

There is a sure-fire way to tell when a political slogan has tickled the public's imagination -- when it starts to get mentioned in comedy programmes! I was pleased to see that our "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" line passed that test.

Shortly before the General Election I received by e-mail a beautifully crafted spoof Conservative election poster, in the trade-mark hand-written format. Above our "Are you thinking...?" strap-line, the hand-written slogan read "Isn't it time we invaded France?".

Working Time Directive (WTD)

They are trying to remove the UK's WTD opt-out. This will do huge damage to labour market flexibility in the UK, and restricts peoples' right to work and to earn a living -- despite that right being explicit in the EU's so-called "Charter of Fundamental Rights".

We made a good start. My colleague Philip Bushill-Matthews managed to marshal the tenuous free-market, pro-competition forces in the EPP-ED group, and on the evening of May 10th (rather to my surprise) achieved a vote of 73 to 55 in the group in favour of the UK position (i.e. of keeping the opt-out). But it proved a Pyrrhic victory.

In the plenary session of May 11th, many of the EPP-ED members ignored the agreed position and voted with the socialists (including the British Labour MEPs, voting in defiance of their govern­ment), to give a majority of 355 to 272, with 43 abstentions to end the opt-out.

The proposal still has to go to the Council, where the British government hopes to form a blocking minority. But there are rumours that Blair's new administration may give in to union pressure and change tack.

Meantime my good friend and colleague Ivo Strecjek MEP, from the Czech Republic, has received a text from a friend at home saying he will close his factory and move to the USA if this legislation goes through.

Another blow for rural bus services...

At the April Strasbourg session, the parliament voted through a new measure restricting working hours in road transport. We are already getting reports of bus companies cancelling rural services as they cease to be viable under the new régime.

Labour MEPs voted in favour of the plan, and voted down several amendments which would have eased the burden, especially for emergency vehicles. We of course voted against. Again, we won the argument but lost the vote.

...and for accountability and transparency

Also in April, the parliament again voted against reform of the MEPs' expenses régime. All of our Conservative MEPs voted for reform (as indeed, to be fair, did most British MEPs from other parties). But the motion still went down by around 350 to 250.

Small business breakfast

It's a truism that government is capable of doing much more harm than good, and therefore that doing less is generally doing better.

I recently attended a breakfast meeting in Brussels addressed by Commissar Gunther Verheugen, who told us all about his plans for reducing business regulation and red tape, and about all the things he was going to do for small businesses -- a "Small Business Charter", special projects and initiatives.

In the debate that followed, I was able to tell the Commissar a few home truths. Commissioners have been talking about deregulation as long as I can remember. It never happens. Small businesses don't want charters and projects and initiatives. They just want Brussels to get off their backs.

"They don't want you to do more for them", I said. "They want you to do less to them".

A great way to spend £30,000!

The Foreign Office has just spent £30,000 of our money designing a logo for the British presidency of the EU (July/Dec 2005). It is a tasteful effort representing a skein of swans in flight. The FO says "Swans fly in formation using a system of leadership and co-operation to fly more efficiently; this is an imaginative and clever metaphor for the EU."

Some might say that the EU swan is an ugly duckling. The sooner it's spit-roasted, the better.

Election observers for the French Referendum!

Chris Heaton Harris has drafted a "Written Declaration" in the Strasbourg parliament in April. It read as follows:

"The European Parliament

Notes that in the 1992 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty in France, the result was exceptionally close, and that a majority of voters in mainland France in fact voted to reject the Maastricht Treaty

Is conscious, however, that this result was overturned by surprisingly large "Yes" votes in the overseas departments ("Outremer")

Notes that the largest "Yes" vote was 80.6% recorded by French voters based overseas

Is determined to avoid any suspicion that the French 2005 Constitutional Referendum has been other than free and fair


Asks the European Parliament to call in "election observers" from countries outside the European Union to ensure the vote on May 29th, 2005 in the French Overseas territories is beyond reproach

Instructs the President of the European Parliament to send this Declaration to The French President, and the Secretary General of the United Nations"

Mind you, after the appalling revelations about postal votes in the UK, maybe we need election observers too!

Equitable Policyholders Action Group visit

In April, I was visited by representatives of the Equitable Policyholders Action Group. They have a petition before the Petitions Committee, and were keen to gather support. They appear to have a legitimate grievance, and I shall do my best to ensure it gets a fair hearing. I used to be an Equitable policyholder myself, but fortunately ceased to be one before the crash (so I don't need to declare an interest and exclude myself from the issue).

Spanish retirement homes

I get a considerable mailbag from British retirees who have bought their dream retirement property in Spain, only to be faced with a nightmare as Spanish local authorities use compulsory purchase powers to seize all or part of their properties -- and to add insult to injury, demand massive payments for "infrastructure development" on the sites as well!

The issue is currently before the ECJ, but a residents' group also has a petition in the Petitions Committee (again) and I will be going on a fact-finding mission at end-May to Spain with a small delegation from the Committee. I hope to be able to play a part in the resolution of this long-running scandal.

Gallows humour

A notice has appeared on my floor in the Brux parliament advertising a conference. The title: "WHEN IS A CONSTITUTION NOT A CONSTITUTION?". Some wag has added a hand-written sticker: "WHEN THE FRENCH SAY NON".

Quote of the month

Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph, April 19th:

"The reason people don't have 'control' over their health care is because the government has control over it".

He goes on "The UK for which the NHS was created in 1945 has all but ceased to exist: in 2005, the average citizen is more prosperous than his grandparents could ever have imagined. Britons expect control over the cars they drive, the DVDs they buy and the internet porn sites they visit (editor's comment -- his words, not mine!), yet they live with a health system frozen in 1945".

He's right. If the NHS is so good, why does no other country copy it? How come it's the world's largest employer after Indian Railways? When will we realise that Central Planning doesn't work? The Russians have worked it out. Why can't we?

Seen in Strasbourg

A paper notice stuck on a wall saying "Negotiations on WW2 are taking place in Room N 3.1". No, honestly. I didn't make it up.


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.