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Straight Talking - June 2005

Love Europe. Hate the European Union

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.

France killed it!  Holland buried it!

The EU Constitution is dead! France votes NON! Bravo mes amis! Allez France! Vive la Liberté! At last the voters of Europe are seeing through the damaging EU project, and have blown a massive collective raspberry at their élitist political establishment, and at the remote and unaccountable Brussels bureaucrats!

And well done the plucky Hollandaises too (I like their sauce!).

Already the financial markets are starting to talk of the euro as an orphan, stateless currency, and are wondering how it will survive, especially with the collapse of the "Growth and Stability Pact". The markets will start to apply differential risk premiums to the borrowings of the profligate "Club Med" eurozone states, with Italy fingered as the one most likely to break first. According to recent reports, Italy faces "horrible martyrdom", as it loses competitiveness, but can't devalue.

History may look back on Sunday May 29th 2005 as the day that the European project started to fall apart. Perhaps they will call it "Independence Day".

The Reaction:

Chirac says "There is no Plan B". But we never asked for Plan A in the first place! Already they are talking about what changes will be needed to make the Constitution acceptable. But we don't want a new Constitution or a revised Constitution. We don't want any Constitution at all!

Commissioner Peter Mandelson's comments were spectacularly arrogant and complacent. He has a towering contempt for the opinions and the rights of voters. The French had got it wrong. So, like Denmark and Ireland before them, they would just have to keep voting until they got the right answer. Just which part of "NO" does Mandelson have trouble understanding?

The Risk:

EU leaders are already talking about "which parts of the Constitution can be salvaged". They will push through 90% of it on a piecemeal basis if they can. That is why Shadow Foreign Secretary Liam Fox is right to say that the government should announce that the Constitution is dead and buried. But if it's not dead and buried, we demand the right to vote on it here in Britain.

Never thought I'd live to see the day...

...arch-Europhile Lord Haskins telling the BBC that the "Britain in Europe" campaign group should disband, as it no longer has an objective. The enemy has fled the field of battle!

President Barroso and the Motion of Censure

(No, not the latest title in the Harry Potter series!).

An update, following my recent special edition newsletter. The EPP group voted on June 7th to expel me. My offence? To speak out robustly for Conservative policies and principles, and to criticise the EPP for its attempted cover-up of cronyism and potential corruption in the EU Commission!

From my first day in Brussels in 1999 I have campaigned against British Tory membership of the EPP. It is quite wrong in principle that we should sit with a group so far removed from all that real Conservative Party members and voters believe. But although I disagree with our policy on the EPP, I reluctantly accepted membership for six long years, as a matter of party discipline.

So I accept my expulsion from the EPP not merely with equanimity, but with a real measure of satisfaction. But our own Chief Whip has already initiated a dialogue about normalising my relationship with the Conservative delegation, something I am keen to do and will pursue with vigour.

See also the press release, and my speech before the expulsion vote.

...but Tory MEPs have not been very helpful

Caroline Jackson MEP (South West) has recycled in her newsletter an old Labour slander. She says "Roger Helmer's campaign slogan was 'In Europe -- but not for long!', until Conservative Central Office ordered him to remove it". This is a downright lie, although one that has been widely circulated on Labour web-sites. Perhaps Caroline got it from her ex-Tory-MP husband Robert, the notorious euro-quisling wet who recently defected to Labour.

The truth is more prosaic. I once quoted the line as a humorous aside in a newsletter. It had been coined by someone else (also in jest) at a brainstorming session which was trying to update our successful 1999 slogan "In Europe but not run by Europe". I never used it as a slogan, nor did anyone instruct me to stop using it.

But as my old mother used to say, there's many a true word spoken in jest. After the votes in France and Holland, Caroline might just find that the joke is on her.

Lead article in the May "European Journal"

I was delighted and very proud to be accorded the leading article (and the front cover cartoon!) in the May edition of the European Journal. I wrote a long, thoughtful and constructive article on the lessons to be learned from the General Election result.

This was covered in a piece in the Spy column in the Daily Telegraph on May 27th, although I was sorry that they took an "MEP criticises party" line on a piece that was in fact a serious contribution to policy renewal. Media sensationalism strikes again.

My three lessons from the election were:

1.   We need policies underwritten by clear Conservative principles
Otherwise we end up with a rag-bag of unrelated ideas, not a clear strategy.

2. We need to start explaining difficult concepts now
If we wait until the next election, it will be too late. For example, we need a coalition of politicians, think-tanks and business organisations to promote the benefits of low taxes and flat taxes, and to show that low taxes are not just electoral window-dressing, but an economic and a moral necessity.

3. We need a new Conservative policy for the EU: renegotiate or quit
Now that the dust has settled on the 2005 election, it is time to think about renewing party policy. Our pre-election policy on the EU was a two-headed monster. On the one hand, we would renegotiate, repatriate key policy areas, and repeal all or part of the ECHR. On the other hand we would remain "full and committed members of the EU".

I'm surprised we weren't challenged on this. The two propositions are incompatible, and therefore not credible. We can dismantle big chunks of the acquis communautaire, or we can remain full and committed members, but we can't do both. Our ambiguous stance represented an electoral pact which Michael Howard used to buy Ken Clarke's silence. But it won't stand up any longer.

As I have argued repeatedly, the EU is the greatest threat today to our prosperity, to our democracy and to our security. It gives no net benefits at all that could not be obtained as an independent nation through bilateral and multilateral agreements. But it does huge damage to Britain and at enormous cost.

So let's be clear: if the choice is between staying as we are (or worse still, ratifying the EU Constitution), or getting out, we'd be better off out. So we need to say so. And let's face it -- we can't seriously renegotiate without at least an implied threat of withdrawal. So our policy of "renegotiate as full and committed members" is dead. We need a new policy of "renegotiate or quit".

Flat taxes (again)

On May 11th I signed the tax pledge of the European Tax-Payers' Alliance -- that I would not vote for tax increases, that I would oppose EU tax harmonisation, and that I would seek to promote a maximum tax rate of 25%. See photo on the web-site.

We need to challenge Labour's "Zero-sum tax fallacy". They say that "Tory cuts mean school 'n' hospital closures". If we unpack this, they mean "Tory proposals for slightly lower tax rates will reduce revenue and leave less funding for public services". It seems so obvious, but it's dead wrong.

As David Davis has said, "Only a low-tax economy can deliver the prosperity we need". Over several decades, in dozens of countries, lower tax rates have delivered more revenue.

How can this be? Low taxes reduce both the opportunity and the incentive for tax avoidance or evasion. They encourage black market operators to go legal (in Germany it is estimated that as much as 17% of GDP is represented by the black market, seeking to avoid punitive taxes and social costs). At the margin, the unemployed will be attracted back into the labour market. Employment participation rises, while unemployment, and the costs of unemployment, fall. Entrepreneurship is encouraged, as are savings and investment.

Hot news: Croatia has just announced it is going flat tax!

Quote of the month

Mark Steyn writing in the Daily Telegraph of May 17th, on the Working Time Directive:

"Possibly it's true, as the euro-regulators insist, that that some folks are being coerced by bosses into working more than 48 hours against their will. But coercing everyone into not working more than 48 hours regardless of their will is, in the long run, more damaging".

Mark Steyn works more than 48 hours a week. I work more than 48 hours a week. Possibly you work more than 48 hours a week. What right do we have to deny our fellow citizens the same rights as we expect?

And another Mark Steyn line. The American Constitution starts with the ringing words "We the people...". The EU Constitution starts "We know better than the people..."!

Conservative democracy website

John Hayes MP has launched a website, www.conservativedemocracy.com, where you can register your views about the party. Worth a visit.

Get the hot news from Washington!

Sally McNamara at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) does an excellent "Atlantic Connection" newsletter, available from her on . Request it by e-mail. Sally of course worked for Chris and myself as Press Officer 1999 to 2002, and subsequently as my researcher in Brussels, before moving to Washington.

Bribery in the French referendum

Before the vote, the French government announced large grants for citizens in the "outremer" overseas territories, like Guadeloupe, to visit metropolitan France. (In the Maastricht referendum in 1992, it was votes from the outremer that delivered a Yes vote -- the mainland voted No).

Contrary to all expectation, the first quarter economic statistics for the euro-zone, just published, show significant growth. Let's see if that's adjusted downwards when the Q2 results come in after the referendum!

The EU announced a record grant of €145 million to help French wine growers to distil 550 million litres of unsaleable excess wine into industrial alcohol, rescuing many of them from bankruptcy.

And the parliament was looking at a measure to allow the French government to reduce VAT on restaurant meals to help France's struggling restauranteurs.

Meanwhile, Germany's ratification of the EU Constitution was carefully timed as a prelude to France's big day.

Time for Respect!

(No, not George Galloway's new party!). In the context of school discipline and "hoodies", we are being told that all our problems would be solved if only adults (and teachers) would "respect" youngsters. This is the age of moral equivalence. In the brave new world of political correctness, the IRA are morally equivalent to the British Army, Hamas are equivalent to the Israeli security forces, and teachers are much the same as pupils.

This is the wrong answer. Teachers are entitled to respect from pupils, because teachers are older, wiser, and as we used to say "in loco parentis". If pupils want the respect of teachers, they have to earn it by application and diligence. Teachers have a duty of care, but not a duty of respect, to their charges.

We need to hear a bit less about rights, and a bit more about responsibilities.

Britain's Budget Rebate

"I won't hesitate to use veto to protect rebate" says Brown. Times, May 23rd.

"No 10 hints at deal on cutting Britain's rebate". Telegraph, May 24th

Which do you believe? Neither of the above? Personally, I'd be happy to scrap the rebate entirely -- provided we could have a new relationship with Europe based solely on free trade and voluntary inter-governmental cooperation. On that basis, we'd pay nothing, so we wouldn't need a rebate.

Italy faces 'horrible martyrdom' while in the eurozone.

The US insurance giant Banque AIG has said that Italy needs a "20pc devaluation to prevent a slump and a 'horrendous' explosion of public debt."

According to a former EU official and AIG chief economist, Italy was being asked "to bear the unbearable" following a sharp loss of competitiveness under the European Monetary Union.

Having lost 30% of its world share of exports since the late 1990s, Italy is now "on its knees" according to the industry federation. "Owing to the extreme weakness of the euro, an ultimate break-up can no longer be ruled out, however horrible its financial consequences" (Story from Daily Telegraph, May 19th)


That's it for this month. 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.