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Straight Talking - March 2006

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.

REINSTATE ROGER: The campaign!

Three young men, Richard Hyslop, Andrew Woodman and Chris Palmer, entirely on their own initiative, have launched www.reinstateroger.com, a web-site where Conservatives who believe that I ought to be reinstated to the Conservative whip in Brussels can register their support. My thanks are due to the remarkable number of Party members who have already signed up -- and especially to Richard, Andrew and Chris.

I was selected and elected, twice, as a Conservative MEP for the East Midlands. I have worked hard, and continue to work hard, for the Conservative cause in the East Midlands, and more widely. Party members in the region are entitled to expect that both of their MEPs should be able to participate fully in the work of the Conservative delegation in Brussels. If you agree, please visit the site and register your support. And thank you.

EPP influence over the Conservatives

In the February Strasbourg session, we voted the highly contentious Services Directive, which is designed to create a single market in services to match the EU's single market in goods. It is one of the few rather good things that the EU is doing (and should have done years ago).

Needless to say, the left and the trade unions were desperate to water it down in the interests of protectionism. We had anti demonstrations outside the parliament with estimates of numbers ranging up to 30,000. Naturally, we support the directive, as (to its credit) does the British government.

But our EPP partners, with their rather half-hearted commitment to free markets, have rushed to reach a messy compromise with the socialists, and our spokesman on these issues, Malcolm Harbour MEP (W. Mids) had allowed himself to be sucked into the compromise, rather than standing firm on a clear principle.

So we have our EPP allies taking a position to the left of New Labour, and our Conservative spokesman supporting them in the name of group solidarity. There could be no clearer example of the way influence works in Brussels. The EPP has influence over us. We have very little over them.

Getting into bed with Signora Mussolini

The reactionaries in the Conservative delegation -- those who want to stay with the EPP and the status quo -- have spread a lot of very silly talk about Conservatives sitting with the far right, with racists and fascists. Of course there is no question of us doing any such thing. There are plenty of good, respectable centre-right, anti-federalist MEPs who are keen to join us.

But against the background of this black propaganda, I was amused to see an AFP press report which says that our partner in the EPP project, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is seeking an electoral accommodation in Italy with -- you guessed it -- Signora Mussolini MEP, the grand-daughter of Il Duce, and pin-up girl of the far right.

So now we have a new reason to leave the EPP. We shouldn't be keeping company with those who have such disreputable connections. Oh, and by the way, the Austrian Christian Democrats were in coalition with Jorg Haider's Freedom Party, and the German CDU ran a racist anti-immigration campaign. Strange bedfellows indeed!

Mr. Heinz "57 varieties" Fischer

Heinz Fischer, the President of Austria (which currently holds the revolving EU Presidency) addressed the parliament in Strasbourg on Feb 15th in a "solemn session". They organise these sessions for distinguished visitors during a break in a regular voting session, otherwise no one would bother to turn up to listen.

He spoke in a totally matter-of-fact way of the need to reintroduce the EU Constitution, as though it were non-contentious and no one disagreed. And he had his own "big idea". We should have a pan-European referendum on the Constitution, on the same day across the EU, subject to a double majority.

He did not define "double majority", but usually it means a majority of member states, representing a majority of the total EU population. So a referendum could be carried by double majority, even if as many as twelve states voted NO (as might well happen). And it could be carried on a minority of votes (if there were small majorities in "Yes" states and large ones in "No" states). So just what would be the situation of Britain (say), if the European result was YES but the British result was NO?

It seems to me that the attempt to resuscitate the Constitution can only end in failure, and I look forward to playing my part in making it so.

Promoting the Constitution

There have been calls for MEPs to get out to their regions and to act as shock troops in the campaign to inform a largely indifferent and uncomprehending electorate about the EU Constitution. Eager to play my part, I went out onto the streets of Brussels to find the ideal image to support my own efforts in this regard.

And I found the ideal location, in front of the iconic Brussels statue of the 'Mannekin Pis". If you don't know it, this is a statue of a small boy and (as it were) a fountain. The picture says it all.

Fault lines in the EU structure

An extraordinary spat has broken out between France and Italy, as the French government seeks to engineer a merger between two French utility companies, Suez and Gaz de France, in a transparent bid to block a takeover by Italian firm Enel. This is a blatant breach of EU law. So now the Commission is taking France to the ECJ, to challenge its new protectionist law designed to prevent foreign take-overs in no fewer than eleven "strategic" industries.

Italy's economy minister Giulio Tremonti describes the spat as "1914 all over again". (How do you spell déja vu?).

I have mixed feelings. I am gratified by the signs that the European project is imploding. But I am disappointed that the French are trying to dismantle the free movement of capital, which is always a good thing.

Playing politics with terrorism (1) ... in London

The government is calling for draconian new anti-terror legislation in a transparent attempt to provoke opposition from the Conservatives, so that they can then brand us as "soft on terrorism". The fact is, there are already perfectly good laws on the statute book. We have simply lacked the will to use them.

I was astonished (and frankly angry) to see Peter Hain MP on television saying "It took years to bring Abu Hamza to trial, but with the new anti-terror bill, it might have been done in months". But we now know that the police believed they had sufficient evidence years ago, and it was political pressure -- Labour's dread of offending its Muslim vote -- which held them back. There was nothing wrong with the law.

This is an example of a general trend in politics, which is to react to events by passing quick and badly-drafted new laws, while failing to use perfectly good laws already in place.

Playing politics with terrorism (2) ... in Brussels

On Feb 13th I attended the first session of the parliament's new temporary committee on "extraordinary rendition" -- the supposed flights of USA/CIA aircraft carrying terrorist suspects to detention camps in dodgy countries.

The evidence is highly speculative. Most of what little there is has already been compiled by a Swiss Senator, Dick Marty, on behalf of the Council of Europe. The European parliament's committee is unlikely to find anything new. So what is it there for? It's there to provide a platform for anti-American propaganda. That's what.

I told them so in no uncertain terms. I told them that when the next terrorist outrage occurs, as sadly it will, we on that committee will have to examine our consciences, and ask ourselves whether our work made future attacks less likely, or whether by highlighting differences in the Western camp we encouraged the terrorists and made a new attack more likely.

Much of the committee hated what I said, although several members (especially from central and eastern Europe) congratulated me -- and Slovakian television demanded an immediate interview! For the full text of my short speech, click here

Joined-up thinking on tobacco

Does anyone remember joined-up government? Our Labour government is getting ready to ban smoking just about everywhere. But at the same time, the EU is still giving huge tobacco subsidies to growers in southern Europe, to produce generally sub-standard tobacco. Although there's a plan to phase out these subsidies, they will in fact continue for years.

And of course it's not the EU's money, or Brussels' money. It's our money. It's tax-payers' money.

It is farcical that tax-payers who are denied the right to smoke are still forced to pay for tobacco production. Another piece of EU lunacy which no one can justify, yet no one can stop.

Disengagement with politics

The Power Inquiry, chaired by Labour Baroness Kennedy and sponsored by the dreaded Rowntree Foundation, pontificates as to why people feel powerless and disengaged from the political process. It makes numerous suggestions for change. But it hasn't noticed, apparently, that more than half our laws now come from unaccountable EU institutions, and that if voters have little influence in Westminster, they have none at all in Brussels. The EU treats public opinion with contempt: see the way it ignores referendum results! And see my letter in the Daily Telegraph of Feb 28th.

Equal pay

There are screams of outrage as statistics showing that women typically earn less than men are taken as proof of wicked discrimination. But as Ruth Lea points out (Telegraph, Feb 27th) this is not necessarily the case. It is more about lifestyle choices. Some women take a few years out to raise children, and when they resume their profession they will have lost seniority compared to male peers. Others may choose lower paid part-time jobs which give more flexibility for family responsibilities. And some women (though by no means all) may prefer security to risk, and simply don't relish the sharp elbows and fierce competition at the top of the corporate tree.

In 30 years in business, I never saw a case of a woman paid less than a man doing the same job. It is too simplistic by half to equate pay differences with discrimination.

A timely comeuppance

An awful lot of damage is done to our lives and our economy in the name of what Boris Johnson calls "Elf and Safety". So I couldn't resist a wry smile when I read a press report that a convocation of health and safety inspectors were having a meeting at a firm near Manchester when to roof fell in on them. Only minor injuries reported, fortunately. DT, Feb 22nd.

Your weekly cheque to Brussels for £115,000,000

A new campaign for the Democracy Movement (www.democracy-movement.org.uk) features a mock cheque for £115 million. That's the amount British tax-payers send to Brussels every week, they say. But actually, it's worse than that. That's only the net amount.

When you work out your income tax, you don't say "Well it's about zero because I get so much back in terms of health care and education and roads and defence". No, you look at the gross number, and probably resent it.

It's the same with the EU. They do give us a lot back in terms of various grants and programmes. But much of that goes on projects we might not have chosen to do, and every pound we get back costs the British economy £2.60. It's not a good deal. If we start to worry about the gross amount we send to Brussels, it's a wicked £250 million a week.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to the Matlock Branch of the Democracy Movement at their Pie & Peas supper on February. Like me, they feel we could find a better way to spend the money.

Metrication -- again!

Why does my heart sink when I hear any proposal from Lords Kinnock and Howe? Now they want metric road signs before the 2012 Olympics! And the BBC's "You & Yours", reporting the story, had pro-metrication reports from Ireland and the USA, with no pro-Imperial voice for balance.

Thank you, but I'd prefer to stay in miles. And make mine a pint!

Conservative Councillors' Association

Along with Chris Heaton-Harris, I was privileged to attend the Conservative Councillors' Conference in Daventry, Feb 24th, to hear Caroline Spelman, Theresa May and the redoubtable Eric Pickles. An excellent do.

Lutterworth Grammar School

On Feb 27th I went to Lutterworh Grammar School to congratulate Mandy Lester and Caroline Green, pupils who were selected to go on a "Euroscolar" programme to the European parliament in Strasbourg -- and to warn them that it would be a propaganda-fest for the European dream!

I took with me Diary Secretary Mairi Murphy, an Old Girl of the school.

Speaking to Principal Eddy de Meddolaer, I found he was reading exactly the same book as me -- "The World is Flat", by Thomas Friedman, which I had borrowed from Chris Heaton-Harris. It is an account of globalisation, and of the new world in which our children and grandchildren will have to compete. The world may be flat -- it is also small!

Quote of the month: (1)

John "Rumpole of the Bailey" Mortimer. "It is a mistake to criminalise an activity that a large body of reasonable people do not regard as criminal". Daily Telegraph, Feb 17th. Mortimer is writing about the banning of smoking in pubs and clubs, but it could just as well refer to hunting.

Make socialism history


Do visit this very interesting blogspot. It features the "Reinstate Roger" campaign. You may like to add a comment!

Quote of the month: (2)

Mario Draghi is the new governor of the Bank of Italy, and former banking chief of Goldman Sachs. He says: "We have two choices: the French dirigiste, protectionist model, with a foreign policy aimed at countering America; or the British model, more flexible, more open to competition ... Europe's élites are retreating into fear and protectionism". Quite. Couldn't have put it better myself.


That's it for this Strasbourg session. Please remember to check this website more background on current parliamentary business, full details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.