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Straight Talking - June 2002

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

If you would like to receive Roger's newsletter by email, click here
Speaking up for persecuted Christians

From April 27th to May 4th I went with a European parliament delegation to Indonesia and the Philippines -- countries I have known well since I first visited them thirty years ago. We met the President of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, plus ministers, parliamentarians and NGOs.

I was able to raise the issue of the persecution of Christians in the Moluccas -- a subject on which I get many letters -- and the activities of a Muslim pressure group called Laskar Jihad. We got a strong hint that the government would respond, and soon after our return we heard that the leader of Laskar Jihad, a senior Muslim cleric, had been arrested.

In the Philippines, we addressed the issue of between ten and twenty thousand children, some as young as six, held in jail in very bad conditions and with little prospect of release. We were impressed by the work of Save the Children, whom we met in Manila. For more details on this visit, see my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com.

The Wisdom of Nye Bevan...

In 1945, Nye Bevan said "This island is mainly made of coal, and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time".

Organising genius? Step forward the EU. As a result of gaping holes in European state aid rules, that allow Germany to pay massive subsidies to its miners, Britain's remaining mines are uncompetitive, and we are now a major coal importer. And of course the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has allowed Spanish fishermen to hoover up all the fish in the North Sea, creating an ecological disaster area in what were once the world's richest fisheries -- and a prime British national asset.

...and the folly of Commissioner Palacio

One of the lunacies of the CFP is that on the one hand it pays for capacity reduction and the decommissioning of fishing fleets, while on the other, it subsidises new-build capacity, primarily in Spain. There are current proposals for a modest reform which would at least abolish the new-build subsidies. (Our own Struan Stevenson MEP is Chairman of the Fisheries Committee).

But a few weeks ago Spanish Commissioner Palacio wrote to Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler opposing the reform, and calling for Spanish boats to be allowed to fish right up to British beaches. Palacio's letter was clearly in breach of her Commissioner's oath to promote the interests of the EU as a whole and not of her own member-state.

Then Prime Minister Aznar of Spain (Blair's buddy, and currently President-in-Office of the Council) phoned Commission President Romano Prodi to express his concern. Within 24 hours, an apparatchik called Steffan Smidt, the most senior official on the CFP reform process, had been fired.

But it gets worse. Commissioner Neil Kinnock's department insisted that Smidt's move was "part of a long-planned programme of staff re-assignments". But this story immediately fell apart. All the other staff on the "long-planned programme" had been advised of their moves weeks before, and given new assignments. Smidt was sacked unceremoniously on 24 hours notice.

Remember that Neil Kinnock was a member of Jaques Santer's discredited Commission (one of four who popped up again in Prodi's Commission) -- and that he's responsible for institutional reform! Watch this space. This story has legs. It will run and run.

Late news

On May 23rd, Kinnock appeared before the Budget committee in the parliament, and both Chris and I had a chance to question him on this fisheries issue. He asked us to believe that the firing of Smidt was completely unrelated to the CFP reform, or the Prodi/Aznar phone call, and that the failure to advise Smidt of his impending "re-assignment" until twenty-four hours in advance was down to an administrative error. The fact that Smidt remains without an assignment is merely coincidental. I told him in plain terms that his story was not credible and he should not imagine that we were children and that he could pull the wool over our eyes. He had a tough half hour.

The NO Campaign

The NO Campaign is a joint venture between Business for Sterling and New Europe, which campaigns for Britain to keep the Pound. It is supported by the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Business, as well as a host of economists, parliamentarians and diplomats.

I've recently received two of their new publications, which are excellent.

UK Mortgages and the euro, by Graeme Leach of the Institute of Directors, exposes the myth that the euro would mean cheaper mortgages. Our large and competitive mortgage market means that rates currently are about the same in Britain as in the Eurozone, despite a higher base rate in the UK. Meantime long-term interest rates -- reflecting on the market's estimate of future inflation -- are already lower in the UK.

The booklet points out that the lower base-rate in the Eurozone is in any case not necessarily a good thing -- it simply reflects the very poor growth performance of the Euroland economies.

Democracy and the European Central Bank contrasts the "operational independence" of the Bank of England with the ECB's total lack of accountability -- and the success of the Bank of England, and of America's Federal Reserve, with the ECB's failed response to a global slow-down.

The booklet quotes an editorial from Le Monde: "When Alan Greenspan talks about economic recovery, the shareholders rise up and immediately buy dollars. When Mr. Duisenberg says he is confident of a rebound in the Eurozone, the same dealers laugh and continue to sell the euro".

Both booklets, priced at £5, are available from The NO Campaign, 56 Ayres St., London SE1 1EU, 'phone 0207 378 0436, e-mail [email protected]. Their website is at www.no-euro.com.

Meantime, our own Ken Clarke has called for pro-euro Conservatives to rally to the cause. We will see how many takers he gets.

The EU's CIA

They say it's not a superstate. But it has a flag, an anthem and a passport. It has a parliament, a currency, a central bank. It has common policies in a vast range of areas. It's creating a paper army. And the latest news is that it's to have its own security service as well, possibly with Border Police. (In the Soviet Union, the Border Police were run by the KGB).

This new set-up, well-funded and international, is called DG 1X. When you mention it, EU diplomats go strangely tight-lipped.

And the funding basis is interesting. It does not appear on the EU's budget because it is separately funded by the member-states -- to the tune, currently, of £33 million.

I shall be putting down a written question on projects funded under the carpet in this way, and I'll let you know the answers -- if any.

Languages in the European Parliament

The EP already spend around a third of its income on translation and interpretation services. That's with eleven current languages. After enlargement (if it goes ahead) there could be 22 languages, which could increase the costs four-fold (the number of pairs of languages goes up exponentially).

In a sane world, we would agree to use a few main languages -- say English, French and German -- which would cover the great majority of MEPs. Indeed many MEPs from minority-language countries already use English much of the time. But the hard-line federalists have an ideological commitment to a pandemonium of tongues, which is a recipe for confusion and vast expense.

I have recently published a correspondence in the Parliament magazine with an EU apparatchik on this issue -- click here for the full text.

The Engineering Employers

On May 22nd I had lunch in Brussels with the Engineering Employers' Federation, and heard a litany of complaints about EU employment and social regulation, and about the risks posed for European competitiveness and jobs.

One particular point struck me, from John Peel, MD of a company called Varian, which makes medical equipment. They've driven their turnover up from £3 million to £60 million over fifteen years. But now their American shareholders are saying "How soon before labour regulation in the UK gets as bad as the continent?".

If we carry on as we are, day by day and week by week, adopting damaging EU regulations, our small companies will go bust and our foreign-owned companies will re-locate. Enough is enough, and perhaps too much.

Quote of the Month

Patrick Minford in the Daily Telegraph, May 27th, on the EU's 'Stability Pact': The Pact will go -- not explicitly; but in the manner of silly European ideas: death by a thousand 'exemptions'.


That brings us up-to-date with events in Brussels and Strasbourg. Remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for more background on current parliamentary business and other issues.