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Straight Talking - May 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.

Better Off Out!

www.betteroffout.co.uk

On Saturday April 29th I gave the opening speech at the "Better Off Out" rally in the Emmanuel Hall, Westminster, organised by the Campaign for an Independent Britain. The full text of my speech will shortly be on this site, and later on DVD.

After nearly seven years in the European parliament, I have now reached the firm view that Britain would be better off out of the EU. There is simply no benefit of membership, at all, that could not be achieved through a normal treaty between independent nations, without having to out-source our governance to Brussels. The EU damages our prosperity, undermines our democracy, and increasingly threatens our national security.

I appreciate that this view goes somewhat beyond current Party policy, but it is a view shared by many East Midlands Conservatives. At a time when the Party is undertaking an extensive policy review, it is important that the withdrawal option should be on the table. So far, all the talk of renegotiation and repatriation has got us nowhere.

Damaging our prosperity: The massive costs of excessive EU regulation far outweigh any benefits of market access -- and in any case, we could achieve market access without membership, as dozens of other countries do. EU regulation is strangling our economy and damaging our competitiveness.

The EU is not a Free Trade Area -- it is an old-fashioned Customs Union. Its Common External Tariff leads us to focus too much on Europe, which is in long-term relative economic decline, at the expense of the more vibrant economies of America and Asia. It distorts our trade priorities. And the EU's pattern of trade deals is grossly biased against English-speaking countries and against British interests (see my January article in European Journal).

The EU undermines our democracy and independence. The German government estimates that 80% of new laws now come from Brussels. The EU diverts powers from our elected representatives to unelected foreign bureaucrats in Brussels, and to activist judges in the European Court.

The contempt of the EU's Úlites for the voters is shown by their repeated sidelining of NO votes in referenda, most recently on the EU Constitution.

Security: The EU's over-hyped, under-funded attempts to create a separate European defence identity drive a wedge through the heart of the Transatlantic Alliance on which our security has depended for decades.

We are indeed Better Off Out. Visit the website to register your support.


Swedish newspaper turns against the euro

Sweden, of course, is one of the three counties from the previous fifteen who have not adopted the euro -- and are doing better in consequence (UK and Denmark are the other two). The Swedish newspaper Expressen campaigned strongly for the euro in the 2003 referendum, but has now admitted that it got it wrong, and that the people were right after all. "The real Swedish economy consists of many people who work, pay their mortgages and try to live off their pensions, and if most of them find that they do not need the Euro, they may be right."

As the Good Book says, there is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth!


Monetary Commissioner Almunia has doubts on Italy

In an extraordinary admission, the EU Commissioner responsible for economic and monetary affairs, Joaquin Almunia, has confessed to doubts about the sustainability of Italy's position in the euro. This is a bit like the Pope expressing doubts about God. Look for a widening of the interest rate spread between Italian government bonds and the rest of the euro-zone.

Meantime HSBC -- not some obscure euro-sceptic think tank, but one of the world's largest banks -- has expressed the view that Italy would be better off out of the eurozone.


EU to scrap relocation subsidies

The latest news is that the EU is to halt relocation subsidies for large companies moving to cheaper eastern European countries. That will be a big consolation to all the Peugeot workers who lost their jobs at Ryton, then.


Quote of the month

Matthew d'Ancona, in the Sunday Telegraph: "What counts is what works, Mr. Blair used to say. He doesn't say it very often these days".


The Minden Band: Royal Leicestershire Regiment Museum Appeal

The Minden Band is the Military Band of the Queen's Division (successor to the Leicestershire Regiment), and before you ask, Minden is a town in North Germany where the Battle of Minden was fought on August 1st 1759. I was proud to be invited to sponsor a raffle prize at their concert in the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on April 10th, and I look forward to welcoming the lucky winner to lunch in the Brussels parliament in due course.

We had the military band, a big band, massed male voice choirs and an excellent opera singer (wife of one of the bandsmen), and the programme included a sing-along of second World War songs like Roll Out the Barrel and The Quartermaster's Store. Call me jingoistic if you like, but there's nothing like a good sing-along. See this picture


The Healthcare Debacle

There's an old story about a right-wing Republican in the US. Asked by a journalist "Sir, what is your policy for healthcare?", he replied "My policy for healthcare is, you pay for your own d**n healthcare!". So I was a bit jolted to read a Telegraph editorial (April 19th) which said "a liberalised market-place ... requires free consumers too: patients should be able (and indeed expected) to use their own money to purchase their own healthcare".

We wouldn't expect the government to do a good job running Tesco or Toyota. So why do we think the government is fit to run the healthcare industry? Some say health is too important to be left to the market. I say it's too important to be left to the government.

The central planning model of the NHS has comprehensively failed. It consumes unlimited resources and delivers inadequate outcomes. We need radical new thinking.


Needle-stick injuries: a suitable case for subsidiarity

The European parliament's Unemployment Committee is debating new EU rules on needle-stick injuries -- that is, accidental piercing by hypodermic needles, usually of healthcare staff in hospitals. With the prevalence of blood-borne diseases, these injuries may be life-threatening, and great care is needed to prevent them.

But just because something is important, that doesn't mean that Brussels can manage it best. No one thinks that (say) Singapore or Switzerland are too small to manage health and safety in their hospitals -- so why do we in the UK need Brussels to do it for us? Why is the detailed management of health and safety issues in a particular industry an issue that can only be handled "at the European level"?

This is a perfect demonstration of the way in which "subsidiarity" is no more than a verbal trick to deceive people who worry about the drift of powers to Brussels. I cannot name a single issue that has been down-loaded to member states from Brussels under the rubric of subsidiarity.


Global warming: the doubts continue

As a bitterly cold March gave way to a snowy April, the doubts about global warming were growing. In April, sixty leading climate change scientists wrote to Canada's new Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, praising his commitment to think again about Kyoto. "If, in the mid-90s, we'd known what we know today, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist", they said.

An article by Prof. Bob Carter of the James Cook University in Queensland in the Sunday Telegraph (April 9th), argues that the data on global warming are equivocal at best. Average global temperatures have been static for the last eight years. And between 1940 and 1965, when emissions were rising fast, global temperatures dropped.

Professor Philip Stott of the University of London points out that while some Norwegian glaciers seem to be in retreat, others are advancing. On April 23rd 41 climate scientists wrote to the Sunday Telegraph arguing that any anthropogenic climate changes would be impossible to distinguish from "natural noise" -- the general background level of variation.

The fact is that global climate trends are still not well understood, that sharp fluctuations have occurred throughout geological time, and that trends over the last few million years indicate that catastrophic cooling is at least as big a risk as warming. And human activity creates just a tiny fraction of global CO2 emissions.

Whether or not global warming is happening, Kyoto would cost a fortune and have an almost immeasurably small effect. We would do better to spend the money on new green technologies (as the US and its partners in the AP6, the Asia Pacific partnership, are doing), and on mitigating the effects of any warming that occurs, rather than on doomed attempts to set mandatory emissions targets.


But we still need carbon-free technologies

In my view we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for reasons of fuel security and cost, rather than global warming. If that makes the Greens happy too, fair enough. We need renewables (though not, in my view, wind), and we need more nuclear capacity. Otherwise we'll be waiting for President Putin to turn off the gas-taps.


And another Quote for May!

The Economist's "Charlemagne" column, April 22nd, writing about the French determination to keep their damaging "employment protection" laws:

"Risk does not go away because you are averse to it; trying to make yourself invulnerable to small risks can end up making you more vulnerable to larger ones".


400 years of the Union Jack

(Or for pedants like me, the Union Flag!). Apparently April 12th was the 400th anniversary of the Union Jack, created to mark the joining of the English and Scottish crowns in the early seventeenth century. By a lucky chance, I happened to be wearing a cotton Union Jack sweater in Brussels that day (it was a constituency week, so I was in mufti). Photo here.

Back in 1999, during my first euro-election campaign, Bill Turncoat Dunn (then a Conservative candidate) warned me not to wear "the symbol of another party" when I appeared on television. He was talking about the Sterling pin I used to wear in those days.

I told him in no uncertain terms that neither our national currency, nor our national flag, was the property of any single political party. Our currency is Sterling, our flag is the Union Jack, and every single British subject can be proud of both.

I believe that the battle to save Sterling has been won (though we can't be complacent), and the new challenge is the EU Constitution and our independence as a country. So I no longer wear the Sterling pin. I wear an enamel Union Jack pin instead.


April fools

In an April fool jape, one of the bars in the Strasbourg building, the "Bar des Cygnes" (Swan Bar) launched a competition for a new name. There were a lot of bizarre suggestions, some relating to fish, which the French apparently associate with April 1st. I thought "Zanzi Bar" was quite good, but the prize went to "Le Bar de la Grippe Aviaire" (Bird flu bar).


A Written Declaration to end all Written Declarations

A Written Declaration in the parliament recently called for the whole process of Written Declarations to be scrapped. It was too much hassle and resulted in lobbyists pestering members. One of our colleagues issued a long, detailed and anguished protest against this proposal before realising that it was dated April 1st! But I shouldn't laugh too loud. On April 1st I 'phoned the BBC to protest against their plan to replace the Radio 4 UK theme with a new "European Theme" featuring "Ode to Joy", before I realised it was another April Fool.


More daft regulation from the EU:

1 - Hands off our organs! The Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment Directive (known as WEEE) is designed for fridges and computers. But because church organs are powered by electric motors, they come within the scope of the legislation. And because organ pipes contain a high proportion of lead (and have to do so for tone), they risk being banned. A perfect example of unintended consequences.

Bill Turncoat Dunn has announced that this is a new "euro-myth". And indeed, the Commission has affirmed that it never intended to threaten church organs. So why, you may ask, did it draft legislation that has exactly this effect? The British government is saying that the measure will apply to organs, but that organ makers can apply for a four-year derogation (and could re-apply every four years). Yes, but the derogation is merely intended to provide a breathing space for industry to find alternative materials, and in this case there are no alternative materials.

So a small industry in which Britain is a world leader faces possible closure, and at best alarm, uncertainty and a new layer of bureaucracy, approvals and applications. While existing organs should be OK, repairs, renovations and relocation could become impossible.


2 - EU moves to ban fly repellent: Citronella, classed as a "natural chemical", and familiar from the fly-repellent candles burned at barbecues, is to be banned from many fly repellents, including sprays used on horses, from September 1st. Why? Because it may cause health problems. No evidence that it does (apart from a very limited number of allergy cases). And there is no very obvious alternative -- around 90% of proprietary fly repellents for horses use citronella.

The EU says that manufacturers can produce research to justify continuing use of citronella -- but the cost would be out of proportion to the value of the market. So horses and owners will be plagued by flies in summer 2007, all because of some ignorant Brussels bureaucrat who never got mud on his green wellies (if he has any green wellies!).

The writing on the wall burns ever brighter. And what does it say? "The EU is beyond reform and deserves to be put out of its misery".


Four current bans I'm aware of:

Church organ pipes, citronella for fly sprays, strychnine for the control of moles, and a nitrate ban that could halt agriculture over huge swathes of Eastern England within a few years. Where will it end? I'm waiting for them to ban life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


The European Social Model

I heard a Commission spokesman recently describe the European Social Model as "A unity of values with a diversity of systems". Yes, and a debacle of outcomes.


The Reinstate Roger campaign

The campaign has just passed a key milestone, with over 500 signatures. Almost all of these (apart from a handful of overseas supporters) are Party members. Many are parliamentarians, former candidates, councillors and party officers. Prominent recent signatories include John Redwood, Ann Widdecombe and Lord Tebbit. To add your name visit www.reinstateroger.com


Conclusion

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

RFH