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Straight Talking - July 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.

Chris adopted for Daventry!

On June 27th Chris Heaton-Harris MEP was adopted for the Daventry constituency. I am delighted for him (though I've warned him not to have a General Election before 2009 -- we need him here in Brux!). Well done Chris. And well done Daventry. I know he'll do you proud.

...and Pauline adopted for mid-Derbyshire!

Chris and I were delighted to hear that Pauline Latham has been adopted as prospective candidate for the new seat of Mid-Derbyshire. Pauline has been a staunch colleague, and an excellent campaigner alongside Chris and me in the 1999 and 2004 euro-elections, as well as at Broxtowe in 2001, and she has a distinguished record in local government. Her success is hugely well-deserved, and Chris and I will be out campaigning for her when the General Election comes.

Dave to junk the Human Rights Act

David Cameron has announced that a future Conservative government will repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act, and create instead a home-grown "Bill of Rights and Responsibilities".

The Human Rights Act has created a field-day for criminals and terrorist suspects (and for lawyers!). But it has done nothing to protect traditional British liberties against this most authoritarian government in living memory (think trial by jury, habeus corpus, double jeopardy). Dave is right. The Act should go.

But his critics have a fair point. The Act merely incorporates the European Convention (ECHR) into British law. If we repeal the Act, the ECHR remains, although cases would have to go to Strasbourg rather than to British courts. So arguably the new Bill of Rights would be little more than a few bolt-on additions to the ECHR. The provisions that allow convicts to demand pornography in gaol, or prevent us from deporting terrorists, would remain.

We should sweep away not only the Act, but the ECHR as well. I personally was happy with our rights under Common Law, but if Dave wants a new Bill of Rights, fair enough. In planning to repeal the Act, he has taken a good first step. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Stop press: On June 29th we read that the courts have ruled out house arrest for terrorist suspects, citing the ECHR. We can't deport them, we can't imprison them, we can't put them under house arrest. Clearly, we can't live with the ECHR, either.

Conservatives move to reassert the supremacy of Parliament

Bill Cash MP recently introduced an amendment to the Legislative & Regulatory Reform Bill which would have re-established the right of parliament to amend or reject EU legislation. Of course the amendment failed, but the key point is that the Conservative Party whipped in support of it and Conservative Whips counted the votes. So it's official. Conservat­ives will reassert the supremacy of parliament. A lost amendment may be a small footnote in the annals of Westminster. But it is a giant stride for freedom. Well done Bill Cash (and the Tory Whips!).

John Redwood MP is quoted as saying: “The significance of this amend­ment is that, for the first time, the opposition party stated we should be able to amend and choose which parts of European law to obey. In the past, we have done this by prior agreement and opt out”. It also means a Tory government is not committed to Blair’s 1997 decision to sign the EU social chapter, Redwood added.

Gordon Brown tries to claw back some of our rebate

Gordon is trying to reinterpret part of the EU's agreed budget settlement in a way which would save Britain around £87 million. Chicken feed compared to the billions that Tony Blair gave away last December, but welcome nonetheless.

I rarely agree with Gordon Brown, but here is a case in point. OK, so it's political grandstanding to burnish his eurosceptic credentials, not practical politics, but well done anyway. The Commission is reported as saying "He's in a minority of 24½ to one" (24 other member states plus the Commission). But on this point, I daresay that Gordon has sixty million Brits on his side.

The awards season

I am almost abashed to report that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has decided to award me its 2006 "Outstanding International Legislator" award. It will be presented at the ALEC Annual Meeting on July 20th in San Francisco, California.

It is an award for legislators who have a record of "advancing Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, individual liberty and federalism" in their legislature. I hasten to add that they mean federalism in the US sense (powers devolved to the states), and not in the European sense (powers centralised in Brussels)!

ALEC is a major US public policy institute based in Washington, which brings together 2,400 State Legislators from across the 50 states, together with partners from industry and commerce. I plan to attend the San Francisco meeting with a group of MEPs including Chris Heaton-Harris, and several from new member-states who we hope will soon be sitting with us in a new group in the European parliament.

Meantime my nomination stands for Parliamentarian of the Year on the Conservative Home site, while the Reinstate Roger campaign is nominated for "Best Campaign" not only on Conservative Home, but also in the New Statesman Awards.

William Hague on "Any Questions"

On June 17th on BBC Radio 4's "Any Questions", William Hague confirmed that Conservative MEPs would be leaving the EPP group. Pressed to say whether this pledge was conditional on our being able to form a new group, he gave the strongest and most unequivocal answer I have heard so far. "It is our intention to form a new group, but if we should fail in this endeavour, Conservative MEPs will leave the EPP anyway". Well done William.

I 'phoned "Any Answers", and got a good innings with Jonathan Dimbleby. I especially made the point that this is not about where a few MEPs happen to sit in the chamber. It is about creating, for the first time in the history of the European parliament, a genuine opposition to integration. It is about breaking the federalist monopoly. That is why EPP leaders are in such a lather about it.

Sceptic MEPs write to Cameron

According to the Daily Telegraph of June 17th, eight Conservative MEPs have written to David Cameron urging him to stick to his pledge on the EPP. According to the paper, they said they had "every intention of fulfilling (DC's) policy and leaving the EPP". In case you are wondering why my name was not mentioned amongst the signatories -- of course I left the EPP more than a year ago, so I cannot promise to do so now!

The 92 Group of Conservative MPs has written to Dave in a similar vein.

Geoffrey Van Orden on the EPP

My good friend and colleague Geoffrey Van Orden MEP (East Anglia) has written a very thoughtful and cogent essay on the EPP issue. Find it at www.europesworld.org/PDFs/Issue3/EW3_2.9_Van_Orden_Why_the_UK_Tories_are_leaving.pdf (Adobe Reader required)

A letter to the Indy

DC & WH have been admirably clear on their determination to take us out of the EPP, if a little vague on timing. But our Front Bench has been sadly dilatory in rebutting the black propaganda of those reactionary Tory MEPs who want to stay in the federalist EPP. It is galling to hear the words of Caroline Jackson and Sir Robert Atkins used as ammunition by Tony Blair as he flings them at David Cameron across the floor of the House.

I have made a particular point of rebutting the lie that the delegation would lose money outside the EPP. As a former Treasurer of the delegation, I am in a strong position to do so. In fact, on forming a new group we shall be £½ million better off. In my June newsletter I quoted my letter to the Guardian on this point. An essentially similar letter from me appeared in the Independent of June 17th.

Quote of the month: Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester

"Separation may actually lead to less bitterness, a greater willingness to converse, and perhaps even some scope for cooperation where this is possible". Perhaps surprisingly, Bishop Nazir-Ali was not talking about the Tories and the EPP (though he might well have been), but about the liberal and conservative wings of the Anglican Communion.

The Common Fisheries Policy again

Last month I wrote of my concern that the Party seems to have abandoned its commitment to repudiate the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. Why does it matter? Here is the first paragraph of the Executive Summary of the excellent Green Paper by Owen Paterson MP (Oswestry), on the basis of which Michael Howard agreed to the CFP withdrawal policy:

"The Common Fisheries Policy is a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster; it is beyond reform. It is a system that forces fishermen to throw back more fish dead into the sea than they land; it has caused substantial degradation of the marine environment; it has destroyed much of the fishing industry, with compulsory scrapping of modern vessels, and has devastated fishing communities".

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, having scrapped modern fishing vessels, the EU Commission is now planning to spend new money on modernising the boats that remain. Lunacy is an inadequate word. If we cannot commit to leaving the CFP, what sort of EU policy do we have?

Stop press: Asked in the House about the CFP, William Hague replied: "In our policy review, we will want to look closely at ways of achieving policies that encourage sustainable fishing, do not place excessive burdens on taxpayers, and enrich and protect the environment. We have not come to any conclusion about that, but we will of course do so before the next general election". It seems there's hope yet.

As with fish, so with wine ...

...subsidies reverse the effect of previous subsidies. A couple of decades ago, the Commission provided subsidies to enable French farmers to plant more vines and make more wine. Now, facing a wine lake, they are planning to offer new subsidies to dig the vines up again. When will they learn that markets allocate resources efficiently, and government intervention doesn't?

How should we address climate change?

Judging by media coverage, and especially the BBC, you might think that the EU was whiter-than-white on climate change, with its commitment to Kyoto, and that the US, which has rejected Kyoto, was the pantomime villain. I've just been to a seminar in Brussels which tells a very different story. The US has pulled together a group called the AP6 (for Asia-Pacific), and representatives from five countries -- the US, Australia, China, India and Korea -- came to the seminar to talk about what they're doing.

They have a huge investment, and a set of projects and trans-national working groups, on a range of issues from carbon sequestration to energy efficiency to renewable fuels. And -- what a surprise -- the US (without Kyoto) has a better trend on carbon emissions over the last ten years than the EU has! In fact if the whole world could match the carbon-intensity of the US economy, we'd beat the Kyoto emissions targets several times over.

The fact is that the EU/Kyoto system of mandatory limits is very damaging to our economies. But as the Australian representative said "We don't believe we have to choose between clean and prosperous". A statement from the EU Commission, which attended the seminar, suggested that it too was concerned about the economic impact of Kyoto, and was looking more carefully at an AP6-type approach.

Next time you hear the BBC describe the US as "The World's biggest polluter", remember that the US economy is a global leader in low energy intensity, and with the AP6 programme, it is set to getter better still, whilst helping the emerging economies of India and China to clean up their act.

Spain and Greece heading towards the “Euro trap”

The Business reports that Spain and Greece are in danger of joining Portugal and Italy in the “euro trap”. Deutsche Bank has highlighted the risks of high interest rates leading to weakening economic growth, rising budget deficits and ever-increasing interest payments on government debt. European Monetary Union has created a clear divergence in economic performance between countries such as Germany and the southern-European states -- Germany’s exports are up 70% since 1999, Italy’s just 28%.

You're a euro-sceptic -- so what's your alternative policy?

I never cease to be amazed at the naive assumption that if we don't want to be an offshore province of the EU, we have to come up with some alternative structure. People write to me and say "If you don't think Britain should be in the EU, do you want to be the 51st State of the USA?".

My "alternative" is for Britain to be a great, democratic, independent, self-governing, global-trading nation. And in terms of international relations, to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to work with the OECD and the World Bank and the G8 and the WTO and NATO and the Commonwealth ... will that do for starters?!!!

A Personal Statement

It has come to my notice that Timothy Kirkhope MEP has been writing to Party members making generalised accusations about my "behaviour". These accusations are false, damaging and defamatory, so I had little option but to issue a rebuttal. I remain keen to resolve my differences with the delegation, and very willing to discuss them with Kirkhope (who declines to meet me). But I cannot allow these false accusations to pass unchallenged.

The Constitution -- it's dead but it won't lie down

In Brussels on June 20th we heard the President-in-Office of the EU, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, insist that the EU Constitution must go ahead in essentially its present form, and demanding that we bind ourselves with "a timetable straight-jacket". Bizarrely, those were his very words, at least as it came over in translation.

In my speech in the debate (I get a lot of access to speaking time as an independent!) I pointed out that the EU's rejection of the results of referendums, its brazen contempt for public opinion, and its current implementation of large parts of the constitution without any legal base, make a nonsense of its claims to be "A Union of Values based on Democracy and the Rule of Law".

I reminded Schussel that public opinion in his home country Austria is more hostile to the Constitution than in any of the other 24 member-states. I demanded to know how a democratic politician could fly in the face of his electorate in this way. And I suggested that perhaps he was unhappy in his job, and hoping that the electorate would throw him out in due course. See the speech on my web-site.

Whatever happened to education?

I used to believe that there was a body of knowledge -- historical and literary references, lines of poetry, Latin tags -- which were part of the intellectual patrimony of all educated people. But increasingly I find that amongst young people, it's no longer there.

Writing a speech for plenary on European tax, I made a reference to "Danegeld", and was astonished that assistants had no idea what it was. I checked with half a dozen bright, graduate under-thirties, (and a couple of MEPs!) only to be met by blank looks. Whatever happened to education?

In case you were wondering, the closing line of the speech is "A thousand years ago, England was forced to pay a tribute to a continental occupying power. It was called Danegeld. Never again, Mr. President, never again".

Acronyms again!

Last month I remarked on the acronym "BOOT boy", where BOOT stands for "Better Off Out Tory". This month I can report on a suggested new slogan for the Better Off Out campaign: "Say BOO to the EU". Or you could just visit www.betteroffout.co.uk.

Meantime East Midlands MP Philip Hollobone (Kettering) has an excellent essay on www.conservativehome.com on why he supports Better Off Out.


This is the last newsletter before the August recess. I plan to issue the next one on the Strasbourg week of Sept 4th, when I hope to have heartening news on more than one front. Meantime, have a great summer break!