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Straight Talking - September 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.

"The EU is making us poorer, less democratic and less free" - Dan Hannan MEP

Leaving the EPP: deliverance delayed

Like many Conservatives who supported David Cameron's leadership bid on the basis of his commitment to leave the EPP group in "months not years", I am disappointed that he has now decided to delay the break until 2009. I have made my view on this clear in articles for Freedom Today and the European Journal.

There is however one positive aspect. It remains the case that the in the view of David Cameron and the Party, we ought not to be sitting with the EPP, and we have made a firm commitment to quit. The timescale may be delayed for tactical reasons, but the principle remains.

Free DVD offer! Send for your copy today!

"What do MEPs actually do?". A question I often hear asked, so I've produced a DVD to answer it. The DVD features short clips from the three high-profile Tony Blair debates in the European Parliament during the British Presidency, and cameo appearances by colleagues, plus a whistle-stop tour of people and issues from the East Midlands.

It includes companies -- a Stilton Creamery, a trucking firm, a Chamber of Commerce -- plus a farm, cows and horses, a school visit with Chris Heaton-Harris, a cathedral, even a Cold War era V-bomber! And as an appendix (if you can stand it!) it includes the speech I gave at the launch of the Better Off Out campaign in Westminster on April 29th.

To get your free DVD, please send an A5 self-addressed envelope with a letter-post 1st class stamp, to DVD Offer, 11 Central Park, Lutterworth LE17 4PN. I'm afraid I must insist on the SAE, otherwise the administrative workload will be unsustainable. And note the A5 envelope size -- the DVD will not go into a regular letter-style envelope.

Advertising campaign: I am planning a regional advertising campaign in major regional papers in September featuring the free DVD offer -- using parliamentary funds which I would not have had if I were still in the EPP.

2009 euro-elections: I am planning to run

When asked "Will you run again in the 2009 election?", my standard response was that I had not yet decided. Now I have. I am determined to run in 2009 (or at least to offer myself for re-selection).

The problem right now is that, with the Conservative Whip suspended, I am actually not eligible to offer myself as a Conservative candidate. However, I am continuing to use my best efforts to resolve the outstanding difficulties with the delegation, and I am hugely grateful to all those Conservatives across the region, and beyond, who have supported my efforts. I am now hopeful that progress will be made.

There are various reasons for my decision to run in 2009. First, it is a huge advantage to any euro-candidate-team to have an experienced incumbent MEP on the list. With Chris Heaton-Harris headed for Daventry and Westminster, I am the only East Midlands Conservative MEP available to run, and I owe it to the Party and the region to do so.

Secondly, the great debate on Europe is as interesting and exciting and important as it ever was. I believe we have seen off the threat of the euro, but the battle over the Constitution is not over yet. There is a big job to do and I believe I have an important part to play.

Quick takes

Why does it take an ex-Labour minister, Bozo Byers, to call for abolition of the Death Tax? And a current Labour minister, John Reid, to tell us it's OK to talk about immigration?

But credit to George Osborne for hinting that we might abolish stamp duty on share trading. And to Peter Lilley for quoting an un-named BBC reporter on why the government opened the flood-gates on immigration: "Tony Blair dislikes the British working class, so he is importing one of his own".

The hottest July on record was hailed as proof of global warming. So what does the coldest August in living memory prove?

How come French electricity costs have risen only modestly, while ours in the UK are up 60% this year? Could it be because the French get three-quarters of their electricity from nuclear power?

David Cameron had a piece in the Observer on Aug 27th, criticising aspects of Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy. With the Conservative front bench facing criticism for failing to attack this disastrous Labour government with sufficient vigour, it's odd that DC should find the time to criticise one of the best-loved Conservative Prime Ministers of the 20th century.

I was talking to the government affairs director of one of the largest consumer products multinationals, and he told me that europhile Conservative MEPs had briefed his company, and other large companies, to lobby against Cameron's plan to leave the EPP. MEPs briefing industry against Party policy. And we used to say that loyalty was the secret weapon of the Tory Party.

When will they ever learn?

The new President-in-Office of the EU Council for July/Dec 2006 is Finnish Prime Minister Vanhanen. On July 5th he addressed the parliament and told us what he would do to improve EU competitiveness in the global economy.

He wants innovation, research, and new social policies (i.e. more socialism). Bizarrely, he also wants more immigration. And he wants an EU energy policy, or "Joint energy policy guidelines -- a common approach to external energy sources". In plain English, he wants Brussels to take control of UK energy policy including North Sea oil (which represents 95% of EU oil production). After all, we are the only major oil producer in the EU. They got our fish in 1973. Why shouldn't they have our oil in 2006?

He completely failed to mention the two vital issues that would actually make a difference: lower taxes, and massive deregulation. Until they start to address those issues, the other initiatives will have all the success of -- well, the Lisbon process, say!

Joined up government

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said "There is no obvious limit on immigration to the UK". Transport Minister Dr. Stephen Ladyman says "It is clear that we cannot build ourselves out of traffic congestion". Hmmm. Quote of the month: Sir Winston Churchill

"A love for tradition has never weakened a nation; indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril."

Temporary Committee on the CIA

In January the European parliament set up a temporary committee on the CIA and the issue of "Extraordinary rendition", the alleged practice of transferring terrorist suspects from one country to another without due process. I managed to get a seat on the Committee, and its Interim Report was voted through the parliament in July.

It was always difficult to see what new information or evidence the Committee hoped to obtain, and in the event it has produced very little. To a large extent it has duplicated the existing work of the Council of Europe and its rapporteur, Swiss Senator Dick Marty. A former British government minister described that report as "As full of holes as a Swiss cheese", and he was not wrong! I believe that the parliament's committee was set up primarily as a platform for anti-American propaganda. It ended up as a farrago of speculation, innuendo and recycled press cuttings.

Together with a number of colleagues, I submitted a minority report, but of course the parliament supported the anti-American position.

I wrote an account of my experience on the committee which appears in a booklet of essays, "Raising the Standard of Liberty", which was the brainchild of my colleague Syed Kamall MEP, and was produced for our visit to the ALEC Conference in San Francisco in July.

Visit to the USA

At the back end of July, I visited the USA with several Conservative colleagues, plus a couple of like-minded MEPs from Poland and one from the Czech Republic. We attended the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual conference in San Francisco, where Chris Heaton-Harris addressed one of the sessions and Syed Kamall chaired a meeting.

ALEC has awarded "Legislator of the Year" prizes to US politicians for many years. This year for the first time they created a new award for "International Legislator of the Year", and I am delighted to say that they chose to award it to me. It may be true that awards butter no turnips, but recognition is nonetheless gratifying.

We went on to Seattle, where we had sessions with major US companies including Boeing (I had visited Airbus in Toulouse a few weeks earlier), Starbucks and Microsoft. All these companies have important interests in the UK and Europe -- for example, Boeing is a major customer of Rolls-Royce aero engines in Derby.

Create a slogan for the EU!

The EU wants a new slogan to replace "Unity in Diversity", which is apparently past its sell-by date. Graham Watson MEP (Lib-Dem) suggests "United in Adversity", which seems to me to describe the EU very well! Nigel Farage of UKIP suggests "Not forever". Lord Tebbitt proposes "Bigger not Better". My own offering is "Bureaucracy not Democracy".

If you have a better idea (pro or anti), please send it to me at

Preferential treatment?

In July the Labour-dominated Commons Trade & Industry Committee expressed reservations about nuclear power, ahead of the Government's energy white paper, and particularly demanded that the government should not give "preferential treatment" to the nuclear industry. Fair enough. But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Why does the same admonition not apply to other low-carbon energy technologies, notably wind power? Without the spectacularly favourable treatment from the government in the form of "Renewable Obligation Certificates", not a single wind-farm would have been built.

Either it is right to subsidise low-carbon technologies, or it is not. Nuclear has arguably a much better claim to support than wind.

The current experience in Finland shows that it is perfectly possible to build new nuclear capacity on a commercial basis without subsidy (especially with oil at $75 a barrel!). But nuclear investment is uniquely vulnerable to the vagaries of government regulation and legislation over many decades, and it seems to me that investors in the industry are entitled to ask for some comfort or reassurance from government on a sustained level playing field.

The high price of hot air

The EU's Emissions Trading programme, a key tool towards its Kyoto commitment, is already in chaos, and as so often happens it is particularly damaging to Britain.

I have mixed feelings about emissions trading. I welcome market mechanisms as the best way of allocating resources and using them efficiently. Yet the market created by the emissions trading programme is wholly artificial, hugely bureaucratic, and riven with anomalies resulting from initial conditions and grandfather rights. It creates a disincentive to enterprise and innovation, while subsidising the old and the inefficient.

A new research study from Open Europe shows that the EU system is failing from the start, since member-states were given wide latitude on setting initial allowances. Germany put national interest before green objectives, and allocated generous limits, while our own Labour government put on its hair shirt and set tight targets for the UK.

The result? British companies are having to buy permits from German companies. We will transfer something like 1 billion to Germany in the first three years. We set out to create a mechanism to save the world. But we have created a mechanism that taxes British firms and pays the proceeds to German firms. Not very smart, really.

The pamphlet is available at: http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/ets.pdf

The joys of euro-speak: all process, no substance

On July 11th I attended a dinner debate at which Finnish Secretary of State for Transport, Perttu Puro, outlined priorities for the Finnish Presidency. It was a caricature of an EU speech. It was all about White Papers and Common Policies and logistics and meetings and proposals and discussions. It was all process, with no substance or content or objectives or outcomes.

When it came to questions I asked "Yes, but what are you going to do?", which got a titter from the audience. The answer was classic. "Yes, but this is how we do things in the EU, with speeches and consultations and so on".

I had with me a young Nottingham-Trent politics undergrad, Rowena Brown. She was (as they say) gob-smacked. I think she learned more about the EU in those ten minutes than in a whole university course.

Crime & punishment

It seems that David Cameron is adopting the New Labour position of "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", with his hug-a-hoodie call. Let's hope that Cameron, unlike Blair, has worked out that the causes of crime are, by and large, criminals.


That's it for this Strasbourg session. We have two Strasbourg sessions in September, so there'll be a second helping in three weeks!