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Straight Talking - October 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.

It's official! EU costs outweigh benefits 4 to 1!

Further proof that the EU is making us poorer

The think-tank Open Europe has just commissioned an independent study of 1000 UK Chief Executives, and finds that the majority believe that the costs of EU regulation outweigh the benefits of the Single Market.

And they're right. Commission Vice-President Gunther Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry, says he estimates the annual EU-wide cost of excessive regulation at €600 billion. That's nearly four times the estimated trade benefit of the Single Market. The EU is costing us far more than any good it may be doing. It is making us poorer.

At the 2004 CBI Conference Commissioner Peter Mandelson estimated EU regulatory costs for the UK at 4% of GDP, and EU trade benefits at 1.8%. The multiple is slightly different, but both Commissioners agree that costs far outweigh benefits.

SPEAK OUT: the new campaign for a referendum on repatriation

I think that I only heard David Cameron mention Europe, at Conference, in the context of "We mustn't keep banging on about Europe". But with up to 80% of our new laws coming from Brussels, it's difficult to see how we can aspire to govern the country and not mention Europe.

So I'm delighted to welcome a new campaign calling for a referendum on repatriation to Britain of powers over trade, agriculture and fisheries, and the control of our borders. Backed by a group of Northern businessmen, the campaign will communicate the reality of the EU to voters. It has my full support. See www.speakout.co.uk

The sun shone in Bournemouth ...

... well it shone by Tuesday, after the wind and rain the day before, and delegates at the 2006 Party Conference were delighted to see it.

I always enjoy Conference, and I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to thank all those Conservatives who did so much to support me while I sat whip-less in Brussels.

But I was a bit concerned at all this talk of "not being pressured into tax cuts". We're Conservatives, for heaven's sake! We shouldn't need to be pressured. We should live and breathe small government and low taxes. In fact the best Conservative speech on the opening Sunday was from Repub­lic­an Senator John McCain. He was quite clear about it. Conservatives believe in small government and low taxes. The best government is the least government. OK, so it's a Jefferson line, but he was right to quote it.

But I was reassured by George Osborne's barn-storming speech on the Tuesday, where he made it clear that we as a Party stand for lower taxes -- and delighted to read in the DT (Oct 18th) that we will plan to scrap stamp duty on share deals. The City of London and the financial services markets are absolutely fundamental to our economy, and the current stamp duty régime threatens London's competitiveness.

Better Off Out: The Fringe Meeting

The Freedom Association sponsored a Fringe Meeting at the Bath Hotel on Tuesday October 3rd, where the speaker panel consisted of Dan Hannan MEP, Philip Davies MP (Shipley), Laura Midgely of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, and myself. The meeting was a sell-out success, with every seat taken in the De Vere Suite, and dozens of people sitting on the steps at the back. The whole event was a rousing reaffirmation of our determination to reclaim the independence of our country.

Back in the main Conference Hall that afternoon, we were told that the idea of leaving the EU was "myopic". Many Conservatives will disagree.

Spreading the word: distributing the DVD

I had a team of young people helping to distribute my "Putting Britain First" DVD at the Conference, and John Hess of BBC Midlands filmed the process, and hoped to use it in his coverage. If you still don't have a copy, please send an A5 SAE to 11, Central Park, Lutterworth LE17 4PN

Badgers and Bovine TB

The Advertising Standards Agency has rubbished claims from the RSPCA that Bovine Tuberculosis is mainly transmitted from cattle to cattle, describing them as "Untruthful and unsubstantiated". The Farmers Union of Wales welcomed the decision and condemned the RSPCA for its inability to be objective, and for its attempts to manipulate public opinion. DEFRA's final report on the 'Randomised Badger Culling Trial' is due in 2007.

The RSPCA is wonderful when it rescues suffering animals from intolerable conditions. But it is downright awful when it spends charitable donations on political campaigning, and on highly contentious and debatable claims, which arguably do no good, and may do actual harm, to animals.

It deserved the ASA's strictures. Let's hope it takes them to heart. The idea that badgers don't play a major part in the transmission of bovine TB is like arguing that smoking doesn't cause cancer. It's sad that the RSPCA parades its compassion for badgers, but seems indifferent to the welfare of cattle or of the farmers who tend them.

Firework night is nearly here

I don't want to be a spoilsport, but each year millions of animals -- horses, dogs, cats -- are terrified by the noise of fireworks, and many thousands of owners suffer along with them. It's not just November 5th. These days the fireworks seem to last a fortnight. Decent folk who would never dream of harming an animal intentionally are perfectly happy to make a noise like a bad night on the Western Front, and explode aerial shells over stable blocks.

Please think carefully before using noisy fireworks. Or make a night of it and go to an organised display in a safe place.

Polish President "cannot see advantage" in EU Constitution

In an interview with the Times Polish President Lech Kaczynski stresses his support for the British view of Europe. He says that the two countries have a common cause in fighting federalism. He recalls that a senior European politician once told him: "If you carry on in this direction you will be left alone with the British." He replied that "this is good company for Poland!" The article reports that Kaczynski "would like to see a strong Europe that is a union of nation states", but that the EU Constitution is a "quasi­-federalist" recipe. "What is in it for us, as Poland?" he asked. "I cannot see any advantage for us." Good man.

North Korea: No meeting of minds

Whenever I meet the North Koreans, something dramatic seems to happen. While I was in Pyongyang last year, they returned with a great flourish to the six-party talks. I met them again this week, in Brussels, a delegation from their Supreme People's Assembly, and spent best part of a day with them in the immediate aftermath of their nuclear test.

They believe (or say they believe) that America is their great enemy, and that they need a nuclear deterrent to deter American "aggression". This is con­sis­t­ent with their domestic propaganda, building up a threat of an imminent American invasion. We patiently explained that the only reason that the US took an interest in NK is the threat they represent to stability in East Asia, and that without their bloated military, and their nuclear programme, they would be left alone in perfect security. They just couldn't (or wouldn't) see it. Photo on the web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com.

Busting an Irish myth

Between 1998 and 2004, the Irish economy grew by 61.2%. Many euro­philes will tell you that this reflects the benefits of EU fund transfers to Ireland. But in the same period, Scotland received more funding pro rata from the UK (i.e. from England) than Ireland did from Brussels. And in the same period Scotland grew by only 13.5%! (Source: John Redwood's booklet "The Case for Lower Taxes").

Many factors affect economic performance, but there is a powerful case that what made the difference was Ireland's lower tax régime. Low taxes create growth and prosperity, and (counter-intuitively) deliver higher tax revenues.

Emma socks it to them!

Sadly, we don't have a woman Conservative MEP in the East Midlands, but we do have an engaging and effective woman speaker who can cover the same territory. On the last weekend in September my researcher Emma McClarkin spoke to the Buxton Coffee Club in the High Peak constituency, which we are expecting Andrew Bingham to win for the Party at the next General Election.

Emma spoke about the work of the European Parliament, and by all accounts (including Andrew's!) she did a good job. If you'd like a woman speaker for an event, give her a buzz on 00322 284 7764. Fridays or weekends are best in view of her work commitments in Brux.

Canvassing in Quorn

On Saturday morning Sept 30th I was out in Quorn and Loughborough - see photo - canvassing for our by-election candidate James Poland. He fought a good campaign, but in the end we came third after Labour and the BNP..

There is a message here. I fully support the Party's efforts to reach out to the middle ground, without whom we will never form a government. But we also need to reassure our core voters who still care about tax and immigration and crime and Europe. If not, we risk seeing them migrate to minor parties. In particular UKIP has adopted a strategy of offering these very policies. We must not let them steal our clothes.

REACH hits home in Leicestershire

On Oct 6th I attended the Institute of Chartered Accountants annual dinner in Leicester, and sat on the same table as Richard Brucciani, a well-known businessman in the county. He makes (inter alia) disinfectant wipes for the health and catering markets. One of his suppliers recently advised him that a key ingredient would soon cease to be available. He asked why. "Because the substance (although perfectly safe), would have to be registered under the EU's new chemicals directive REACH. And the cost of registration is disproportionate to the value of the item, so we're discontinuing it".

So first of all, Richard has to go back to the lab, and try to re-formulate his products using other ingredients which continue to be available. But it doesn't end there. Because the products are safety-sensitive, he then has to go to various authorising bodies -- the NHS, Health & Safety and so on -- and seek accreditation for his new formulations. A long, slow, tedious, expensive process, which almost certainly will not improve anyone's safety, and could prejudice the efficacy of the products. All because of an onerous, heavy-handed piece of EU legislation. And that's just one company in one city. It will be duplicated a hundred thousand times over across the EU.

Yet we still talk of making the EU "the most competitive economy in the world" (the "Lisbon process"), while every new piece of EU legislation damages our competitiveness.

Bug-spray for horses:

An exactly parallel situation has arisen for an old stand-by, citronella spray for horses. No one has suggested any problem with citronella, which is a naturally occurring substance, and has been used for decades to relieve horses from annoyance by flies in the summer. Now it is to be discontinued, not because of any safety problem, but because it is just not commercially worthwhile to get approval under new EU veterinary rules. The world has gone mad.

Replacing dangerous chemicals with safe ones:

This is a proposed amendment to REACH, and dozens of constituents have written in support of it. At first sight, what could make more sense? Of course we should replace dangerous chemicals with safe ones! But hang on a minute.

Do we really imagine that a responsible company would actually use a dangerous ingredient when a safe one was available? I've worked for a number of multinationals, and they were all jealous of their reputations and crucially concerned about safety.

Then, who judges what is safe? If a "safe" replacement is later proved to do harm, who is liable? The company? The legislators?

And what if we have to balance-off two risks? Take a fire-retardant chemical which, if injected into rats in very large doses will cause cancer (as very many commonplace substances do)? I wouldn't want to face a parent whose child had burned to death, and explain that I had banned a fire-retardant to avoid a hypothetical risk of carcinogenicity. Hard cases make bad law, and so does cheap populism.

You know I think Jack Straw is right (for once!).

Whether or not he had an ulterior motive, I think Jack Straw was right in his comments about Muslim women veiling their faces. It does not appear to be a religious requirement, since many devout Muslim women do not do so.

In an earlier life, I spent many years in Asian countries, where it was customary to take off one's shoes in people's homes. I suppose I could have stamped on the threshold and asserted my right to wear shoes. But I should never have dreamed of doing so -- it would have been a gross discourtesy to my host, and to the host culture. I was very happy to conform to local custom and take off my shoes.

As an MEP, I try always to make myself available to constituents. If any constituent, for whatever reason, doesn't want to meet me face-to-face, then they can write or e-mail or phone. But if they come to see me, then I shall expect to see them. Reciprocity is a two-way street, and we need to hear a little less about rights, and a little more about courtesy and respect.

Nicolas Sarkozy: now the bad news.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph (Oct 8th), Nicolas Sarkozy, hot prospect for the French Presidency, says that the French NO vote in the referendum the EU constitution is "unequivocal and binding". But he the goes on to ask for a "mini-treaty", and other measures, which would have the effect of bringing in (without further referenda), all of the most objectionable provisions of the rejected Constitution.

He wants more majority voting (i.e. we should give up our remaining vetoes). He wants an EU Foreign Minister. He wants a legal personality to enable the EU to "participate in international organisations as a single political entity" (i.e. he wants our seat at the UN). And he wants tax-raising powers for the EU -- that is, new EU taxes!

We are so often told that rising stars of the "centre-right" in Europe -- our EPP partners -- share our views on a flexible Europe of nation-states. Berlusconi, Merkel, and now Sarkozy. Sarkozy was even given a spot (via video link) at the recent Party Conference in Bournemouth. But don't believe a word of it. Sarkozy is committed to a unitary state of Europe just as much as Jacques Delors ever was. He was just spinning the story -- not very successfully -- to pretend that the Constitution is dead, when he is in fact busy resuscitating it.

Very few people in Europe have any sympathy with the Conservative view of the EU (and least of all in the EPP, which calls itself "the motor of EU integration"). We will not "win the arguments" and persuade them to accept our vision. They will just keep going down the federalist path, and rely on us following along. And follow we will, until a future British government gets a grip on the issue and calls a halt.

Quote of the month:

Ronald Reagan: "This (Democrat) government's policy is:
If it moves, tax it.
If it keeps moving, regulate it.
If it stops moving, subsidise it".


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