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Straight Talking - November 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: The tide is turning

Last month I reported on EU Commission Vice-President Günther Verheugen's extraordinary admission that the regulatory costs of the EU are up to four times higher than any trade benefits from the Single Market. Journalists have had a field day with the news.

This is Jeff Randall in the Telegraph Business News of October 18th. First he quotes from a Dow Jones report of May 2003: "Outside Euro, UK stands to lose economic and political clout".

Then he writes: "For the sad souls who cling to the fast-disappearing hope of that headline ever coming true, it has been another miserable week. Facts are stripping away the Eurofanatics' clothing. Very soon they will stand covered by nothing but the jock-strap of their own perverse desire to further erode British Sovereignty".

He goes on to make the points about the Open Europe survey showing that a majority of British CEOs believe that EU costs exceed benefits, and Commissioner Verheugen's estimate of EU regulatory costs.

Ruth Lea of the Centre for Policy Studies writes: "In the business community, it is no longer heretical to suggest that the UK should move to a free trade area with the EU ... those who believe otherwise are locked in the outdated geo-economics of the mid-twentieth century".

In late October I dined in London with a group of prominent businessmen. Our genial host, in the course of his business, regularly hosts lunches for small groups of CEOs from major British companies. He remarked that five years ago, it was eccentric and "almost indecent" (his word) to express any doubt about the EU, or the Single Market, or the euro. Today that has all changed, and the mainstream view is that the EU is costing more than it is worth, and that we need radical renegotiation.

We are reaching a tipping point. It is increasingly difficult to argue that "the benefits of EU membership are self-evident", as lazy thinkers and government ministers love to say. Indeed, the opposite is true. My big worry is that our Party, fearing to talk about the EU issue, is not only falling behind the public mood, but risks missing out a key shift in business opinion as well.

Vote in the Bruges Group Poll

If you believe we want a proper cost/benefit analysis of EU membership, visit the Bruges Group poll on www.brugesgroup.com/polls.live

German ratification in doubt: now for some good news!

Although ratified by both houses of parliament in Germany, the EU Constitution now faces a legal challenge in Germany's Constitutional Court prior to signature by the President. The Court has agreed to consider the case, but apparently is in no great hurry to do so. This puts a big question mark over Angela Merkel's plans to re-start the constitutional process during the German presidency (Jan/Jun 2007).

Where next for Blair?

I've tended to dismiss speculation that Tony's career plan anticipated the Presidency of the EU when he leaves Downing Street. I simply couldn't believe that a British Prime Minister would put his own career ambitions ahead of the interests of the country. And Blair's stock in Brussels is not what it was, what with the Iraq War, the EU budget fiasco, and his perceived failure to move on the euro or the Constitution.

But I may have to think again. There are rumours in the corridors of a plot to deliver Blair to the top job, and to deliver Britain, kicking and screaming, to "the heart of Europe". As soon as I can pin this story down, and source it, you'll be the first to hear!

They're wasting how much? That much?!

Reports from Baghdad suggest that the new Iraqi administration is embezzling up to $4 billion a year of the reconstruction funds they're getting from America. That's getting towards the same scale as the amount of our money that's lost to fraud and maladministration in Brussels. Now there's a thought!

Tally Ho! The 2006/7 hunting season opens

Who would have thought that eighteen months into the iniquitous hunting ban, hunts would be in better shape than ever? No jobs lost, no hounds put down, and more foxes taken than before (although all, of course, within the law!). Hunts are reporting a new level of interest, with some actually having to turn new subscribers away. The East Midlands is the heart and soul of hunting country, and we're not beaten yet.

And more good news. At its recent AGM, the National Trust saw off an attempt by animal rights zealots to impose a total ban on deer hunting on Trust land (the law allows the pursuit of injured deer on a limited basis for welfare reasons). A resolution for a total ban was defeated by around 20 thousand to 12 thousand. So my one vote didn't make much difference, but I was happy to cast it in favour of common sense and animal welfare.

The Stern report: Garbage in, garbage out

Predictably, the Stern report on climate change, commissioned by the Treasury, endorsed the conventional wisdom. In the computer business, they used to say "Garbage in, garbage out". If you start with dodgy science, you get dodgy answers.

I have another problem with Stern. He tots up all the possible costs of climate change (and some not-so-possible), and comes up with a big number. But all major changes (if they occur at all) create winners and losers. Higher atmospheric CO2 improves crop yields. We'd see desertifi­cation in Africa, but huge new areas of cultivation in northern Eurasia and Canada. Many economists think that the benefits would be of the same order as the costs.

The government tells us that the argument is over and that all scientists accept the Armageddon-scenario. This is simply not true -- many scientists and climatologists dispute it -- but they have difficulty getting research funding in the current hysteria-driven environment.

I get an excellent and regular digest of abstracts from scientific and academic sources challenging the prevailing climate wisdom, collated at Liverpool John Moores University. Check the web-site at www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis/CCNet-homepage.htm

Don't believe it!

An excellent article by Christopher Monckton in the Sunday Telegraph of Nov 5th carries this headline. He makes some startling points:

Mediaeval warm period: Between 1100 and 1300, global temperatures were not only higher than today, but higher than anything we can reasonably predict in the next century. But the doom-mongers have simply air-brushed this history from the record. They can't bear to talk about it.

The hockey-stick curve: The doom-mongers (including the IPCC) repeatedly show the so-called "Hockey-stick Curve", which shows roughly constant temperatures from the year 1000 until about 1900, when there is an alarming up-tick. This graph was created using a wholly-discredited computer-model which always gives a hockey-stick curve -- even if fed with random data! Yet they keep using it.

Gross exaggeration: They are exaggerating both the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the warming effect of CO2. Meantime they ignore the effect of increased solar radiation, which many scientists believe could be enough by itself to account for any observed changes in global temperatures.

Reversing the correlation: Changes in CO2 levels seem to correlate with changes in temperature. But what they don't mention is that over geological time, the peaks in CO2 levels come after the peaks in temperature, not before!

The fact is that observed changes so far, and those we can anticipate in the foreseeable future, are well within the known range of natural variation in the last 1000 years. After all, when the Vikings reached Greenland -- it was green! And they were making wine in Scotland.

We in Britain are being asked to make heroic sacrifices, not to mitigate global warming (after all, we only produce 2% of global emissions to start with), but in the pathetic hope that by setting a good example we will persuade China and India to follow suit. Some hope.

But let's cut dependence on fossil fuels anyway

I'm all in favour of cutting our use of fossil fuels -- and starting a major new-build programme for nuclear power -- but for a different reason. Most of our oil and gas comes from highly unstable parts of the world -- the Middle East, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria. Energy security demands that we find alternatives. And if that helps the eco-warriors to sleep better, well and good!

Nigel Lawson addresses climate change

As most readers will know, Nigel Lawson is not only a former Conservative Chancellor, but also a former MP for Blaby. We should respect his views on both counts! He has written a stunning indictment of the conventional wisdom on climate change, "An Appeal to Reason", which has been published by the Centre for Policy Studies. See their website at www.cps.org.uk/latestpublications

Key Quote: "It is simply not true to say that the science is settled; and the recent attempt of the Royal Society, of all bodies, to prevent the funding of climate scientists who do not share its alarmist view of the matter is truly shocking".

Perverse results of EU Emissions Trading

The principle mechanism by which the EU hopes to meet its Kyoto targets is the Emissions Trading System (ETS). However as I have reported previously, this has been hopelessly distorted by different initial allocations in different member-states. The German government was generous, while the UK government (eager to burnish its green cred) took a hair-shirt approach.

As a result, British companies are spending approximately £500 million a year simply buying carbon credits from German companies. This will do nothing for global warming, but will damage the British economy.

A new Open Europe survey shows that UK Hospital Trusts have now spent close to £6 million buying carbon credits, while both Shell & BP have made over £40 million by selling them. As Neil O'Brien of Open Europe says "Only the EU could create an environment policy which takes money from hospitals and gives it to big oil companies".

Our government keeps shooting itself in the foot as EU regulations, which it has accepted, impact on public services and especially the NHS. The Working Time Directive (where France is engaged in a vicious campaign to end the British opt-out) is a case in point.

Tax-payer funded propaganda for EU citizenship

On Oct 21st I found myself speaking in the chamber in Straz at 10:30 p.m., on the Takulla report, which provides for 215 million euros to be spent on propaganda for European citizenship. I made clear in no uncertain terms that I was a British citizen, that I rejected the concept of EU citizenship, and that it was wrong to use tax-payers' money to promote a contentious idea.

I was immediately followed by my colleague Chris Beazley MEP, who told us what wonderful things the citizenship, and the propaganda, were. The Party is, after all, a broad church. I have posted both speeches here. For more on this, and the threat it represents in our schools, check the Civitas site at www.civitas.org.uk/speakers/newsletters/SpeakerNewsletterNov06.pdf (Adobe Reader required)

Nick Palmer MP and regional government

I happened to be corresponding with Nick Palmer MP (Broxtowe) on the subject of regional government. He wrote to me:

"Let me take the opportunity to respond to your letter on EMDA and the Regional Assembly. I do think that they are both largely unknown to most people, and that has to be a problem. It would be solved if we had direct election, but as you know the public in the NE didn't want that, and I doubt if our voters would feel any differently. I don't think getting rid of them solves the problem either, since we clearly need someone to look at regional issues; I live on the Notts/Derbyshire border and issues don't neatly stop there! Rather, I think they need to work on greater transparency and public consultation, so people know what they do and can influence them more".

I replied:

"Dear Nick, Many thanks, and I appreciate your measured comments. I agree that there are always issues that cross county borders, although not always in a neat regional way. For example the Peak District covers Derbyshire, Staffs and a bit of Cheshire -- three counties, but also three regions!"

I should be happy for county councils (or police authorities, fire services or whatever) to cooperate cross-border on whatever basis seems good to them. This does not, however, justify expensive new regional bureaucracies that suck up power away from local people, and are more likely to respond to the behest of Whitehall than to local voters.

This argument reads across directly to the EU. I am all in favour of European countries coming together in appropriate ad hoc groupings to solve cross-border problems, but I am not in favour of permanent supra-national authorities and institutions.

A classic example: there is every reason for Britain, Norway, Denmark and Belgium to cooperate in the management of fisheries and environment in the North Sea. But I see no benefit in the EU doing it. The EU excludes a major interested party (Norway) and includes many with no legitimate interest (Portugal, Slovenia, Greece etc).

Quote of the month

"It was said of the Bourbons that they had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. New Labour can trump the Bourbons: it has learnt nothing and forgotten everything". Charles Moore.

Uncanny, that

It is a curious feeling when you suddenly find an opinion which you have held for some time, and occasionally talked about, suddenly cropping up in print. The Sunday Telegraph's Business Editor Dan Roberts writes: "It is a humbling truth for politicians that most of their power is negative: the opportunities to mess things up by meddling are multiple; their ability to add value or create wealth on anything like the scale of the private sector is tiny". Amen to that, say I.

In the EU, our reaction to any problem (and some non-problems) is to launch a new initiative, a new directive, a new regulation. Often we would do much better to repeal an old one.

How can we stop criminals re-offending?

In the year 2005/06, sixty serious crimes were committed by offenders let loose "under licence and supervision in the community". And this was only from the "high risk" group. Include those ironically known as "lower risk", and the number could be as high as 250 innocent victims murdered or raped by known criminals we have chosen to release.

Amid all the horrible crime reports in our media, one in particular caught my eye. Six years ago, a teenage girl was walking through an underpass in Peterborough when she was hit on the head with a blunt instrument, fracturing her skull. Her assailant then raped her, and left her unconscious, careless whether she lived or died. In fact she lived, but that was thanks to the medical team, and no credit to her attacker.

It seems to me that the moral responsibility of the attacker is just the same as if she had died, since she might well have done so, and it was no thanks to him that she survived. He was as bad as a murderer.

It is my personal view that, subject to the usual caveats about certainty and judges' discretion, we should consider reintroducing capital punishment, and not only for murder but also for offences like the one I describe. Not for retribution, though such crimes cry out to heaven for vengeance. Not for deterrence, although in my view some potential offenders are deterred by the prospect of serious punishment.

No. The one unassailable argument for the death penalty is this: if we hang the brute, he can't do it again. Human rights are all very well, but it is time we thought more about the rights of future potential victims, and less about the rights of convicted rapists and murderers.

Melton Mowbray pork pies win court battle

It looks as though Melton Mowbray Pork Pies will now get protected status. Well done the Pork Pie Association.

Nice one-liner: "Accountants expect you to be punctual. Actuaries expect you to be dead on time".