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Straight Talking - January 2007

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: A Union of Democratic Values?

Happy New Year. January marks the start of Germany's six-month Presidency of the EU. Angela Merkel's Number One Objective? To give the kiss of life to the failed EU Constitution, which was rejected fair-and-square in mid-2005 by the French and Dutch. Her contempt for the views of the voters is breathtaking. So much for democracy.

Protectionist, Statist, Integrationist -- the EPP's New Leader

Last week the EPP group in the parliament elected Joseph Daul as their new leader (the former leader, Hans-Gert Poettering, will become President of the parliament as a whole). Daul is a French farmer. Indeed he was leader of the French farmer's union at the time of the ban on British beef, and was a keen advocate of the ban. He lives near Strasbourg, and is a strong supporter of the Straz/Brux two-seat lunacy.

He takes a typical French view of European matters -- protectionist, statist, corporatist, and a passionate advocate of the euro and the EU Constitution.

The third round of voting was head-to-head between Daul and Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish Moderata. Gunnar is an Atlanticist and a free marketeer. He is the nearest thing you will find to a Conservative amongst continental MEPs. And the EPP rejected him for Daul. This tells you all you need to know about the EPP.

Thank heaven that David Cameron is committed to getting us out of the EPP in 2009. But with Daul in charge, there is nothing to be gained by delay. We should quit now.

Late news: on Jan 13th, the media reported that Daul is under investigation for alleged mis-use of public funds, related to farming subsidies used by French farming unions in 1991 to 1999. When Cameron decided to leave the EPP, opponents said (wrongly, in my view) that we should end up sitting with some pretty dodgy characters. Now it seems that staying in the EPP, we're being led by a pretty dodgy character!

EU to begin funding BNP

I wish I could tell you that I was making this up, or that it was a bad-taste, April Fool joke. But No. It seems to be true. Now that Romania and Bulgaria have joined the EU, there are enough extreme right parties and MEPs to form a European alliance of the far-right, which looks set to qualify for EU political funding of around €200,000. Although the BNP has no MEPs, it can still join the alliance as a political party, and so qualify for EU funding.

Bizarre to think that the Conservative Party as things stand will not qualify for such funding (it goes to the EPP trans-national party which we aren't in and don't want to join). But just a hint of a silver lining: when we form a new group in 2009, the Guardian won't be able to accuse us of joining extremists -- because they'll all be in their own, separate group!

Scotland to leave the EU?

According to a report in The Scotsman, the European Commission has suggested that if Scotland became independent from the UK, it would not automatically become a new EU member-state, but would have to apply all over again. But if that applies to Scotland, surely in logic it ought to apply to England too? In both cases, the former member state (the UK) has ceased to exist, and two new entities -- Scotland; and England+Wales+NI -- will exist. If one part has to re-apply, so should the other.

If we were once out of the EU, I don't think for a moment that the political will would exist in England to re-join. I am a life-long Unionist and opposed to the break-up of the UK. But if it would get us out of the EU, maybe I should have to think again!

(This story featured January 16th on www.conservativehome.com .)

What a way to hang a tyrant

Boris Johnson was right. The manner of Saddam Hussein's hanging was both reprehensible and indefensible (whether Tony Blair feels able to mention it or not).

But let's get it in perspective. Here was a man who had tortured and shot and gassed and starved tens of thousands of his fellow-countrymen. His victims cried out from the grave for justice and vengeance. A few callow insults, as Saddam shuffled to the gallows, pale into insignificance compared to the suffering of his victims.

It was right to hang Saddam. No other sentence would have been remotely commensurate with the enormity of his crimes. The tyrant is dead. Despite the admitted infelicities in the manner of his execution, both we, and the Iraqi people, should rejoice at his passing.

Of course assorted Iraqi Sunnis and Baathists will seek to make political capital out of the hanging, and to present Saddam as a martyr. But I greatly regret the fact that Western media seem to be giving them aid and comfort in that endeavour.

BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: The Christmas Repeal

More than half of Today Programme listeners, in the BBC's "Christmas Repeal" poll for the Act of Parliament we'd most like to see binned, voted for (or if you like, against) the Hunting Act. Sensible folk, and well done the Countryside Alliance. I must admit that I was torn, because the short list included the 1972 European Communities Act, and repealing that would take the UK out of the EU. But at least that came 2nd, with 30% of the vote. I suspect the BBC weren't too happy with the result.

Jeremy Clarkson hits a nerve

Jeremy Clarkson, the famously outspoken broadcaster and motoring journalist, has been reprimanded by the BBC. His offence? Describing a small convertible as "a bit gay". And just to make it clear that he was using the term "gay" in its modern, corrupted sense, he added "a bit ginger beer" (Cockney rhyming slang .... geddit?!).

Why is it that some groups in society, notably homosexuals, seem to regard almost any reference to themselves as automatically pejorative? It suggests a terminal lack of self-respect and self-confidence, an over-developed sense of victim-hood, a mighty chip on the shoulder.

First up to the microphone, it's Ben Summerskill, described as Chief Executive of Stonewall, a well-known and strident homosexual advocacy group. "This is not light-hearted teasing, this is inappropriate language". Wrong, wrong, wrong, Ben. It is colourful, graphic, entertaining language.

The BBC's reprimand bespeaks a craven submission to political correctness, which devalues the richness and variety of our language, and of public discourse. Keep telling it like it is, Jeremy, and we'll keep watching.

Late news: "Gay" changes meaning again! At Christmas, I was given a copy of John Humphrys's book "Beyond Words". It tells us that on the street, the word "gay" has changed again. It now means sad (bizarrely!), weak, inadequate, unattractive. I wonder what Mr. Summerskill will make of that!

A slice of life -- Brussels style

On December 19th I voted, along with around 40 other MEPs, in the Unemployment Committee, on a report on "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR), scribed by Labour MEP Richard Howitt.

The proposed legislation would place statutory obligations on companies in a range of areas, including the environment and employee relations, plus a range of reporting requirements which will create a whole new layer of bureaucracy and red-tape. The irony is that these key areas are already heavily regulated by the EU, and this new proposal will largely duplicate existing rules, and create vast areas of confusion, anomaly and uncertainty. The thrust of the Conservative position has been to support the broad principles of CSR while calling for the EU to adopt an advisory rather than a legislative stance.

We spent more than an hour voting over 200 amendments. Many of the votes were close, with Tories and the EPP voting for a voluntary approach, socialists voting for compulsion. Greens, Liberals and assorted Marxists seemed to vote on an ad hoc basis, but rarely changing the outcome. Our regional UKIP colleague Derek Clark frequently voted with the socialists.

We lost just about every significant vote. But because the votes were so close, and the committee room lacked electronic voting, we were constantly delayed for manual counts. I have to say that by the end, I was wondering if I had been wasting my time.

We voted against the whole package, and lost 25/15. But our spokesman Philip Bushill-Matthews (W Mids) was in his usual ebullient mood. Because most of the votes had been close, he believes that the rapporteur may have to compromise before the plenary vote, and in any case we shall be able to move amendments there. The battle goes on.

Leaders of Europe

Despite the pretentious title, "Leaders of Europe" is a lively TV debate show available on the net at www.leadersofeurope.com. It's recorded live in Brussels, and it's very easily accessible -- just click here for a particular 30 minute episode, and it downloads and plays.

Chris and I and other sound MEP colleagues seem to be represented disproportionately on the show. I think the reason is that if you were to take four MEPs at random for a debate, you'd get a soggy europhile consensus that would be about as exciting as last week's rice pudding. But if they come to us, they get forthright opinions presented in a lively and challenging way.

The "You-Couldn't-Make-It-Up" department

On December 13th we voted on an agricultural resolution on the banana sector, A6-0422/2006. The rapporteur was a Mr. Jean Claude Frouteau. It's like Happy Families. Mr. Frouteau the banana rapporteur.

Jacques Chirac to run again?

Apparently Chirac is still toying with the idea of running for re-election as President of the Republic. They say an aide told him "Mr. President, if you run, every right-thinking Frenchman will support you". "Not good enough", replied Chirac, "I need a majority".

Labour hopelessly confused on education

Pity the poor teachers. Labour's education initiatives are appearing faster than leaves falling in autumn. I was amazed to read that Labour proposed a voucher scheme for summer school for bright pupils. Many Conservatives have been urging a school voucher scheme for years. The Labour proposal is not quite the same thing, but we've seen Labour steal our clothes too many times.

But up popped Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the NUT, to insist that: "Only children with the pushiest parents take advantage of vouchers. All other children get left behind". If he doesn't know that this is nonsense, he has no business to be in the field of education. Where vouchers are used, for example in the US, it is the parents of the poorest children who are keenest on them, believing rightly that education vouchers are a passport out of their cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

Then we have Labour's proposal to provide "personalised learning" across state schools -- a classic example of policy-making by spin. They thought the phrase "personalised learning" would make a good headline, and they're still flapping about trying to work out what it might mean.

It will certainly mean a huge waste of resources, because class teaching is a much more efficient use of teachers' time. And it will mean a vast new layer of form-filling and red tape for our hard-pressed teachers.

The best way to use teachers' time, and to offer excellent education to all children, is to have staff teaching groups of children with similar ability. That can be achieved through setting, or streaming, or selection. Come to think of it, isn't that Conservative Policy?

Health fascists vs. cheese: 2nd round

It was only a few months ago that I was high-lighting the threat to Stilton Cheese from the health fascists at the Food Standards Authority. They wanted to reduce the salt content of Stilton, which would have been a disaster for the industry.

Now they're at it again. They've linked up with OfCom to classify cheese as "junk food", because of its fat content, and to impose draconian restrictions on advertising for cheese.

For generations, for centuries, cheese has been recognised, rightly, as a healthy, natural and nutritious food. Dieticians tell us that growing children need plenty of calcium for healthy teeth and bones, and that it is difficult to construct a diet with enough calcium unless it includes cheese.

We're all too familiar with the Nanny State sticking its nose in where it's not wanted. This time it's not just intrusive. It's quite simply wrong.

Quote of the month

If you want to start the year with an anti-dote to the doom-mongers, here it is:

"For billions of people around the world, these are the best of times to be alive. From Beijing to Bratislava, more of us are living longer, healthier and more comfortable lives than at any time in history; fewer of us are suffering from poverty, hunger or illiteracy. Pestilence, famine, death and even war, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are in retreat, thanks to the liberating forces of capitalism and technology."
Allister Heath, The Spectator, December 2006

Our NHS -- The envy of the world?

A constituent wrote to me recently complaining about the "marketisation" of the NHS. "Would hospitals soon have to advertise soap powder in their waiting rooms?" he asked. I rarely write about health issues, so it is perhaps worth quoting my reply:

I'm afraid I take a rather different view from you (and from David Cameron) on this. I believe that the state should pay for health care for those who want it, "free at the point of use", but I don't believe that the state should manage or deliver it -- if only for the obvious reason that it does so very badly indeed.

Of course health is critically important, and not a mere commodity. So is food, but no one says we should nationalise Tesco!

The NHS is the last best example I know of a major unreconstructed, centrally-planned state business. It is practically a Stalinist model. We used to say that the NHS was the second largest employer in Europe after the Red Army, but I believe the Red Army has shrunk and the NHS is Number One. We always used to believe that our NHS was the envy of the world. So it's a bit odd that no one copies it, and that most major European countries have better healthcare outcomes than we do!

Book Review: "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton

About the first TV series I can remember is "The Andromeda Strain". I was quite surprised to realise that it was written by the "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton.

He likes to take a theme from current science and build a thriller around it. His new book "State of Fear" is based on the current alarm over predictions of global warming. It's another brilliant page-turner in the Crichton mould, but alongside the fiction he builds in foot-note references to real, current peer-reviewed research. And for those whose knowledge of global warming issues is based on media scare-mongering, or on Al Gore's recent film, the science may come as a surprise.

Did you know that the world today is cooler than it was in 1200 AD, the mediaeval warm period? Or that the USA (with some of the world's best climate records) is cooler today than it was in 1930? That the Antarctic contains more than 90% of all the world's ice, and that over the last twenty years records show the Antarctic cooling slightly? And the Antarctic ice-mass increasing? At 26.8 gigatons a year, as it happens, reversing a 6000 year melting trend.

Crichton notes that the global warming scare emerged around the end of the eighties, just about the time that the Cold War ceased to be seen as a threat. It's almost as though the powers-that-be need a good scare story to justify various taxation and global governance initiatives. I'll be reviewing "State of Fear" at greater length in the February edition of Freedom Today, and the piece will be on www.rogerhelmer.com shortly.

The EU is behind John Reid's ID card scheme

The UK Government presented its long-awaited proposals for national ID cards on Dec 19th, the last day of parliament for the year. John Reid announced that all non-EU nationals applying for a visa for more than 6 months will have to give their biometric data to UK authorities. Citizens from 108 higher-risk countries will also have to give biometric details as they enter the country. ID cards for UK nationals will be introduced from 2009 and will become compulsory the following year.

It is interesting that none of the press coverage of Reid’s announcement acknowledges the EU’s role in the introduction of ID cards. The EU is currently in the process of harmonising the format of member states’ ID cards, visas and passports -- including the biometric information that should be stored on them. The German Presidency has also pledged to “drive forward harmonisation” in this area over the next 6 months.

While it would be wrong to argue that the EU is “forcing” the UK to accept ID cards, the British Government has signed up to measures at the EU level which commit it to their introduction. This could present both UK opposition parties with a problem: if the harmonisation of EU laws on ID cards is far enough advanced by the next election it could become very difficult to campaign on a platform of scrapping the scheme.

In fact, the EU doesn’t actually have any power to prescribe which biometric data member states should include on their ID cards. To get round this, ministers agreed to pass a “non-binding” or “soft-law” resolution which would set minimum standards for ID cards. The reason for this is, as Statewatch explain: “if common standards including biometrics are adopted by member states one-by-one (independently as it were) then "harmonisation" can follow later (a common tactic for controversial measures).” Thanks to Open Europe for this story.

Congratulations to my Assistant Emma McClarkin who has recently been approved for the Party's Candidate list. I wish her every success.


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.