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Straight Talking - June 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 bare-faced effrontery of Angela Merkel

Remember Angela? German Chancellor and current President-in-Office of the Council, it is she who proposes solving the problem of the failed EU Constitution with "presentational changes and different terminology", but having the same "legal effect". She wants to replace a hundred pages of the Charter of Fundamental Rights with "a one-line cross-reference with the same legal force". In other words, she's deceitful, and she's trying to con the voters of Europe.

Now she proposes a "Compromise", which is essentially this: that the countries which have ratified the Constitution agree to call it a "Treaty", while those who have not so far ratified (including Britain), agree to accept the same content as the Constitution. Some compromise!

Gordon Brown has hinted at a referendum, but that sounds more like choreography than concession. We must let the people decide. I shall be campaigning for a referendum.

Join the Bloggers!

The difference with blogging is that you get a chance to answer back!

I've now launched my own blog which can be found at http://rogerhelmermep.wordpress.com.

You are welcome to visit it -- and to contribute to it.

A disgrace to the European Movement (1)

Peter Valentine, the ubiquitous europhile and member of The European Movement, has published a disgraceful slur on the late Steve Thoburn, the "Metric martyr", who died aged 39 of a heart attack, possibly brought on by the huge stress resulting from his persecution by the Weights and Measures Inspectors. Valentine says "The Metric Martyr was encouraged by eurosceptics to break the law."

Absolute nonsense. All Steve Thoburn was doing was to sell fruit and veg to his customers in the units they wanted -- pounds and ounces. For this, he was pursued up hill and down dale; his scales were confiscated; he was convicted and threatened with imprisonment. And all because of Brussels' obsession with conformity at any cost.

Now that the European Commission has backed down on metrication, there is a petition for a Royal Pardon for Steve Thoburn. Sign up on http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/metricmartyrs/

For Valentine to accuse this brave and honourable man, now dead, of being a pawn in someone else's game, is beneath contempt. Thoburn, and his widow, have suffered enough.

A disgrace to the European Movement (2)

East Anglian Lib-Dem MEP Andrew Duff, the arch-federalist, is reported in the Derby Telegraph as saying that the English are the most eurosceptic country in the EU, and the Czechs (currently making trouble over the EU Constitution, God bless 'em) are hiding behind the English. "If we can defeat the English", he is supposed to have said, "the Czechs will fall in line".

This is an Englishman elected to represent English voters, and he says "If we can defeat the English, the Czechs will fall in line". I mentioned this to my colleague Dan Hannan, who replied "I thought that was Hitler's strategy".

The Sound of Music

Putting sophistication aside, I went last week to see the new London production of the old favourite. The producers haven't shied away from the political side of the story, which takes place in Austria in 1938 during the "Anschluss" -- the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich. "Anschluss" is German for "connection" or "political union".

There is a disturbing and ominous scene (the Salzburg concert-hall scene) where the whole auditorium of the London Palladium is filled with vertical scarlet Swastika banners, like a Nuremburg rally. It turned my stomach.

But a thought occurred to me. In 1938 we had the Anschluss. In 2007 we have the German Presidency of the EU pressing forward with the EU Constitution/Treaty. But in both cases, we are talking about political union in a German-dominated Europe. Let's not go there again.

EU mobile phone rate cap cuts both ways

On May 23rd, the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to place a cap on the cost of mobile 'phone "roaming" -- that is, the charges for international calls. This is being spun by the EU as a huge benefit which Brussels is bringing to hard-pressed European phone users. Roaming costs will generally be about halved.

But that's not the whole story. Roaming charges mainly affect the well-heeled regular traveller, like international executives and, indeed, MEPs. But mobile companies make a large slice of their profits from these calls. If they lose those margins, they will inevitably look to increase domestic phone rates to take up the slack. The likely outcome is that well-off travellers will enjoy lower bills, while less-well-off phone users who travel occasionally or not at all will be hit with higher charges.

This is a highly regressive move. We are robbing the poor to pay the rich. In my own case, I am not prepared to vote for a measure that directly benefits me, at the expense of many of my constituents.

Some Conservative colleagues are arguing that prices should be set by markets and not by committees of politicians and bureaucrats. London MEP Syed Kamall says "These proposals will hit the poorest mobile phone customers, who rarely roam. Someone on a pre-pay tariff could pay more to call their neighbour than an MEP pays to phone across Europe. Which consumers are we supposed to be protecting?".

An Innovation: Conservative ideas from the Conservative Party!

Just when we thought the Conservative Party was about to re-brand itself as the New Lib-Dems, along comes a group of Conservative MPs with a really radical, conservative idea. According to the Cornerstone Group, chaired by Gainsborough's Edward Leigh MP, we should abandon an NHS funded from general taxation, and replace it with an insurance-based system, comparable to the systems (which work much better than our NHS) in major European countries.

This would create scope for massive tax reductions. And the author of these radical ideas? None other than our own Peter Bone MP, from Welling≠≠borough. It seems as if all the best Tory thinking is coming from the East Midlands. Well done Peter. Well done Cornerstone.

Quote of the month

Pitt the Younger, in the House of Commons, 1805: "Necessity is always the reason for reducing human freedom. It is the plea of tyrants. The creed of slaves." TB please note!

Cynicism and hypocrisy at Honda

BBC World TV relished reporting on May 24th the threat by the President of Honda that it would not invest in the UK in future unless we joined the euro. I am frequently appalled by the ignorance of senior business executives when it comes to macro-economics, and this is a good example.

Just when serious commentators are starting to talk about the split between north and south in the euro-zone, and to speculate about break-up, along comes a top Japanese businessman to tell us to join. The Japanese used to have a high reputation for courtesy. This is a poor example.

So where will Honda go instead? Turkey, he says. Hang on a minute, though. Turkey is not in the eurozone either! It's not even in the EU, and not likely to be in our lifetimes. The truth is that Honda will go there for low labour costs, not for the euro. You may think this story shows extraordinary cynicism and hypocrisy on the part of Honda. But then you don't have to buy a Honda, do you?

US leading the way on climate change!

According to the US Energy Information Administration's report, released on 23rd May, US carbon dioxide emissions in 2006 declined 1.3% over 2005, while the economy grew by 3.3%. This puts the total reduction in CO2 intensity at 4.5%, and the US well ahead of its annual targets for reducing CO2 intensity by 18% by 2012. By contrast, only two countries in the EU are even close to meeting the EU Kyoto targets, and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is a complete shambles.

We would do well to take note of the US approach, and seek alternative sources of energy through research, investment, and by exploiting the power of markets, rather than through bureaucratic regulatory schemes, and carbon allowances that are riven with ambiguities and anomalies.

Coldest May day on record

Recently we had the coldest May day on record. Although it was nearly June, I was wearing gloves to walk the dog, and only too glad to light the log-burner, which had been out since March. But of course the climate alarmists tell us that global warming could have the effect of disrupting the Gulf Stream and leaving Britain colder, not warmer. So whether the weather is hot or cold, it all proves the alarmist theory. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Is Global Warming Really Happening?

Apparently so, but youíll never guess where.

Thereís a new report out from NASA, the US federal space agency. It says global warming is real. Temperatures have increased about 0.5 degrees Centigrade since the 1970s. And the rising temperatures are melting the southern ice cap.

Wait a minute, you say, thereís nothing new about the Earthís global warming. But the NASA report isnít about Earth; itís about . . . Mars.

Thatís right, the NASA report says the Red Planetís average temperature has been rising roughly the same as the Earthís over the past 30 years. That means either we donít fully understand why the Earth is warming, or those Martians are going to have to get more efficient cars.

Alan Johnson and Schools

Alan Johnson's idea of sending individual teachers from private schools to state schools in the hope of raising standards is another typical piece of Labour tinkering and social engineering. It will fail.

Good schools are more than individual teachers, however capable. They are communities of teachers, pupils, parents and governors. They represent a tradition of achievement, of discipline and of academic excellence; of curricula and selection criteria; of identity and aspiration. They embody an ethos. It is risible to suppose that you can transfer all of that by seconding one teacher to the indiscipline and profanity of a sink school.

In personal terms, it would be a grotesque act of cruelty to the teacher concerned. It would also distract and diminish the private school without helping the state school. You don't make bad schools better by making good schools worse.

Alan Johnson should reflect on his implicit admission that state schools (by and large) suffer by comparison with the private sector. He should then consider the reasons for poor performance in the state sector, and address those reasons. He should not interfere with private schools that are doing an excellent job.

Severn Barrage: a discussion point

The Severn Barrage is a green energy initiative which could deliver up to 8 Gigawatts, and make a significant contribution to the government's renewables objectives. But it has some downsides.

It was originally expected to cost £14 billion, but like most large infrastructure projects it is expected to over-run. Environmentalists worry about irreversible changes to one of our country's most important wet-land environments. Many birds and other species could be under threat, and there is a danger of silting behind the barrage which could cause serious problems.

Worst of all, the barrage cannot deliver continuous power -- it only works while the tide is running. And while the tides are predictable, they precess around the clock. Like solar and wind power, they can't be relied on to produce maximum power when it's needed, nor steady-state power as a contribution to base-load requirements. Their average output is around ľ of their maximum, so in a year this barrage will be equivalent to a 2 Gigawatt plant that can run all the time.

For less money, we could build say three nuclear power stations, each 1.5 Gigawatt, which would deliver their maximum output 90% of the time, predictably, and at half the lifetime cost per kWh. They would not threaten wetlands or wildlife. And they would not emit carbon dioxide. Altogether a better solution.

Conference in Sofia

On May 25th I attended Giles Chichester's conference in Sofia, Bulgaria (a new EU member-state), dealing with energy supply in South East Europe. Inevitably the subject of global warming arose, and I made an intervention in which I challenged the alarmist consensus. Expecting to be booed and hissed, I was pleasantly surprised when my remarks attracted spontaneous applause. A number of delegates asked for more information. I have sent them my press release on my April Brussels conference.

"Believe it or Not" Department

In Sofia we had the Conference dinner at the Bulgarian Museum of History, formerly a Communist People's Palace. Before dinner, we toured the exhibits, where the curators had thoughtfully provided descriptive text in English. I found myself reading about an order of itinerant monks in Bulgaria in the 18th and 19th centuries, who earned plaudits for rendering the liturgy into the vernacular, but also collected funds for their subsistence from local communities, and carried special collecting tins for the purpose. They were called (honest -- I'm not making this up!) "taksidiots", and their collecting tins were called "taksidiotic boxes".

So are there still taksidiots today? We all of us tolerate governments which apply punitive fiscal policies which undermine enterprise and growth and prosperity and competitiveness and investment; tax levels which incentivise avoidance and evasion and a black economy. So perhaps, in a sense, we are all taksidiots now.

As You Like It

On May 31st I attended the Press Night for the Derby Playhouse's new production of As You Like It, which I thoroughly commend. And almost the first person I saw there was Derby's new Mayor, Pauline Latham, wearing the City's splendid mayoral chain. It seems no time since I first met Pauline at the euro-selection meeting in Sandiacre, but in fact it was nine years ago, and since then we've campaigned together in several elections.

She is of course our Conservative candidate for Mid-Derbyshire. She has only just taken up the role of Mayor, and I am sure she will bring her usual commitment and energy and good judgement to the job.

I am ashamed to say that this was my first ever visit to the Derby Playhouse, which is an excellent theatre. I look forward to next time.

We're on the move!

My UK office is moving to the Daventry constituency office, at:
Boswell House, 9 Prospect Court, Courteenhall Road, Blisworth, NN7 3DG.

My UK number will be 01604 859746, while Laura (Press Office) will be on 01604 859728.

Farmyard Flatulence

UK farmers are facing a new round of EU lunacy. They've had to cope with the most difficult decade ever, with BSE, Foot and Mouth and the rural payments fiasco. Now the EU is blaming farmers for global warming, because of methane emissions from livestock.

I have been asked to sign the European parliament's Written Declaration no. 0036/2007, which will demand an investigation into livestock farming; propose a report ("Livestock's Long Shadow") that says livestock is the greatest threat to the planet; and demand a reduction of cattle emissions.

Agriculture is fundamental to human survival. I shall certainly not be signing this declaration, which is not only unnecessary, but damaging to an already struggling industry. The EU needs to back off our farmers, and we need to back off from the EU.


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.