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Straight Talking - February 2008

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 receive the newsletter second-hand and want to go onto the e-mail list (or if you want to be deleted), please e-mail me on

Alternatively you can subscribe with this form.

Reselection for the 2009 Euro-Election

I am delighted to say that I was re-adopted by the East Midlands Regional Selection Committee (RSC) on January 19th, as the #1 candidate on our euro-list for 2009. I shall be proud to lead our euro team in 2009 in a key election, which may well set the landscape for a subsequent General Election. I expect we'll elect at least two Conservative MEPs, and with a fair wind and a lot of hard work it could be three.

So I am now out of purdah, and keen to get back to work in the region.

But I have an apology to make. In 1999 and 2004 I was selected as #1 on the list by Party members, and I very much valued the legitimacy that the members' endorsement gave me. This time, the Party (at the instigation of MEPs) has constructed a system where incumbents automatically go to the top of the list (subject only to endorsement by the RSC). Party members get no say on incumbents (except to rank them at the top, if more than one).

Those who urged this system argued that it gave incumbent MEPs equivalent rights to those enjoyed by Westminster MPs. But in my view there can be no true equivalence between a single member system and a regional list system. Cynics might say that this new method was designed to protect incumbents from the judgement of Party members. I personally would have much preferred to take my place on the ballot alongside all-comers, and I greatly regret that I have not, this time, been selected by the full membership in the region.

And the winners are:

The other four candidates were chosen by the Regional Selection College on Feb 9th. They are (in strict alphabetical order) Fiona Bulmer, George Lee, Rupert Matthews and Emma McClarkin. These names will go forward for ranking in a postal ballot of all regional Party members in March. I wish them good luck, and I look forward to campaigning with them.

"I Want a Referendum": Gedling postal ballot

Chris and I were at the "I Want a Referendum" launch of their postal ballot in the Gedling constituency (PPC Bruce Laughton) on Feb 7th. If you live in Gedling, please return your ballot paper! It is vital we press for a referendum, and quite possible, even now, that we may get one. If we do, then the people will vote three-to-one against the Treaty. It would then be impossible for any British government to ratify it.

And more importantly, there will then be pressure not only in Westminster but also in Brussels, to lance the boil of our relationship with Europe. Already prominent politicians in the EU are saying that if we don't ratify, we may have to leave. This will be the ideal opportunity to negotiate a totally new relationship with Europe, based solely on free trade and voluntary inter-governmental cooperation.

This is the big prize. We must go for it full-throttle.

Breath-taking effrontery

You will recall the Referendum Demonstration in the Strasbourg parliament in December. There have been developments.

In an extraordinary act reminiscent of the air-brushed Politburo photos of Soviet times, the parliamentary authorities have doctored the official video coverage of the event. It was delayed some time. When issued, we found that the cameras had (as far as they could) avoided our banners and placards, while the original sound-track including the Referendum chanting had been replaced with a virginal recording of the EU Anthem. Our demo had been air-brushed out of sight. Fortunately it is available on an amateur video on http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=vCBIst10H-k

Later, Hans-Gert Poettering (HGP), President of the parliament, had the breath­taking effrontery to say that we had been "denying free speech" by interrupting a speech by the President of the Council (the Portuguese Prime Minister). Bear in mind that the European institutions have effectively denied free speech to the whole electorates of France and Holland. They have ridden rough-shod over referendum results. They claim to be "a Union of values based on democracy", yet they are trampling on the democratic rights of citizens, and imposing a new political settlement in the teeth of public opposition in a number of states, not least our own. Yet they accuse us of denying free speech!

All I did was to speak up for the right of 4.2 million East Midlands citizens, and 60 million UK citizens, to have the referendum they were promised by this Labour government -- and by 98% of sitting MPs in the House of Commons. According to opinion polls, some 75% of my constituents want a referendum -- I was speaking up for them. And I acted in the way I did simply because the institutions are hell-bent on ignoring the will of the people. Their contempt for democracy and public opinion is extraordinary.

In fact HGP has initiated disciplinary procedures against fourteen of the 50+ MEPs involved in the demonstration -- including myself. Having interviewed me and read the charge sheet, he can apply, under parliament rules, a reprimand, or a fine, or suspension for up to ten days. It would be worth paying a fine just for the press release. I can see the headline now: "£1000: the price of free speech in Strasbourg".

Power Grab by the President of EU Parliament

In January, a number of us sought to make our point about the referendum, within the rules, by using (very modest) delaying tactics. President Poettering responded by seeking, and getting, a general power to ignore the rules when it suits him. We used to be a rules-based institution, but not any more.

When Dan Hannan had the temerity to draw a parallel with the Enabling Act sought by the then-German Chancellor in 1933, the current President of the EPP summarily expelled him -- using words almost identical to those which Poettering used of me three years ago. Their intolerance of dissent is amazing.

Poettering also told an amazing Porkie today (Feb 20th) in Plenary after the vote on the Lisbon Treaty. Read about it here:

"We are exporting pollution, and importing unemployment"

So much of what the EU does is inward-looking, self-referential and euro-centric. They seem to have forgotten that there’s a whole world out there. Yet if we continue to make EU countries uncompetitive and unattractive for investors, whether by regulation or taxation, or both, then we are inviting manufacturers based in Europe to move elsewhere.

I have seen it with so many onerous pieces of regulation. The Tobacco Directive was intended to promote weaker, low-tar cigarettes. Did that make third-world smokers change their habits? It did not. But it made cigarette manufacturers from the UK move to lower-cost factories in Bangkok, or Bangladesh, or Buenos Aires. We imposed strict regulations on ship-breaking, so that dirty, hazardous old ships are now beached in Asia and broken up by hand, frequently by children in flip-flops, with the effluent running into the sea. We have added to the cost of energy-intensive businesses with carbon taxes and the European Emissions Trading System, so we have given those businesses an incentive to go to Asia. The "REACH" chemicals directive has a similar effect.

It is enormously cheap on a per-ton basis to ship cement from Asia to Europe — cheaper than trucking it from one European city to another. And we are exiling these businesses to countries with much lower environ­mental standards, where emissions will be much worse. As our environ­mental colleagues are fond of pointing out, pollution knows no boundaries. The smoke you emit today in Taiwan will be in Turin next week.

So the net effect of driving European businesses off-shore is two-fold. We create more pollution in less-regulated jurisdictions, and we destroy business and jobs in the EU.

It’s taken me 276 words to explain that. So I am indebted to Commissioner Gunter Verheugen (Vice President of the EU Commission, with responsibility for Industry and Enterprise — so he should know). He has summed it up in seven words, which make up my title. We are exporting pollution and importing unemployment. And it’s about time we stopped.

An example of damaging regulation

I am concerned about the impact that the EU's inclusion of aviation in its Emissions Trading Scheme will have, especially on budget airlines. It gets slightly technical, so I asked John Hanlon of the European Low Fares Airline Association to set out the airlines' case.
See his letter.

Climate Change: Raising the issue

A recent piece by David Whitehouse in the New Statesman, of all places, makes a strong case against climate hysteria (see below). As a member of the parliament's Temporary Committee on Climate Change, I thought it worth circulating to the committee. I often circulate sceptical press comment, and to be honest I've had almost no response, positive or negative.

So I was very pleased when I bumped into Chris Davies MEP (Lib-Dem) in the departure lounge at Brussels Airport. He is leading the charge on the climate scare, and is promoting the measure to reduce auto emissions to 120 gms/km, which will decimate Europe's car industry, and is about the most expensive way imaginable of reducing CO2 emissions. But he had read the New Statesman piece, and more than that, he told me he had tabled a Written Question to the Commission to ask for their take on the article.

We may not have made a convert, but we seem to have got the issue on the agenda!

Global warming stopped? Surely not. What heresy is this? Haven’t we been told that the science of global warming is settled beyond doubt and that all that’s left to the so-called sceptics is the odd errant glacier that refuses to melt? The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001. Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased. Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming – the greenhouse effect. Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly.

--David Whitehouse, New Statesman, 19 December 2007

Bitter winters cost lives

This winter we have seen deaths in the US from exceptionally cold weather; millions in China stranded by extraordinary snow and ice; and now deaths and frost-bite amputations from bitter cold in Afghanistan. There's snow on the Acropolis. But of course while unseasonably warm weather is clear evidence of global warming, exceptional cold is merely an anomaly.

A Day of Intercession for a Proper Winter

I read recently about "A general fast" held on Jan 25th to "avert God's heavy judgement .... there having fallen so great rain without any frost or seasonable cold, it being near as warm as midsummer" (John Evelyn). "It is, both as to warmth and every other thing, just as if it were May or June, which doth threaten the plague, as all men think" (Samuel Pepys).

But as you can tell from the style and the references, this was not 2008. It was 1662. Nothing new under the sun, as my old Mum used to say.

Astonishing Cost to Consumers of Wind Farms.

In Westminster, Parliamentary Replies have exposed the astonishing cost of wind-farms to consumers. Owen Paterson MP (Oswestry) has established that the "Renewables Obligation" will cost consumers £25.1billion between 2002 and 2027. And that the cost of connecting 7000 planned new wind turbines to the grid could amount to an astonishing £10 billion.

Apparently that could pay for seven nuclear reactors, which could deliver the same electricity (but continuously and reliably). So for the cost simply of connecting the wind-farms, we could have built the same generating capacity with nuclear. That's before you actually buy the turbines. It seems the world has gone mad.

Countryside Alliance wins award for inspiration

The Countryside Alliance has been declared the most "inspiring political personality" of the last ten years in the Channel 4 News political awards. It won the title “for its campaigns against the fox hunting ban and its defence of rural life.”

The Alliance was declared the winner at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 23rd January. Founding President Baroness Mallalieu QC and Chairman Kate Hoey MP accepted the award from actor Jeremy Irons.

The result was announced by Channel 4 through gritted teeth right at the end of the programme!

The Single Market is good for trade ... isn't it?

John Robinson, a good Conservative from Nottingham, runs an export business in household decorating materials, which he sends to many countries in the EU and elsewhere. He reports a huge increase in clerical work following the accession of new member-states to which he exports. He speaks of "the great increase in clerical work to our small family business, caused by countries joining the EU. The 10 new Eastern countries joining have doubled our office work related to those sales. The Statutory Statistical Declaration and the EC Sales List have to be completed by answering 10 questions about every line of every invoice. Then a regular report has to list every EU customer firm, its VAT number, and value purchased for the period for each Commodity Code we sell (wallpaper separated from curtain fabric).

No such work (he writes) is entailed when selling to the Rest of the World.

Hmm. Food for thought.

Let's tell the Nanny-State to back off!

Wednesday Jan 23rd saw me in Shoreditch Town Hall, at a "People's Jury", organised by ASH (the anti-smoking lobby group), on the question "What more should the government do to reduce smoking?". I rather threw the cat amongst the pigeons by arguing that it had done too much already.

Don't get me wrong. I hate smoking. I am smoking's worst critic -- a reformed smoker. I gave up thirty years ago. I hate cars and rooms that smell like ash-trays. When I approach an airport terminal or an office block, I hate having to run the gauntlet of that sad little line of addicts getting their fix on the pavement.

But smokers are people too, and have the same rights as the rest of us. Yes of course I accept that smoking is the largest preventable cause of death; that 100,000 people die of smoking each year in the UK; that smoking shortens life-expectancy for up to ten years (though I have serious doubts that "passive smoking" is any more than a lobbyists' scam). But people are allowed to make their own life-style choices, and to do dangerous things if they want. People climb mountains. They row single-handed across the Atlantic. They bungee-jump. Many are putting not only themselves at risk, but others too -- notably mountain rescue teams and lifeboat crews. It is not the business of government to deny us those choices or to ban us from taking risks. We want a government that is on our side, not on our backs.

The current ban on smoking in buildings means empty bars. Smokers go outside in the cold, and often the non-smokers join them rather than be left behind. I believe that I have a right to fresh air, and that smokers have a right to smoke. In a mature society, we have to find the best balance between those rights. One obvious solution would be to ensure that in all but the smallest catering and leisure facilities, there are clearly-marked smoking and non-smoking zones. Most pubs have more than one bar. Why not a non-smoking lounge and a smoking snug? The balance has tipped so far against the smoker that it becomes a real issue of freedom. I believe that government is right to ensure that the facts about smoking, and the harm it can cause, are well known. And after that they should back off and leave us alone.

For more on this see:

Flat Tax for Britain and Europe:

Dan Mitchell from the Cato institute in Washington brilliantly explains the benefits of tax competition in achieving low flat taxes:

See the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIqyCpCPrvU.


That's it for this Strasbourg session. 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.