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Straight Talking - June 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.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice!

Thank Heaven for the Irish! They have struck a blow for freedom and democracy not only in Ireland, but across Europe. But the reaction of the EU is instructive. In one breath they say "We respect the verdict of the Irish people"; and in the next breath "But ratification must go ahead".

The EU claims to be "A Union of Values based on democracy and the rule of law". Yet their contempt for voters is monumental. One thing is certain. After the Irish vote, the EU has lost its last pretension to public consent or democratic legitimacy. It is an élitist project which lacks popular support.

Sign a petition asking Gordon Brown to respect the result of the Irish referendum.

Hear my podcast on the No vote here.

One Day in Europe

On a single day (June 4th), headlines included: "Government: EU's renewables target to cost UK £5 billion a year by 2020"; "UK Treasury Minister: CAP costs European consumers £30bn a year"; and "Head of EP Foreign Affairs Committee: Foreign policy will move 'from one era to another' with Lisbon Treaty -- the EU will eventually have its own army". Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The last euro-champion bows out

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, the Japanese car giant, earned the opprobrium of British euro-sceptics by calling for Britain to join the euro. And his demand had teeth: he threatened no more investment in the Nissan plant in Sunderland, and no new models, until we did. But it seems he has bowed out gracefully. Nissan has announced that a new compact sports-utility vehicle will be built at Sunderland.

Perhaps he has noticed that at today's exchange rate, labour costs will be lower in the UK than at many other locations. I suppose we should not wait for an apology, but there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.

MEPs' Expenses: a back-handed compliment

On his blog, the Telegraph's man in Brussels, Bruno Waterfield, writes: "The East Midlands' gloriously maverick Roger Helmer (is) among those who have publicly declared who works for them and named which companies administer the money". (He is also extremely positive about Chris Heaton-Harris).

Only in the topsy-turvy world of Brussels could a parliamentarian be characterised as "gloriously maverick" for representing the widely-held views of his constituents.

But never mind. In the maelstrom of accusation and innuendo surrounding expenses, Bruno's endorsement is welcome. Given the Byzantine complexity of the Brussels system, it would be a brave man who claimed he had never put a foot wrong. But I have done my best to stay honest, and broadly speaking I believe I have succeeded.

Joined up government?

Oil companies should be forced to pay a windfall tax to fund tax cuts for ordinary voters, a senior union leader said recently. Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of Unite, said a levy on the profits of oil companies, which are currently profiting from high oil prices, would boost Gordon Brown's standing with voters.

Of course oil companies tend to be large companies, and to make large profits. The media flag up the headline profit figure (shock, horror), and fail to note that it frequently reflects a realistic return on capital employed, or that a big chunk of the profits go to taxes, to pay for schools and hospitals, or as dividends that support our pension funds. Nor do they mention the vast sums that oil companies invest in exploration and development.

A couple of years back our then Chancellor changed the tax régime on North Sea oil projects in a way which made investment much less attractive. Now he's going cap-in-hand to the oil majors and pleading with them to increase production. Not much joined-up thinking there.

Eco Towns

The government's "Eco Towns" programme is looking more and more like green-wash -- a facile attempt to sell green-belt housing estates as if they were an environmental initiative. They are not. They are simply housing developments without sufficient planning for transport infrastructure, jobs, schools, medical services, retail facilities and so on. And they are needed (if they are needed at all) because the government has allowed a free-for-all on immigration policy.

Fortunately, the public has seen through it, and protests are mounting. In the East Midlands, we have Stoughton Airfield in Leics and Manby & Strubby in Lincs ear-marked as possible sites. There are protest campaigns in both, which I am happy to support. On June 13th, euro-candidate George Lee shared a platform with Sir Peter Tapsell MP in Grimoldby at a lively protest meeting.

The government has not heard the last of this. Eco towns look set to become yet another mill-stone round the neck of Gordon Brown's government.

Sudden outbreak of sanity at the BBC

"Once upon a time there was a rich man, who gave a poor man a lot of money to burn rice husks instead of coal. But the poor man was burning rice husks anyway. So the poor man became rich, but it did nothing for the planet". The BBC, once the champion of climate alarmism, seems to be getting the message at last. Based on their own research, they have a new series, "Is carbon trading a fairy-tale?".

The have identified third-world companies receiving seven-figure sums under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), for emissions reductions that executives admit would have happened anyway. In some cases the value of carbon credits has exceeded the costs of safe disposal of dangerous gases, not just by double or treble, but by many hundreds of times. They found companies with CDM receipts that greatly exceeded the total profits on their commercial operations.

Meantime Open Europe has uncovered systematic failures and abuses in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The fact is that all these schemes, whether global (the UN's CDM); or regional (the EU's ETS); or local or personal (carbon offsetting), do nothing for the planet. They are a sop to the conscience of the concerned middle classes and the commentariat. They distract attention from real problems and real solutions. They waste vast sums of taxpayers' money. They give vast patronage to bureaucrats, and they represent Eldorado for con-men and shysters.

Mugabe in Rome: a day of shame for the EU

In early June, Robert Mugabe attended a UN Conference on poverty and hunger in Rome, despite a travel ban on senior politicians from Southern Rhodesia (or Zimbabwe, as some now call it). The EU's bad excuse was that as the Conference was under UN auspices, they could not exclude the dictator. But it was Italian immigration officials who admitted him. They could have refused him entry, but they chose not to do so. Both the UN and the EU should hang their heads in shame.

This is the man who is clinging to power despite the yearning (and the voting) of his suffering people to get rid of him. This is the man whose partisans are gouging out the eyes and ripping out the tongues of his opponents. This is the man who has taken a peaceful and prosperous country, once the bread-basket of Africa, and condemned it to poverty and hunger and 80% unemployment. This is the man who denies responsibility for the disaster, and instead seeks to blame the "former colonial power" -- that's us.

The cruel irony of such a man addressing a UN conference on hunger and poverty is too bitter to contemplate. Is there anyone alive today who thinks that the tragic citizens of Southern Rhodesia are better off now than they were under colonial rule?

Lunacy on Stilts: Personal Carbon Credits

A committee of MPs, led (I regret to say) by our own Tim Yeo, proposes "Personal Carbon Credits". You'll be given a carbon account, the amount decided by the government, and every time you turn on a light, or your home heating, or drive your car, or take a bus, or go on holiday, you'll spend your credits. When you run out, you'll have to trade with others to buy more -- or stop living.

The snags in the scheme are too obvious to labour. We have a government that can't run the Child Support Agency, or the new NHS computer system, and they're going to run carbon accounts for 60 million people? What about the anomalies and distortions? Extra credits for kiddies? What about the old and the sick, who need warmth and may not be able to afford extra credits? Those who live in rural areas and have to drive? Doctors and sales people and all those who have to drive for a living? It would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

And what price freedom? Already we are the most watched and recorded nation in Europe. In effect, these carbon credits would mean getting (by proxy) the government's permission before doing anything at all. The voters would not accept it for a moment, and would punish any party that espoused it.

Global Warming Petition

They keep telling us there's a scientific consensus on global warming. So you might like to look at a petition signed by 30,000 scientists, including nearly 10,000 PhDs, who beg to differ.

Climate Change: An alternative view

If you were having a major operation, wouldn't you want a second opinion? And if we're committing trillions of dollars, globally, to a climate change mitigation process, shouldn't we get a second opinion on that, too? Some of the tens of thousands of scientists who doubt the alarmist orthodoxy believed that we should, and have formed the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) to look at the evidence. Their report, "Nature, not Human Activity, Rules the Climate" was issued in February this year. I have organised an important seminar in Brussels on June 23rd, when we will have Professor Fred Singer of the University of Virginia, one of the world's most distinguished climate scientists, to present the report. Please come if you can (let my office have your passport details in advance to facilitate registration).

Quote of the month:

"Politicians do the right thing only after exhausting all the other options". From a presentation in Brux on May 1st, by Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute.

Energy Globe Sustainability Award

There was an award ceremony in that Brussels parliament on May 26th. Kofi Annan and Mr. Gorbachev attended. There was a stage set that would have done for a rock concert, with 1000 watts of sound and stage lighting. Not very sustainable. Seems to be a case of "Do as I say, not as I do".

EU plans higher air fares

The European Commission plans to include the aviation industry in its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from 2012, piling new costs on airlines already struggling to cope with exceptional prices for fuel. Airlines will be allocated a limited carbon allowance based on historical levels, but will have to purchase more in auctions or in the open market.

Recently in Brussels, the parliament's Environment Committee voted overwhelmingly to introduce the scheme a year earlier, in 2011; to increase the amount the airlines have to purchase from 10% to 25%; and to lower the overall emissions cap. This will certainly result in higher fares, and very probably fewer flights. Some airlines could go broke. There will be a knock-on effect on aircraft manufacturers like Airbus, some of whose production is UK-based, and on aero-engine makers like Rolls Royce in Derby. And by reducing airline profitability, the move will delay fleet replacement, keeping older, dirtier and noisier planes in service for longer.

The parliament's decision will be a blow to family holiday flights. It will contribute to inflation on goods carried by air. It will particularly disadvantage UK and European-based carriers and hand a bonus to non-European operators, and is yet another measure that will make Europe less attractive to inward investors.

The ETS scheme was designed to reduce CO2 emissions in the EU. But as several studies have noted, it has wholly failed to reduce European CO2 emissions, which are rising faster than those of the USA. What it has done is to impose major new costs and bureaucracy on industry, and to create a range of distortions which has particularly disadvantaged the UK.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently remarked that tackling climate change was the great mass mobilising movement of our age. But with the increasing costs of motoring, plus these new assaults on the airline industry, climate change is set to become a great immobilising movement. This is a real threat to freedom and personal mobility.

And another threat to freedom:

Rather to my surprise, on Saturday May 31st I found myself addressing a meeting at the Barley Mow pub in Granby Street, Leicester, and calling for a review of the smoking ban which has led to a serious loss of business for many pubs and bars in the city. The meeting took place in the up-stairs bar of the pub, which before the ban would have been full of customers. It was organised by Phil Johnson of Freedom2Choose, a campaigning group, and attended by members of the licensed trade concerned about the impact of the smoking on their businesses.

Now I myself am a non-smoker, and I hate smoking. But I believe that the decision to smoke is a personal choice that grown-up people are entitled to make. There has to be a balance between the rights of non-smokers to fresh air, and the right of smokers to smoke. A system of smoking areas or ventilated smoking rooms in licensed premises could protect the rights of both groups. The current legislation challenges smokers' fundamental right to choose their own life-style.

They tell us that smoking is dangerous, and I'm sure that's true. So is drinking. So is driving, and mountaineering, and bungee-jumping. Politicians have to learn that responsible citizens must be free to take risks. The Nanny State must back off and let adults make informed choices.

I certainly don't want to promote smoking. But on this occasion, I was promoting freedom to choose.

An Equestrian Event

On Sunday June 1st I attended an equestrian church service in a field by Kilby Church, Leics. I think there were more horses and dogs (taken together) than people at the event, and singing "All things bright and beautiful" in the open air was a novel experience. The Vicar called for God's blessing on a wide range of people and organisations involved with horses -- owners, riders, farriers, vets, pony clubs. I noticed that he omitted to mention the hunts.

A Debate on Flat Tax

On Tuesday May 27, I hosted a debate in the European Parliament on the flat tax, chaired by Edward Lucas, deputy editor for the Economist (Central and Eastern Europe), who did a sterling job. On the panel was Robert Batinovich, who presented the Batinovich Equitable flat tax model, and Dan Mitchell from the Cato Institute, who presented the Hall-Rabushka flat tax model. They were joined by Mr Samborski from the European Enterprise Institute and Natasha Srdoc from the International Leaders Summit. While the discussion was fairly technical, Dan Mitchell has produced a great video explaining it in simple terms.

The number of participants and the quality of their interventions made this debate a real success.

From a letter in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo:

I was intrigued to read that as from Monday 26 May, a new EU directive under the Consumer Protection Regulations on Unfair Commercial Practices will be in force. Fortune-tellers, astrologers and psychic healers are among those who will be affected. Surely the global warming soothsayers should be included in this list of regulated entertainers.

A close shave for traffic control...

Here's an amusing tale for you. Last week two traffic patrol officers from North Berwick received a nasty shock when their radar device clocked a vehicle travelling over the crest of a hill at over 300mph. The radar suddenly stopped working. A few seconds later, and a huge roar revealed that the radar had in fact locked on to a RAF Tornado fighter jet, involved in a low-flying exercise. The officers sent a complaint to the RAF Liaison office; the reply went as follows:

"You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had locked onto your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it. An air-to-ground missile aboard the fully-armed aircraft had also automatically locked onto your equipment. Fortunately the pilot flying the Tornado recognized the situation for what it was ... and was able to override the automated defence system before the missile was launched and your hostile radar installation was destroyed."

All for now. Have a good summer.