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Straight Talking - September 2002

Roger Helmer's electronic newsletter from Brussels

Second September Edition: Normally the newsletter is monthly, during Strasbourg weeks, but we have two Straz weeks in September, so this is a bonus issue with items I didn't want to leave until October -- the European Constitution, Margaret Beckett on Foot & Mouth, and so on

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Cross-Party support for the Countryside

On September 25th, just days after the Countryside March in London, I will be chairing a meeting of the Fieldsports and Conservation Intergroup (cross-party group) in Strasbourg. We have managed to get Kate Hoey MP to agree to be our keynote speaker, on the animal welfare aspects of country sports. Kate of course was Sports Minister until recently. She has taken a courageous, independent stand on country sports, rejecting the knee-jerk opposition of most of her Labour colleagues.

Normal party political hostilities will be resumed, but it's good to have cross-party support on this key issue. Pictures of the meeting should be on the web-site very soon.

Rising to the challenge

Labour MP Nick Palmer from Broxtowe has challenged me to a debate on the EU. He chose to issue his challenge in the Stapleford Gazette, so I didn't see it for several weeks, but of course I'd hate to disappoint him! The probable venue is in Beeston. We're working on a date, and I'll put it in the next newsletter. Naturally, I'd be really grateful for vocal support from Nottingham Conservatives at the event!

Immigration and asylum

This is the most difficult subject for a politician to discuss. The moment the lefties see the word "immigration" they start shouting "Racist" at the top of their voices, drowning out rational debate. But voters and the public are worried about it, and expect us to respond to their concerns.

The 1951 UN Convention on Refugees says that we must accept people who have a well-founded fear of persecution. These are "genuine" asylum seekers, as distinct from economic migrants. Few question this policy, but I have two key concerns. First, it may be difficult or impossible to tell the difference between genuine asylum seekers and false claims -- and it's hugely expensive and time consuming trying to establish the truth. Second, the numbers of applicants are getting too large to cope with. At the same time, left-wing politicians in the EU are constantly seeking to widen the definition of a refugee, for example including victims of crime rather than state persecution.

I deal with these arguments in an article on my web-site "Refugee status: Time for a second look?". I also argue that Britain, as an island, needs an independent asylum and immigration policy. The EU's extensive borders to the east and south cannot be properly policed -- the Channel could be, if we were serious about it. Visit www.rogerhelmer.com for more details.

Busting the euro-myths

Those who favour handing more powers to Brussels come out with a lot of propositions that deserve immediate rebuttal. Yet they are repeated so often that eventually they get taken as fact -- especially by the Today programme! The benefits of EU membership are self-evident (they say). The euro will deliver stability. Opposing EU integration is "isolationist". And so on.

I was recently asked by the Bruges Group to select ten of the most egregious Europhile myths, and demolish them. The eventual article ran to 2600 words, so I won't include it here. But it's available on their web-site, www.brugesgroup.com, and on my own web-site.

German Election Result

The German election result was a disappointment for Edmund Stoiber and his EPP party. But it was fantastic news for the environment. With Schröder still in power, four million Germans will continue not to need to travel to work!

Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD)

You'll remember that the Labour government doggedly refused to allow a full public enquiry on the disastrous FMD outbreak last year. So we Tory MEPs managed to get an open enquiry mounted in the European parliament (against strong opposition from our Labour colleagues), and the temporary FMD committee has been meeting for several months in public.

On Sept 12th, the Telegraph broke the story of a leaked draft of a Commission directive which would transfer responsibility for management of future outbreaks from member state governments to Brussels. As it happens, the Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett MP, the DEFRA Minister, was in Brussels that day and was questioned over Labour's handling of FMD. She didn't have an easy time.

I was able to ask whether the Commission's decision to take over management of livestock epidemics reflected their total lack of confidence in her govern-ment's management of the last outbreak. Not surprisingly, she didn't agree. But I think most of the audience did.

We also covered the issue of personal imports of foreign meat -- a possible source of the 2001 outbreak. We were not greatly reassured to learn that the UK has two -- just two -- sniffer dogs in training to find concealed meat in luggage. Apparently Australia has hundreds.

Brok's constitution: Welcome to the People's Republic of Europe

There is a so-called "Convention" going on in Brussels aiming to produce a Constitution for the EU. The passionately federalist German MEP Elmar Brok has produced a draft constitution on behalf of the EPP -- the group to which the Conservative MEPs are allied in the parliament.

This draft constitution is a little shop of horrors. There is no provision for secession -- once in, we can never get out. It ends the UK's opt-out on the euro. It creates EU-wide taxes, EU-wide political parties. It gives huge new powers to the European Court to extend the so-called Human Rights agenda which has introduced so much politically correct claptrap. And it gives the EU a "legal personality". This may sound like a technicality, but it represents a huge step towards statehood. Welcome to the People's Republic of Europe.

This constitution is only a draft so far, but the final outcome may well be similar. We shall vote against it, but the federalists will have a majority. The unanswered question remains: why do British Conservatives maintain links with a group that is to the left of New Labour, and is passionately federalist?

French Food agency OKs British Beef

On September 17th the French Food Safety Agency AFSA announced its finding that British beef was now as safe as French beef. This does not mean, of course, that the illegal French beef ban is over. We still have to wait for the French government to lift the ban, and Tory MEPs will be keeping up the pressure until we see British beef actually being shipped to France and sold there.

But it is an important step forward. Three years ago, the agency gave its view that it could not be certain that British beef was safe. But of course nothing is absolutely safe. For example, there have been a dozen recent cases of German beef imported to England in breach of the requirement that spinal cord should be removed at the abattoir.

AFSA has now come up with a different criterion. They have said that British beef is as safe as French beef. There is no justification for a ban now. There has been no justification for three years. British farmers have suffered huge damage, and France, as usual, has flouted EU law. They obey it when it suits them, and only when it suits them.

We shall now be pressing for compensation for British farmers, but as the French government has still not paid the promised compensation to British hauliers promised years ago, I am not very optimistic.


That brings us up-to-date with events in Brussels and Strasbourg. Remember to check my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com for more background on current parliamentary business and other issues.