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Straight Talking - September 2008 Second Edition

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.


Check out the details and the programme for The Freedom Association's Freedom Zone at Party Conference in Birmingham on Sept 29th/30th. Great events. Great speakers. Don't miss it.

Roof falls in on European parliament

Last newsletter I promised more details.

On August 7th, the roof fell in -- literally -- at the European parliament in Strasbourg. The vast space-age debating chamber, known as the "Hemicycle", was commissioned in 1999, and seats 750 MEPs, plus staff and officials from the Commission and the European Council. The Strasbourg parliament was built as an expression of French pride, at a total cost of around £400 million. Yet up to 10% of its elaborate sculpted ceiling, spangled with electric lights, came tumbling down without warning, less than ten years after the building was opened.

Fortunately no-one was hurt, but if the accident had occurred while the building was in use, injuries and even fatalities would have been likely. It is estimated that between six and seven tons of ceiling material fell, and that a couple of dozen fatalities could have occurred had the chamber been full.

Despite desperate attempts, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to make repairs ahead of the parliament's first Strasbourg session after the August holiday, scheduled for Sept 1st, it has proved impossible to complete the work on time, so the Sept sessions have had to be transferred to Brussels. It is now hoped that the Hemicycle may be ready for the October session, Oct 20/24. However amid rumours that asbestos has been discovered in the débris, the date for re-opening could be further delayed.

This move has highlighted the absurdity and waste of the parliament's regular monthly commute between its two seats in Brussels to Strasbourg. The annual cost of this travelling circus, just for the commuting, is £130 million, while the transportation involves 90,000 tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions. Many MEPs have been campaigning for years to end this wasteful practice, and hope that the Strasbourg roof collapse will add impetus to their campaign.

If we can switch one session to Brussels, we can switch them all, and save the tax-payer a packet. This farcical commuting is a metaphor for the whole EU project. Like so many EU policies, it is impossible to justify, yet impossible to change. With luck, the roof falling in will prove to be a metaphor for the future of the EU.

A new use for the Strasbourg building?

I am indebted to Peter Roffey for a helpful suggestion. He says that if the European parliament abandoned the Strasbourg building, maybe the French could use it as a facility for asylum seekers so they wouldn't have to travel all the way to England. Now there's an idea!

Euro team's website

The website for the East Midlands Euro candidates is now up and running.

Scottish Tories demand a referendum

I was privileged to attend the West of Scotland Conservative Conference on Sept 20th, along with Philip Lardner, the recently reinstated Conservative candidate for North Ayrshire and Arran, and Simon Richards, Director of TFA.

There was a session on Europe, with a motion calling for an in-coming Conservative government to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty -- with no Ifs or Buts about whether or not it had been fully ratified by then. One speaker recalled David Cameron's "Cast-Iron Guarantee of a referendum on any Treaty coming out of these negotiations" in the Sun newspaper. Again, no Ifs or Buts.

I was delighted to see that the motion was carried by over a hundred, with only a single vote against. Clearly, Scottish Conservatives take the same view as East Midlands Conservatives on this question. We have David Cameron's public guarantee. In government, the Party must deliver.

A Brilliant Political Answer

Jean-Claude Juncker is Prime Minister of Luxembourg, and Chairman of something called "The Euro-Group". I heard him speak at a recent breakfast meeting about "How we should re-establish confidence in the euro", and I told him that in my experience, when people start discussing how to relaunch confidence in a political project (like Gordon Brown's premiership), it's time to send for the undertaker.

But there we were in the middle of an unprecedented financial crisis, and a journalist asked Juncker if he expected any further major financial institutions to go bust. Clearly, his answer could have had an effect on the markets. But his reply was masterly: "If I say Yes, I know what those journalists over there will write tomorrow. And if I say No, I know what they will write in two weeks time".

I don't think I agree with Mr. Juncker on anything much. But I admire his skill, his diplomacy, his sheer chutzpah. Well done, Jean-Claude.

Also on my Blog:

•  UK's energy crisis: the storm is about to break
•  Fringe Meeting at a fringe Party Conference: the TFA at the Lib-Dem conference
•  A Fundamental Challenge to the Rule of Law: not-guilty verdict for environmental campaigners

CFSP: "Collective impotence and self-deception"

Last newsletter, I quoted John O'Sullivan's dictum that our delusion that shared sovereignty in the EU would achieve increased global clout had led merely to "Collective impotence and self-deception".

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the EU's posturing over Georgia and Russia. First Sarkozy brokered a peace treaty with loopholes "big enough for battalions of Russian tanks to drive through" (O'Sullivan again). Then he threatened the Russians that if they failed to toe the line, he would call an emergency EU Summit in Brussels! They must have quaked in their boots.

The Summit duly took place on September 1st, and produced not very much. Britain called for a tougher line, Germany for the opposite. The plain truth is that the only EU Common Foreign Policy which can command consensus is "Do nothing". We take for ever to reach a decision, and when we reach it, we find it wasn't worth the wait.

Thank heavens for tax havens!

Dan Mitchell from the Centre for Freedom and prosperity Foundation makes the economic case for tax havens.

Olympic dreams, Olympic pretensions

The EU's President-in-Office Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested that in future the 27 EU nations should compete as a single team at the Olympics, under the EU flag (a.k.a. the Crown of Thorns). Imagine our pride as the EU stars slowly rise above the podium and the Ode to Joy is played! Sarkozy helpfully points out that on this basis, the EU would be top country, easily beating China.

As an MEP, I have been invited to endorse and publicise a web-site which lists the Olympic results, with the EU medal score aggregated. I have declined to do so. But I spent some time wondering what a Commonwealth medal table might have looked like. Quick as a flash, young Hannah in the office of my good colleague Geoffrey van Orden sent me a Commonwealth medal table, which she had already done.

I was gratified to see that the Commonwealth would have beaten top nation China by one gold medal -- and by a generous sixty medals overall. Well done Hannah (and the Commonwealth).

Worth noting, though, that by creating a legal personality for the EU, the wretched Lisbon Treaty at least creates the possibility of an EU Olympic Team. Another reason to oppose it.

Wind Farms: Sign the petition!


Wind farm installations are breaking out like a rash across the East Midlands, and especially up the M1 corridor. Whatever your general view on wind energy, there's no doubt that a wind farm on your doorstep will take thousands off the value of your home, will blight your locality and change the character of the landscape, will create noise pollution, and for a significant number of susceptible people, cause real health problems.

I believe that France has a rule that new wind farms must be at least two kilometres from the nearest dwelling. I am checking with the Commission whether similar rules exist in other EU states. But in the UK, there is no minimum distance at all.

The link above will take you to a Downing Street petition (open till February, but please sign today while you think of it!) calling for a two km limit in the UK. This would be a very reasonable and modest measure that would save a lot of honest folk a great deal of heartache. Please do sign.

Seen on a T-Shirt:

"Live Green. Die Broke".

GM Foods -- No Risk, No Evidence of Harm

At a briefing from the EU's Joint Research Committee (JRC) I heard about their work on GM foods. The JRC is a very highly-regarded research organisation, engaged on a wide range of projects. It is just publishing a report called the GMO Health Study (actually the name is much longer, but that will do for now). I was impressed by their rigour and professionalism, and by the huge effort that goes in to monitoring GM foods.

I asked if there was any prima facie scientific reason to be concerned about the safety of GM foods. They said No. I asked if they had ever identified negative health consequences from GMO consumption. They said No. I asked if they had ever declined to approve any GMO product. They said No. Unapproved products were merely in the pipeline waiting assessment. They were not in any sense "disapproved".

Given the lack of any apparent risk, you might well ask why we expend enormous effort and a great deal of money doing all the tests. But that's the price we pay for media hysteria over "Frankenstein Foods".

McCain names Sarah Palin

I guess I was as gob-smacked as everybody else by John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, as the Republican's VP candidate. But having slept on it, I think he's played a blinder. I loved her comment when she quoted Hilary Clinton saying "American women haven't broken the glass ceiling this time, but we've made 18 million cracks in it" (referring to the 18 million votes she received in the Democratic primary). And then Mrs Palin added: "But American women aren't finished yet!". A naked appeal to disaffected Hilary Democrats, but how engagingly done, how devastatingly effective!

Her description of herself as "a hockey Mum" will resonate with middle America. Her commitment to the Second Amendment will energise the Republican base (it had me wearing my National Rifle Association tie today). And let's face it, she looks a whole lot better than Joe Biden. As a former Beauty Queen, "Miss Congeniality" may just appeal to red-blooded American men (though for myself, I couldn't possibly comment!).

The Democrats, predictably, are saying that her experience is paper-thin, that her foreign affairs experience is zero. So not too much different from Barack Obama, then. They say this pick blows out the Republican argument that Obama is too young and lacks experience. But the fact remains that the Republicans' candidate for VP has more executive experience than the Democrats' candidate for President. She sounds like a good deal to me, and provided she keeps her end up in the VP debates, she could swing it for McCain.

Climate change chicanery

Christopher Booker explains how the alarmist campaign has descended to the level of a Monty Python sketch.

"Love Europe -- Hate the EU!"

Those bumper stickers of mine are getting everywhere, including Mediterranean beaches -- see this photograph. They are still available -- just let me know if you'd like one (remember to include a street address).

Hannan: EU dream "dying of old age"

Writing on his Telegraph blog, Dan Hannan comments on El Mundo's poll of attitudes towards the EU in Spain. He notes that the demographic breakdown of attitudes in Spain -- where younger people are far more sceptical about Europe than their elders -- is mirrored across Europe. Hannan says that "To people brought up with broadband and cheap flights, the idea that political structures should be dictated by geographical proximity seems bizarre. They see the EU for what it is: a hangover from the statist, big-bloc thinking if the 1950s. The integrationist cause... is dying of old age."

Dan Hannan's blog

Old Labour is Back

It seems the Labour Party is returning to its Union-dependent ways with strong echoes of its days under left-wing leader Michael Foot.

A recent report by Chris Grayling (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) explains how Unions currently provide nearly 93% of Labour's funding, with their grip on the Party set to increase under the weak leadership of Gordon Brown.

Unions have also had a strong hand in helping Labour to election victory in less subtle ways, employing tactics such as mailing pro-labour and anti-conservative propaganda to their workers.

Of course, as Labour's dependence on the Unions increases, so too does their list of demands. In return for continued funding pledges, the Party has granted wide ranging left wing concessions on issues such as equal rights for agency workers, and tax increases for Britain's hardworking families. This at a time when people are struggling to cope with the high cost of living.

And the destination of the tax payers' money? Unsurprisingly, an increasing amount is being channelled to the Unions, with, for example, around £18 million a year going to 'union learning' -- whatever that is.

Blair's New Labour has run its course; 'New Labour is dead. Old Labour is back.'

Cameron Cools Climate Crusade

David Cameron seems to have readjusted his environmental policies and brought them back down to earth -- literally. His initial attempts to make "green the order of the day", saw him placing prohibitive taxes on big cars and landfills, threatening low cost flights, and entering into bidding wars over emission reductions (though he was unable to better the Lib Dem bid of a 100% reduction by 2050).

But he now appears to be acting much more moderately, approaching environmental issues from a more holistic angle. He has said that being green is "not just about the stratosphere, it is about the street corner" -- stressing the need to make the local environment a priority by cutting graffiti and street crime.

Indeed, with the government's ever increasing car and energy taxes masquerading as "green taxes", I'm sure Cameron's new emphasis will be welcomed by many.

Voting in the Unemployment Committee

On Sept 10th I went down to vote in the Unemployment Committee. We were presented with a disheartening 78-page voting list. Even more discouraging -- the first amendment was number 6312. The process took a good three hours. And of the 46 or so MEPs voting, I doubt if any could have told you what more than half a dozen of the amendments related to.

Not surprisingly, parliament committees tend to attract those with an interest in the subject. So you get lawyers on Legal Affairs, Little Green Devils on Environment, socialists on Unemployment. Oh, and women on the Women's Committee, as well as foreigners on Foreign Affairs.

As a result, there tends to be a structural socialist majority on Unemployment. We lost most of the contested decisions, though I may have helped to reinstate a comma or delete a semi-colon along the way. But at noon, I found myself wondering what my three hours of voting had achieved, to add to the sum of human happiness. Not a lot, I should think.

Theft of catalytic converters

This is a public service message. Local police are warning about increasing thefts of catalytic converters, especially from people carriers and 4x4s (because of ground clearance). Advice: lock your car away if you can. If you park, try to be in a lighted area or near a CCTV camera. Avoid leaving the car in public car-parks over-night. And if possible, park next to other vehicles (to prevent the thieves parking alongside and working out of sight between their vehicle and yours).

You have to love RyanAir

Not a view I express every day, but it was the way I felt after reading Michael O'Leary's letter to the Irish Times on eco-taxes.


That's it for this Strasbourg/Brussels session. Please remember to check this website for more background on current parliamentary business, details of proposals being voted at the Strasbourg plenary session, and a host of other issues.