Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Take the square root…

Each EU member state should be given a voting weight proportional to the square root of its population in order for the voting system on the Council to be "representative, transparent, effective and objective". The "qualified majority" should then comprise 62 percent of the votes.

According to two Polish physicists (could only be) Karol Życzkowski and Wojciech Slomczynski, from the Jagielonian University in Krakow, the voting rules proposed in the EU constitution are "fatally flawed" and will give some countries unfair clout in the decision-making process.

They calculate that the 65 percent population hurdle, with at least 15 member states voting for a proposal, gives an unfair advantage to Germany, with France the next big gainer. UK and Italy. Spain and Poland will be the biggest losers.

To come to their startling new formula, the physicists have used existing techniques in game theory to calculate how much power each country will have if the new constitution is adopted i.e., what their ability to influence the decisions of the Council will be.

They found that citizens in different EU countries will not have the same degree of influence on decisions taken by the Council. They disagree with the notion that the new constitution uses the simplest voting system possible, and claim that there is a much fairer solution, which they have named the Jagiellonian Compromise. First you take the square root of 82,424,609, then…

Nevertheless, this might not go down too well in the pubs in Barnsley. It is difficult to imagine patrons struggling with their calculators over their pints of John Smith, as they work out the knife-edge percentages on whether the latest wing-mirror directive is going to scrape home. But there you go.

Source: Institute of Physics News Release PR39(04)

The troops are grumbling

A crisis meeting in Turin has been called by the leaders of the central and northern Italian regions to discuss how they will deal with expected cuts in EU structural funding. These will kick in from 2007 as a result of enlargement, which has lowered the average GDP to the extent that many of these regions will no longer qualify for the EU gravy train.

The meeting is being sponsored by the newspaper Il sole 24 Ore and will be opened by the president of the regional government of Piedmont Enzo Ghigo. "With the admission of Central and East European countries", says Mr Ghigo, "there is reason to suspect that funds allocated to Western states will be reduced. Some of the areas to which these funds have been destined so far are located in Northern and Central Italian regions".

Hinting at battles to come, however, he adds that "I don't believe there will no longer be EU funds for us after 2006, but we expect some transition to take place".

This is typical EU-style pork-barrel politics. The member states receiving funds will accept cuts, as long as the Commission coughs up with "transitional aid" to an equivalent value. The only trouble is that someone else (or some country) is going to have to fork out, and the traditional paymaster, Germany, has already indicated that it is not prepared to pay more.

As the negotiations for the "financial perspective" – or budget, as it is better known – get in to full swing next year, you can expect some very serious posturing, with the drama queens out in full force. What is going to be really interesting though is what happens when Italy, Spain, Greece and Ireland – to name but a few - finally take on board that there really isn't any more money in the pot.

Pay off time

Having agreed to the appointment of José Manuel Durão Barroso as President of Commission, the great monsters of EU politics are lining up to demand their reward. After all, despite what the media said, it was not Barroso’s amazing ability to get on with everyone that got rid of any opposition to him getting the job, but the thought that it would be easier to snag a really important and useful portfolio in the circumstances. The Portuguese Prime Minister’s supposed charm and political ability played relatively little part in the final negotiations.

Though technically the Commissioners are not chosen till after the President is approved by the European Parliament, the complicated chess game has already begun.

Germany, as the country with the weakest and most backward economy is angling for the position of the “super-commissioner” for industrial and economic policy. The preferred candidate is Günter Verheugen, present Enlargement Commissioner.

France, too, is angling for an important post. What would be the natural one for it, given the French government’s tendency to bail out illegally failed companies and hand out state aid? The competition portfolio, of course, another “super” job. Their candidate, Jacques Barrot, does not, according to Le Monde, speak English very well (presumably, not at all in reality) and is, therefore, more likely to be given the internal market.

The UK and Poland are also pushing for economic portfolios, which, if the Constitution is implemented, will be very important as employment and economic policies will become EU competence. The Poles would like to see their Commissioner, ardent europhile Danuta Hübner, become a Commission Vice-President. Having overcome their objections to the Constitution, the Poles feel that they need a reward.

On top of all this Barroso will have to come up with some solution of how a Commission of 25 (with only 20 portfolios) can work in any sort of acceptable fashion. He may well wish himself back in Portuguese politics soon. But then, he can always emulate Romano Prodi who unofficially immersed himself in Italian politics long before his term as Commission President expired.

Who is the outsider here?

France and others, including certain British journalists, are usually quick to accuse Britain of being the odd man out in “Europe”, the one who fights to stop further progress (unspecified), the one who stands up for her rights and interests. Now, it seems the odd one out is France with its peevish President.

This morning’s Le Monde carries an article about the NATO Summit, entitled Isolated in his role of a killjoy, Jacques Chirac remains exasperated. The article details the President’s huffy reluctance to sound pleased at the hand-over of power in Iraq and his efforts to undermine NATO in its intention to train Iraqi forces.

There is a contrast here between President Chirac, on the one hand and Chancellor Schröder and Prime Minister Zapatero, on the other, according to Le Monde. Schröder and Zapatero have refused to send troops to Iraq as well, but have also asserted that they will support NATO in its work. What exactly that will mean in practical terms, remains to be seen.

To add insult to injury, President Chirac has also refused to support the announced NATO decision to aid Afghanistan in its ceaseless efforts to build up security. Despite a direct plea for help from Hamid Karzai, Chirac announced grandly that it is not NATO’s job to provide security for the forthcoming elections.

It is not quite clear what President Chirac thinks NATO’s job is. Indeed, it is no secret that he would like the Alliance dissolved and some sort of European Security structure put in its place. As we have already noted in this blog, that will hardly be the most active of structures because of the lack of troops, equipment and intelligence.

In the meantime, President Chirac and France are earning themselves the title of being the most obstructive and peevish of all western nations, and the most reluctant to support others, particularly when the fight is for those high-minded principles that French politicians are so keen to pontificate on.

If Le Monde is anything to go by, there may be a certain amount of weariness with this attitude in France itself.

Specsavers

Why were the spectacles offered by Specsavers in an advertisement in The Times priced in euros? Do they know something we don't?

I think we should be told.

Least surprising appointment

Having disposed of the Presidential position, the EU leaders are turning their attention to that of the Foreign Minister. That's the one that, according to the BBC, will not institute an EU foreign policy, despite specific provisions for that in the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, as well as the Constitution.

Javier Solana, the present High Representative for foreign affairs is set to be re-confirmed in that position but the leaders are doing more than that: they are laying down plans for Solana to become the first Foreign Minister, combining his present position with that of the present Commissioner for External Affairs, as soon as the Constitution is implemented in all 25 members.

This is not surprising. Javier Solana was always the favourite for that role. Should all this go ahead – and implementation in 25 member states may well prove more difficult than expected – Señor Solana will automatically become a Vice-President of the Commission and will have his own separate staff, as well as a diplomatic corps to command.

This means that the EU's common foreign and security policy will be lodged firmly with the Commission and the present dual arrangement whereby the Commissioner in charge of External Affairs competes with the High Representative, who is responsible to the Council of Ministers, will cease. There will not even be any pretence that member states can have any say in the matter. At least, not in theory. The practice of cobbling together a common foreign policy between 25 member states with such disparate interests may well prove beyond Solana's abilities.

An odd side-issue here will be the question of a Spanish Commissioner. Each country will, in the post-Nice Commission, be allowed one member. Solana will be Spain's Commissioner and there will be no other. One wonders whether the Spanish Government has quite realized this.

Remembering everything, and learning nothing

As was said of the Bourbons on their return to power, "they have remembered everything, and learned nothing". That is why it is also said there had to be a second French revolution.

So doth history repeat itself. The disgraced former commissioner Edith Cresson is today due to attend a private hearing of the Commission as part of the investigation into her conduct during the 1999 fraud crisis, which triggered the resignation of the Santer Commission.

Cresson is being asked to explain allegations which could give rise to possible proceedings at the European Court of Justice, if she is found to have acted against her obligations as a commissioner.

She could then face losing her pension rights, or "if it is felt that her explanations are satisfactory then they will just bring the procedure to an end", Eric Mamer, the Commission spokesperson for administrative reform said.

The inquiry had been delayed while Cresson has faced criminal charges after famously employing her live-in dentist to carry out AIDS-related research at a cost of €150,000, a task for which he was uniquely unqualified.

But Cresson is by no means penitent. She plans to tell the hearing that Santer's Commission resigned for "absolutely nothing". "We gave credit to rumours", she has said she will say.

The question now is whether the Commissioners find themselves agreeing with Madame Cresson, re-writing history in the process. If they do, they will demonstrate that they too have remembered everything and learned nothing. In due course, will there have to be another mass resignation?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The wit and wisdom of President Chirac - No 1

Somebody should send President Bush The Complete Yes, Prime Minister – the video tapes and the book. In these he would find much instructive material, for example, Jim Hacker’s comments about the worrying anti-Americanism that is creeping through official circles. He would also find some hints on how to circumvent the plots laid by Foreign Office minions. (Perhaps, Mr Blair would benefit from reading Hacker's diaries, too.)

In particular, President Bush would be interested in the episode in which Hacker is abjured by Sir Humphrey and Bernard not to reveal something to the French. "But I thought the French were our trusted allies," – says Hacker innocently. "More our mistrusted allies, Prime Minister," – comes Sir Humphrey’s suave and accurate response.

President Bush may well feel the same way after this week’s NATO Summit in Istanbul, though he may well question the word “allies”. Having preached the need for a multilateral approach on Iraq to all who would listen and many who would not, President Chirac has now grandly announced that, while individual NATO members can, if they wish, help the new Iraqi Government by training its forces, the Alliance itself could not possibly do so.

French forces are not really integrated into the NATO military structure and even politically there have been occasions on which the Alliance had to act without France and its approval. That would not matter if there were not the worrying development of the so-called European security policy, whose aim is to undermine the western alliance without, it seems, putting anything in its place.

President Chirac has also found time to snarl at President Bush. He did not like Bush’s commendation of Turkey as a trusted ally and his call for the EU to give that country a firm date on admission.

He not only went too far but he has gone into a domain that is not his own.

He has nothing to say on this subject. It is as if I were to tell the United States how it should conduct its relations with Mexico.
Hang on a minute. The United States and Mexico are sovereign powers and may, therefore, dislike others butting into their diplomatic exchanges. But the EU is not, we have been told, merely an alliance of like-minded states and governments and peoples and … well … whatever. Or is it a state, after all? Perhaps, someone should tell Britain in Europe. They do not seem to know that.

Then again, President Chirac has not exactly been backward about coming forward with advice to all and sundry, particularly the “crude and unsophisticated” Americans, who have not risen to his level of being able to deal with every nasty dictator.

We have been here before, specifically with President Chirac. Who can forget him describing Tony Blair as “very rude” when the latter dared to disagree with him? And who will ever expunge the memory of Chirac trying to emulate de Gaulle and grandly declaring that the East European countries “missed a good chance to keep quiet”? Any problems France may have with the new members may be put down to that ridiculous comment.

In a larger sense, too, we have been here before. In 1946 when the United States had to step in to prevent a Communist take-over in Greece and a possible civil war in Turkey; later on when despite the grandiloquent gestures it was American presence that kept Western Europe safe and peaceful.

We were here in 1991 when Jacques Poos, then Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, holder of the EU Presidency, announced gleefully that America can just keep out of Europe’s backyard. "If there is any problem that Europe can solve it is Yugoslavia." – he proclaimed.

We know the result of that. Another half a decade of war, many thousands slain, whole villages and towns destroyed and then, yes, the despised and derided Americans with NATO support moved in and imposed a kind of solution.

ECJ confirms who’s boss

The European Court of Justice today ruled that the Council of Ministers cannot over-rule the Commission on the approval of state aid.

The case arose from an incident in 1990 when the Commission ruled that it was illegal for the Council to allow Portugal to bail out struggling pig farmers. The Commission had determined that national subsidies broke EU law, but the Council had decided to give Portugal the go-ahead, citing the financial plight of the farmers.

The Commission then took proceedings in the ECJ, complaining that the governments' move undercut its authority under EU law. And the court has now decided that the Council "cannot authorise an aid measure which the Commission has declared incompatible with the common market". Portugal must now recover the money it gave to its farmers.

Strangely enough, the UK has been there before. On 28 May 1977, the Cabinet committee which dealt with (then) Common Market issues was told that the Commission had successfully appealed to the ECJ to have ruled "out of order" pig meat subsidies paid by the British government, and had instructed that the subsidies be stopped "forthwith".

Tony Benn was present at the meeting. He asked whether this was the first time that a European Court decision had been taken against the British government and was told it was. In his diaries, he wrote:

Then I asked what would be the political effect of this on pig producers in the UK. John Silkin said it would mean in effect the destruction of our industry, the mass slaughtering of pigs and the abandonment of our processing plants in favour of the Danes… I wanted to be told explicitly – as I was – that I was a member of the first British Government in history to be informed that it was behaving illegally by a court whose ruling you could not alter by changing the law in the House of Commons. It was a turning point…
Now the Portuguese have learned the same lesson, with the court confirming that, in matters of EU law and the application of the treaties, the Commission is top dog. With a new Portuguese president about to be anointed, this is perhaps a timely lesson.

Interestingly, many of the news reports still insist on calling the Commission the EU's "executive body". This case also confirms that the term "government" would be more appropriate.

The man, he say yes!

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso has accepted the nomination as the next European Commission president, and is due to be anointed by the heads of state and government today. He vowed to make the EU "stronger, even more cohesive and just, and more intervening on the international scene".

His appointment is likely to be a foregone conclusion, as there is no other credible candidate in sight. Even Chirac has swallowed his pride and, through gritted teeth, declared, "I would vote for him with pleasure."

But now, as Helen as pointed out in her earlier Blog click here, the horse-trading now starts as Germany and France push for their man to be appointed as the "super-commissioner" for economic affairs. And with them having conceded on the president, it is unlikely that they will be denied their choice.

Yet another benefit of our membership of the EU

Forget passerelles, qualified majority voting, emergency brakes and enhanced co-operation.

The thing that is really worrying the citizens of the Tyneside town of Monks Heaton, and many other besides, is seagulls… or to be more accurate, urban gulls.

The gulls are moving inland, and multiplying at an alarming rate. They cause mess, noise and disruption, and are becoming so aggressive that people are afraid to leave their own homes.

Interviewed on the Today programme, however, Councillor Tom Bothwell from Lossimouth – where they have a similar problem - gave a clue as to one of the causes. Fifteen years ago, he said, there were forty fishing boats operating out of Lossimouth. The fish were gutted at sea and the gulls fed on the remains.

Now, said Cllr Bothwell, the fleet had been decimated. There was only one boat working out of the harbour. The gulls no longer had the food and they were moving inland.

There we have it. The EU's Common Fisheries Policy has struck again, and we are plagued with hoards of ravenous gulls - yet another benefit of our membership of the EU.

Are they listening to themselves? - Part V

This comes from a news report from AOL that tells of the near certainty of Barroso being asked to become the next President of the European Commission:

A majority of MEPs is required to approve Mr Barroso once he has been formally chosen by EU leaders. That should be a formality, as the Parliament has a centre-right majority and can be expected to support a centre-right Commission president.

But anything less than overwhelming backing from MEPs on all sides would be an embarrassment, particularly after the Euro elections which amounted to a vote for apathy and a demand for a more voter-friendly EU hierarchy.
It may have escaped the MEPs’ and some journalists’ attention that the vote for of apathy was, in fact, lack of any interest or confidence expressed in the European Parliament. And what is a “voter-friendly EU hierarchy”?

Only two days to go

Yes, it looks like there will be an agreement tonight. After the less than totally successful NATO Summit in Istanbul, the EU leaders will reconvene in Brussels and will formally ask Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durão Barroso to take in the mantle of European Commission Presidency.

Some journalists have interpreted this as a British victory and, undoubtedly, France and Germany will call it that, hoping to get some kind of a quid pro quo for their supposed acquiescence. But it is hard to see how it could be described as such, since in the first place Britain was supporting the Portuguese Commissioner Antonio Vitorino. Unless, of course, it is now British policy that the President of the European Commission must be Portuguese, no matter who.

If Seňhor Durão Barroso does become President, it will be a victory for all those countries, and there are now many, who do not want to be messed about by the Franco-German axis.

If he becomes President. There is still a question of what will happen in Portugal. Durão Barroso’s government is not very popular because of his attempts to reform the bloated state sector and rein in the deficit. Some say that he will be very happy to abandon the mess in Lisbon and go to Brussels. But then there might be a general election and his party will almost certainly lose. An incentive not to go to Brussels, perhaps.

The Socialist Group in the European Parliament is threatening to make trouble and there has been noisy criticism from trade unions and non-governmental organizations, who are not supposed to become involved in political discussions.

Giampiero Alhadeff, secretary-general of Solidar, an alliance of European social and development non-governmental organizations, has complained about the undemocratic and untransparent way in which Durão Barroso was chosen. For undemocratic, read “not one of us”. Exactly how does a pan-European alliance of NGOs know anything about democracy or transparency? One of the most difficult things in the world is to find where a particular NGO gets its money from, how it uses the money and what the results of specific projects are.

Well, not long now. This time tomorrow we should be over the next stretch of this tortuous process.

You mean we have to spend money on defence?

Yesterday’s unexpected hand-over of power to the Iraqi government took many by surprise, not least the BBC, the EU, France and Germany. As the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, presented the legal documents, formally transferring power to new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the Europeans muttered comments about it being an important occasion.

Spare a thought for the French and the German leaders in Istanbul. What were they supposed to say? No, you cannot hand over power to a bunch of Iraqis? Or, goodness me, why have you not consulted us? Nothing really fits.

Then the Americans did something else that had been demanded from them for some time: they asked NATO to shoulder some of the responsibilities in Iraq. There had been similar requests in the past but they had led to nothing. Now, however, NATO was being asked to provide training for the new Iraqi forces.

The allies agreed, stipulating that this would not mean that they will have to send forces to Iraq. How they will train anyone without sending forces remains a mystery.

As the Wall Street Journal Europe put it:

Details of the training operation remained vague yesteday, and they could take days or weeks to be worked out. An assessment will have to be made of Iraq’s needs and NATO partmers will have to decide how to meet them.
Another fact emerged during the Istanbul Summit. It seems that despite the much-vaunted NATO involvement in the operation in Afghanistan (even France maintains that it supports the war there though not in Iraq) there has been very little practical assistance. Five "provincial reconstruction teams" have been promised months ago but never delivered.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer calls Afghanistan NATO's number one priority but there is little evidence that this has sunk in. He himself has angrily said that it was not dignified for the Secretary-Geneal to keep going round the member states with a begging bowl, pleading for a helicopter here or another division there. There are, it seems, 6,500 NATO troops in the safety of Kabul. The rest of the fighting is being done by 20,000 American led troops outside the Alliance’s structure.

Because of the precarious security situation the election scheduled for June has been postponed to September. Presumably, the Iraqis are hoping that they will not have to rely on the once-mighty North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The problem is that Europe has no troops. This has serious implications for the much paraded European security policy, whose aim has always been to separate the Europeans from the Americans. In 1998 at the 50th anniversary of NATO, it was agreed that the Europeans will develop their side of the Alliance in order to undertake some missions separately.

This agreement was interpreted differently by the Americans and the Europeans, particularly the French. The Americans thought that there ought to be a greater input of fighting forces by the European allies but there was no need to duplicate structures.

This was not the EU’s view. Anxious to build up the various foreign and security structures and organizations that it felt were necessary to what it is still hoping to be, a state, it did exactly the opposite of what was agreed.

Military and political committees were put together; commanders appointed; centres and headquarters established. But no more money went on defence. Germany cannot provide more than about 7,500 non-fighting troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia. France deploys about 15,000 of her 350,000 troops abroad. Of these 700 serve in Afghanistan and 4,000 in Côte d’Ivoire, where their exact purpose is unclear. Presumably they are there to prove that France abhors imperialism and will have no truck with non-UN sanctioned operations. (Woops, nobody sanctioned that one. Well, you can’t have everything.)

Britain, supposedly, remains a military power but her forces are seriously overstretched and every week brings news of more cut-backs on defence. There are now very worrying problems about turn-over, length of tours of duty and, above all, training. Never mind that dinner at Granita, the PM and his Chancellor should somehow sort out the fact that troops cannot be merrily committed all over the world if there is no money to keep them, train them, equip them.

So, what precisely is going to happen with the European security policy? Having undermined NATO partly by manipulation of opinion and partly by a refusal to play a full part, what will the EU's governments do? Will they carry on playing military games, setting up structures, awarding titles, creating administrative entities and hope that the Americans will come in to save their bacon as they did, eventually, in former Yugoslavia? They may not do that again.

Or will the EU simply "abolish" war, as it has "abolished" so many other things: national feelings, economic laws, and so on? Undoubtedly wars happen in unhygienic places and are potentially dangerous. Perhaps the EU's defence and security policy should be handed over the health and safety inspectors, who will serve "prohibition notices" on the combatants and bring everything to a halt.

End of the Special Relationship?

The director of a prestigious US "think-tank", Frank Gaffney, has warned that if Britain signs up to the EU constitution it could mean the end of the relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush, because it will impose "certain common policies" on its member countries - i.e. restrictions on how they can react to terrorism.

Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy, in an interview with "Fox and Friends" said that the constitution "will almost certainly make the kinds of responses that the war on terror requires more difficult... possibly impossible". He said that Blair was one of Bush's most important allies, but their "special relationship" may not survive because the new EU constitution "has been driven by people who really want the union to be a rival to the United States, not a partner to it".

He explained how European countries that are our allies but also members of the EU may struggle to assist the U.S. and stay true to their own constitution. "That could have effects domestically, within the European countries as they confront a very real problem from these 'Islamofascists' just as we will be needing their help in the world-wide fight against that same phenomenon", he said.

Nor is Gaffney the only one concerned. Defence specialists both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly worried about the degree of defence integration between the UK and other EU nations. Information and technology sharing between the US and the UK is no longer deemed secure, especially as some EU member states have close trading links with potential enemies of the US. There are suspicions that technology transferred to the UK will end up in the wrong hands.

Already, a major row is brewing over the Joint Strike Fighter. Although a shared project between the US and UK, the US government is refusing permission for contractors to release to the UK the vital software "source codes" for the computers which control the flight systems and avionics. Without access to them, the aircraft could be inoperable without direct and continued US support.

There are also concerns about UK involvement in the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation and positioning system, in which the Chinese are co-partners. Again, crucial technology transfers involving weapons guidance and command and control systems may be at risk, as US Agencies fear that this technology may also fall into the wrong hands.

Altogether, defence co-operation between the US and the UK is increasingly strained, to the point where the relationships built up over decades may be severed. The constitution, therefore – and the defence implications arising from it – may, as Gaffney warns, be the last straw. Sooner, rather than later, the UK may have to decide on which side of the divide it wants to be.

Monday, June 28, 2004

They are not having much luck

As this blog has already reported, Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President is having to return home early from the Istanbul NATO Summit to deal with the gathering political crisis occasioned by the resignation of the Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla.

Now news comes of another political crisis, this time in Italy. One could, of course, argue that a political crisis in Italy is hardly news, but this one affects the man who has broken all post-World War II records of staying in power, Silvio Berlusconi.

His Forza Italia party suffered severe losses in the European elections on June 10 and has now been defeated in regional elections, losing its power base in Milan, where the governor, Ombretta Coli has been replaced by the left-wing Filippo Penati.

This is a disproportionately heavy blow for Berlusconi as his Fininvest Company is based in Milan and he is also the owner of the local football team, Milan AC. It is, perhaps, the latter and the coincidence of Euro 2004 that prompted one left-wing opponent to talk of "Berlusconi losing at home".

Romano Prodi, though still nominally President of the European Commission, took an active part in the electoral campaign and rejoiced accordingly, seeing in this a hopeful sign for next year's presidential elections.

There have been some calls for the left to unite behind Mr Prodi but this idea is not welcome to all. We shall, no doubt, see a good deal of in-fighting before final candidacies are announced.

In the meantime Berlusconi has announced that he has no intention of resigning before the end of his mandate. But there are hints of a possible reshuffle, to give more cabinet seats to his coalition partners, the Northern League, the National Alliance and the centrist UDC party, whose votes held up well at the polls.

It really is rubbish

The media is slowly beginning to wake up to the impending environmental disaster occasioned by the new EU regulations on the disposal of hazardous waste, which come into force on 16 July. In today’s Daily Telegraph, albeit in the business section on page 29, is a piece headed "Firms face leap in rubbish charges with new EU rules".

The story, outlined in the Booker column two Sundays ago (20 June), makes no better reading in the Telegraph, which records that only ten hazardous waste sites will be available after the deadline, as opposed to the 250 currently available, tripling the costs of disposal and depriving many businesses of easy access to tips..

But what is interesting is the craven comments of the Environmental Agency, charged with enforcing the new rules. Sir John Harman, its chairman, says the agency support the new rules, “because it would put pressure on hazardous waste producers to make improvements”.

This contrasts with the fact that the problem arises largely as a result of the prohibition on "co-disposal" – the practice where low level toxic material (such as soil contaminated with relatively low levels of heavy metals) can no longer be mixed in with domestic waste, so diluting the toxins containing pollution levels to within acceptable limits.

Furthermore, Harman fails to understand that the genesis of this legislation – and its antipathy towards landfill – arises from "Green" pressure in the Low Countries and Germany, where the high water tables in the Rhine basin and elsewhere make landfill an unsuitable method of disposal.

In the UK, however, with a wider range of geological structures, we have developed considerable expertise over a considerable period of time in the safe disposal of wastes on land, to the extent that the UK is a world leader in this arcane subject.

But, under the "one-size-fits-all" doctrine of the EU, we must abandon this expertise, unnecessarily triple the costs of disposal to industry (and therefore the consumer) and expose our green and pleasant land to the ravages of fly-tipping. And this, Sir John Harman thinks is a good thing.

Tories against the Constitution

It is a measure of the frustration of modern politics, and relations with the media, that Owen Paterson, Conservative MP for North Shropshire, immediately rushed out a press release following the agreement on the constitution last week.

Being used to have virtually all his texts published virtually verbatim in the local rags - on subjects as diverse and important as a campaign for a new bus shelter, and his appearance at a local fund-rasing dinner, he was somewhat puzzled by the response to this press release - absolutely none!

To make up for this strange lapse in journalistic interest, we reproduce the release here. Any offerings from other MPs (from all parties) would be gratefully received. It would be interesting to have a cross-section of responses.


Owen Paterson has re-iterated his total opposition to the proposed European Constitution agreed by Tony Blair last weekend.

Speaking in North Shropshire, he said "If ratified, this Constitution will make the EU, for the first time, a state in its own right. Article 1.5 states quite clearly that it shall have primacy over the member States. It declares that European law is supreme over both Parliamentary statutes and national constitutions. There will be a federal law code sitting above state laws, a European Public Prosecutor and a federal police force. There will be a common policy on immigration and asylum.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights will allow the European Court of Justice to supersede national law in almost every area of the law. The EU will have either full or shared jurisdiction in virtually every area of public policy, including, trade, transport, employment, energy, competition, social policy, environment, fisheries, agriculture, defence and foreign affairs. In areas of shared sovereignty, member states shall only exercise competence where the EU “chooses no longer to exercise its competence.” In thirty years, we have seen no evidence of any such self-restraint by our masters in Brussels.

Despite Tony Blair's unconvincing posturing last week, his red lines seem to have dissolved in the actual text. If this Constitution is ratified, we will no longer live in a nation state.

I shall be throwing all my energy into supporting the No campaign and I urge all those who want to live in a real democracy called Britain to do the same. This Constitution removes once and for all our right to remove our real rulers by voting. I am implacably opposed to it in principle. The Prime Minister should hold a referendum now."

What a Messerschmidt

There is an intriguing letter in The Times today about the difficulties of ensuring accurate translation of legal texts into diverse languages.

The author, Professor Muir Hunter, who had worked on official translations for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, recalls that he had to work on the draft EEC bankruptcy convention, drafted in French, translated into German, Italian and Dutch, and then into English.

The result was so unsatisfactory that Prof. Hunter had to re-translate the text himself. The outcome was four master texts, each declared to be "authentic", in places markedly different in sense. "What will have happened to the EU constitution", Prof. Hunter asks, “after 20 or more teams of translators have been at work?”

The question is well put, as we have direct experience of the old joke from the First World War, when the message to "send reinforcements, we're going to advance", got corrupted through multiple transmissions, to arrive at HQ – to the puzzlement of the recipients - as "send 3/4d, we're going to a dance".

In September 2001, Jeffrey Titford, then one of the two UKIP MEPs, gave a speech in the European Parliament on the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The report, produced by rapporteur Ingo Schmitt, could best be described as a "dog's dinner", which left Jeffrey to conclude his speech with the comment, "What a mess Herr Schmitt". This was duly recorded in the English text as "What a Messerschmidt" (sic). God knows what the Germans made of it.

Only three days to go

It looks like Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durão Barroso is all set to become the chosen one. Tomorrow evening at the special Summit after the NATO Summit (goodness me, all these summits – when do they get any gardening done?) his name will be proposed to the assembled leaders. As they all seem to have agreed already, this is likely to be a formality.

French and German approval will not come without a price tag attached. They are likely to lobby for important positions for “their” super-commissioners. Chancellor Schröder has already started to campaign for the new economic and industry portfolio for his man, present Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen.

With economic policy set to become Community competence, this position will be supremely important. Given Germany’s economic woes, we can look forward to a great deal of economic and industrial legislation that will ensure a “level playing field”, i.e. as little competition as possible.

However, France has very similar economic woes and President Chirac may well want the same position to go to the French Commissioner.

In the meantime, the Socialist group in the European Parliament (PSE), which is the second largest, has intimated its dissatisfaction with the choice of a right of centre candidate for the Presidency. The European Parliament will have to approve Señhor Barroso's presidency in the autumn.

It is unlikely that he will be rejected but there might be rough passages and the Socialist group, too, will have to be appeased.

Shout it from the rooftops

In yesterday's Sunday Times, Labour MP Frank Field argues that Blair would be better off holding the EU referendum early, so he can lose it and get it out of the way well before the general election.

Letting people veto the constitution could, he maintains, be Labour's best launching pad for a third election victory. It would see Blair not in teaching mode, but in listening mode as well. And then, when the votes are counted, doing what the electorate wants.

That really is an intriguing thought and it would be interesting to learn whether anyone else sees it in the same light. I suspect not. It is questionable whether it is even feasible, mainly because of a rather odd electoral situation.

Although the general election does not have to be called until June 2006, the perceived wisdom is that going full term is always electorally risky, as the prime minister surrenders his single most potent weapon – he loses the initiative and thence the surprise factor.

However, barring a snap election this autumn – which seems extremely unlikely, not least because autumn elections tend to favour opposition parties (with people punishing the government because they don't like being dragged out on dark nights to vote) - there is only one other realistic election slot. That is next spring, 2005.

The big confounding factor is then the British EU presidency. Blair cannot hold an election during it and he would have to get an election out of the way early in order to prepare for it. A great deal of prestige is involved. It is inconceivable, therefore, that he could hold a general election – or a referendum – during the presidency.

On the other hand, when it comes to an EU referendum, that cannot be held until the Referendum Bill is through both Houses. That is spring at the earliest. So the choice is a referendum in spring 2005 and the general election in spring 2006 – or vice versa. On that basis, it looks like Blair really has only one option – holding the election first.

Here then, perversely, there is a real USP for the Conservatives. Arguably, a "no" vote in the referendum will be harder to win when Labour is in government. Conversely, with a Conservative government in power, running a referendum, a "no" vote would be almost a foregone conclusion.

Thus, we cannot agree that allowing Blair the chance of losing it early is a good option. For those who are really determined to maximise the chances of gaining a "no" vote, there can be no better option than seeking to bring a Conservative government into power, and then fighting the referendum.

What is odd is that, with such a good reason for thus voting – and one that should be highly attractive to Eurosceptics – the Conservative Party, and Michael Ancram in particular, is not shouting it from the rooftops.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Myth of the week - Europe is being reunited

On one level, this is the easiest myth of all to disprove. All one has to do is ask when Europe was last united.

Charlemagne? A very limited union achieved by conquest and dissolved upon the great man’s death? The Holy Roman Empire? Again, somewhat limited and, as Voltaire said, neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. In fact, as he did not say, an unholy mess.

Napoleon? Hitler? Each one achieved by conquest for a very short time with few lasting effects.

On another level, however, the idea of a single European entity, a single European culture is very insiduous and can easily be translated into harmful political ideas.

The great historian of the Renaissance, Sir John Hale, opens his monumental study, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, with the discussion of the concept of Europe and its emergence in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

When in 1623 Francis Bacon threw off the phrase ‘we Europeans’, he was assuming that his readers knew where ‘Europeans’ were, who they were, and what, in spite of national differences, they shared. This was a phrase, and an assumption, that could not have been used with such confidence a century and a half before.
The concept of Europe grew up as Europeans travelled further and further abroad and found themselves dealing more and more with other political and cultural entities. It was a concept that gradually, though as Hale shows, very slowly surpassed the concept of Christendom.

However, what it never did was to become a clear political concept of a single state. Quite the opposite: the concept of Europe included the idea of a patchwork of pieces, small and large, that may have had certain similarities and certain common notions but these notions were often more divisive than uniting ones.

Ah yes, I hear some of the European integrationists say, that is the problem: Europe has been consumed by endless fighting and warfare and it is time to put an end to it. To this there are several replies, the most obvious being that divisions and competitiveness do not necessarily involve fighting and warfare. It is merely the opposite of a huge, centralized entity, which has never been part of European history for any length of time.

There is a basic contradiction in the integrationists’ arguments. Let us look at what the preamble to the draft EU Constitution says:

Conscious that Europe is a continent that has brought forth civilisation: that its inhabitants, arriving in successive waves from earliest times, have gradually developed the values underlying humanism: equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason.
Really? So why does the Laeken Declaration say:

For centuries, peoples and states have taken up arms and waged war to win control of the European continent. The debilitating effects of two bloody wars and the weakening of Europe’s position in the world brought a growing realisation that only peace and concerted action could make the dream of a strong, unified Europe come true.
There are clearly two separate entities at work: there is Europe, which has had all those wonderful, liberal, humanist, peaceful, civilised forces at work and there are the peoples and states of Europe, who keep fighting each other and stubbornly refusing to unite. Therefore, Europe must be built up and protected from the peoples of Europe in opposition to their history.

A unified Europe, thus, has little to do with the history of the peoples and states of Europe. Indeed, the idea of a unified Europe is the direct opposite of what Europe, the Europe Francis Bacon understood and we understand, is really about.

The recent argument about whether to include the idea of Christian values in the Constitution demonstrates the problem. It opened up the deep fissures in Europe, called attention to centuries’ old conflicts and undermined the whole notion of there being one set of European values.

It reminded us all that those European values are not all about sweetness and light, though they are, frequently, about swashbuckling curiosity and advancement in political, social, economic and intellectual matters – all of which is alien to the European Union with its prattle about European values.

The great dividing lines in post-Classical European history have been religious. At present, only one of the EU member states is Eastern Orthodox (as well as a former part of the Ottoman Empire), Greece, but certain problems in outlook have already been apparent.

There is a secondary dividing line and that is between Catholic and Protestant countries. Fortunately, in most parts of Europe, the various denominations have learned to live in peace (nothing to do with the European Union and everything with historical and economic development) but some attitudes remain different. It is noticeable that all the countries that signed a letter asking for an inclusion of Christianity in the Constitution were largely Catholic. For various historical reasons, the largely Protestant countries are shying away from the idea.

But there are other factors that make the European experience more varied than is admitted by the integrationists. A couple of years ago one newspaper published a list of the 100 greatest military commanders in history. Lists of that kind are enormous fun and, as usual, there were many satisfying rows and discussions about those included and not included and the placings.

One letter writer objected to Prince Eugene of Savoy being ranked above Marlborough. How could this be so, wrote the author indignantly, when Marlborough was the commander in chief.

The letter writer was talking about the French wars. Prince Eugene’s achievement was to turn back the Ottoman advance, thus liberating Central Europe from Turkish occupation and ensuring its “European” development.

The point is that the crucial historic experience for many centuries in the east of the Continent was the constant war against one Muslim invader or another. The crucial experience in the west was the ongoing wars between Catholic and Protestant countries, which evolved into a national struggle between Britain and France.

That may well have influenced the different attitudes to the war against terror. Or the difference arose from another, equally important distinction. Twentieth century experience was incomprehensibly different in the two halves of Europe. The liberation from the Nazis in 1945 was the prelude to a half century of peaceful, democratic development in the west, while the east was abandoned to another brutal totalitarian regime.

The divisions and differences can be enumerated endlessly. This does not prove that there is no basic understanding of what being European is about. Just as Francis Bacon knew so do we know. But there cannot be a Europe reunited where no true union has ever existed or can ever exist.

Turkey 1 - Greece 0

President Bush is using the NATO Summit in Istanbul to remind everyone of Turkey’s achievements as an officially Islamic but secularist country, as a reliable and valuable member of NATO and as a stalwart participant in the coalition of the willing against terrorism.

The conclusion Mr Bush draws is that Turkey should be rewarded by membership in the European Union. Back in the early post-Communist days President Bush senior and President Clinton both thought that the EU was extremely ungenerous to the East European countries. It was and part of its ungenerosity was the refusal to make any kind of agreements with those countries except with eventual membeship of the EU in mind.

Well, now they have achieved that membership and it is proving to be a mixed blessing, to put it mildly. However, it seems that the Turkish Government and the American President still think that the best way forward for Turkey towards a more westernized, more democratic status is to belong to an undoubtedly western but undemocratic, illiberal union.

Still, it is good to be reminded of Turkey’s positive role in the world.

Across the Aegean Sea, things are not quite so balmy. Greece is preparing for the Olympic Games, which open in two months’ time. It is not a secret that the preparations have been seriously behind schedule and as we write, it is not clear, whether the main stadium will be properly functioning in time.

Other problems have arisen. The original idea was to flood the Field of Marathon, one of the greatest and most decisive battles of the western world, for sailing events. Realizing that doing this would not exactly enhance Greece’s self-appointed role as the guardian of western culture, the government abandoned the plan. But the sailing lake is far from ready.

The new Greek government has abandoned the idea of putting up a pointless museum to house the Elgin Marbles, mainly because this, too, caused a furore. The previous government had overruled several Supreme Court decisions and went ahead with the construction that involved the destruction of a major Byzantine site.

Somewhere along the line the Greeks have forgotten that there was an awful lot of history between Athens (only one of many ancient Greek city states) and modern Greece. The country is having something of an identity crisis and the constant rows surrounding the Olympic Games have illuminated this.

Greece is the recipient of possibly the largest amount of money in one lot of hand-outs or another from the EU and has shown no ability to use that money sensibly. Its agriculture would not exist without hefty subsidies and it has not been able to do away with the tobacco growing that is keeping parts of the country going, despite the low quality of the tobacco produced and the constant health warnings.

Its most productive industry is the tourist industry, which accounts for 8 per cent of GDP, and, apparently, there are problems with that.

Despite more financial assistance for the Olympics, the Games have not attracted the numbers expected. Olympic Games are so expensive to stage nowadays that the only hope of recovering anything at all is a huge rise in tourist numbers.

Fani Palli-Petria, Greece’s top Olympic official has admitted that the country has failed to capitalize on the event. According to her, there is no Olympic atmosphere in Athens and a certain reluctance among foreign tourists to take up hotel reservations.

Some 5,000 hotel beds out of a total 62,000 in Athens have yet to be booked during the August 13-29 Olympic Games, the capital's hotelier association reported.

All kinds of suggestions are being made to attract visitors but there is a feeling that it is all too late. Ms Petralia thinks that Greece should concentrate on hosting a successful Olympics and that would attract visitors in the future.

"For Greece the great profit will be the image that it will project during the Olympic Games," she was quoted as saying. Given the image it has projected during the run-up to the Olympics, I would not put too much money on that.

To add insult to injury many of those visitors are not going to Greece because they prefer the country on the other side of the Aegean: Turkey.

They really are living on another planet

According to Ireland online, the Irish government is claiming that its EU presidency is the most successful in history of the Union. Not least of the "achievements" Irish foreign minister Dick Roche lays claim to is that 20 percent of all the legislation put through the European parliament was completed during the Irish presidency.

Other highlights of the Irish presidency include the approval of the draft EU constitution, and hosting the EU/US summit in Co Clare yesterday – which incidentally cost the Irish taxpayers over £2 million for security and which even Brussels officials admit is a "waste of time" (which is why we haven’t bothered reporting it – ed).

If that is the measure of the Irish "achievement", and the government is proud of it, they really are living on another planet.

Czech Prime Minister resigns

Unlike his colleague in Poland, prime minister Belka, Vladimir Spidla, has decided to bite the bullet, after a vote of confidence in the Social-Democratic Party.

He did win the vote by the narrowest of margins but 100 people voted against him. This was six short of the necessary expression of no confidence but was high enough for Spidla to decide to resign as both Prime Minister and Leader of the Social-Democratic Party.

The vote was occasioned by the spectacular defeat inflicted on the Social-Democrats in the European elections, when they managed to get 2 seats out of 24. The undisputed winner in that election was Vaclav Klaus's mildly eurosceptic ODS.

Mr Spidla's government was an uneasy coalition of Social-Democrats, Christian Democrats and Liberals. President Klaus has already announced that he is flying back from the NATO summit in Istanbul early, to deal with the growing crisis.

Who in the new member states will have serious political problems next?

Only four days to go

It looks like they might agree on the President quite soon. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has told journalists that a consensus has emerged in the EU that supports Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso for the post. Señhor Barroso was due to make a statement, accepting the nomination, yesterday but has clearly decided to wait for the official announcement on Tuesday, June 29.

Mr Ahern is once again in the air, flying hither and thither in the EU, running up air miles. He has to consult a couple of more people in order to clinch the nomination, which, as usual, has emerged by consensus – an odd way of choosing someone who will, arguably, be the most powerful person in the European Union.

One wonders, also, whether the people to consult will include President Chirac or Chancellor Schröder. The Portuguese Prime Minister is not a great favourite with either of them. He is a confirmed Atlanticist and a less confirmed free-marketeer. He was one of the first to join the "New Europe" side in the row over the Iraqi war. In fact, he hosted the famous meeting in Madeira, that hardened the opposition to the Franco-German policy.

It was generally assumed that France would go on pretending that Britain had won many concessions in the constitutional negotiations in Brussels on June 17 – 18, in order to demand, as a quid pro quo, a pliable President of the Commission. If this does not happen – still something of an 'if' – and Jose Manuel Durao Barroso becomes President, France will have two large favours to call in. What will they demand, one wonders.

Hard life being a failure

Christopher Patten has thrown in the towel, telling the BBC last night that his political career was "effectively over" after he failed in his bid to become commission president. This is who man who, having failed to get re-elected in the 1992 general election, went on to give away Hong Kong to the Chinese and then destroyed the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

However, things are not all black for Patten. He had spent part of the week in Oxford and that had left him "feeling anything but disappointment that I won't be spending my next five years slogging around, responsible for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and all sorts of delights like that". (Funny that, we thought the CAP had just been "reformed" – ed.)

Anyhow, disappointed or not, Patten can certainly enjoy the fruits of past labours. While the rest of us struggle to the age of 70 or beyond for our meagre £4,081 state pension, he can draw down his £60,000 a year commission pension, plus all the other bunce he's managed to pick up on the way. Hard life being a failure, innit?

We are not going to represent you

In an "exclusive" interview in the Sunday Herald – exclusive because no one else wanted to interview him – deputy Conservative leader Michael Ancram has declared that the Tories' general election campaign would focus on "the usual suspects". That means a diet of "schools 'n' hospitals" and "law 'n' order". Neither "Europe" nor "Tony Blair's mistakes on Iraq" will feature prominently in their campaign.

Ancram also "revealed" something well known to readers of this Blog, that Conservative Central Office has all but dismissed the widespread Tory defections to UKIP as a transitory protest. He said there would be no change in Conservative policy to accommodate the scale of the anti-Europe protest, and dismissed any prospect of his party hinting at even a partial exit strategy from Europe.

This is all fine and dandy, but it effectively means that any voter who considers important the question of who rules their country is effectively disfranchised. The Conservatives are not going to represent them and, apparently, do not want the votes of people who are thus concerned. They can chose their government (what's left of it) on the basis of domestic issues, or not at all.

Oddly enough, those who believe that health care provision is solely a domestic issue should read Friday's edition of The Financial Times, which reported that the health service could face a continuing severe shortage of doctors in spite of the huge increase in medical students.

Part of the problem is the dramatic rise in the number of women doctors, who prefer to work part-time, but the greatest burden comes from the EU's working time directive, which is set to cut the number of hours trainee doctors can spend in hospital to 58 hours a week from August and 48 a week in 2009. The BMA has calculated that the shorter hours are the equivalent of needing 3,700 more junior doctors.

The outcome of this is that, despite massive increases in expenditure on the health service, and all the promises from politicians about better delivery and cutting waiting lists, according to Professor Peter Hutton, former president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, "it is perfectly possible that there will not be more hours available to the NHS than there are now and - on a worst case scenario - there may even be less".

But, of course, if "Europe" is off the agenda at the next election, this issue cannot be discussed. Instead we will be assailed by a bunch of bleating politicians telling us how much better health care will be if they are elected, with none of them telling us that it will not be, and why that might be the case.

All of this leaves people who are really concerned about who runs their country – and indeed whether there are enough doctors to run the health service – with only one option. And it ain't voting Tory at the next general election.

Not playing the game

Hands up those who knew that this was European Year of Education through Sport. Nobody? Well, it is. And Viviane Reding, the member of Commission with responsibility for Education and Culture, seems to be delighted with how well it has gone.

During a presentation about the mid-term review she enthused about the 1,500 or more projects that have been financed by the long-suffering taxpayer throughout the EU. No, nothing as vulgar as playing fields or matches between teams.

Instead, there are projects, such as:

LEAPS: a project undertaken by the city of Dublin with the aim of helping young people in difficulty to improve their school performance by drawing their inspiration from sporting achievement
Or there is the Soviet-style:

Olympic Champions of Education: 28 young people selected by the national coordinators of the Year on the basis of their school performance, will be invited to Athens for the Olympic Games.
One wonders what the criteria of selection will be.

However, what excited Viviane Reding more than anything else was the fact, unnoticed by most commentators, that sport will now become a Community competence through the Constitutional Treaty.

Article III-182(2)(g) states that

Union action shall be aimed at:

Developing the European dimension in sport, by promoting fairness in competitions and co-operation between sporting bodies and by protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, especially young sportsment and sportswomen.
What exactly, might one ask, has sport to do with a constitutional structure that is supposed to do nothing more than define the relationship between various government structures and between the state and the citizen?

Never fear, Ms Reding has the answer. At the press conference she explained somewhat incoherently:

Sport can help to improve education and pave the way for integration. Accordingly, it can and must be made an integral part of the process of building up European citizenship. I am therefore delighted to see sport given its place in the Constitutional Treaty and I thank the Member States, the sports organisations and all who have been involved in this effort. The inclusion of this reference in no way calls into question the fundamental freedoms and the principle of non-discrimination.
And there I was thinking that sport is something you do for the fun of it or to make yourself feel better and healthier. I would like to put one question to Ms Reding: will the Community take the responsibility for our football hooligans as well?

For full text of press release click here

The Booker column

Booker this morning offers us a story about the baleful effect of EU Regulations on butcher’s bones – the type they sell, that is. Another classic Booker story, illustrating once again the effects of those mad regulators in Brussels when their insanity is compounded by the ministrations of British officials.

For his substantive story, however, he takes on Andrew Marr, the BBC's chief political correspondent so loved by this Blog, and his complaint in his Daily Telegraph column last week about the impossibility of making the recent agreement of the EU constitution in Brussels seem interesting.

While this story was rehearsed in this Blog click here Booker takes it further by cross-linking the Marr ennui with the absence of media comment on the power grab by the EU over economic policy.

He records how he wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph on the subject, whence Tory backbencher Angela Browning asked Mr Blair to confirm that economic policy had been moved to majority voting. When Mr Blair failed to give a proper answer, another backbencher, Ann Winterton, repeated the question. When he still failed to answer, Mrs Browning put down a written question, asking him to explain the huge surrender he had made.

Up to press, she had been told her question had been referred to the Foreign Office, which no doubt will come up with a similarly obfuscatory reply. But, as Booker wrote in his letter, the person whose views we would really like to hear is the Chancellor. But for Andrew Marr, Booker records, the question would doubtless seem too boring and trivial to ask.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Barking cats

The mantra of "reform" of the EU is ever-beguiling - for those who have little idea of how the EU works and what is is intended to do. Yet, we have been here before.

After the low turnout in the 1999 European elections, and the resignation of the Santer Commission, we began to see a subtle change in the rhetoric coming from the EU institutions.

Instead of "integration", we started hearing calls for "reform", and all community intitiatives began to be couched in those terms. But, as one would expect, in the Community dictionary, "reform" is simply another word for integration.

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, and his wife Rose offered the best explanation of why "reform" cannot succeed and why, therefore, it cannot be real.

In a book written by the couple, they launched an attack on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for its bureaucratic controls on pharmaceutical drugs, which served only to increase their price and keep effective products off the market.

They recalled that, when one of them had suggested in a Newsweek column (8 January 1973) that for these reasons the FDA should be abolished, the column had evoked letters from persons in pharmaceutical work offer-ing tales of woe to confirm the allegation that the FDA was frus-trating drug development.

But most had believed it should be changed rather than abolished. The Friedmans addressed this point in a subsequent column, entitled "Barking Cats" (19 February 1973), which has singular relevance to the European Union. They argued:

What would you think of someone who said, "I would like to have a cat provided it barked"? Yet your statement that you favour an FDA provided it behaves as you believe desirable is precisely equivalent. The biological laws that specify the characteristics of cats are no more rigid than the political laws that specify the behavior of governmental agencies once they are established.
The point was, and is, that if organisations are set up in a certain way, their behaviour is pre-ordained and no more able to change than a cat can bark.

What the history of the European Union tells us is that is was set up in a certain way, to do certain things. It embodies at its core the supranational Commission. All the other institutions were designed in such a way that they would either present no challenge to the supremacy of the Commission, or help it in its task of acquiring power.

Given the structure and relationships of the institutions, as indeed do dogs bark and cats meow, so does the European Union necessarily act in an anti-democratic manner. That is what it was designed to do.

Thus, as Thatcher said in her book Statecraft, long after she had retired from active politics, "Europe as a whole is fundamentally unreformable". At least she got there in the end.

Swivel-Eyed Loon Update & EU Membership

So a fortnight since the Euro-elections, how are Kilroy's brave little soldiers doing? Read this fascinating article from Anthony Wells click here.

Heading for rocky waters

I was particularly taken by an article in The Times today, which reported an analysis of the Euro-election results, and the performance of UKIP click here.

The crux of the report was that the party, which had more than doubled its share of the vote to 16 percent, had topped the poll in 18 local authority areas around the country, mostly in the East Midlands, Devon and Cornwall. If that result were replicated at a general election the UKIP would win more than 20 seats in Parliament.

That, of course, is not going to happen. As The Times suggests, the more likely outcome is that UKIP will have a small but destructive influence, which will hamper the Conservative's attempts to win or hold on to marginal seats.

This is well understood, but what particularly caught my attention was the comment of a "Conservative source", who said: "This is very much a protest vote. Come the general election people will vote differently". The assumption is – which is widely believed in the upper ranks of the Tories – that UKIP voters will "bite the bullet" come the general, and flock dutifully back to the Tories.

Apart from this being indicative of the classic signs of "denial", I believe there is another worrying element here, in that the hierarchy are totally misreading the electorate. They have not picked up the general mood – a mood of sullen resentment, an Anglo-Saxon mulishness which says "a pox on all your parties".

People will always grumble, of course, but this is different. It is very much a given in Army circles that the time to worry is when the troops are not grumbling. That is when morale is dangerously low. And the troops are not grumbling. They are silent, indifferent and resentful.

Howard cannot therefore assume the voters will come back at the general. He has to make it worth their while and so far, the way I see it is that his response to the Euros will have the opposite effect. The view is, "We gave them a kicking and they ignored it - so we'll just have to give them another one".

I really do not think the upper echelons have even begun to realise the voters are in a thoroughly rebellious mood and are simply not going to roll over and let Howard tickle their tummies. They will either stay at home or vote for anyone except Howard – and Labour will get in by default.

It is that fear that Howard is relying on, but he does not understand that the average – and even the more informed – voter sees no difference between the parties. Their line on Europe seems identical, and they are all obsessed with "schools 'n' hospitals".

In fact, contrary to the perceived wisdom in the Westminster bubble, "schools 'n' hospitals" is not the major preoccupation of the electorate – whatever the opinion polls might say. We are all familiar now with the way people respond to pollsters, telling them what they want to hear, so the data here are unreliable.

What more and more people see in this obsession is that it is a political refuge, a Europe-free area of policy where the parties can have a good ol' ideological ding-dong without the leaden influence of an issue with which they really do not want to be confronted.

That much was evident in the almost indecent haste with which the parties dropped any discussion of the EU after the Euros, and their desperate, almost manic rush to embrace domestic issues again. This is also a form of denial.

So where do we go from here? All the indications are that Howard, in electing to fight the battle on the ground of his enemies choosing – while ignoring the concerns of his own supporters – is going to get roundly thrashed. It is not beyond the realms of possibilities that the Conservatives will return a lower number of MPs at the next election than they did at the last, and even Howard’s seat is at risk.

As for the EU referendum, that too is at risk if the driver is a re-invigorated Labour Party at the head of the "yes" campaign, with fractured, demoralised Conservatives as the opposition. We are heading for rocky waters.

Only five days to go

As the previous blog said, there seems to be a consensus right-wing candidate for the Presidency. It is all a little unofficial, with most of the information coming from Portuguese news agencies.

In the meantime Margot Wallström, the Swedish Commissioner for the Environment, has bemoaned the fact that there were no women candidates and one wag has suggested that Lady Thatcher should take over. Even she would be unable to sort out this mess.

The idea of an Atlanticist as a President is likely to annoy the French and the Germans, so negotiations should be quite lively.

El presidente

So it looks as though a "dark horse" has entered the field and is galloping up the field, set to take the post. In the hunt for the Commission president, Portugal's prime minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso has emerged as the consensus candidate to succeed Prodi.

A lawyer by profession, Barroso, 48, also studied political science and rounded it off with a spell in the University of Geneva engaged in European studies before lecturing in law in Lisbon while holding a post as Visiting Scholar, at the University of Georgetown, USA.

He then became editor of the political periodical Revista de Ciencia Politica and in 1985 entered parliament. He was re-elected in 1987 and again in 1991, and was appointed Secretary of State, Home Affairs and then Secretary of State, Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, becoming prime minister in 2002.

He speaks good English and French, the latter being likely to endear him to the French, and, in political terms, he is right of centre, from the same stable as Chirac and Schröder, although his party is styled as the Social Democrats.

However, he is a hard-liner on the economy, making his name for imposing stringent public sector spending cuts, price and wages freezes in a successful attempt to rein in Portugal's deficit, after being the first country to incur the Commission's wrath for breaching the Stability and Growth Pact. In imposing his cuts and lay-offs, he managed to precipitate the country's first general strike in ten years. He is hardly likely, therefore, to be sympathetic to the plight of France and Germany, or other Pact defaulters, and could give them a hard time if he is appointed president.

He also supported the Iraqi war, and currently has a detachment of 148 police in the country, making him highly unpopular with the new socialist government in Spain and with his own left, whom he is trailing in the polls.

Barrosso has a reputation for being extremely ambitious, and is regarded by some as "a time bomb, waiting to explode, in his eternal quest for power". Strongly supportive of the EU constitution, he nevertheless displays a staunchly nationalistic streak and maintains a strongly independent stance when up against his more powerful neighbour, Spain.

In recent years, Spain has become the biggest source of foreign investment in Portugal and this rising tide of investment has revived fears that Madrid will once again come to rule Portugal as it did for a 60-year period that ended in 1640. Barrosso, therefore, has been riding an increasing surge of nationalist sentiment.

Altogether, this is not your classic grey bureaucrat, nor even a Delorsian zealot, wholly committed to European integration. He clearly has a mind of his own, and ambition.

If appointed, he could prove less a less than malleable president. That makes him less than ideal for the post. If he is appointed, it could well be because no one else could get near attracting enough support and the colleagues are getting desperate.

Possibly unpredictable, there is however one thing about which we can be sure – he will be very different from Prodi.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Poland on the brink?

In the wake of Marek Belka’s surprise confirmation as premier, some very disturbing reports are coming out of Poland, underlining the parlous state of the economy that Belka was elected to deal with.

In recent weeks, farmers have been suffering a two-way squeeze as the effects of the EU's single market begin to bite. On the one hand, the country seems to be coming what one commentator described as a "designated dump for EU over-production" while, on the other, large consignments of staple products are being trucked to western EU destination.

Pork is a basic staple food in Poland, but their huge pig farms – with up to 20,000 breeding sows - are now mainly under the control of US Smithfield corporation, with feed supplied by the multi-national Cargill group, while meat processing companies are gearing up to invest further in the export market – some companies showing 20 percent growth.

Thus, rather than serving the domestic market, much of the output from these companies – at highly competitive prices - is being trucked into East Germany, and onwards, creating local shortages.

As a result, the prices of some foodstuffs have increased to such a degree that farmers are complaining that they can't afford their own food in the shops. The last two weeks have seen up to 30 percent increases in staple foods such as pork, chicken, dairy products, vegetable and bread. As farmers see convoys of lorries heading out of the country loaded with cut-price produce, there is talk of blockades, with Lepper's Self-Defence party in the forefront.

The economic situation is further distorted by the effects of accession. Consumption after the first four months of 2004 increased when Poles bought up commodity goods to beat the expected rises in prices, increasing retail sales by more than 20 percent. However, in May the rebound brought sales crashing by 20 percent compared with the previous month and the growth of previous years has slowed.

Meanwhile Belka seems to be backtracking on his commitment to introduce much-needed economic reforms, reflecting the deal struck with the leftish SDPL, giving rise to rumours that Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner is about to resign.

All this points to further political instability, with Belka enjoying none of the political honeymoon from which incoming administrations so often benefit. And once again, a situation is developing where the fate of Poland could determine the outcome of the constitution – with the anti-EU feeling amongst ordinary people – as opposed to the political elites - intensifying.

What is the bloody point?

One of Blair's proud claims for the EU constitution is that "for the first time ever, it provides a power for national Parliaments to scrutinise proposals from Brussels at the draft stage and to send them back if Parliaments are not satisfied".

Despite the fact that this is a hollow concession see analysis here, so proud is he of this "achievement" that he went out of his way to proclaim it in his report to the House on 21 June, only to be challenged by Michael Howard, who noted that, "…after Parliament has had its say, the Commission can ignore it".

Blair had no option to agree, admitting that, "yes it is true that if a third of them object they cannot block the European Commission proposal". But, he argued, "for the first time they are able to take objection to it and send it back to the Commission". Whoopee!

To a chorus of jeers and laughter, he then rounded on Howard, rather petulantly declaring, "Let us put it like this: that is a lot more than the right hon. and learned Gentleman ever secured when he was negotiating for this country in Europe".

But if this indeed is a hollow concession, what price the existing "scrutiny" system by which parliament already vets EU legislation? This system was set up under Heath in 1973, and on 24 October 1990 was formally confirmed by a Resolution of the House of Commons.

It laid down that "no Minister of the Crown should give agreement in the Council of Ministers to any proposal for European Community legislation which is still subject to scrutiny". Furthermore, the "European Scrutiny Committee" as it is now called can impose what is called a "scrutiny block" on any particular issue, calling for a debate and a vote before any minister goes to Brussels to agree the proposal.

In fact, this is also a charade, but it is rather ironic – if not chilling – that less than an hour before Blair was extolling the virtues of greater parliamentary involvement in EU affairs, two of his own ministers – from the very same despatch box – demonstrated quite how empty is the scrutiny mechanism – and the contempt with which parliament is treated click here.

The first demonstration came from the Secretary of State for Defence (Geoffrey Hoon), who announced that the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council had on 14 June agreed to the establishment of a European defence agency in the fields of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments.

This is a seriously important development, as it involves the UK pooling its defence research, development and procurement under the aegis of the agency, with profound implications not only for our defence capabilities, but also for our "special relationship" with the United States.

Understandably, therefore, when the issue came before the Scrutiny Committee on 9 June, it placed a "scrutiny lock" and called for a debate in the House. So what did the government do? According to Hoon, it invoked a "scrutiny override", and agreed to the establishment of the agency, before parliamentary scrutiny had been completed and before the debate could be held.

Hoon's lame excuse was that:

The United Kingdom did not wish to prevent the decision to establish the agency being taken at the Council meeting given benefits expected from the creation of the agency and the influential role played by the United Kingdom in shaping and implementing its formation.
And then, displaying the utter contempt for which he and New Labour treat parliament, he went on to say:

The Government are, nonetheless, fully committed to the need for national Parliaments to have proper oversight of EU issues and the establishment of the European defence agency will be debated in European Standing Committee B on 22 June.
In other words, days after the thing as already been agreed, done and dusted, and nothing can be changed, the government would have a debate on it.

No sooner had these words faded, then up came Denis MacShane, Minister for Europe. His subject was the somewhat less weighty "Reform of European Union Staff Regulations", but the message was the same.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) adopted the proposal to revise the staff regulations for EU officials on 22 March. While we noted that the European Scrutiny Committee had withheld clearance from the proposal when it met on 17 March and had recommended the document for debate, we supported the adoption of the proposal at the 22 March GAERC.
And, with the same bare-faced contempt that Hoon had shown, he went on to regret that we were "unable to arrange the debate prior to agreement", and announced that "The debate with European Standing Committee B has now been scheduled for 23 June".

In other words, days after the thing as already been agreed, done and dusted, and nothing can be changed, the government would have a debate on it.

If this was not a family Blog, one would succumb to the temptation to use some very, very rude words, but one cannot. Suffice it to ask what is the bloody point of having a parliament, all those expensive facilities, all those rules and procedures, if the government just goes ahead and makes its decisions, and then has debates afterwards?

Yet, as we recorded earlier, shortly afterwards, there was little Blair pontificating about the wonders of increasing the role for parliament in EU affairs. The man is beneath contempt.

Two days later, Andrew Marr, chief political editor at the BBC, was weeping in his cups about the difficulty of "raising interest in Brussels" - i.e., things EU click here. He could do no better, perhaps, than look outside his own front door.

The things they say

A round-up of comment from European "stakeholders" on the EU constitution, courtesy of EurActiv:

"C'est un bon texte pour l'Europe, c'est un bon texte pour les Européens [This is a good text for Europe, a good text for Europeans]," said Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe at a joint press briefing on 21 June with Vice Chairman Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Giscard d'Estaing welcomed the adoption of the Constitution which, they underlined, has retained more than 90 per cent of the text proposed by the Convention. Dehaene highlighted the importance of the Convention-method which "has brought with it something new in European affairs."

A press release by UNICE, the EU-wide umbrella organisation representing employers, states that the new Constitutional Treaty provides a good basis to strengthen the competitiveness of the EU, enhance the economies of the EU and their ability to fully realise the potentials of monetary union, and to strengthen the EU's economic power on the international stage.

UEAPME, the European Association of Craft Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, has regretted the failure of the European Council to give the go-ahead for extending qualified majority voting to taxation. "We have now a framework that ensures the long term viability of the decision making process in an enlarged Europe, but we still have an obstacle to the finalisation of the Internal Market which is the unanimity vote rule for taxation issues," said Hans-Werner Müller, Secretary General of UEAPME.

ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, has regretted the fact that "the agreement has reduced ambitions, compared to the draft of the European Convention". A press release issued on 21 June acknowledges that while the Constitutional Treaty is a big step forward in comparison with the Nice Treaty, in relation to the Convention's draft, the IGC resulted in a "second best solution".

The EU Civil Society Contact Group, comprising NGOs in six policy areas (environment, social, women, development, human rights and culture) has welcomed the Convention process which involved civil society organisations and trade unions but deplored the IGC process which resulted in a "political deal but not a vision for Europe."

Political parties

The Greens in the European Parliament have expressed dissatisfaction with the intergovernmental method. "The change from the convention method to the intergovernmental method has resulted in the Council settling on the lowest common denominator. The heads of state and government were more concerned about their ability to block decisions than to make decisions," said Johannes Voggenhuber, Member of the European Convention.

Chairman of the Group of the European People's Party (to which the Conservative MEPs are afficiliated) Hans-Gert Pöttering has said that the Constitution was "the basis for our common future" although he regretted the fact that Council voting has proven to be a "complex compromise" which due to different "exception mechanisms" [blocking minorities, etc] "is not characterised by great clarity" and has not led to the simplification of the decision making procedures.

"Despite the red lines and the last minute manoeuvring, the new enlarged Europe just got the deal it needed," said Graham Watson, leader of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Group in the European Parliament. "The Governments who have approved this Constitution now have a duty to go home and sell it to their people," said Watson.

President of the Party of European Socialists Group Enrique Barón and PES leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen stated in a joint press release that "The constitution (...) will serve as a good basis on which we can work for a more just and social Europe".

Quite.

It's the politics, stupid

The economic forecast for France is reported to be better than expected. The economy is predicted to grow by 2.3 per cent in the second quarter, instead of the originally mentioned 1.7 percent. Of course, predictions in west European countries have, in the past, turned out to be incorrect and had to be scaled down, but for the moment Nicolas Sarkozy, the Finance Minister is riding high: France is doing better than the other eurozone countries, where average growth is predicted to be 0.6 per cent.

The French expansion appears to be export led. Consumer spending is not growing particularly noticeably, but exports, fuelled by demands from the United States and China, are set to expand by 3.6 per cent this year after contracting by 2.7 per cent last year.

Alas, this is not all good news, even on the economic front. There is no sign that unemployment will go down. According to Laure Maillard, an economist at CDC Ixis bank, this will not be a jobless recovery but “a recovery with less job creation than usual”. Other economists cautiously agree both with the figures and the probable lack of impact on the job market.

It was enough for Sarkozy to strut in front of the National Assembly, while making a few cautious noises. Even with the predicted growth France will not be able to reduce its deficit to below 3 per cent “unless we act”.

Unfortunately, if President Chirac has his way, it will not be Nicolas Sarkozy who will do the acting. The President, worried about the recent catastrophic election results, the fact that his close cohort Alain Juppé is still appealing a guilty verdict for diversion of funds to the party and by M Sarkozy’s continuing popularity as well as his open intention to run for the Presidency in 2007, has offered to do a deal.

Sarkozy’s first step in his campaign for the French Presidency is to bid for the Presidency of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the right-wing, supposedly Gaullist party both he and Chirac belong to.

Chirac has agreed to support his bid on condition that Sarkozy leaves the government. Presumably M Chirac considers that a mere party official who is not a minister will soon vanish from the public view. This may be a miscalculation, given Sarkozy’s amazing ability to reappear when he is least expected.

Sarkozy is reported to be unimpressed by the offer, seeing no reason why he should not continue to be a minister while leading the party. After all, Chirac himself served as prime minister and party leader from 1986 -1988, as did Juppé in 1995 -1997.

It is worth remembering that Nicolas Sarkozy's father was Hungarian. President Chirac may not have heard of those famous revolving doors.

Decisions, decisions

The European Commission has issued deficit warnings to six new members and Greece. The latter has been told to come up with some ideas on how it will control its ever growing deficit by November 5 in order to come into line with the Growth and Stability Pact by 2005.

The six new member states that have had warnings are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia. They must bring their deficit down to the required three per cent by 2008.

The one problem with all these warnings is that they have to be accepted by the Finance Ministers, who are due to meet on July 5. So far these meetings have not produced any real results as far as defaulters under the Growth and Stability Pact are concerned, maybe because the biggest among these have been Germany and France.

The new member states are required to join the eurozone some time in the future and it has been pointed out to them that to do so they must keep within the required deficit rules. Just like those countries that are in the eurozone now, presumably.

In the meantime, the recently appointed (and about to retire) Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, has been musing on the fact that the European economic policy needed reforming (again) and one of the problems was that the deficit rules of the Growth and Stability Pact have been too stringently applied. Well, not so that you'd notice they haven't so far but matters might change now that there are small countries to bully.

Belka confirmed as Polish prime minister

Contrary to predictions in May click here, when Poland looked set to ditch the constitution on the back of mounting political instability, prime minister designate Marek Belka has won his vote of confidence in the lower House to gain confirmation as Poland's premier.

His victory avoids the political trauma of an early general election Belka's victory averts snap elections in August and gives the deeply unpopular ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) a chance to regroup and gain supporters before election, which some pundits are forecasting for early 2005.

How much, if at all, yesterday’s announcement of an EU award of 8.2 billion euros click here to Poland’s ailing economy featured in Belka's victory is not stated but, for a politician standing on a platform of economic reform and regeneration, it cannot have harmed his case.

Nevertheless, the vote was close, with 236 for to 215 against, engineered after side deals with support from the minority SDPL, which is calling for elections by the end of the year – a call which may be resisted, giving rise to further instability.

For the moment though, Belka’s SLD has seen off the challenge from the anti-EU constitution Civic Platform party, which emerged a clear victor from the European elections, with 23 percent of the vote, and Andrzej Lepper's Self-Defence party, which emerged fourth.

It will suit the EU cause to have Belka at the helm as the constitution ratification moves up the political agenda – not least because there will probably be a knife-edge vote in the expected referendum. But Polish politics are nothing if not unpredictable so the "Europeans", like Belka, have a long way to go before they are out of the woods – if they ever get that far.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Nuts!

For some unfathomable reason, a large number of Americans are enraptured by a sweet and salty concoction of ground peanuts known as peanut butter – a material used over here mainly as a bait for dosing with paracetamol tablets in order to despatch badgers.

Nevertheless, in a spirit of solidarity and free enterprise, in 1993 Steve Rappaport started up a company in Prague called LinkAmerika to import US-made peanut butter to soothe the homesickness pangs of expat Americans.

But now that the Czech Republic has joined the European Union, all this must stop. US-produced peanuts are now verboten as they do not comply with "strict European Union regulations". Furthermore, while they could once be imported duty-free, they are now taxed at approximately 12 percent upon entry into the EU.

This is something which is not only upsetting the expats but also the US government, not least as it was the Regan-era US government, and its expenditure of billions of tax dollars, that bought the Czech Republic – and the other former Communist satellites – their freedom to import peanut butter in the first place.

In the eyes of US authorities, many of the EU's regulations on American food exports are unnecessarily burdensome and not based on good scientific data. There are no signs, for instance that any of the many millions of US citizens back in their own country are suffering any ill-effect from their home-produced peanut butter, which tends to support the contention of their government that the EU restrictions are simply a disguised trade barrier.

This, so far, has cut little ice with the EU Commission, which is adamant that the people of the EU must be protected against these vile US imports, leaving the Czechs with no option but to import a Dutch-made substitute produced by Unilever. To which General Anthony McAuliffe's remark all those years ago might have been quite appropriate: "Nuts!".

We are obliged to S. Adam Cardais of The Prague Post for the basis of this story.