Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to Belgium

It was not my intention to make the first post-Christmas posting about Belgium but needs must be. There is a new development in that country’s permanent political and constitutional crisis.

The Wall Street Journal reports that King Albert has named a successor to Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who has resigned amid a financial scandal. (Are we surprised? Not unbearably.)
After more than a week of negotiation with the country's fragmented political parties, King Albert asked Herman Van Rompuy, president of the lower house of Belgium's parliament, to form a government. While the person chosen for this role doesn't always get the top job, "in this case, it's absolutely clear Mr. Van Rompuy will become prime minister in a few days," said Olivier Alsteens, a government spokesman.

Mr. Van Rompuy, 61 years old, is a member of the Christian Democrats, the same party that Mr. Leterme belongs to. He earned plaudits as a finance and budget minister in the 1990s when he gradually reduced Belgium's national debt so that the country would meet the criteria to adopt the euro in 1999.
All but one of the ministers will be those of the existing (since March) coalition government.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

The BrugesGroupBlog has been a little thin recently for a number of reasons, one very important being that its role is now being questioned as the aim was to make it part of an integrated Bruges Group research programme. This may yet happen in the new year. I certainly hope so, as there is a certain dearth of well constructed research programmes among the numerous eurosceptic groups.

For the time being the blog will carry on with a little more attention than it has enjoyed recently. In the meantime, let me wish all our readers a very happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How very true

An excellent article by Matthew Kaminski on about the inevitable fading of the supposed love of America because Obama has been elected to be president.

There are various reasons why anti-Americanism exists. The most obvious one is that America is the strongest power and those are always disliked. As several people have told Mr Kaminski, that is something Americans will have to live with just as the British did for a while. Unlike previous empires, the American one is different as it is not based on direct rule, no matter what the anti-American crowd, both on the left and the right, scream. It is power projected through ideas and effects.
Yet America is different from those past empires, and I find our thin skin winning--to a point. The place attracts the hatred of assorted masses from London fine-dining table to the caves around Tora Bora because it is attractive at so many levels and isn't self-consciously a global Empire (which enrages some people even more). Our iPods, Harvards and Stanfords, Tiger Woodses and Michael Phelpses, Beyoncés and Philip Roths all constitute American power along with the dollar and the military.
America is different, an exceptional country, despite the efforts made by the politicians and the media to turn it into a class-ridden society like any other. The reason why Obama, with his unusual background, could be elected President, is that difference. Sooner or later those who are still dancing with joy will have to acknowledge this, as the fact that he was elected by the very same people who had elected Bush twice. How could they have become so smart in such a short space of time?

There will be the obvious reason for turning against Obama as soon as he starts behaving as an American President (as even he must on January 21 if the already raging scandals do not envelop him) and looking to his own country first. The idea that somehow under President Obama America will become the willing slave of other countries is fatuous. Just wait till he asks openly for more European troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the "just" war, sanctioned by the UN and still hated by the many America-bashers.

The most obvious reason for hating America is envy - not just for the material welfare but for the existence of a state in which the people (give or take a mendacious media and a certain number of corrupt politicians) can affect who is in government and what sort of legislation is passed. This is not true for most of the world. It is not true in Europe where elections have become a farce with the real power residing the untouchable and unaccountable eurocrats. No wonder we hate America.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Let's try again

With the world's leaders apparently going completely mad and competing with each other as to how much money they are going to spend supposedly to "stimulate" the economy and how far further they will expand government - where the roots of the many of our problems lie, a cool discussion of Keynesianism from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation is very welcome. Let's see if I can embed the video this time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Remember when ...

... Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer used to lecture his colleagues in the European Union about sensible and prudent economic policies. A great many people (few of them in the meida) realized at the time that his own would not stand up to much scrutiny and a crisis would hit Britain badly.

Well, it has and Prime Minister Brown is now, rather humiliatingly, being lectured on his crass and irresponsible Keynesianism. German finance minister, Peer Steinbruck went for the jugular in an interview for Newsweek.

This bodes ill for the European Council (not Summit as the news story erroneously describes it) opening today. More on that, as it progresses and as I finish day jobbing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tax havens are a good idea

An e-mail from Dan Mitchell, Senior Fellow at Cato Institute and a co-founder of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, tells me that there are now numerous videos on YouTube that deal with such subjects as the Laffer Curve and tax reform.

There are three recently completed and posted videos on tax havens and why they are quite a good idea though, presumably, one would not need them if other countries had more sensible tax regimes.

They are called respectively The Economic Case for Tax Havens, The Moral Case for Tax Havens and Tax Havens: Myths v. Facts.

I haven't quite worked out how to embed videos in blog postings as the one piece of advice I was given did not seem to work out in practice. So, in the meantime, there are links to YouTube. Enjoy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

We have a problem

The Wall Street Journal carries an interesting article, translated from the German, about the activity of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin. The Center's introductory paragraph is entirely praiseworthy:
The Center for Research on Antisemitism, founded in 1982, is the only scholarly institution conducting interdisciplinary researches and teachings focussing on prejudices and their consequences like antisemitism, Antiziganism, xenophobia and racism.

The interdisciplinary research on antisemitism is supplemented by research on related areas such as German-Jewish history and the Holocaust.
As it happens, there have been numerous reports in various European countries that showed that Anti-Semitism was growing again, its sources are Islamic countries like Iran, the more extremist Islamist organizations around the world and certain left-wing groups who have decided to become Anti-Semitic in their sympathy with the "oppressed" Muslims of the world. They rarely talk about the Muslims that are oppressed by Muslim governments (such as Iran).

It seems that the Center has decided not to concentrate on these matters but to produce a report on growing Islamophobia in which, according to Matthias Küntzel, no difference is drawn between Muslims in general and political Islam or, as we refer to it, Islamism. It would appear that criticizing Islamists who want to destroy Israel, call for the murder of various opposing people and groups, frequently carry out those murders and generally want to destroy Western countries and their culture is the same as being Islamophobic, which is no different from being Anti-Semitic.
In taking up the fashionable vocabulary of Islamophobia and equating hostility to Muslims with hostility to Jews, the center also risks undermining the most important current task in dealing with anti-Semitism: studying and fighting hostility to Jews in the Islamic world, where anti-Semitism has reached an unprecedented level.

For example, one of the authors in the latest Yearbook, Jochen Müller, proposes a "revision of politics and history teaching" in German schools. Because the Holocaust has no "central meaning for migrants from the Arabic-Muslim world," one should consider whether "the colonial period and its consequences" would not be a better subject for "appropriate 'Holocaust education'" among Muslim students in Germany. This is a remarkable idea given the degree of Holocaust denial among many young Muslims.

Another article in the Yearbook, "Hostility to Islam on the World Wide Web," goes even further. Instead of criticizing anti-Semitism among Muslims, the author criticizes those who accuse Muslims of anti-Semitism. That's because such accusations provide "an apparently rationally based argument for rejecting an entire collective," writes Yasemin Shooman, a staff member at the center. Here, attempts to fight "hostility to Islam" threaten to turn into tolerance of anti-Semitic attitudes.

While the Berlin center concentrates on world-wide "anti-Islamic resentments," its Yearbook says not a word about the anti-Semitism of the Iranian mullahs. Thus, it hardly does justice to the demands for contemporary research on anti-Semitism. Never before has the elimination of the Jewish state been so loudly propagated. Never before has an influential power made Holocaust denial the center of its foreign policy, as Iran has today. Never before has a U.N. forum been misused for an anti-Semitic speech, as it was on Sept. 23 by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the speech as "blatantly anti-Semitic."
Presumably, one must not talk about Islamism in connection with the recent atrocities in Bombay, either. Or is that allowed?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's Bombay and India is still an ally ... just

Still on the subject of the atrocities in India, an ally and a country that is or ought to be part of the Anglosphere, here is a very good article by Christopher Hitchens on Slate. Among other things, Hitch reminds us all that Bombay, which is still called that by many Indians, was renamed by Hindu extremists after a Hindu goddess. By calling it Mumbai, we collude with their desire to keep India away from the rest of the world, to destroy Bombay, one of the country’s greatest cities. So let us not give in to that and continue calling the place Bombay.
This may seem like a detail, but it isn't, because what's at stake is the whole concept of a cosmopolitan city open to its own citizens and to the world—a city on the model of Sarajevo or London or Beirut or Manhattan. There is, of course, a reason they attract the ire and loathing of the religious fanatics. To the pure and godly, the very existence of such places is a profanity. In a smaller way, the same is true of the Islamabad Marriott hotel, where I also used to stay. It was a meeting point and crossroads for foreigners. It had a bar where the Pakistani prohibition rules did not apply. Its dining rooms and public spaces featured stylish Asian women who showed their faces. And so it had to be immolated, like any other Sodom or Gomorrah.
The main point of the article, though, is an assertion of the importance of India in our world and in our fight against terrorists and the importance of the West, whose leaders have been making rather mealy-mouthed statements, to make it clear that we believe this to be so, despite the many problems India faces.

While we are on the subject of the events in Bombay, here is Neo-neocon writing about some people’s outrageously stupid reactions. Personally, I think she is being too kind to the morons who can see no difference between victims and murderers but she also links to a posting by Yaacov Ben Moshe, who is less kind. [Warning: some of the descriptions of what the terrorists did may well make you queasy.] I just wish they would all call the city Bombay.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Imprisoning the messenger

This news was passed on to me by one of the readers of both this and the EUReferendum blog. He sent me some links to a Russian-language newspaper in Latvia, Telegraf. The first article appeared on November 21, in which the newspaper reported that Dmitry Smirnov (or Dmitrijs Smirnovs in Latvian, though I suspect the man a Russian) a teacher of economics in the Ventspils University College was arrested by the Security Police and accused of undermining the Latvian financial system by taking part in a discussion about the ongoing crisis.

The story was confirmed three days later in which Mr Smirnov explained that he had been kept in solitary for two days but otherwise treated well. He had been arrested under Article 194 of the Criminal Code. Mr Smirnov added that it is clear from the conditions of his imprisonment that Latvia is now in the European Union though he does not actually want to return to the cell. I suspect Mr Smirnov does not know much about prisons in certain parts of France or Italy.

The Baltic Times, an English language newspaper had more on the story.
University College Rector Janis Vucans told the Baltic News Service that he did not know the exact reasons for the detention of lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs, but that he expected to receive a written explanation.

The rector said that the discussion that led to the lecturers detention was an ordinary talk in which each participant voiced his own opinion and vision.

Asked whether Smirnovs' detention should be taken as interference with a person's freedom of speech, Vucans said that Smirnovs is a lecturer at the Ventspils University College, delivering lectures on banks and monetary systems. "On what basis should we lecture? Not on examples of some Switzerland or the US, the situation in Latviais more important to us," he said.

"The question is whether we are teaching something abstract, what does not refer to us, or we are trying to educate our students on issues that are topical," said the rector. "As far as I understand, his statements are not populist, but based on analysis," said the rector.
It seems that Mr Smirnov argued that the lat may well be devalued very soon. It followed, according to the Baltic Times, a string of detentions connected with this rumour. One of those detained, according to the Telegraf, had been Valters Frïdenbergs, a singer with the group Putnu balle. And to think that the only thing our various singers and performers get arrested for is drunkenness, drug abuse and general bad behaviour. Something wrong here.

My informer wondered why the EU was not making any noises about Mr Smirnov’s rights to freedom of speech. I think I have the answer here:
Smirnovs said in the discussion: "The only thing I can advise: first, not to keep money in banks, second, not to accumulate savings in lats as it is very dangerous now. Convert them to the US dollars. The euro is an artificial currency, and what is achieved by the euro in a year, can be lost in a month. These are real threats to the value of the euro. Maybe some people do not understand it, but the main oppositionist and competitor to the US is the European Union (EU). The main goal of the US is to destroy the EU as it does not benefit from a strong and united Europe, strong currency -- the euro."
The man is not going to get support if he goes around saying that the euro is an artificial currency and is, therefore, very vulnerable. Then again, if he really believes that tosh about America’s main goal being the destruction of the EU then his opinions are hardly worth listening to, let alone paying him the compliment of arresting him.

Upon further enquiry I established this about Article 194:
According to the criminal code, it is against the law to disseminate “untrue data or information orally, written or in other ways regarding the condition of the finance system of the Republic of Latvia.” A person convicted under Section 194 could face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 80 times the minimal monthly wage.
When it comes to disseminating information about the country’s currency true or untrue becomes hard to judge. According to Andris Straumanis in Latvians Online the arrest is likely to be in contravention of the Latvian constitution, which guarantees free speech.

The Wall Street Journal, still the best newspaper around for news as opposed to discussion of rock music, fashion and obscure health problems, has caught up with the story. Apart from explaining why the Latvian authorities are so worried about unfounded rumours (though, perhaps, they should not assume that all economic discussions are that) Andrew Higgins makes an interesting point about the whole saga:
Virtually no one here worries that Latvia is reverting to the ways of the Soviet Union, when the KGB hunted down dissidents and kept the population in cowed silence. Unlike Russia, where state-controlled media largely ignore bad news, Latvia has a vibrant free press. Mr. Smirnovs's detention was front-page news and created an uproar. This, says the economist, "shows that we are still living in a democracy."
Indeed, a quick check on the internet confirms that the story is being vigorously discussed in various languages, though, for some reason it does not seem to have been picked up by the British media.

Change we can all believe in

President-Elect Obama has announced a "new dawn" in American foreign policy and appointed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his Secretary of State, leaving Robert Gates in Defence. As I said in an interview for the BBC Russian Service this afternoon about future Anglo-American relations, I cannot see any reason to expect many changes.

Here is the list of the latest appointments.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Does the media endanger people's lives?

From Gateway Pundit we get this story, which comes from Wales Online via Free Republic of a British couple describing their lives being endangered by CNN actually pinpointing their whereabouts for the terrorists that had taken over the Taj hotel to see. Power without responsibility, you see.

And more on the torture story. It would appear that the Jewish prisoners in the Chabad House were tortured before they were murdered.

Andrew Breitbart describes the opening of a new film in Mumbai and everybody's favourite cricketer (not!) and political hero Imran Khan, wearing a t-shirt that shows Bush as an international terrorist just about the time the real terrorist were rampaging through buildings a few streets from the event. Mr Khan is a Muslim and it would not hurt him to condemn those who justify their crimes by the religion they share with him. What will he and his colleagues do after January 20, 2009?

UPDATE: Mea culpa. I had not appreciated that American writers will care next to nothing about the Imran Khan we all know and are seriously bored with. The idiot in Andrew Breibart's story is a different Imran Khan, younger, not so good looking, not a cricketer but a Bollywood star. For the time being, anyway. Mind you, the rest of my comments apply.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The prodigal returns

Not that I have been away all that long but blogging has been a little light (or lite as the blogosphere keeps calling it to my dismay) recently as other matters interfered. Time to pull up one’s socks, probably with a very quick disposal of the Damien Green affair, which seems to have excited journalists and commentators a great deal more than events in India did.

Innocent until proven guilty applies to an MP as much as anyone else but so does another important part of democratic existence (in so far as we have one but more of that later): nobody, not even an elected member of the House of Commons, is above the law. Parliamentary immunity applies to what they do and say in the House; it does not apply to their speech and actions outside it.

The story is, and I had better be careful until there is more information, that a junior civil servant in the Home Office has leaked certain confidential documents to Mr Green for various reasons, mostly, it appears, to do with the desire to promote the Conservative Party and Mr Green’s standing with the media. Such leaking of information has been against the law since the passing of the Official Secrets Act in 1911.

However, runs the argument, those documents were needed for Mr Green to do his job as a legislator who holds the executive to account. So they would, if Mr Green had used them in the House, the proper place to hold the executive to account. Apparently, he preferred to leak them on to various newspapers and these are fighting for their recently acquired position as the co-legislators in this country. Let me add that no newspaper appears to want to fight for its right to reveal names of people who are on the Interpol list of known terrorists because they might be sued for libel. That far they do not go in their love of freedom of speech.

Allow me to remind people what has really undermined democracy in this country and destroyed people’s faith in politicians and the political system. (Incidentally, my colleague on EUReferendum has written extensively on the subject so I need to add very little. His recent and best summary is here.)

First, we have the undoubted fact that something like eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the EU. Most of it does not even touch Parliament for various reasons, such as they are Regulations that are directly applicable. Even when Parliament is generously consulted there is nothing those self-important elected Members of the House of Commons can do about it because European legislation cannot be rejected. I must admit I have not heard Damien Green MP complaining about that or demanding that he should be paid 20 per cent of his present salary as he does only 20 per cent of the job that he was supposedly elected to do.

Secondly, we have the growing power of quangos, a subject that deserves several postings by itself. It was one of the issues raised by Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan in their recent booklet “The Plan”. Sadly, the Conservatives have already explained that part of their solution to the financial crisis is to set up another quango that would oversee the Treasury and, presumably, the elected Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I asked somebody from CCHQ about the need for it I was told quite pompously that sometimes quangos were good and necessary. I am glad to say that there was much laughter in the room about that form the non-ToryBoys.

Thirdly, we have a bunch of MPs who have no idea what they should be doing. I shall spell it out: they are supposed to be legislating but they can’t do that (see first point above) and they are supposed to be holding the executive to account. The place to do that is in the House of Commons, where they seem to do little but live-blog debates or pass messages on their pagers and blackberries; the executive is not held to account by feeding tit-bits of information gleaned from civil servants who were breaking the law for their own purposes, to the media. That is not what democracy is about.

Fourthly, we have a problem with the civil service, who has acquired far too much power with so much of the legislation not being enacted by Parliament and because its members have decided that they want to play party politics. How are Ministers to trust their civil servants if some of them have decided to pass on information of various kinds to members of the opposition? Are the Conservatives, who hope to be in government after the next election, going to be happy for junior bods in the Home Office to pass on correspondence between Ministers to a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet in order for him or her to further his friendship with some hacks in the media? I think not.

The ever more hysterical coverage of the Damien Green story, especially on the blogosphere and the internet in general, has convinced me that the political and media establishment (but I repeat myself) of this country is quite terminally frivolous. We are told at length that the fact that the Home Secretary did not intervene in what was operational procedure makes Britain a police state. Actually, quite the opposite.

We are told that this undermines Parliamentary privilege. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Parliamentary privilege stops outside Parliament. It protects members of the two Houses inside the building and its land. Constituency offices do not come under any kind of privilege and neither do negotiations with journalists.

We are told that this country has become like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. That is so fatuous and so insulting to the people of Zimbabwe that I do not need to respond to it. An inability to put things into perspective is the result of an inability to be serious on any matter. How can the arrest, done according to all the rules, of two people (one of whom is, as the phrase goes, singing like a canary) for definite law breaking compare in importance with what has, in the meantime, been going on in India?

Outside the fetid little world of self-important Westminster denizens and watchers, there has been a great deal of coverage of what was a horrific and still, naturally enough, unclear event. The storming of two hotels and Jewish centre in Mumbai, holding of hostages and killing numerous people was, on the one hand, a terrorist act but, also, like a miniature uprising.

It is still unclear how many people have been killed. The BBC says 172, another article in the Telegraph suggests that the total might be as high as 300. One story talks of bodies showing signs of torture but the doctor’s evidence is not worth a great deal as quoted in the article. The Daily Mail reports that one captured terrorist/insurgent told police that he had been instructed to go on killing until his last breath and that the plan was to kill 5,000. It is not entirely clear how the Daily Mail knows all the details of what the detainee told the police. There is much more to come out.

I am not going to waste any time expostulating about the evil of those who perpetrated this. I think that goes without saying. They were, as far as anyone can tell, Islamists though whether they were connected with Al-Qaeda is unclear. Nor is it clear what the immediate as opposed to the long-term aim was. The destabilization of India is clearly what these people want but were they also specifically intending to put off Western businessmen from investing in the country? Why were those particular targets chosen? Again, one can but hope that we shall find out more as time goes on.

There are a few points that need to be made. There is a persistent story that several of the gunmen were British. If that is so, we are back with the agonizing problem we have faced before: why does Britain continue to breed more terrorists than any other Western country? Surely, this is a more important question than the arrrest of Damien Green.

The Indian government’s immediate reaction was to blame Pakistan and to announce that it was raising security on the borders to “war level”. That is probably a good precaution but let us recall that this is not the first terrorist attack inside India this year. The people of that country have every right to ask what the security services are doing. Why are they finding it impossible to prevent attacks, even when they are large-scale, well co-ordinated ones like this latest one in Mumbai.?

The Home Minister, Shivraj Patil has resigned but the resignation of the National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan has not been accepted. Still, there are signs that the government is going to move towards an enquiry and, perhaps, some reforms. Possibly, it will now accept responsibility, not for the attacks as only those who carried them out are responsible, but for being unable to prevent them.

Scott Johnson on Powerline quotes a friend who knows India. The posting discusses these and other problems that the country and its government must deal with in a far more knowledgeable fashion than I can. (For anyone who wants to attack me, nothing I say about India exonerates the terrorists or makes light of the far worse situation in Pakistan. Nevertheless, some things need to be said and I am glad that Indians are saying it.)

There is the very curious story of the police officers who refused to shoot at the terrorists, again on Powerline but this time there is a link to the article in the Belfast Telegraph and an interview with the photographer, Sebastian D’Souza, who was there, took some superb pictures and saw the police in its inaction. This, too, will have to be explained. Neo-neocon tries to analyze. In fact, the American blogosphere is writing about Mumbai and all its aspects. I just wish ours did as well. But, hey, we have more important matters to discuss. I suppose I ought to be grateful for Damien Green taking “I am a celebrity…” off the front pages of all the newspapers.

After this longish rant normal service will resume.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Czech court clears treaty

Despite President Klaus's impassioned speech to the Czech Constitutional Court, its decision today is that the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty does not, in any way, undermine the Czech Constitution.
The Czech court ruling on Wednesday is especially significant because the Czech Republic will take over the six-month rotating EU presidency in January.

"The Lisbon Treaty... does not run counter to the constitutional order," said court chairman Pavel Rychetsky.

But the treaty's passage through the Czech parliament may not be smooth, as some Eurosceptic members of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's party oppose it. Mr Topolanek has said ratification is unlikely to be completed before next year.

The court did not consider the treaty as a whole, but only the articles disputed by critics in Mr Topolanek's party.
We shall see whether those Eurosceptic members will amount to a large enough cohort. It is, however, unlikely that the ratification will happen before January when the Czech Republic takes over the EU Presidency (and we shall see a little less of President Sarkozy in the media).

In the meantime, Poland has not officially ratified the treaty as President Kaczynski has refused to sign it until the Irish deadlock is resolved.

The Swedish Parliament approved the treaty last week by 243 votes to 39 with 67 members absent or abstaining. What is particularly infuriating about all this absenteeism is the fact that another nine votes would have delayed the ratification.

In actual fact, Sweden is the 23rd EU Member State to ratify the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty, as the Constitutional Court has not yet decided in Germany whether the ratification should go ahead and President Koehler will not sign it until there is a ruling.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vaclav Klaus's statement

As asked by the Czech Senate, the Constitutional Court of that country is looking at the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty in order to assess whether its acceptance is in accordance with the Czech Constitution.

President Vaclav Klaus made a statement to the Court. While concentrating on legal argument, he, nevertheless outlined in an introductory paragraph the general situation:
However, it is evident, that we must not lose sight of the wider context. If this treaty comes into force, the international position as well as internal conditions within our state will change. Also the influence of our country on the decisions of the European Union will be weakened. All this would change the terms of our membership, which were approved by our citizens in the referendum on the EU Accession Treaty. The democratically established authorities of our state will be deprived of the right to decide on many areas of public life and this administration will be turned over to the EU authorities, which are not subjected to sufficient democratic control. In addition, the European Union authorities will be allowed to expand their own competencies over life in our country and its citizens at their will, even without our consent.
Read the whole speech - it is well worth it.

This is not exactly news but ...

... it is always useful to be reminded that the famous European acceptance of something grandly called an international order is patchy. When it suits European governments and EU institutions they accept it; when it does not they disregard everything from UN sanctions down. I am not complaining, you understand, but hypocrisy riles others, not just Americans.

Jack Goldsmith and Eric Posner, experts on international law, give examples.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Heads ought to roll

I don't know who briefed Lord Tunnicliffe for Thursday's Starred Questions but that person or those persons should be fired forthwith. As nobody actually gets fired in DfID they should be demoted to making tea or collecting and sorting rubbish into various recycling bins. Presumably they would be able to manage that.

It is embarrassing to have a Minister replying to questions in the House of Lords and not knowing the answer to a single one of them. Lord Judd asked a question, which might or might not have been intended to be intelligent.
What support and encouragement they [HMG] are giving farmers in poor countries in view of the pressures on world food demand.
As one would expect from politicians and DfID the support seems to consist largely of government to government aid, that having proved itself to be a worse than useless solution. Lord Judd followed this up with:
My Lords, I take the opportunity to congratulate the Government once again on their commitment to overseas aid. Does my noble friend agree that in our response to the global economic and financial crisis we must keep the plight of the world’s poorest people constantly in focus? With 75 per cent of the world’s poor still living in rural areas, and with most of them utterly dependent for their livelihood on agriculture, do the Government agree that for appropriate agricultural technology to be sustainable the farmers themselves have to be genuinely involved and that this means ensuring that extension programmes reach the poorest and the most excluded, including pastoral people, women and those living on subsistence farming? Can my noble friend reassure us on that point?
Why exactly should continuing commitment to a policy that has done little good and a great deal of harm by keeping corrupt, oppressive, bloodthirsty kleptocrats in power, be a matter for congratulations is a mystery. The rest of the question as the reply to it is what one might call incomprehensible.

Other questions were of greater interest. Sadly, Lord Tunnicliffe did not know any of the answers. He had not read the article in the Financial Times, referred to by Baroness Northover but did acknowledge, in general terms, that trade was a good thing for developing countries. Whether it applied to the specific example the article called attention to remained hidden.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked:
My Lords, remembering the 25,000 deaths every day in the developing world caused by malnutrition and associated causes, have the Government made any progress with the analysis that we discussed during our Lisbon debates of the contribution made to those deaths by the common agricultural and fisheries policies and by US grain policies?
He was even supported by Lord Tomlinson but the answers were rather vague. Yes, of course, we want the Doha Round to succeed but no, as it happens we have not really agreed on any position on the CAP and when it comes to the Common Fisheries Policy that destroys whole communities and prevents the countries in question from developing their industry, it is not even worthy of being mentioned. At least, Lord Tunnicliffe did not bother to mention it.

On and on it went. The Countess Mar wanted to know if the government supported a particular small-scale scheme in Kenya, which appeared to be successful in that it increased productivity (though without proper trade productivity is of little value). Lord Tunnicliffe did not know but if it is part of the government programme, which we give money to, then we do support it.

A more detailed question from Baroness Rawlings on wheat stem rust (she clearly does get briefed) brought forth bafflement. A particularly stupid and ignorant question from Baroness Tonge who, in true left-wing fashion has no clear understanding that non-Western countries might have different problems from Western ones, was swiped aside.

So what do we gather about the help we are giving to the poorest parts of the underdeveloped world? Clearly we are continuing with the insane policy of government to government aid without bothering to check out what the money is spent on.

In a general way we are in favour of the Doha Round being completed successfully but we do not want to look too closely into the problems of trade restricitons or CAP and CFP undermining the economy of developing countries. We do not care much about the fact that DfID and attendant NGOs also undermine the local economy of countries they invade and have not the slightest intention of helping them to be more successful economically.

Oh and we also know that DfID officials are incapable of briefing a minister well. Sack the lot of them, say I.

Friday, November 21, 2008

There is another solution

The German political media is tying itself into knots again about the far-right NPD, which is gaining ground in the political sphere.
The far-right party is no longer confined to the margins of German politics. It has increased its membership to 7,000 and has a presence in the regional parliaments in two eastern states, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
There is a great reluctance to acknowledge that the NPD is gaining ground in the east, that is in the länder that were formally in the GDR. While a good deal is made of the extreme left descendants of the Communist Party doing well there, not much ink is expended on the fact that it is the east where there are race riots and a fairly racist and often anti-semitic party does well in elections.

There are various reasons for this. The integration of the two German states proceeded relatively smoothly but the economic problems in the backward former GDR (that had been considered to be the most advanced of the Communist camp) created enough dissatisfaction to link with the political shock to give support to extremist groups on both sides of the spectrum. Actually, as ever, those two spectrums are not that far apart, both extreme-left and extreme-right being basically socialist corporatist in their attitude.

An even bigger problem lies in the history of the German Democratic Republic. It was not made to denounce the Nazi past in the way the Federal Republic was. After the first trials and the creation of the two states there was a general assumption on the east that, somehow, by becoming Communist willy-nilly, East Germany had absolved itself and the Nazi past belonged exclusively to the capitalist West.

The Stasi cheerfully took over the lists, staff and offices of the Gestapo and all went well until the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification when the ossies found themselves in a state that had confessed its sins of Nazism many times over and where to be a neo-Nazi was the most grievous sin in the calendar. Those ossies who are dissatisfied with their lives and who had never had to repeat the German "mea culpa" find nothing wrong with turning to some very dark ideas of the past, whether Nazi or Communist.

What has brought the debate about was a suggestion by Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister in the western state of Lower Saxony that the NPD should have its state financing cut off.
He proposed altering part of the constitution to prevent any party that opposes the democratic system from receiving state funding. The NPD receives 40 percent of its funding from the German state, which amounted to €1.45 million ($1.8 million) last year.
This proposal was not greeted with unalloyed joy or joy of any kind. Commentators on all sides quickly worked out that it is not possible to single out one party and treat it differently from all others. After all, how do you define "opposes the democratic system"? There are plenty of parties and groupuscules on the left that oppose the democratic system. Will they have their funds cut off? Certainly there will be an attempt to do so if the precedent is set. How shocking will that be?

Of course, there is another solution to this conundrum and that is no state funding for parties. Then the problem of taxpayers' money going to political parties the establishment disapproves of (or even possibly the majority disapproves of) will not arise. The NPD will raise as much money as it can and garner as many votes as it can. Of course the question as to why people want to vote for them will not go away.

Bruges Group Conference

It's that time of the year again. The Bruges Group Conference will take place tomorrow at King's College, London, in the Strand. You can hear many of your favourites: Christopher Booker, Gerard Batten, Marta Andreasen, Roger Helmer and a few new ones: Tim Akers of the Taxpayers' Alliance, Guy Herbert of No2ID and Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Details to be found here.

Can someone explain what this means?

A newly published report by the House of Lords European Union Committee, entitled "Currrent Developments in European Foreign Policy" tells us less than we would like to know. It consists of an interview with and a subsequent written elucidation (if that is the word) by the then Minister for Europe, Jim Murphy. Either there were no developments in the period under discussion or nobody, not even the Minister knew what they were.

The first question, traditionally asked by the Chairman, in this case Lord Roper, dealt with that miasma of vague promises the Millennium Development Goals. Understandably, he and the rest of the committee seemed a little nonplussed as to what, if anything has been achieved and what the European Council managed to agree on.

Mr Murphy's reply was priceless in its total lack of sense:
On the Millennium Development Goals there was a recommitment to the Agenda for Action. The important point is that it is a recommitment without backsliding. The reason why I mention that is that, in a context of the fiscal pressures that respective governments are under in Europe, there is a continuing commitment to that. Without being too specific, there was a sense that some Member States wished to revisit or repackage how this was measured, and the achievement there is that we did not slide back at all on Millennium Development Goals. The frank assessment, which your Lordships already know about but it is a continuing frank assessment, is that we are not on track with the Millennium Development Goals and, while the European Council discussed and reconfirmed its commitment, the plan of action at the moment does not get us to where we wish to be in the Millennium Development Goals, even with this renewed commitment and so the Prime Minister has made it very clear that we need to see further action.
Should any of our readers understand what that says, it would be good to hear from them. I am not offering any prizes at this stage but that might be quite a good idea for the future.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

About that immigration policy

It would be too much to ask our commentariat or our politicians, specifically the Conservative ones to read documents that come out of the European Union. Generally speaking, they are long and boring though, if one can stay awake, highly informative.

If the cannot cope with that, could one possibly ask them to read some of the far more readable and equally informative Houser of Lords European Union Committee reports? Not even that, eh? Well, maybe this blog, which has referred to an interesting recent report “The Commission’s Annual Policy Strategy for 2009” here and here. This document is an amazingly simple lesson in where power really lies.

One of the witnesses was Jim Murphy, then Minister for Europe and he was asked about priorities for the Commission and HMG.
When asked which of the Commission's priorities the Government considered most important, the Minister told us that one of the top three would be "a watching brief on justice and home affairs" (Q 3). When asked whether the "area of freedom, security and justice" was a priority for the Commission, the Minister replied that the contents of the Annual Policy Strategy were "a reflection of a degree of vigilance by Her Majesty's Government which is continually arguing the case for mutual recognition rather than harmonisation". He agreed that "[o]n the issue of fundamental freedoms and justice and home affairs … the Annual Policy Strategy is relatively light", and he said that this was "largely because much of the work is contained in the five-year Hague Programme of work, so most of the justice and home affairs issues are on-going as part of the four previous annual policy strategies" (Q 25). Civil and criminal justice do not receive much attention in the Annual Policy Strategy. The Commission seems to envisage implementing what it can of the existing Hague Programme in 2009. The discussion of the successor of the Hague Programme is likely to provide a focus for a greater engagement with priority-setting in this area.
The Hague Programme is described in the same document as “a multiannual framework programme in the area of justice and home affairs for 2005-09.”

As is abundantly clear from that paragraph, this programme is unrolled regardless of treaties, referendums, parliaments or elections. Would it be too much to expect the Conservatives who frequently throw their weight around on the subject of immigration and how they are going to be tough about it, to mention, just every now and then, the Hague Programme? (That’s Hague as in the city not the person.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Are we surprised?

Well, not overwhelmingly. On CentreRight Charles Tannock, one of the MEPs I have been known to listen to, though not for very long, is starting the climb-down about Conservatives leaving the EPP after the next elections to the Toy Parliament.

His somewhat spurious arguments are torn to shreds in the comments section but this will not stop people from explaining at great length that voting for the Party Formerly Known As Conservative is the way to change things in the EU.

Here is a posting I wrote for EUReferendum back in 2004 on the way the Conservative Party betrayed its supposed allies among East European politicians.

More information from Ireland

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Anthony Coughlin of The National Platform, that has been fighting European integration for many a long year.

It consisted of various matters, particularly a response to what he rightly calls the misleading nature of the question asked in the Irish Times opinion poll.

Any Lisbon referendum re-run must be on exactly the same Lisbon Treaty as the Irish people voted No to last June.

This crucial fact is concealed or glossed over in today's Irish Times poll and in Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin's comments on it.

Not a jot or tittle - not a comma - of the text of Lisbon can be changed, for otherwise it would be legally a new Treaty which would have to go around all 27 EU States for ratification again.

The Declarations referred to in the Opinon Poll question are different from Protocols in that they are not legally part of a Treaty. Declarations are political statements made by one State or several. They are not international agreements between States which are legally binding on them.

Protocols are legally part of a Treaty. There will be no Protocols for Ireland over Lisbon, for that would be to reopen the Lisbon Treaty and would require all 27 EU States to ratify the new Protocol, which would in effect be a new Treaty.

A Declaration or political commitment that every Member State would keep a national Commissioner under Lisbon does not require any change in the Lisbon Treaty, for the existing Lisbon text(Art.17.5 amended TEU) allows the 27 Member States to agree to such a step unanimously in 2014, if they decide at that time not to reduce the Commission by one-third, which Lisbon otherwise envisages.

Contrary to what the Irish Times poll misleadingly asked its interview sample, Lisbon does not need to be "modified" or changed in the slightest for these Declarations to be made or for a political commitment to be given that each EU State will keep one of its nationals on the EU Commission

What a less misleading Irish Times poll question would have been:

Today's Irish Times opinion poll question was this: "If the Lisbon Treaty is modified to allow Ireland to retain an EU Commissioner and other Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation are clarified in special declarations, would you vote Yes or No in another referendum?"

A Treaty modification is a Treaty change. Contrary to what the Irish Times question implies, Lisbon cannot be "modified" in any way, for any modification of the Treaty text would make it legally a new Treaty and different from the Lisbon Treaty which most EU States have already ratified, so that the whole ratification process would have to start again from scratch.

A more accurate and less misleading way of putting the opinion poll question would have been: "If the Lisbon Treaty is left legally unchanged but is accompanied by a promise that Ireland could retain an EU Commissioner and other Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation are clarified in non-legally binding Declarations, would you vote Yes or No?"

That question very likely would have given a rather different result.

The Irish Times opinion poll asked a leading question therefore, which was designed to give respondents the impression that Lisbon would be changed to take Ireland's concerns into account, when that would not and cannot be done, short of abandoning the Treaty altogether and working out a
better one.

Not modifying the Lisbon Treaty,but modifying its presentation for a Lisbon Two:

Talk of "modifying" the Lisbon Treaty in the context of this opinion poll question is therefore to use a weasel-word. What Messrs Cowen and Martin envisage for Lisbon Two is not that the Lisbon Treaty would be modified, but that the presentation of it would be!

Lisbon Two would be presented differently from Lisbon One by means of these non-binding political Declarations and an accompanying political promise from the EU Prime Ministers and Presidents that every EU State can keep a Commissioner under Lisbon when in practical terms the same can happen under the Nice Treaty which currently rules in the EU.

This Irish Times opinion poll, like the profoundly flawed "research" on why people voted as they did in last June's referendum which the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs commissioned over a month after the result, will contribute to the elaborate scheme of deception of the Irish people that is currently being planned by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin and Iveagh House.

For they have not "respected" the Lisbon referendum result by acting upon the people's democratic vote, despite their endlessly reiterated claims that they do respect it. If they respected the people's decision they would have told the other EU States last June that Ireland could not and would not be ratifying the Treaty, in which case it could not come into force
for anyone and the other States would have ceased their ratifications after a while, for there would have been no point in their continuing.

Instead Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said on RTE while the votes were still being counted on 13 June last that "of course" the ratifications by other States would continue. Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the same thing to Commission President Barroso on the phone even before the
referendum result was officially announced. Iveagh House has been planning a referendum re-run from the moment the tallies showed how the vote was going on the very morning of the count.

The Declarations envisaged as accompanying Lisbon Two will naturally be "solemn" and the political promise about everyone keeping a member on the European Commission will be clear - even though that can effectively be done under the present Nice Treaty also.

The hope is however that decorating the Lisbon Treaty with political cap and bells in this way will be sufficient to deceive the Irish public and media into thinking that the Lisbon Treaty of
next October - the most likely date for a re-run - will be different from the Lisbon Treaty of last June, when not a comma of the Treaty will be changed.

It will be exactly the same bad Treaty, which is not in Ireland's interest or Europe's interest and which the peoples of Europe do not want. The Lisbon Treaty and the Constitution of a profoundly undemocratic supranational European Federation which it embodies has now effectively been rejected in three national referendums - in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

And so a year of mendacity and deception, of waste of time and energy by key elements of Ireland's political class, and abuse and misrepresentation of No-side campaigners, is being prepared by Messrs Cowen and Martin and Iveagh House and those who agree with the course of folly they seem bent on.

The statement goes on to note that Ireland has already made a declaration of neutrality in 2002 and to the general ignorance of the media. RTE, for instance, seems unable to tell the difference between a codicil, a declaration or a protocol.

Well, if there is one thing we have learnt over the years is that the media is not going to bother to find out the truth if it can get away with glib statements that have the sort of appeal they like.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Constitutional matters

According to RTE News there may well a decision about a second referendum in Ireland before the European Council meeting in December, presumably as the Irish government does not want to be the whipping boy yet again for the colleagues in the Council.

According to a new poll there is some hope for the government if you read the figures the way they might want to.
The TNS/mrbi poll in tomorrow's Irish Times asked voters if they would they vote Yes or No in another referendum if the Treaty was modified to allow Ireland retain its EU Commissioner and if concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation were clarified in special declarations.

The result was 43% said Yes; 39% said No and 19% said they did not know.

When the 'Don't Knows' are eliminated the result gives a slightly bigger margin to supporters of the Treaty.

The Yes vote without the 'Don't Knows' is 52.5% with 47.5% for the No vote.

In the referendum last June, 53.4% voted to reject the treaty, while 46.6% voted in favour.
This is known as clutching at straws. In the first place, eliminating the Don't knows is always a bit tricky as one has not idea why somebody may have given that answer and how that attitude might change by the time the referendum rolls around again.

In the second place, by now it has become quite clear that special declarations do not have the same force as articles in the treaty, therefore their appearance on some very crucial subjects, like neutrality and taxation, does not guarantee anything and, I am sure, the no campaign will make much of that.

Thirdly, those declarations are not guaranteed. The one on abortion, for instance, is bound to stir up trouble in Poland, where the Catholic Church and related organizations have been campaigning against further integration into the EU (as if they could stop it) on that issue and a few other social ones.

Fourthly, there may well be other reasons for an Irish no. It seems odd to me that the Irish people might not get a little angry that, for the second time, they have been told to vote again on an EU treaty, as if their first vote was not quite good enough. (It isn't, of course, because it went the wrong way but that is going to be hard to explain.)

So, there is all to play for. It is unlikely that a second referendum will be called before next autumn when the European elections are out of the way.

While we are on the subject of constitutions, let me make a quick comment about a website, whose supporters infest various forums from time to time telling us all to vote for a Free Europe. As I said on the forum, I consider this sort of thing to be trolling. I have answered once, explaining that the Bruges Group does not believe in any constitution for Europe, no matter who supports it (one of the arguments used is that Vaclav Klaus has expressed his approval). This has clearly not worked.

I checked out the website and, for the first and last time, shall write about it. If its acolytes want to get involved in a discussion from time to time, that is fine with me. If they intend to interrupt other discussions by advertising their site, their comments shall be deleted.

Free Europe was a private initiative by Carl-Johan Westholm, "PhD in political science, businessman, former CEO of the Swedish Federation of Private Enterprises (Företagarna) and of the Swedish Federation of Trade (Svensk Handel)" who has been sufficiently disgusted by the shenanigans around the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty to decide to do something about it.

What he decided to do was to set up this site and on it outline his ideas of what a free European constitution might be, inviting people to vote for it and to link to the site. Thus, he explained not unreasonably, everyone can take part in a discussion about the future of Europe, which he carefully describes as a geographical concept. On the whole this is more of a real dialogue or discussion than the fragrant Margot's efforts.

OK, I have now linked to it and I have read the material. I have read through his proposed Constitution for a Free Europe:

Constitution for Free Europe

1. Europe is a geographical concept, and European is as such not necessarily good or bad.
2. Free Europe means human development in its richest diversity and is therefore good.

Free Europe means for Europeans:
3. Freedom for individuals and clear limits for politicians and bureaucrats.
4. Civil rights for all citizens in Europe.
5. Freedom of contract, to create, to work, trade and invest in all Europe for all Europeans.

Free Europe means for European states:
6. Every government and national parliament has the right to self-determination of taxes, subsidies and laws.
7. No taxation power for the EU.
8. Decisions in the EU should be made by agreements between governments. Delegation of mational legislative power to EU institutions is possible; withdrawal of such powers, both in specific cases and generally is equally possible.
9. Sending tax-payer’s money from one part of Europe to another is a matter solely for the states or regions involved.
10. Free Europe promotes human development in its richest diversity worldwide.

There is nothing terribly wrong with any of those ideas, though I do find the notion of promoting human development in its richest diversity worldwide slightly odd, not to say incomprehensible. But there is nothing particularly right there. I would not advise anyone to support or to oppose this initiative. There seems no particular point to it. Of course, it is hard to work out what one can do to prevent the creation of the European state, given that it is already far advanced. But is there any evidence whatsoever that a collection of well-meaning, "motherhood and apple-pie" ideas for a European constitution, which is, in itself, the wrong way of going about things, will achieve anything?

As I said at the beginning: I shall welcome reasonable discussion but any silly and automatic links will be deleted.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

HMG questioned on pesticides

The new and more stringent rules on the use of pesticides, which have cleared the second reading in the Environmental Committee in the Toy Parliament in Brussels/Strasbourg are causing a certain amount of worry among farmers in this country and people concerned with the use of what is called effectively pesticides in the prevention of diseases in the developing world, particularly Africa (and yes, it is time I wrote a proper summary of the subject).

On November 11 Lord Willoughby de Broke asked HMG:
whether they support the European Commission’s proposals for further regulation of the use of pesticides in the European Union, which are currently being considered by the European Parliament.
As it happens, HMG is not greatly in favour of the new rules but there is precious little it can do about the matter, as the new regulations come under qualified majority voting. With the post-Amsterdam rules on that, it has become virtually impossible to create a blocking minority.

To be fair, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, responding for the government, came as close as he could to grinding his teeth with impotent fury:
My Lords, the Government generally welcome the European Commission’s proposed thematic strategy for the sustainable use of pesticides but are concerned that any strengthening of the already strict authorisations regime for pesticides should be justified, science-based and proportionate. We are particularly concerned about the possible impact of the proposed marketing regulation in the absence of a detailed impact assessment from the European Commission.
Lord Willoughby then suggested a most moderate measure though it is not clear whether HMG can achieve even this:
Will the Government use their best endeavours to ask the Council of Ministers and the Commission to set up an expert working group to examine, as he says, the scientific risk-based proposals and to carry out an impact assessment in respect of agriculture, horticulture and consumers in the EU?
Subsequent questions and replies made it clear that there is no scientific evidence underpinning the new regulations, which seem to respond to a purely emotional attitude. Nor is it precisely clear whether supermarkets will be able to import goods from countries that do not have the same regulations in force (anyone outside the EU). Of course, this may well become another way for the EU to control developing countries if they want to do such outrageous things as use domestic spraying for the prevention of malaria.

There was a characteristically silly question from the Lib-Dim benches:
Can he tell us whether the vote of the committee of the European Union in favour of banning certain chemicals will have an impact on human health, or will reduce the productivity of arable crops? In other words, are we going to have a second Irish potato famine without copper sulphate sprays and so on, or are there going to be increased cases of cancer among certain people in the community?
Since we are talking about pesticides already in use, it is safe to say as Sir Colin Berry, Emeritus Professor of Pathology at Queen Mary College, University of London said in a press release from the International Policy Network (IPN):
The costs of implementing this legislation will be high – crop yields will fall, food prices will rise, more land will have to be farmed and fewer habitats conserved. But it is hard to imagine what the benefits will be.

The idea of chemical-free farming is absurd and dangerous.

This legislation will not improve human health – the European Parliament’s document in support of the legislation is simply an apologia for a position, not a scientific review.
Lord Hunt replied a little more courteously:
My Lords, I hope that it does not come down to that choice because we do not believe that the introduction of the directive as currently proposed will have any direct impact on consumers’ health. As far as the potential impact on production is concerned, my understanding is that the withdrawal of one triazole that is crucial for protection against fungal disease of wheat could result in a loss of yield of up to 30 per cent in cereals. There are other potential losses in the horticultural area, particularly where there is nothing in the pipeline at the moment that could replace those pesticides. That is why we are continuing to press our concerns within Europe on this matter.
Then there is the problem of potential prices rise if there is a decline in production and the possibility of importing becomes questionable at a time when the Commission appears to be waking up to the fact that regulation of fruit and vegetables may not be a good idea for the consumer.

Lord Sewel wanted to know why the Commission has been refusing to produce an impact assessment (as if that were something unusual – after all successive British governments have refused to produce impact assessments on our membership of the EU), to which Lord King replied in a fairly measured way:
I suspect it is a genuflection to greenness without scientific evidence.
So there we are. Another far-reaching piece of legislation coming from the European Union. As it is a Directive it will go to Parliament though, possibly, only as a Statutory Instrument and, in any case, our own representatives have no right to throw it out. It will badly hurt food production in this country, it will put up prices for consumers, it will, possibly, sanction the importation of food that is grown under less stringent rules and it will, as a side-effect, prevent the production of badly needed chemical tools against devastating diseases in Africa. Success all round, I’d say.

As problems go ...

… this is not, it would seem, the most important one. But it is useful to remind everyone that the shape of fruit and vegetables sold in most outlets in this country is determined by the European Union, not to mention the fact that we shall no longer hear from europhiliacs or apologists for the EU that there are no cucumber directives, ha-ha. It is just another eurosceptic scare story.

Apparently, it is not a eurosceptic scare story and it seems that the EU is in charge of the cucumber and banana curvature, which it is going to deal with before next July in order to provide more variety and cheaper food. The idea that the market might take care of the problem with people buying what they want at whatever price they can or want to afford is alien to these people’s thinking. The Single Market is not a market as we know it.

Interestingly, the news story has a questionnaire, which deals with whether people would or would not buy mis-shapen fruit and vegetables as the debate has been largely about that: is it customers or is it supermarkets who decide that apples should be perfectly round and a certain size in diameter while cucumbers should be straight or, at least, not have a greater angle of curvature than prescribed. The answer has always been neither. It is the EU that decides and questions of whether people think it gross are irrelevant.

In July, 2005 I wrote about the Fragrant Commissar, Margot Wallström, going on her hols fact-finding missions and also explaining the need for yet another rapid-rebuttal unit. The Commission simply had to deal with all these nasty rumours the evil eurosceptics were spreading:
Among the measures are plain-language summaries of the benefits of European policies and a rapid rebuttal unit to counter false claims.

This team would be able to fend off outlandish stories about the effects of Brussels regulations, which have famously included claims that smoky bacon crisps faced a ban, or cucumbers had to be straight.
At the time I pointed out that before they started rebutting the team might like to have a look at Commission Regulation (EEC) 1677/1988, which lays down quality standards for cucumbers, mentioning among other multitudinous matters:

Cucumbers are classed into the four classes defined below:
(i) 'Extra' class
Cucumbers in this class must be of superior quality. They must have all the characteristics of the variety.

They must:
- be well developed
- be well shaped and practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of length of the cucumber)
- have a typical colouring for the variety
- be free of defects, including all deformations and particularly those caused by seed formation.

Not a straight cucumber Directive then but a Regulation, which is directly applicable to member states without the least necessity to go through the legislative. Let me add that these rules do not simply apply to cucumbers sold to other countries, as we are sometimes told. Certainly, if you sell to a different market, you find out what the rules are and adjust your production to it. Even better, you find out what people who shop in that market like. Otherwise, you will not be able to trade.

These rules, under “Council Regulation (EEC) No 1035/72 of 18 May 1972 on the common organization of the market in fruit and vegetables (1), as last amended by Regulation (EEC) No 1117/88 (2), and in particular Article 2 (3) thereof” actually apply to all cucumbers sold in shops, ordinary markets and supermarkets in this country, whether we like it or not. Farmers’ markets have been allowed to get round the problem and some of the smaller corner shops have simply done so, either not knowing about the Single Market or hoping that nobody will notice them.

Technically, however, those people in the corner shops who sell cucumbers whose maximum height of the arc is more than 10mm per 10cm of length of cucumber, are breaking the law.

While we are on the subject, I may as well mention that there are Regulations for the straightness of bananas as well, for instance, Commission Regulation (EC) 2257/1994. It is of interest that each of these Regulations and many others about fruit and vegetables are amendments of previous ones. In other words, this regulating development has been going on for some time and is likely to continue, not least by the proposed new ones that are supposedly going to ease up those rules that, according to the Commission’s spokespersons and their minions in our political and media life do not actually exist. Well, if they don’t exist, what is going to be amended?

There is a certain pattern here: the existence of regulations from the EU are routinely denied or not admitted to until the Commission announced that for the good of the people they are going to be amended. Then they become fodder for news to show that matters are being improved.

Yesterday’s press release from the Commission entitled rather breathlessly “The return of the curvy cucumber: Commission to allow sale of “wonky” fruit and vegetables” excited various media outlets who saw this as a spectacular victory for the consumer. Setting aside the fact that the consumer, by and large, knew nothing about all those regulations, thanks not least because of the media’s reluctance to write about it we still need to ask ourselves why it is a good thing that the Commission decides whether cucumbers should be straight or slightly curved.

I can accept the argument that supermarkets might prefer straight, easy to pack cucumbers for obvious practical reasons. That is the supermarkets’ choice and the shoppers’ choice might be to go elsewhere. This is, however, not a practical choice but a series of regulations, which, as I said above, are still continuing, to create a single market and harmonize the production of fruit and vegetables. Indeed, those rules will remain as they were for tomatoes, strawberries and various other items.
During last year's negotiations on the reform of the Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables, the Commission committed itself to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy by getting rid of a number of marketing standards for fruit and vegetables. Today's vote means that these standards will be repealed for 26 products: apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons, and witloof/chicory.

The proposals would maintain specific marketing standards for 10 products which account for 75 percent of the value of EU trade: apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes. However, Member States could also exempt these from the standards if they were sold in the shops with an appropriate label. In practical terms, this means that an apple which does not meet the standard could still be sold in the shop, as long as it were labelled "product intended for processing" or equivalent wording.
The way the Commission will go about “reforming” its rules will be by introducing more Regulations. Some of the demands are already indicated – yes, those “wonky” fruits and vegetables can be sold but they will have to be labelled in a different way and, no doubt, stored and processed differently. I can’t wait to read the actual Regulations and what they will demand. Free market in fruit and vegetables this is not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to up that game

There is a long posting on EUReferendum 2 that starts with some discussion of the debates that are beginning in the United States among conservatives and leads on to the debates we should be having. I know it's quite long but there are the beginnings of a plan there.

No, we can't

As one of the editorials in this morning's Wall Street Journal points out, not a great deal has changed with Barack Obama's election as regards relationship with European countries. Despite the breathless talk of a "new deal", it is business as usual in Germany as far as providing troops in Afghanistan is concerned.
During his Presidential campaign, Barack Obama expressed confidence that his penchant for diplomacy would change German minds. Apparently not. Sending more soldiers, or troops who actually fight, remains anathema in Germany. "There is a limit," Peter Struck, the parliamentary head of the ruling Social Democrats and former Defense Minister, said this week when asked whether Germany could do more to help defeat the Taliban. Maybe Mr. Obama's speech before adoring crowds in Berlin last summer was not so effective after all.
Even at the time, I was told by one who was there and who is a vociferous Obama supporter, there was delirious applause and cheering whenever the then Senator spoke about solving problems like Darfur or global warming and ominous silence when he mentioned the need for a greater effort to fight terrorism. It will take a little time for everyone to get used to the idea that Barack Obama has been elected to the American presidency, a political post that requires political thinking and planning. He does not have a magic wand that will solve all the world's problems as perceived by clueless cheering crowds.

Another aspect of the forthcoming years and their problems will be that the excuse of Bush-bashing will no longer be available. Why will the European leaders and their acolytes in the media hate America under the wonderful new President?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

It is ninety years since that fateful hour when the guns fell silent and the hopes of peace, never realized, were born. The last British veteran of the Great War died just a few days ago and, it would seem, that we have lost all direct link with that conflict.

The 1914 - 1918 war changed the world in a way we have not yet fully managed to deal with. The years before 1939, the Second World War, the subsequent battle with Communism, were all the outcome of that earlier conflict. Even the creation of the European Union is an indirect result of the Great War.

The wars in the Middle East and the Gulf are also the outcomes of it and of the collapse of the empires that had divided the world. We shall live with that for a long time before we can go to another era, no longer the post 1918 one.

For today we must remember the soldiers who died in that conflict and in the many conflicts since and think of those who are fighting in other wars.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
It has been pointed out to me that I was wrong to assume that there are no survivors left from the Great War. There are, indeed, still four alive and three of them were present at the Cenotaph: Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110, and Bill Stone, 108, represented the RAF, Army and Royal Navy respectively.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Missile shield or not missile shield?

Much is expected from the President-Elect of the United States. However, setting aside hope and change, there are some very important problems awaiting him on the first day and even before in the field of foreign affairs, which is the President's domain, according to the Constitution.

It would seem, Barack Obama is trying to do what he did during his electoral campaign: be all things to all men (and, maybe, women but we are not too sure about that). Via Environmental Republican we get the curious story of the President-Elect's discussions with the President of Poland (we are talking about a real president here, not the unelected one of the European Commission).

As we know Poland hemmed and ha-ed a bit but signed the missile shield agreement with the United States very swiftly after the invasion of Georgia. Russia, in the shape of Prime Minister Putin President Medvedev, has announced this week that in response to the missile defence shield that is supposed to protect Europe against a possible attack from Iran, short-range missiles will be postioned in the Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg) enclave. Now we wonder what the new American President will do.

The answer is that it depends on who you listen to.
President-elect Obama has spoken to the president of Poland about relations between the two countries but didn't make a commitment on the multibillion-dollar missile defense program undertaken by the Bush administration, an Obama aide said Saturday.

That contrasts with a statement by Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who said Obama told him the missile defense project would continue.
Great, just great. We now have an American President who thinks he can still go on voting "present" as he did most of the time as Senator or say one thing to his adoring supporters and the media (but I repeat myself) and another to a leader to a friendly country, just as he did with the infamous NAFTA statements.

As Environmental Republican puts it:
Putin is paying attention and he's gauging the make up of the man who will replace Bush. I'm sure he's smiling with Obama's response to this issue. He's rebuilding his military (a sorry military at present) in hopes of becoming the power broker in Eastern Europe, Southwestern Asia, the Northern Pacific and the Arctic. The Bush administrations aim with placing the missile shield in Poland was to assure our ally that we are paying attention plus to force Russia's hand. Obama has
essentially laid all that work to waste by his dithering.

This was not an easy plan for Lech Kaczynski to get his country to accept and he probably spent massive political capital to do so and Obama leaves the man hanging on an issue of great import.

This is no longer a campaign, that's already been won. This is not speaking in front of adoring fans who mindlessly scream "Yes we can" after every sentence. No, this is the real deal where decisions (or none decisions as the case may be) have immediate and far-reaching effect. If Europe finally likes us again as liberals are so happy to point out, it sure seems strange to leave a major European country (and one that suffered first under the Nazis then under the Soviets in recent history) twisting in the wind.
The comments are interesting. Some are clearly ignorant and motivated solely by a growing isolationism; others make pertinent points about Western Europe's role in the world at the moment.

Conservatives win ...

... in New Zealand. Another member of the Anglosphere goes down that road. John Key is the new Prime Minister and he seems to be intending a tax cut as the best way of dealing with the financial crisis. On the other hand, trade and foreign policies are unlikely to change and nuclear-powered ships will still be banned from entering New Zealand's ports.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Opinions vary

Setting aside Prime Minister Berlusconi's unfortunate comment to and about President Obama's appearance, there has been a certain amount of uncertainty about European reactions. Naturally, the newly elected President of the United States has to be welcomed by all, though I do not recall complete punctiliousness in this respect either in 2000 and 2004.

Over and above that, there is less euphoria than one would have expected, largely because now that it is too late, people are beginning to look at Obama's actual statements (the ones he did not flip on more than about twice) rather than be overwhelmed by the hope and change mantra. One can see the same process taking place on the other side of the Pond as a number of supporters are waking up with a hang-over and Obama fills his transition team with lawyers. My guess is that it is going to get a lot worse but, perhaps, The One will surpise us.

AFP via EUBusiness is, naturally enough breathless: "EU applauds Obama victory - hopes for new deal". What kind of a "new deal" one asks oneself. After all, many European countries remained on very good terms with the United States throughout the Bush administration, no matter what the various pundits said in the media.

Do they mean that President Obama will, in their opinion, promote European integration more than President Bush did? Perhaps. And perhaps not. After all, he has more important problems on his plate than worry what Europeans with unpronouncable names will say. Or do they mean that the new President will submit to the Franco-German demands and drag his country against her interests and contrary to the constitutional arrangement into organizations like Kyoto and International Criminal Court? Maybe they should actually read the American Constitution (I know the Vice-President-Elect has not read it, but that is not an excuse). These things are not so easy in that country.

For all of that, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Unelected Commission President Barroso, fresh from their attempts to grovel to Russia, have expressed great joy and great hopes that the "present crisis" would now end and there would be a new beginning in the relationship between America and Europe. Since there is no crisis, one wonders what the new relationship will be. In any case, come end of December France will stop being the rotating president and it will be the Czech Republic, who might have very different views on the subject. I wonder if the President-Elect understands this.

On the other hand, the same Unelected Commission President in a peculiarly stupid interview (how can you ask whether a man who has just been elected and has done nothing so far is a better president than the others?) admitted that a number of people, particularly among the developing countries are worried by the protectionist noises The One has been making.

This affects developed countries as well, as Glenn Reynolds pointed out almost immediately after the election. Asian exporters who, for obvious reasons, been looking a little more closely at what Barack Obama actually said than did European politicians, are uneasy about the possibility of protectionism being introduced.

Shutting down international trade would be a sure way of prolonging the present crisis and turning it into a world-wide depression. Then again, having thought it through, not all analysts seem to believe in the change, which, in this case is quite a relief:

Other analysts said that despite Obama's pre-election comments, he was likely to follow the example of previous U.S. presidents and take a moderate line in office to preserve important trade relations with Asia.

"He may have talked tough, but based on past experience, that's just a tool to win over voters," said Qiang Yongchang, a professor at the Economy Institute at Shanghai's Fudan University.
How old-fashioned mercantilism and protectionism can be seen as "hope and change" is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile, Powerline blog points out that, while a number of world leaders, including President Ahmadinejad, expressed great satisfaction at Obama's election, not all of America's allies are pleased.
The leaders of key allies seem less taken with the president-elect. Thus, as John also observes, Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the less hard-line of the two main contenders for the job of Prime Minister, has warned against the kind of dialogue with Iran's leaders that Obama promised during the campaign. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy has attacked Obama's approach to Iran as "arrogant."
Actually, Sarkozy's comment was made several days before the election but there does seem to be some disagreement between the French President and his Foreign Minister. Or, maybe, neither of them means a word of what they are saying.

Paul Mirengoff of Powerline, a highly regarded American right-of-centre newsblog, has doubts as to whether that famous dialogue will take place:
I'm actually not convinced that Obama is committed to the dialogue he promised. My guess is that Obama took this position in the Democratic primary solely for the purpose of getting to Hillary Clinton's left. When the general election rolled around, Obama sensed, or determined through polling, that voters would not be too put off by the notion of talking to Iran (what's the harm in talking), and thus that he didn't need to flip-flop. Now that he's president, he can talk or not talk, without or without preconditions.
True but much depends on Obama's hubris. It now having been proved to him that he really is The One (though the results are a little more ambiguous than some commentators make out) he may well decide that he can tackle an old hand like Ahmadinejad. That is a worrying thought. Remember what happened when a similarly cocky, glamorous new President decided to tackle that old hand, First Secretary Nikita Khrushschev. A disaster, all round.