Monday, June 30, 2008

That elephant

Those of us (the happy or not so happy few) who are aware of the distressful fact that something like 70 to 80 per cent of this country’s legislation and regulation comes from the European Union and our supposedly constitutionally accountable Parliament can do nothing about it refer to the tendency to pretend that this is not happening as “ignoring the elephant in the room”.

There is a very fine example in today’s Daily Telegraph in the shape of a letter from many leading and not so leading artists, demanding that the government go on to stage 2 of Artist’s Resale Right legislation and pay dues to artists’ families for 70 rather than 50 years after the death of the creator as the work is sold on.

There is also a note on the second page that tells us of the government intending to hold a consultation on the subject. The words that are missing both from the small article and the letter are: European, Union, directive, droit de suite. Yes, indeed, ladies and gentlemen, this is European legislation that was opposed by every party in this country but was passed on QMV, as it is a Single Market competence, by countries that do not have an art market.

For those who want to refresh their memories might like to start with a recent posting here and follow the story back through the links.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back to work tomorrow

With a vengeance, one hopes. In the meantime, a few paragraphs about Paris and the sunny days I spent there.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A break already?

No sooner have we started this blog than a short break or, to be quite precise, a period of light blogging is envisaged. I shall be going to Paris today and shall post from there possibly, internet access allowing. Back on Saturday evening with many tales to tell.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What is to be done about the "virtual caliphate"?

"What is to be done?" is a wonderful expression, first used by Chernyshevsky, the guru of the Russian radical movement in the nineteenth century and one of the world's most boring novelists and subsequently copied quite deliberately by Lenin in his turgid analysis of what the revolutionaries' programme should be.

It is hard not to think of these people as one reads the latest paper published by the Centre for Social Cohesion, "Virtual Caliphate - Islamic extremists and their websites". James Brandon and other researchers have done an excellent job of monitoring a number of Islamist websites that publish jihadist or semi-jihadist material (those who post or comment in forums appear to be rather worried about anti-terrorist legislation), tabulating the different kinds of material and giving fascinating examples. [The paper is available for download on the website.]

Their conclusions are scrupulously fair and a long way from being hysterical or panicky. There is no question but the subject is worrisome. What is to be done? On the whole shutting down these websites (the paper recommends closure only for the most extreme ones) is probably not a very good idea.

The people who post on them will find some other way of communicating and it is better to have them where they are under the eyes of the security services. In so far as numbers of those using these websites are known they do not appear to be very high and, rather amusingly, the denizens seem to spend as much time bemoaning the lack of new blood (if one may use that expression) as do eurosceptic groups and sites.

Apart from legal methods, the paper also suggests using the existing sites and forums to engage in discussions and arguments, which is an excellent idea. The need for those is wider than the actual websites.

Two aspects intrigued me and they take us back to my first paragraph. There are, as some people have noted, interesting parallels between this batch of terrorists and the Russian radicals and terrorists of the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Firstly, there are the songs. As the paper says, several of the websites have texts or recordings of Nasheeds, "traditional Arabic songs which usually address religious issues". Only these Nasheeds are about martyrs, the struggle and the need for violence. Aside from the indication that they seem to advocate a great deal more violence than is necessary and do not make it particularly clear what the purpose is, the pattern of these modern Nasheeds is astonishingly similar to that of Russian revolutionary songs. Sometimes one wonders whether they are, in fact, translations made in the dear departed Soviet Union.

The second parallel is the self-pity and lack of logic. The Russian terrorists who spent all their time planning the assassination of the Tsar or anyone else whom they considered particularly evil and actually killing a large number of people were genuinely indignant when any of their number of was arrested, tried and exiled (no capital punishment except for tsaricide or attempted tsaricide in the Russia of those years).

In the same way people who call for murder and mayhem to be brought to the society they live in see themselves as unjustly punished victims whenever that society decides to shut them up and put them out of the way. The idea that if you wage a war you take what is coming to you does not seem to occur to these people.

Read the whole paper. It is well worth it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How times have changed

In his book, "The Riddle of the Modern World", Professor Alan Macfarlane, the historian and anthropologist who first traced certain social and economic developments that were unique to England in the Middle Ages, quotes from Montesquieu's "Persian Letters":
All the nations of Europe are not equally submissive to their princes: the impatient humour of the English, for instance, leaves their king hardly any time to make his authority felt. Submission and obedience are virtues upon which they flatter themselves but little.
Even allowing for a certain amount of admiring exaggeration, one cannot help feeling that Baron de Montesquieu might be turning in his rather grand grave.

These days there is a great deal of self-congratulation to be heard about the British (mostly the English) being more submissive and obedient than others, whether it is europhiliacs demanding that we become more communautaire than others or eurosceptics complaining rather proudly that the problem with the EU is that we obey the rules and others do not.

Friday, June 20, 2008

After all that

Ratification of the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty was of absolute importance, it was pronounced on Wednesday in the House of Lords, when Lord Howell tried to postpone the Third Reading in the light of the Irish Referendum result. The Prime Minister needs a strong hand when he goes to the European Council (though what for was not clarified).

Well, apparently not. The same Prime Minister has announced that ratification was being "suspended" while the High Court deliberates on whether a referendum needs to be called or not.
But a judge in the case earlier put a statement expressing "surprise" that the government had pressed ahead with the ratification process.

The prime minister responded by saying "ratification will not take place of course until we have the judgement".
I am a little surprised at the judge's "surprise". Maybe he was indulging in judicial irony.

Return to Srebrenice

It was one of the disgraceful episodes in the way the international community, as represented by the EU and the UN handled the War of Yugoslav Dissolution, which lasted throughout the nineties. Srebrenice was declared a safe zone, protected by the UN and the men were disarmed. The Dutch troops in their blue helmets panicked when the Serbs approached or, perhaps, decided that the Bosnians were not worth protecting. Not only did they refuse to fight, they actually helped to separate the men and the boys from the rest of the town.

8,000 men and boys were murdered by the Serb troops. The mass graves are still being dug up.

The UN did what it usually does - disclaimed responsibility. Oddly enough whenever there is a successful operation (well, no, now that you mention it, I can't think of one either) the UN claims credit; when there is a complete mess that results in thousands of deaths and other catastrophic events, the UN piously announces that it cannot do anything as it is merely the sum of its members.

So it was with Srebrenice. The Dutch were blamed and, to be fair, they shouldered the blame.

However, the situation may change if a court decision sought by families of those killed goes through.
The families are seeking compensation after Serb forces killed more than 8,000 men and boys around the UN-declared safe zone of Srebrenica in one week in July 1995.

Dutch UN peacekeepers were overwhelmed by the Serbs' superior force and even assisted in separating women and children as the victims were led away from their custody.

Lawyers for the Dutch government told the Hague district court that the UN is immune from prosecution in national courts.

But lawyers for the families said on Wednesday there was nowhere else to turn for a fair hearing of grievances.
The BBC also reports on the case and says that judgement will be given on July 10. Should UN responsibility be acknowledged - an unlikely outcome, one must admit - it might open the gates to other legal cases.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

National hero or secret police agent?

Poland is about to be engulfed in a political storm that will make everyone forget the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty and its importance.

Two historians, Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, who work for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), are about to publish a book about Lech Walesa, former leader of Gdansk shipyard, former hero of the Solidarity movement and former, somewhat unsuccessful President of Poland. This will revive the oft-repeated accusations that in the early seventies, Walesa was working for the Communist Secret Police and that, while President, he abstracted a number of documents from his police file that would have proved the links.

Poland's political world, including former Solidarity activists, are divided on the issue and the story is likely to run and run.

Telewizja Polska showed a 20 minute documentary on the subject, which interviewed the historians and a few other people. Lech Walesa has said he will sue the TV station.

Common Energy Policy (not!)

The Wall Street Journal Europe today carries a long article about the forthcoming meeting in Jeddah about the rocketing oil prices. Unfortunately, most of it is for subscribers only, so I shall have to copy out the relevant passages.

The problem with European countries, sigh the authors, is that they all want different solutions but each solution would require 27 votes to put into effect, which leads to an impasse. What they do not add because they have, to some extent, swallowed the theory that only a united Europe can show strength in the world, is that in this, as in many other matters, the EU has usurped the power of its member states without putting anything else into place.
The summits in Brussels and Jeddah are unlikely to provide any sweeping, short-term solutions for Europe, because EU countries disagree sharply about the root causes of the run-up in fuel prices. Almost every country is trying to attack the problem in different ways.

Austria has proposed a European Union-wide tax on what it calls oil speculators. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed cutting the slaes tax on fuel across the EU. These measures would require unanimous agreement from all 27 countries. UK officials say Mr Brown, for one, is unlikely to agree. He is pressing for more dialogue with producer nations and more focurs on energy efficiency to cut consumption, a UK official said on Tuesday.

Italy's government,f aced with a threatened transport strike later this month, on Wednesday approved a slate of measures to lower fuel prices. These include custs in road and fuel taxes, as well as rise in the corporate tax rate for oil companies that do business in Italy to 33% from 27%. The government says this and a tax on companies such as Eni SpA will be transferred to low-income households.

Mr Brown is under pressure over fuel prices at home, after truckers caused chaos in central London earlier this month and a fuel-deliver strike led to shortages in some parts of the country. so far, Mr Brown has spurned calls for tax cuts and has stressed the need to find global solutions to rising fuel prices - hence the trip to Jeddah, where he is expected to try to persuade Saudi Arabia to pump yet more oil.
Absolutely nothing in this world would make Mr Brown, erstwhile catastrophic Chancellor of the Exchequer, now catastrophic Prime Minister, to consider tax cuts. Hell will undoubtedly freeze over first.

However, one can't help thinking that the Italian solution of raising taxes on oil companies who are operating in Italy in order to redistribute the loot (not forgetting, one must assume, the many denizens of the Italian state in the process) may take the biscotti in stupidity. What will happen if the companies decide they do not really want to pay and start looking round for alternatives?

In the meantime, here is an article by Edward Lucas, author of "The New Cold War" on Europe's growing reliance on Russian energy supplies, that are not growing in accordance with demand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

184 for and 277 against

Lord Howell's Amendment to suspend the Third Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill was lost by 184 votes to 277. After that the Third Reading was a foregone conclusion. It will get the Royal Assent tomorrow.

MPs are once again voting on their pay rise

Iain Dale makes it clear again that he thinks MPs should be paid more (though he does not explain what should happen with the very generous expenses they get at the moment), though this may not be a good time to vote on it. In any case, he says, they should stop voting on their own salary increases.

While I agree with the last comment, I do wonder why this week should be a particularly bad week. Could it have something to do with the fact that in the wake of the Irish referendum MPs are showing themselves to be stubbornly determined to push through the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty, which will hand over even more of their powers to the EU?

The House of Commons are supposed to legislate and hold the Executive to account. They do neither, as I wrote a long time ago on EUReferendum. Between seventy and eighty per cent of our legislation, if you take it all into account, comes from the EU with MPs not having the right to reject it. What would happen in the private sector if a firm lost seventy to eighty per cent of its business? Salary hikes? I think not.

Third Reading at the Lords today

The House of Lords will have the Third Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, a. k. a. the Lisbon Treaty, today. Lord Howell has an Amendment down that would, if passed, postpone this reading till some date "no earlier than Monday 20 October 2008".

This would allow to consider appropriate responses to the result of the Irish referendum and any necessary amendments to the Bill in the light of that event. Should their lordships pass the Amendment, there will be no Third Reading and the Irish will be heartened that not everyone in the EU wants to bully them into submission.

NOTE: At the Bruges Group meeting this evening Lord Willoughby de Broke, a UKIP peer, will speak on the House of Lords and the Lisbon Treaty.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

If you weren't there ...

.... you missed what must have been quite an entertaining evening. Sadly, I could not attend the meeting organized by Open Europe and Policy Exchange jointly and announced rather late. Declan Ganley of the Irish think-tank/campaigning organization Libertas spoke about the campaign in Ireland, the referendum and whither now.

Of course, he has no real idea of whither now because it will not depend on Ireland but the EU and other member states, such as the Czech Republic. Mr Ganley is not a stron euro-sceptic - his thinking is not dissimilar to that of Open Europe, in that he thinks this is an opportunity to reform the European Union, which is going the "wrong" way. That assumes that the "right" way was more or less what people like Mr Ganley had evisaged. Sadly, the truth is that the EU is going the way it was always intended to go.

Michael White in the Guardian gives a sarcastic account of the meeting but the comments so far seem not to be on his side. A hint Mr White: it is not a good idea to talk about numbers being for or against the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty as most of those people are not being given a chance to vote on it. It is quite extraordinary that the europhiliacs do not seem to understand that the public is not buying into that specious argument.

The bullying of Ireland continues

According to an article in the International Herald Tribune this morning:
Under fierce pressure to resolve the crisis prompted by its no vote on the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland pleaded Monday for more time to find a solution but kept open the option of holding a second vote after a period of reflection.

After a weekend in which supporters of closer European integration in Germany and France raised the prospect of a two-speed Europe - with Ireland in the second tier - foreign ministers lowered the temperature at their meeting in Luxembourg, while insisting that the treaty remained alive.
As it happens, Germany has not ratified the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty either. The President will not sign until the Constitutional Court at Karlsruhe decides whether the Treaty is consistent with the German constitution or not. So far it has not even started deliberating

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shock, horror!

Apparently, many people in countries that are member states of the EU would like to have had the chance to vote on the Lisbon Treaty. Or so says AP in a surprisingly well informed article. Not only that but many of them would have voted no, as would have their disenfranchised compatriots; not only that but they are resentful of not being asked and of the way a no vote is simply swept out of the way. Well, well, who would have thought?

Business as usual

The British media may be screeching about the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty being dead, which as my colleague on EUReferendum sums up, is simply untrue; the Wall Street Journal may come out with a thoughtful editorial about Ireland teaching the European Union the lessons of democracy (an image of a child appears with fingers in his ears shouting “can’t hear you, can’t hear you”); the New York Times bemoans that “Ireland Derails a Bid to Recast Europe’s Rules” (no nonsense about democracy for them – look what happens when it is exercised – you get a Republican President); and numerous Continental newspapers and international news agencies may prattle about there being a crisis in the EU.

Not so that you’d notice, there isn’t. The Head Honcho for Foreign Affairs, having recently been completely unsuccessful in his attempts to negotiate some sort of a deal between Russia and Georgia (as the Eurasia Daily Monitor reported yesterday, though there is no link yet on the website) has gone to work his magic in Iran.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Iran on Saturday to respond positively to a new offer on ending a six-year standoff over its nuclear drive, even after Tehran rejected a key condition.
Well, at least we have an EU foreign policy chief, if not precisely an EU foreign policy or, for that matter, any successes to write home about.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Congratulations to Ireland

Just goes to show how right our masters in the European Union are not to ask the people whether they want to live with the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty. Look what happens when there is a referendum as there was in Ireland: the people say no. Officially the result has not been declared but the Irish government has conceded.

Congratulations to the people of Ireland. Let the EU spin its way out of this. Well, of course, they will.

What we must aspire to

Exercise your precious freedom of speech and start blogging! So says one of my favourite American bloggers, LaShawn Barber. She calls her posting "Exercise your freedom to offend". Well, of course, the United States is unique in that the right to freedom to offend is written into the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As simple as that. No ifs, no buts. But then the US Constitution is a very simple document unlike the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty.

Estonia ratifies the treaty

The Estonian Riigikogu ratified the Treaty of Lisbon on Wednesday, 11 June, following a number of other countries, though not, as it happens, Germany, where the presidential signature awaits a decision from the Karlsruhe court. Estonian argument that the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty will give the country a great deal of benefit, for instance, in such matters as a common energy policy is seriously misguided. Experience tells one that a common European Union energy policy is likely to follow the German line and give in to all Russia's demands. That is unlikely to make Estonia or the other Baltic states feel safe or happy.

Awaiting final results from the Irish referendum. The No side seems set to win but the plans for circumventing that are afoot.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Signs of backbone in Tory MP shock

Because of a convivial lunch I am late in posting on the subject and just about every blog and MSM outlet has had its say. But yes, signs of backbone have been detected in a Tory MP. Either that or a great deal of intelligent cunning.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, has resigned over the 42 day detention, passed yesterday by the Commons though likely to be thrown out by the Lords, and other encroachments on traditional liberties. He is forcing a by-election, though it is not clear who will be fighting it on what grounds as CCHQ has said it will release no funds. Not sure whether that means no funds to Mr Davis or to any candidate. And will David Davis stand as an Independent Conservative, this being one of those occasions on which an Independent could very well win.

ToryDiary reports that a swift poll of 1,291 Conservative Party members showed that 65 per cent are "inspired" by Mr Davis's move. One wonders about the other 35 per cent. Surely, they should be inspired even if they do not agree with his stand on the 42 days detention. Then again, they might see it as a cunning move towards grabbing the leadership.

The new Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, has announced that, should the 42 day pre-charge detention be passed (unlikely) and should the Conservative win the next election (more likely with Gordon Brown at the helm of the Labour Party) they will repeal the legislation. That, of course, does not deal with the other issues David Davis has raised.

Now, all we need is for some Tory MP to show signs of a backbone over that Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty. Dream on, as they say.

Ireland votes today

The Irish are going to the polls today in the one and only referendum on the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty. As things stand it is unlikely to the point of impossibility that Britain should have a referendum. Of course, a no vote is desirable but as my colleague on EUReferendum, Richard North, has pointed out, there are strong rumours that a plan to deal with that possibility is in place in Brussels. Mind you, he is relying on journalists for information and they often get things wrong. On the whole, yet more chicanery is likely to give the eurosceptc cause more support in various member states. The small ones, in particular, will not like to see one of their colleagues being pushed out of the way so disdainfully.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

And they will achieve this how?

On CentreRight, the new(ish) group blog on Conservative Home Jim McConalogue tells us that if the Tories offered to renegotiate those EU treaties they would reap an electoral advantage. This is what a new Global Vision poll tells them.
If you hadn’t seen it already over the past few days, Global Vision has commissioned a poll, producing some really interesting and significant results. When people were asked of Britain’s ideal relationship with Europe, most opted for having a looser relationship with the EU based on trade and cooperation whilst opting out of political and economic union – 41% preferred this option, compared with 27% wishing to stay a full EU member and 26% wishing to withdraw altogether.
And they will achieve this how? I bet that poll did not explain how those changes in relationship can be made - through an IGC and a new treaty, which will have to be approved unanimously.

News from the battlefront

The House of Lords have rejected the referendum amendment by 280 votes to 218.

Judgement has been reserved in Stuart Wheeler's legal challenge that is aimed to force the government to hold the referendum as, Mr Wheeler claims, there is a reasonable expectation among the electorate of such an event.

Ireland, the only member state that is holding a referendum, votes tomorrow. So far, it seems neck and neck.

A new venture

It is, we feel, high time that the Bruges Group, the leading eurosceptic think-tank, had a blog of its own. In a way, this is a spin-off from the EUReferendum blog but it will be run a little differently. The aim is to have shorter postings and more links - a kind of nexus of news and information about the EU, Britain's role in the world, those lovable transnational organizations and a favourite topic of ours: the Anglosphere.

Longer analysis, for the time being, will remain the preserve of EUReferendum but the great beauty of the blogosphere is that one never knows how a blog develops. In a couple of months' time, this may be a more analytical blog, or a group blog or any number of other things.

In the meantime, please spread the word about the new kid on the block (or is that blog?)