Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

The obituary of Lord Varley of Chesterfield, formerly known as Eric Varley MP reminded me of the horrors that this country went through in the sixties and seventies; the difficulties that were compounded by stupid political decisions; and the desperate need for reform that was, when it came, unpleasant to many people. If only Eric Varley had his way once or twice rather than the fanatical Anthony Wedgwood Benn, later Tony Benn, or the duplicitous Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, those reforms might have started earlier.

Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Varley, who actually did come from a mining family was rather right-wing (it would be interesting to know why he opposed Britain's membership of the Common Market) while that child of privilege, Tony Benn, has always been on the extreme and disastrous left of the party.

However, just as I sat there thinking that we have been through difficult periods before and maybe we shall get through the one we are experiencing now as well, I found the news item, which my colleague on EUReferendum had already covered.

In their wisdom, the Law Lords have gone further than the ECJ or the ECHR had ever expected them and ruled that sham marriages of illegal immigrants were perfectly lawful and investigating them was a breach of their human right to family life. Do their lordships stop to think, one wonders. What connection is there between a sham marriage carried out with the sole intention to circumventing the laws of this country and family life?

Another thought strikes one: what of forced marriages, perhaps carried out in order to keep some member of an extended family in Britain? Are we to understand that while the men in question must not be investigated because it would be a breach of their human rights, the unfortunate women or young girls can be kidnapped, abused and raped?

Is anybody surprised?

Is anybody surprised by the collapse of the Doha negotiations after seven years of meetings, dinners, criss-crossings of the world by the negotiators and their staff, more meetings, more dinners? Everybody is blaming everybody else. The United States offered some more concessions but Brazil said it was not enough.

The European Union is in no mood for concessions and sticks to its protectionist policies. India and Brazil have constituted themselves to be spokescountries for the Third World and much good it did anyone. The rulers of various poor countries fear free trade because they know it will undermine the power and riches they get from aid and high excise duty (the easiest tax to collect).

And so on. And so on. Not being an economist I have no desire to wade into the morass of the details. The co-chairman of the Bruges Group, Dr Brian Hindley, gave a prescient talk on the subject last year. His predictions were gloomy and they have all come true.

The one thing that seems clear to many of us - these vast multilateral negotiations do not get us very far. If, on top of that, the European Union negotiates on behalf of the 27 members, as none of us have the right any longer to make international trade agreements, the picture remains rather dark. Clearly a return to bilateral negotiations, something the United States is increasingly practising (when the Democrat controlled House of Representatives under the slightly demented Speaker Pelosi does not mess things up), is what is needed. Of course, for that, we have to dispense with the European Union and that would really upset some people.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It will outlive Bush

Anti-Americanism in Europe and many other countries (whose citizens will crawl over broken glass to get into that country they so hate and despise) has been with us for many decades. It was not caused by President Bush or his so-called unilateralism, which, somehow, included many allies and supporters. It will outlive Bush, no matter who his successor will be. The Wall Street Journal is trying not to gloat. We are full of admiration for that but cannot help snickering, just a little.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Blogging elsewhere

Explaining on Chicagoboyz why there is no such thing as Europe and suggesting a solution to the Obama problem.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"The election of longtime eurosceptic David Cameron as Prime Minister...

...would bring about a much-needed shot in the arm for democracy and accountability in Britain and the European Union." So says a posting on ToryBoy Blog, known officially as Conservative Home blog.

Its starting point is a remarkably silly and predictable sounding piece in the Financial Times Magazine, which seems to hit out at euroscepticism as being outdated scare-mongering (people like going to European countries so they must like the EU) and at the Conservative Party, which, according to George Parker, has now defeated its europhiliac (sorry, europhile) wing and can go forward on a eurosceptic ticket.

This may be news to some of us as we survey the position of such luminaries as Kenneth Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind and Francis Maude, not to mention the weaselly responses given by the Shadow Foreign Secretary to perfectly straightforward questions.

What surprised me somewhat was the attitude of the posting itself, written, one must assume, by the editor, Tim Montgomerie though he may have delegated. There seems to be an assumption that the Boy-King of the Conservative Party is, indeed, a long-time eurosceptic and will restore, well, give a shot in the arm of democracy and accountability in Britain and the European Union.

First things first. How has the Boy-King's long-term euroscepticism manifested itself? Enquiring minds want to know. They want a list of his words and deeds that prove this.

Next: what will be that shot in the arm and how will it be delivered? We are told that the Social Chapter will be taken back into British legislation. Hmmm. A few problems with that:

1. The Social Chapter does not exist as a separate entity. The Boy-King and his whizzkids will have to find which Articles they mean and deal with them separately.

2. The only way a Treaty can be changed is through an IGC. There are various ways of ensuring that it is called. Which one will the Conservative government use?

3. The changed Treaty at the end of the IGC has to be signed by all participants. How will the Conservative government ensure that it happens?

We at the Bruges Group are looking forward to the various plans the thinkers and strategists of the Conservative Party will produce in order to give that "much-needed shot in the arm for democracy and accountability in Britain and the European Union".

Friday, July 25, 2008

Whose side is the hostage-in-chief on?

This blog has followed the story of the Colombian hostages and its curious ambivalences here and here. It is worth returning to it and look a little more closely at the behaviour of the hostage-in-chief (at least if the media is to be believed), Ingrid Betancourt. She is, as it happens, considerably more photogenic than the other ex-hostages, not to mention the people who are still held in various parts of the jungle but she is also the one who can be relied on to speak the “right” phrases or should that be “right on” phrases.

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal Europe had an interesting letter on the subject. Unfortunately, one has to sign up to the newspaper to read letters on-line, so I shall have to copy it out. (The things one does in the line of duty.)

The letter is from Robert F. Agostinelli in Paris and it says:
The Ingrid Betancourt affair is really too rich with “faux” gratitude. I don’t remember one case that so pointedly laid out the differences between the U.S. and Europe.

On the day that Ingrid Betancourt was finally liberated by the Colombian Army (with U.S. support), the Italian Parliament was passing yet another strongly worded and “historic” measure demanding her release. It was the latest of a long, long list of European efforts to affirm their solidarity with Ms Betancourt. She was made an honorary citizen of Paris and her picture was plastered everywhere.

The entire European campaign was as pompous as it was feckless, useless and patronizing; all, sad to say, qualities we have now come to associate with Europe.

It was also dangerous. Colombia’s duly elected and popular President Alvaro Uribe, caught in an existential struggle with the FARC, the largest guerrilla group in Latin America and recognized as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the EU, came under pressure from Europe and Ms Betancourt’s family to “negotiate” with those who would destroy his country.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez made good use of Europe’s angst about Ms. Betancourt by offering to “mediate”. As a carrot, Mr Chavez demanded that Europe and the world recognize FARC as legitimate “combatants”.

Mr Uribe, to his great and everlasting credit, refused. Only later, when some recordings were found on a captured FARC guerrilla, did the world have confirmation that Mr Chavez was bankrolling the FARC and pulling its strings.

Ms Betancourt was a wealthy Latin American who had grown up in Paris after her father was posted there as Colombia’s ambassador to UNESCO. Later she went to Science Po and there met such “luminaries” as Dominique de Villepin, married a French diplomat and gained a French passport.

Imbued with Left Bank idealism, she eventually returned to Colombia to run for president on a platform that included “progressive” activism. It was during her campaign against her rescuer, Mr Uribe, that she was nabbed by the FARC six years ago.

Ms Betancourt clearly gave France that which the country craves above all – she affirmed internationally that “France’s message to the world still counts”.

Ms Betancourt has already thanked France and its government, as well as President Chavez and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador; for what, one may ask? There’s still no word of any thanks for Mr Urive’s only ally in the world, which gave the rescue operation so much support, the Bush administration.
I feel a few points need to be added. First of all what Mr Agostinelli describes with such contempt is that famous “soft power” that Europe is supposed to bring to international affairs as against the despicable “hard power” of Americans and, it seems, Colombians. The fact that “soft power” gets us nowhere is irrelevant. It’s the fuzzy warm feeling that counts.

Secondly, I am looking forward to Ms Betancourt in her chic Parisian outfits running for the Colombian presidency with the help of all her international friends on an oppose-the-army-be-nice-to-the-terrorists platform. Should go down very well in Colombia. Sadly, Europeans do not vote in Colombian elections any more than they do in American ones as Senator Obama will eventually realize. They do vote in their own elections but that does no good at all, as the real government is the unelected one in Brussels.

Thirdly, I am intrigued by this idea of France’s message counting. As the French President did not even know about the operation, it would seem that his importance is of doubtful strength. Of course, he is no different from his predecessors in that he wants to get maximum kudos for minimum effort and, luckily, this rich leftie wannabe politician is ready to oblige.

Wait a minute: are we not supposed to be eschewing such things as national influence as outmoded and dangerous in favour of the EU’s common foreign policy? Just asking.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Commonwealth or Anglosphere

Among others the Irish Times reports:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government won a vote of confidence in parliament today, ensuring the survival of the ruling coalition and a civilian nuclear deal with the United States.

The government said it would now push ahead with the pact, which would give India access to foreign nuclear fuel and technology and end decades of isolation, as well as work towards reforms to liberalise the trillion-dollar economy.
India is growing into a major regional power (as is Australia, which is ahead in that game) with her own links to other countries, particularly the United States and the Anglosphere in general.

All too often one hears of the revived Commonwealth as the alternative to Britain's membership of the European Union. Sadly, the Commonwealth is a thing of the past, even if some of the institutional structures are still in place (and aren't they useful in a crisis, such as the one in Zimbabwe?). The notion that countries like India will go back to any kind of a past arrangement is ludicrous. The notion that you can build an Anglospheric network without the United States in it is past ludicrous.

The question we must ask ourselves is how to ensure that Britain takes her rightful place in what is the political grouping with the greatest potential.

They still find it hard to understand

Open Europe the soi-disant "independent think-tank" that calls for the "radical reform of the EU" without ever specifying how it could be achieved, is all excited about William Hague's interview in the Financial Times this morning.

"Tories would seek to scupper EU Treaty" screams the headline. Worse, the first two paragraphs add:
An incoming Conservative government would lead a Europe-wide campaign against “the centralising ratchet” of the EU and seek to restore full British control over employment and social law, William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, has told the Financial Times.

Mr Hague, who could be foreign secretary within two years if the Tories win the general election, says a Cameron administration would seek to scupper the EU’s Lisbon treaty – if it has not already been ratified by Ireland and all other member states – and attempt to renegotiate parts of Britain’s membership of the club.
Gosh, say we, how exciting. Or not, as the case may be.

After all, the chances are that the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty will have been ratified one way or another by the time the Tories are back in office (though not in power, given the way legislation works in this country nowadays)and the issue will not be re-opened by them.

Furthermore, I am willing to bet that, should another treaty appear on the horizon while those self-same Tories are in office, they will roll over again (after making a great deal of those dotted red lines, of course).

So what exactly are the Tories going to do? Well, the will "let matters rest there" if they are faced with the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty in place. And that means? Well, who knows. Certainly not the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Mr Hague says a Tory government would “like to see social and employment powers restored to the UK”, a reference to the EU social chapter that has spawned rules such as better rights for temporary workers.
Someone should tell Mr Hague that the Social Chapter has not existed as a separate entity within the Consolidated Treaties for some time, which means that individual Articles will have to be changed if this promised policy is to be carried out. How, precisely, does he propose to do that? To change the Treaty, whatever form it will be in by 2010 requires an IGC. Is that what the Tories are going to call for? It then requires a great deal of negotiating because all member states have to agree to the text even before it goes back to the separate countries to be ratified? What are the Tories going to offer to their colleagues in return for the restoration of those "social and employment powers"?

"A more democratic, just and secure world"

This is the purpose, according to President Medvedev or Russia (prop. Vladimir Putin), of the latest Russian-Venezuelan agreement, which, among other matters, will have President Chávez buying $1 billion's worth of Russian arms. Just what Venezuela needs.

Well it is, according to the president as, again according to him, the United States is about to invade the country, having failed to do so in the last few decades.

President Medvedev and his Russian delegation spoke merely in generalities, not attacking the United States. Possibly, because they do not think America is about to invade Russia (or Venezuela); possibly because they think President Chávez is a clown but if he is going to pay $1 billion for arms, he is a useful clown.

Then there is the old dream of a cartel of gas-producing countries:
Medvedev said it was still possible that Russia could join Venezuela and other gas-producing nations to form a cartel similar to OPEC, a concept under discussion for several years.

He also said that such cooperation would help guarantee energy security and was "not directed against any states."
Let us not forget that Russia, a country that cheerfully breaks contracts if she does not like the buyer's politics, is the strategic partner of choice for Germany and France. If there is ever a common foreign policy, that is the protests of East Europeans and Balts are over-riddent, Russia will be the strategic partner of choice for the EU.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bulgaria adopts flat tax

Another country in an seriously messy economic situation decides that the way out is a radical tax reform.

Not everyone in Europe approves

The MSM has touted this idea for some time: Barack Obama's is the Europeans' choice for the American presidency. Four years ago John Kerry was the Europeans' choice (or so we were told) and much good did it do him. What with the real government of the European Union member states not being elected by the people and the new constitution being imposed without so much as a by your leave with the establishment plotting how to sideline or ignore the one and only referendum on the subject, the idea of an elected democratic government has become a little fuzzy. But that is what they have in the United States of America and it is the people of that country who are going to elect the President as well as Congress.

It is not, however, entirely true that everybody in Europe is all that entranced by the spectacle of a rather ignorant American politico doing a somewhat premature victory lap round the various countries, gathering thousands of chanting supporters and using national symbols of other countries as a background to his campaign.

Wolfram Weimer, editor of the German policial monthly Cicero, explains on Pajamas Media why he thinks Obama's idea (or his campaign's idea) of speaking before the Brandenburg Gate is a silly one and show loack of foresight.
The puzzling image of Obama that is currently the subject of passionate debate in America has now reached Germany. Following the leaden Bush years, one would in fact like there to be a youthful, reformist new-start in America, such as Obama incarnates. But when one has a closer look, one begins to have doubts: To what end exactly is this magic of “change” — the word of the year in the USA — supposed to be used? Or is it the magic, after all, just a magic of self-promotion?

Obama’s foreign policy escapades of the last few weeks have many of his European friends wondering whether one will be able to be as enthusiastic about a President Obama as one is at the moment about the candidate. His latest flip-flops, whether on the Iraq War or the death penalty, give reason to suspect that Obama is a very great showman, but a very limited strategic thinker. He is indeed “amazing.”
This article appeared in German on a blog called Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of Good), which makes one hope that perhaps the blogosphere is beginning to make some inroads into the political process on this side of the Pond as well.

According to Rick Moran on American Thinker there are other dissenting voices, namely the Financial Times Deutschland.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not the Brandenburg Gate

As Clarice Felden on American Thinker points out, Obama's "preposterously narcissistic notion of a speech before the Brandenburg Gate has been scotched by German authorities". Speeches before the Brandenburg Gate are given by Presidents not wannabes. Obama, despite what the British media says, has not even been formally chosen by the Democratic Party to be their presidential candidate though it seems highly unlikely that this will not happen. He has a long way to go to the White House and so far the route has not been easy. Even the American MSM is beginning to criticize him, which is, presumably why he has decided to do a grand tour of abroad to bolster up his rather feeble credentials in foreign policy. That and appointing 300 advisers on the subject. That's almost two per UN member state.

From one of the Deutsche Welle blogs we learn that he will be speaking at the Victory Column with the Brandenburg Gate in the background. An interesting compromise that will give little to anyone except the European members of the Obamania. In the end it is the American electors who will choose their President. This is called democracy, a concept we have abandoned on this side of the Pond. Oh, one more point. No matter what Obama says or does during his trip (and there have already been numerous such trips by Senator McCain), as far as the American foreign policy establishment and analysts are concerned, Europe is of ever lessening importance. Live with it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brown, Cameron and the lack of foreign policy

Still recycling other material, I am afraid, though the paper I have been labouring on mightily will be finished tomorrow and blogging will be resumed with a vengeance. Double vengeance.

In the meantime, let me flag up, as they say, a theme that is beginning to worry me and all of us at the Bruges Group. Why is it that neither Prime Minister Brown nor the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has something resembling a foreign policy? Indeed, why is it that neither of them nor their respective underlings, the youthful looking Foreign Secretary and Shadow Foreign Secretary, have any interest in foreign parts?

This article was offered to the new political magazine, Total Politics, but found no space in it. Instead, I have put it up on EUReferendum2, the outlet for longer articles.

Groundhog day in Belgium

Blogging is still a little light as that paper finally reaches its conclusion. Still, one cannot pass by the Belgian government's resignation. It was something of a makeshift with agreements on the real problems between Flanders and Wallonia postponed until July 15. So, having achieved its real purpose - the signing and implementation of the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty - the government resigned. International Herald Tribune has the story. EUReferendum had it yesterday.

Another story EUReferendum had yesterday was that the Polish President, after the usual huffing and puffing, seems likely to sign the legislation that ratifies that Treaty. There's a surprise. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski denies that anything has been promised to Poland such as a fudge over the Gdansk shipyard fine. Must be true if he denies it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Goody - goody!

First of all, apologies for light blogging. Other commitments yesterday meant that I did not even switch on the computer (withdrawal symptoms were severely dealt with) and today I am desperately finishing a paper on the common foreign policy that is months overdue and seems to grow every time I just want to tweak it a little.

However, I could not let this item on the europhiliac EUBusiness site go without a mention.
The European Commission adopted plans on Monday to ease rules for granting public aid to projects that create jobs, boost economic activity, protect the environment or help women entrepreneurs.

"These new rules set out a clear framework to allow member states to grant aid targeted at creating jobs, boosting competitiveness and improving the environment without the commission having to get involved," Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.
When Neelie Kroes was appointed to be the Commissar for Competition (an oxymoron, surely) there was much rejoicing in the world. Ms Kroes was supposed to know how a business works. After all, she had been out in the big bad business world herself.

Not precisely as her official profile shows. She sat on numerous boards of private and public corporations, which is not quite the same as running a business.

Above all, she clearly shares the view of all politicians and regulators that it is government that makes business successful not entrepreneurs or people who run businesses. So, they need to be taxed and regulated for their own good and then given grants, for which they have to fill in forms and complete a great deal of paperwork to use the money for purposes the government, in this case the EU, thinks appropriate. Then they wonder why European countries are falling behind in the world competitive stakes.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Whose side are journalists on?

Don't even ask. We have already linked before to an article on how NGOs have been helping FARC and thus, inadvertently, made it easier for the Colombian army to rescue the 15 hostages. Here is a new link to an article on Pajamas Media about highly regarded European media outlets casting doubt on the hostage rescue, basing their accounts on "reliable" but not named and not indicated sources. It would appear that one of the sources is an independent Swiss diplomat, who has been allegedly mediating between the Colombian Government and FARC. By day, that is. By night, the Government says, he has been acting as a courier for the terrorists. Read the whole piece. Of some interest to those who still trust the MSM.

Could we dispense with the word "tsar"?

Naturally, I do not mean that people who write about Russian history should not use that word when describing the ruler of Russia before 1917. It is even allowed to refer to the great democrat Vladimir Putin as “tsar”, particularly if it is done in quotation marks, as he has arrogated himself a great deal of the old rulers’ power. (His successor, Medvedev, known by Russians as Putin’s mishka, i.e. teddy bear, seems to be determined to hang on to that power.)

What I have in mind is people no longer using that word when yet another outside expert is appointed to solve some big problem or another. Well, actually, I am against the appointment of outside experts to positions of power in order to solve some political problem, anyway, but to call such experts “tsars” is ridiculous. Do our politicians know so little history that they cannot even recall what happened to the last Tsar?

I am afraid, Iain Dale, whose blog I read every day, has come up with the most bizarre title on that subject: “Why David Davis won’t be a Liberty Tsar”. The piece is all about David Davis not intending to accept a position on the Conservative front bench that would make him a “civil liberties tsar”. A most extraordinary combination of words.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I have tracked the story down

It was, indeed, Hazel Blears, as one comment on the previous story suggested, who came up with the fatuous suggestion of rewarding people for voting in local elections. I am not sure which American schemes of awarding donuts and chicken dinners to voters the article mentions, as I have not heard of any and the author gives no details, hoping to get away with airy anti-Americanism.

The truth is that the only way to ensure that people will vote in larger numbers in local elections is to make them meaningful. In other words, let local councils raise their own money and justify their spending to the electorate and, hey presto, people will turn out to vote. Of course, local sales tax is not a possibility while we are in the EU because we are stuck in the VAT system, which is set for us in Brussels.

But, naturally enough, nothing of that kind is being proposed:
The move is one of a series of measures outlined by Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, to boost local democracy and “empower” communities. Other proposals in the White Paper Communities in Control will make it easier to hold a referendum for a directly elected mayor and will force town halls to respond to petitions. Local neighbourhoods will also be given “community kitties” worth millions of pounds where improvements are needed to council sevices.
This is almost too stupid to comment on but I shall make a few points.

In the first place, giving local neighbourhoods "community kitties" - I take it we are not talking about cats who adopt several homes - is the very opposite of what should be done. The money will still be controlled by central government and handed out as it sees fit, probably to areas that are more likely to vote for the party in power. How is that going to encourage people to become involved in local government?

In the second place, whenever there were referendums for a directly elected mayor, outside London, they all failed because people do not want them. They probably take one look at the mess known as the GLA and say, "thank you, but no thank you". Why make it easier to have more of those referendums? Which part of no does Ms Blears not understand?

Thirdly, if referendums are now part of the British political system and we are to have them on matters like locally elected mayors, why, precisely cannot we have one on the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty?

ADDENDUM: I seem to have missed the most outrageous of all proposals in the forthcoming White Paper:
Ms Blears will also announce the abolition of the “Widdecombe” rule, which forbids council staff from standing as councillors if they earn over £33,000. Under the latest regulations all but the most senior town hall officials will be able to stand for election as councillors and continue in their job if they are elected.
Oh my, this really will bring people out to vote.

It ought to be quite simple

In one of the freebie London newspapers yesterday there was a tiny paragraph to the effect that "the Government" has suggested that people should be given all sorts of free gifts and big stickers to wear in order to entice them into the polling booth. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a more detailed coverage of the story and, so, do not know which member of HMG came up with this fatuous suggestion.

If they really want to entice the electorate into polling booths, perhaps offering some policies that they intend to stick to might be a good idea. You know, if you promise a referendum in the manifesto then you actually hold a referendum. That sort of thing.

I cannot see that those members of the electorate who took a considered decision not to vote for any of our politicians who have no power to stop legislation coming in from Brussels are likely to change their minds when they are offered a sticker that says "I have voted". Why not a gold star for good behaviour?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A promise

This blog will never, under any circumstance quote, refer to or fisk any column of Polly Toynbee's. Partly that is because I have not read any of those columns for many years and have not intention of ever doing so again but partly because I am tired of right-wing bloggers, journalists, writers using dear little Polly as the pivot in their thinking and writing. She is supposed to be one of the most influential journalists in the country. It must be because of the attention the right pays to her. Well, we are not joining that herd. This blog will be Pollyfree.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Talking Turkey

There has been little attention in the British media about the developments in Turkey. Der Spiegel has an article about the battle between the more or less Islamist AKP, the party in power and the Kemalists. The newspaper is not precisely objective for two reasons.

Many of the Kemalists tend to be highly sceptical about Turkey joining the European Union, something no aspirant country is allowed to be. On the other hand, a political turmoil in that country will be a gift to both the French and the German governments who want to keep Turkey out.

Whether a constitutional and political upheaval in the one secularist and democratic Muslim country is a good thing for the region or the rest of the world is questionable. But who cares as long as the EU does not have to worry about its membership?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The elephant reappears

There has been a good deal of fuss about campaigns to lower VAT on various parts of the British economy that may be suffering from it. The TaxPayers' Alliance, for one, became involved in a Cut the VAT Campaign. To be fair, they seem to understand that the British Government is in no position to cut the VAT and the House of Commons has no control over this tax, having abandoned its right to control taxation, won centuries ago by their predecessors.

Never mind, the real government has stepped in:
The European Commission has opted to allow reduced sales tax for housing, local restaurants and some small services in a move welcomed by France but poised to spark opposition in other countries, mainly Germany.

The proposal, unveiled by EU tax commissioner Laszlo Kovacs on Monday (7 July), enables the bloc's member states to apply lower VAT rates for some specific sectors on a permanent basis.
How very kind of them. This does not mean any country can abolish VAT or introduce competitive local tax or, even reduce VAT to the minimum level on other goods and services. We are merely allowed to be a little flexible as instructed by the European Commission.

EU pact on immigration

The International Herald Tribune reports that the European Union's ministers of interior have agreed to proceed towards an integration of asylum and immigration policies.
Under the pact - so far a political accord rather than a binding legal document - EU nations pledge to expel illegal immigrants from European soil, to strengthen border controls and to seek a joint asylum policy by 2012.
Has anyone told the Tories who are placing the creation of a British border police at the heart of their manifesto?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Non-governmental organizations work for humanity...

... or so they say. Many of us who have had to deal with NGOs at any time would have noted that they were all too often linked to various left-wing organizations or government, some of them none too savoury. Most recent evidence comes from Colombia.

The most extraordinary aspect about the daring and imaginative resuce operation mounted by President Alvaro Uriba and the Colombian army was the ease with which the FARC rebels were tricked into accepting that the helicopters with the Che t-shirt wearing young men on it had been sent by some "humanitarian" organization.

As Mary Anastasia O'Grady says in today's Wall Street Journal, is this not evidence that a number of these organizations have close links with FARC and othe suchlike groups?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sources of radicalism

Clicking through some past postings on EUReferendum I found this piece I did on the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. It compared the fight England waged in the sixteenth and seventeenth century against a foe that was external as well as internal, and decided that it could do with another airing. We in the Bruges Group consider the question of national identity and its opponent, "European values" to be topics of primary importance.

Friday, July 4, 2008

"God Bless America"

Were they rebels and traitors or men and women loyal "to the higher cause of English rights and liberty", as an American friend who is a fervent Anglospherist wrote to me? A bit both, I would guess but one thing is true: whenever we are asked by europhiliacs to come up with a better vision than theirs of carefully controlled rabbit hutches for people with their lives strictly ruled and defined for their own good, we can say this.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
These are English ideas even if they were penned by the Francophile Thomas Jefferson. (Unlike the American Constitution, which he did not even sign.) One look at the course of the American Revolution (which can really be described as the third English Revolution) and that of the various French Revolutions, especially the first one, will convince all.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Talking to the world

Europe's World advertises itself as the only Europe-wide policy journal and this may even be correct. I am not doubting their word, I simply have not seen enough policy journals. On the whole, they are unlikely to be on the sceptical side of the divide but they are broadminded.

Witness to this is the fact that the summer issue of the journal, now available on-line, also carries an article by the author of this blog on the subject of Eurostat and opinion. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Only connect

Der Spiegel collects comments from newspapers on various points of the political spectrum and finds that they are all saying the same thing. It ain't over yet. The idea that the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty would somehow get through despite the Irish no is moonshine.

So far the Czech, Polish and German Presidents have refused to sign it for various reasons - though none of them has gone so far as to suggest asking the people. The Social-Democrats in Austria are demanding a referendum.

Of course, the German newspapers do not like that eurosceptics are crawling out of the woodwork but they cannot deny that there is serious disenchantment with the whole European project among the people of the EU. Something has to be done about it. If memory serves right that was the point of the Laeken Memorandum, which resulted in the European Convention, which resulted in the Constitution for Europe, which gave us the two no votes in France and the Netherlands, which made the Euro-elite proclaim that they would now listen to the people, which resulted in the Lisbon Treaty, which has been rejected by the one country that has been allowed to vote on it. Not a success for the project.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Polish President refuses to sign

President Lech Kaczynski has stated that he will not sign the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty into Polish law even though it had been passed by the parliament because it would be a "pointless" exercise in the light of the Irish No vote.

He thus joins Czech President Vaclav Klaus on the frontline and as a headache for President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country takes over the EU presidency (what a lot of presidents!) today.

Then there is the problem of Germany:
In Germany, the treaty is also facing unexpected problems over ratification. President Horst Köhler has said he cannot sign the pact into law because two legislators have asked the Constitutional Court to decide whether it is unconstitutional.
It looks like Sarkozy and his Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, will have their work cut out.

More on Lech Walesa

Edward Lucas of the Economist writing on ex-President and former heroic leader Lech Walesa and the swirling passions around his political record. (Yes, Mr Lucas is right - Mr Walesa was not a very good president. In fact, he was a disaster but that is probably because he was not a suitable person for that post and past record as heroic trade union leader is not necessarily an adequate qualification.)

The problem is only partly a matter of not being able to understand human frailty as Mr Lucas says - these messy situations are bound to arise if lustration is to continue. Those who have been calling for full lustration have largely ignored one of the most important aspects of Communism. It deliberately involved everyone in the system. Nobody was allowed to stay outside it as long as they kept quiet as it would be possible in an ordinary autocracy.

Lenin was much influenced by Sergei Nechayev in his political thinking. Nechayev's idea (never fully worked out in practice) was just that - involve everyone in the bloodletting. There can be no innocent victims.

Really odd

The sergeant, whose name has not been disclosed, who fired live ammunition during a display of the 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment's bravado at the week-end in Carcasonne is insisting that he loaded them by mistake. It is hard to understand how such mistakes can happen in the French military whose record on such matters is extremely good. When they fire live ammunition they do so with intent.

The investigation continues but the wounded, including the children are out of danger.