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- ► 2011 (1596)
- ► 2010 (1372)
- ► 2009 (1557)
- ► 2008 (1456)
- ► 2007 (1691)
- ► 2006 (1471)
- ► 2005 (1784)
- Asylum camps run into trouble
- In for a dirty fight
- Without inconvenient restraints
- Would Marta Andreasen agree?
- Germany's deficit just grows and grows
- Kyoto in trouble again
- You will be assimilated
- My, my, quick off the mark, aren't they
- From Russia with love
- Ad Hominem
- Dishonesty sans frontiers
- Speaking in tongues
- A hidden cost of EU membership
- A load of Balls
- News you may have missed
- Essential Reading
- How Americans see it
- Glowing stories of good fortune…
- Nice work if you can get it
- The love that dare not speak its name
- They are a little confused
- Angels on the head of a pin
- Booker column
- The special relationship
- He’s finally understood!
- Kilroy shouldn’t be here?
- Russia and Kyoto
- What is the purpose of aid workers?
- The real enemy
- Says it all really
- We’ve had enough of this game
- Something sensible
- The Myth of the Atlantic Divide
- A full circle
- That other referendum – again!
- No news is not good news
- Is this what they call a post-modernist irony?
- Game, set… to Turkey
- They are beginning to notice
- We’d never have guessed
- Sleepwalking into disaster
- Down with the penguins
- Who else has diplomatic passports?
- Goodness they do talk
- What a total schmuck
- The march of the hypocrites
- A rather unhappy bunny
- A new blog on the street
- Slaughter of the sacred cow
- Neelie again
- As a matter of fact they do love free trade - if t...
- French support EU constitution?
- Is there a European Blogosphere?
- The Sun says…
- Patten moves in
- A back-room deal?
- Dangerous waffle
- Lost in translation?
- Lest we forget
- Creaking at the seams
- Consulting we will go
- A crazy merry-go-round
- The Lib-Dem way
- Extremists gain in eastern Germany
- Those referendums in full(ish)
- Who is Mr Euro?
- Are they forbidden to say good things about UKIP?
- Not quite the bed of roses…
- Myth of the week
- The ignorant Mr Blair
- A brutal sacking
- Booker column
- Well, no, the Brits are not coming
- Will the real Señhor Barroso please stand up - #2
- The golf-ball as symbol of integration
- Pity the postpersons
- This is irresisitible
- The soap opera view
- Don’t stop there
- RMT on the constitution
- The European idea
- Hayek Smiled
- And another summit
- Mr Blair would feel at home
- It's tough at the top
- A little airplane accident
- No Mr Blair, this was not a civil war
- Turkey – all bets off?
- Bringing down standards
- Out of the frying pan…
- A mixed blessing
- Who are the guilty ones?
- This could be serious
- They need lessons in politics
- Power of the Blogs
- A dose of reality
- All this rethinking is very bad for you
- Lisbonization, what Lisbonization?
- We'll get there one day
- A bad day
- That other referendum
- Saying the unthinkable
- The “new, improved” Europe
- Wider and wider
- Help put a UKIP heart in Hartlepool!
- Howard on the environment
- Here’s one we missed
- We are doomed
- Highlights of the week
- Those glory, glory days are gone already
- Views from the edges
- European Parliament wants to hit the big time
- Ill-judged by Kilroy
- The Booker column
- Now Blog this
- Sleaze hits UKIP
- The "g" word reappears
- And talking of international aid agencies ...
- A giant leap for the EU
- The European Parliament tries to justify its exist...
- The ministers decide
- Brown only talks like a Euro-sceptic
- The coup that never was
- Poles apart
- A question of scrutiny
- Mr Brown gets tough
- The True Paper
- Shame on McShame
- Another bit of propaganda?
- That debate
- Sykes comes out
- And now for something completely… similar
- Missing the point again
- Have you heard the latest one about the budget?
- What has the EU done for us?
- Is Europe working?
- White Paper
- Confirmation from the master
- A wrong turning for UKIP?
- A moment of introspection
- Another step towards integration
- What are we to do about Russia - Part I
- And directly from the planet Zog…
- Fudge-u-don’t like
- Going nowhere… slowly
- The new members fight back
- The new member states' commissioners are settling ...
- Muddling through
- Prescott to save the day?
- Not Iraq, not neo-liberalism ... it must be good o...
- It gets worse
- Let sleeping left-wingers lie
- Polish Central Bank fears further serious inflatio...
- Skinning a cat
- A path we should fear to tread
- Democracy is not a spectator sport
- Booker column
- Dutch presidency offends Russians
- A distorting lens
- An ol’ fashioned power grab?
- The invisible "no" men
- Another threat to the new member states
- Not just fudge but humbug as well
- Britain at war with Germany
- MacShame bids for the unions
- The fudge is served
- Circling round the edges
- "Economic recovery" too modest for jobs
- Not another summit!!!
- The ultimate irony
- Nickel Neelie the Board Lady
- Plans for German EU Referendum look rocky
- This cannot be right
- Worry about red tape
- Sarkozy declares his hand
- The government has spoken
- New link
- Louis Michel is the toast of the NGOs
- Eco garbage
- A better Europe
- That Greek word again
- Another summit - this is becoming a mountain range...
- Asylum - an unexpected development
- ▼ September (187)
The Council of Interior Ministers is meeting in the Netherlands and high on the agenda is the proposition to have camps for asylum seekers outside the EU. This idea has gone through various permutations.
It was first proposed by the UK at the Thessaloniki Council last year, where it was “quietly shelved”. Nasty Brits being xenophobic, again. But you can’t keep a good idea down. It surfaced as a German proposal, backed by the Italian government and the incoming Italian Commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione. The idea was that now that we are all so pally with Libya (well, some of us more than others, to be fair) we should pay for camps to be set up there. In fact, EU representatives have already been to Tripoli to discuss the matter. As Deutsche Welle puts it:
“During a recent trip to Tripoli, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisano said plans to set up asylum camps in Libya would go ahead no matter what. Italy also signed an agreement with Libya on the training of local police to crack down on illegal immigrants.”This has caused a certain amount of fluttering in the NGO dovecots. Amnesty Germany’s Julia Duchrow said:
“We have great, great problems with the human rights situation in Libya, and we know of many people, from Eritrea for example, who have been detained in Libya. They have been sent back then to Eritrea and are now in military camps. We fear that they are tortured and we can't get access to them.”One rather wonders whether Frau Duchrow has problems with Libya chairing the UN’s Human Rights Commission. No comment from Amnesty International or, as far as one knows, the country-based Amnesty organizations has ever been heard. Come to think of it, what does Amnesty think of Sudan being on that Commission? Or of Libya now demanding that in view of its excellent behaviour recently, it should be given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? (For what it’s worth, this blog’s view is that everybody should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. They all deserve it.)
The other grand idea was proposed by Austria a couple of weeks ago. Asylum processing camps should be set up in Ukraine. At the time it was presented as a way of solving Austria’s own problems with Chechnyan and other asylum seekers from the Caucasus. Now, it seems, they are more worried about the way the new influx has affected the newer member states (soemthing that the EU had been warned about when the negotiations were going on).
We have already propsed certain variations on the theme of the asylum seekers’ camps in Ukraine. Perhaps the Austrian government listened to us, because they have announced that the idea was going to work as it has been discussed with the Baltic governments, the Czech, Hungarian and Polish governments and various others.
Alas, the one government that was not approached was the Ukrainian. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has issued an angry statement:
“Ukraine has not received any official appeals from the EU member states on this matter. Any public discussions of the issue are improper essentially, without preliminary official consultations with the government of Ukraine.”Fair enough, especially when one bears in mind the fairly recent history of camps, then other camps, then yet more camps in Ukraine.
What is going to happen about this mess? There is some bleating on the need to distinguish economic migrants from asylum seekers. One wonders what is so wrong with economic migrants as long as they get jobs and obey the laws of the country they are in. On another level, have these people asked why we have so many economic migrants? Could our trade and agricultural policies that prevent economic development in numerous Third World countries have anything to do with this? Could our aid policy that keeps corrupt oppressive dictators in place be in some ways responsible? Not us, surely, guv. We mean the best. But let us remember that if we persist in not buying surplus goods, we shall go on acquiring the surplus people.
Then there are the troubles in the Caucasus. These are more difficult to deal with since the Russians insist that Chechnya, Ingushetiya and Dagestan are part of the Russian Federal Republic and, therefore, the people there can be dealt with as the government and the security forces see fit. (And what a success they have had in eradicating terrorism.)
Georgia, on the other hand, is not part of the Russian Federation, though President Putin forgets this from time to time. The Georgian government would like to get rid of the terrorists but wants to do so without Russian “help”, having had some historical experience of it. Why is the West not supporting President Saakashvili more strongly? Come to think of it, why is the West not trying to exert just a smidgeon more pressure on Russia, to try to sort out the Chechnyan mess? That could be made a condition of the entry into the WTO, instead of the wholly inappropriate and ridiculous one about Kyoto.
Either way, asylum seekers’ camps in countries with dubious human rights records and corrupt political and law-enforcing systems does not seem to be the right answer in either short or long term.
Yesterday, on the Labour Conference fringe, an event entitled "the big debate" on the EU constitution was arranged by the Foreign Policy Centre, starring John Redwood and Denis McShame.
Reports of the proceedings are sketchy, but one observer present remarked that McShame was "appalling". He spoke for twenty minutes without once mentioning what was in the Constitution or what the consequence of signing it would be. He talked about the "sceptic myths" - most of which were in fact quite true - and referred many times to the "lies" of the sceptics.
Coincidentally, a colleague of mine was in Scotland the same night, leading a debate in an Edinburgh university, speaking to a motion that "this house believes we should leave Europe" – the word "Europe", incidentally, being a last-minute substitution for "European Union". He reports that the opposers concentrated their attack mainly on the behaviour of UKIP, rarely addressing the substantive issues.
Put that together with Gary Titley’s speech to the Labour Party Conference and we have something of a pattern. It seems the Europhiles are gearing up for a negative campaign, attacking the opposition rather than fighting their corner.
This, of course, may change – especially if Christopher Patten takes the helm of Britain in Europe. He is far too intelligent to indulge in such self-defeating tactics. But, for the moment, it looks like we are in for a dirty fight.
(Yes, and I know I keep referring to Denis McShane as "McShame". And I will continue to do so until he has the decency to apologise for tarring all Eurosceptics with the "Xenophobe" brush.)
One of the constant refrains from the Europhile luvvies is how much better things are in "Europe", compared with Britain, the inference always being how much better off we are throwing in our lot with our continental bretheren.
It is a refreshing change, therefore, to read The Times this morning, which catalogues "German bungling on state projects" that have cost the public purse £20 billion.
Amongst the more egregious examples is the fabled German railways which ordered 19 high-speed diesel locomotives that turned out to be incompatible with the national network. The trains cost €7.5 million.
There is nothing particularly German in the examples – they can be found all over Europe – if not the world. But they serve to underline that there is no end to the appetite of civil servants for wasting other peoples’ money.
That of course is the reason for opposing the EU – a construct built by civil servants for civil servants, without the inconvenient constraints of democracy.
The fate of Marta Andreasen, the commission’s now suspended former chief accountant, has been well recorded. It was she who went public with claims that the EU’s €100bn annual budget was exposed to waste and fraud, and it is an open secret that she is about to be dismissed.
But what is so utterly chilling is her account of her formal interview with the Commission yesterday, when this body was supposed to make an impartial assessment of whether Ms Andreasen had broken the rules.
Facing Romano Prodi and his team, she recalls how they listened in silence for 45 minutes while she insisted she had acted in the public interest. But she could see it was to no avail. "I could see a couple of commissioners were listening to what I had to say, but I know the decision has been made," she said. "I am going to be fired."
That it was already a foregone conclusion speeks volumes for the commission. She now believes she will be fired sometime before Prodi steps down on 31 October, to clear the way for the new commission.
Incidentally, in my account of Gary Titley’s speech to the Labour Party conference yesterday, I missed out his gushing praise of Neil Kinnock:
We are sorry to lose Neil Kinnock", he said. "Neil has done a tremendous job in his 10 years in the Commission. First he got to grips with transport policy. Then he modernised the European Commission and made it more accountable both politically and financially. Neil has been an inspiration to us all.I am not sure Ms Andreasen would agree.
When asked if she knew who created her, the little slave girl Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin said : “I ‘spect I growed.” And that is all German politicians seem tosay about the country’s deficit. We ‘spect it growed.
The Finance Minister Hans Eichel has explained that low tax receipts and high unemployment benefits mean that “fiscal plans will have to be adjusted accordingly”. He said this just after giving blood at a Red Cross event in Berlin, some might say appropriately.
Next week’s cabinet meeting will approve a supplementary budget whereby the government will be authorized to borrow 43.4 billion euros (c£29.75 billion) as opposed to the previous target of 29.3 billion euros (c£19.9 billion). This will be the highest deficit for Germany since the war.
Needless to say, Germany will post a deficit well above the allowed limit of 3 per cent. To sweeten the pill, the Commission has admitted that altogether 6 countries are likely to do so.
Just as the Russians appear to agree reluctantly and with every appearance of foot dragging, to sign up to Kyoto in order to have the EU’s support for their application to the WTO, news comes that the EU is going through some soul searching on the subject.
The incoming Environment Commissioner, the Greek Stavros Dimas, (one wonders whether the Greeks have quite resolved the atmospheric pollution in Athens) has made what one Green MEP described as “worrying statements” during his interrogation in the European Parliament.
Mr Dimas suggested that not all EU member states will be able to start the emisions trading scheme next January. Just to remind all our readers, the EU is committed to cutting its emissions by 9 per cent by 2012. So far, emissions have been cut by 2.9 per cent and much rides on the so-called emissions trading system.
Of course, if the Russians do not sign the treaty by January, it cannot function. The outgoing Commissioner, has suggested that in the absence of Russia’s name on the dotted line, the EU member states should review their own position on the subject. A number of scientists, as we know, have reviewed their position and agreed that Kyoto will do nothing to help the world’s poorer countries while costing a great deal to the developed ones.
In fact, Loyola de Palacio has already expressed some concern, according to Associated Press, that the treaty
“…could unfairly target key industries such as the steel sector, forcing factories to relocate to other parts of the world where environmental rules are less stringent.”Well yes. That is why the United States has refused to sign up and why alarm bells have been sounded by economists as well as scientists.
None of this troubles Green politicians in the slightest. Satu Hassi, a Finnish Green MEP was troubled by Mr Dimas’s responses. They showed, apparently, that the incoming Commission was not very concerned with environmental problems. Whether signing up to Kyoto is being concerned with environmental problems remains questionable.
The problem with Green politicians is that they lack a basic understanding of economic and social developments. It is only rich countries whose economy is doing well who can afford to be overtly worried about environmental matters separately from economic ones. While the EU remains fairly rich, its economic woes, caused to a great extent by the over-regulation inspired by environmental lobbies, are becoming pre-eminent in the leaders’ minds. It seems unlikely that Satu Hassi will comprehend this simple equation.
Next Tuesday afternoon (5 October), in an obscure committee in a meeting room buried deep in the labyrinth of the European Parliament, a group of undistinguished and largely unknown politicians met – an event which, I can predict, will be almost entirely unreported by the popular media.
Yet this will have an enormous significance, as the event will be the meeting of the European Parliament fisheries committee (known in the jargon as "Pech"). Its task will be to interview another undistinguished politician who, by accident of history, is for the next five years to become the European Union commission’s fisheries supremo – Joe Borg, the Maltese commissioner.
It is perhaps unfair to note that this commissioner designate shares his name with a species of fictional aliens in the television series Star Trek, half man, half computers, which terrorise the galaxy by capturing other species and turning them into clones of themselves. Invariably, prior to capturing their unwilling recruits, the Borgs utter their now famous catch-phrase, "Resistance is futile - you will be assimilated".
British fishermen could, nevertheless be forgive for believing that this is precisely the process which they have undergone. A once-proud national fleet has been steadily whittled down to a bare shadow of itself, while measures are finally in hand to integrate (or "assimilate") it into a European Union fleet, bearing the single flag of yellow stars on a blue background.
An important stepping stone in that process is the creation of a single, EU fisheries inspectorate, with its own resources, its own inspectors, and even its own fleet of vessels, and that ambition came that much closer when the European Council approved in principle the Commission’s plans to establish a Fisheries Control Agency in Vigo, Spain – described by Telegraph journalist Charles Cover as the "the world capital of illegal fishing".
This plan came up for scrutiny to the House of Commons on 8 September, before an equally obscure committee, known as the European Standing Committee A. There, fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw sought to convince MPs that this new agency was merely a means to promote "co-ordination and fostering co-operation between Member States".
It was opposed by shadow fisheries minister, Owen Paterson, not because the Conservative Party was against "co-ordination and co-operation" but because he had read the commission’s proposal, known as COM(2003) 130 final – which the minister admitted he had not. There, in black and white, the Commission stated that the agency would "assume leadership in the deployment of means of inspection and surveillance".
In Paterson’s view, that meant that "the new agency will ultimately be the top decision-making body". Mr Bradshaw – despite not having read the crucial document – was quick to deny this claim, but things have now come to a head with choice of Joe Borg as fisheries commissioner.
In his written submission (available though this link) to the Pech committee, he makes no bones about the rôle of the new agency. It is "intended to organise the joint deployment of the means of control and inspection", he writes, in a document that would have been heavily guided by his future officials.
The word "organise" is highly revealing. Its meaning is quite clear: organise means to take charge. It is not, as Mr Bradshaw would have it, "co-ordination" or "fostering co-operation". Neither does it stop there. The Agency will, according to Joe Borg, have to approve "joint deployment plans", on the basis of "identified criteria, benchmarks, priorities and common inspection procedures". By any measure, the Agency will be calling the shots, making it what the Commission itself described as the "controller of the controllers" - the ultimate fisheries enforcement authority.
In addition to this, the Agency will have control of a new EU fisheries monitoring centre, which will use satellite monitoring to track fishing vessels in the waters of EU member states. More than likely, the satellites will be part of the EU’s Galileo and Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) systems, giving it exclusive access to the information needed to monitor fishing vessels. The Agency, therefore, will be best positioned to direct inspection vessels, putting it in the driving seat when it comes to controlling the inspection efforts of member states.
But, according to Borg, the Agency is also considering operating its own fleet of inspection vessels, which it intends to charter and man, charging them out to member states which are willing to use them. Already, the precedent has been set for independent agencies, rather than navies, to patrol fishing grounds, with the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency operating two vessels on fisheries enforcement.
By coincidence, or so it would seem, the seven Royal Navy Island Class fisheries protection vessels are being replaced by three, larger River Class vessels but, unusually, they will not be owned by the Royal Navy. Instead, they have been chartered by the MoD for a remarkably short five years.
With the EU Agency planned to commence operations in 2006, this would rather conveniently mean that three modern patrol vessels will become available shortly after it has become established, and my suspicion is that the current government would be only too pleased to get rid of fisheries enforcement, and hand it over to the EU.
Towards the end of this decade, therefore, we may see grey-painted ships, bearing the blue flag with a ring of stars, manned by EU inspectors, patrolling out seas, guided by an Agency in Spain using EU satellites to direct operations. It is by no means fanciful, either, to suggest that the Agency will operate its own surveillance aircraft – as does the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency – and some will see in these developments an embryonic EU navy and air force.
Although this might be some time in the future, the plans are being laid on the ground, here and now, as the evidence of Commission proposals and Joe Borg’s submission testify. They are momentous changes and they are not being given the attention they deserve. It is time to start ringing alarm bells.
The Times reports today from Washington that a new World Development Report published by the World Bank places the blame for Third World poverty squarely on corrupt governments. Like duh!
“Unfair or unpredictable enforcement of regulations and laws, lack of confidence in courts and weak protection for rights of property ownership are some of the key problems which the Bank found are hitting investment.”No kidding. How long did it take them to find that out? Not only most people have worked it all out long ago, but the prize-winning economist and author, Hernando de Soto summed it all up brilliantly in his 2000 book, The Mystery of Capital.
If the highly paid researchers of the World Bank cannot be bothered to read that remarkable book they can refer back to various blogs here, in which we argued that aid, of which the EU is remarkably fond and remarkably proud, not only does not help Third World countries but, actually, retards their growth by supporting corrupt, authoritarian governments. We shall be returning to that subject soon.
In the meantime, the general rejoicing at the release of the two Italian aid workers from unknown Iraqi captivity has been marred by strong rumours of $1 million ransom paid by the Italian government. This may explain why these two ladies were targeted. The kidnappers clearly thought Berlusconi to be a soft touch. Then again, one can argue that aid workers do serve some purpose: fund raising for various groups in strife-torn countries.
A situation is developing in the Russia with the potential to trigger another BSE-type export ban on British farm produce – only this time the problem is Bovine TB.
The first intimation of this impending disaster came on 30 July when an unannounced "customer information note" was posted on the DEFRA website.
This advised that, with effect from 30 September, the Russian Federation had decided to rescind the current agreement bilateral agreement with the EU on mutual recognition of export health certificates. Instead, Russia was to impose its own specific health requirements, with the crucial difference that it would no longer accept milk and milk products from herd unless they were certified as TB-free.
And, as the DEFRA notice blandly announced, "Exports from EU Member States will stop if Russia and the EU cannot agree certification by then".
Despite this information being posted on the DEFRA site, however, it seems not to have been noticed. Nor was a subsequent posting, this one on 6 September, which reaffirmed Russia’s position is that it no longer wished to allow imports of animals and animal products from individual EU member states using bilaterally agreed export health certificates.
The situation, as it stood, was that the Federation would discuss new certification only with the EU Commission, although it did agree to extend the deadline to 1 January 2005.
Only within the last few days, however, did the British diary industry begin to realise the implications of this hitherto obscure news. Is problem is that, owing to the extraordinary neglect of the current Labour administration, Bovine TB has been allowed to rip through the British dairy herd – largely because of a refusal to control the increasingly infected badger population.
Under current bilateral animal health agreements, however, milk from restricted herds is acceptable as long as it has been pasteurised, but this will no longer be the case once the new arrangements come into force. And, because this milk is bulked with other supplies, it will not be possible to certify that either milk or milk products from British farms are sourced from TB free herds, the UK is looking to have its products banned from Russia.
That, however, is the least of our problems. Owing to the wonders of the Single Market, where our products can be exported freely to EU member states, these is a distinct possibility that, because any dairy products from any EU member states might contain British milk, Russia may well ban all EU dairy products unless there is a guarantee that this milk is excluded.
To protect its trade with Russia – which is extremely important to countries like Poland and Germany - therefore, the EU may well be forced into a position of banning the export of any milk or milk products from the UK, unless guarantees can be given that it is source from TB-free herds – a guarantee, under current conditions, that would be difficult if not impossible to give.
At the very least, the growing number of dairy farmers, whose herds are under TB restriction, might find their milk excluded from the wider market, with the risk of a two-tier pricing structure, where they are paid less for their milk.
But, with this product going only to the domestic market, it is only a matter of time before one or other newspaper gets hold of the story and starts asking why, if milk from TB restricted herds is not acceptable to our EU neighbours, why British consumers are "forced" to drink it.
While the Bovine TB saga has, hitherto, been a domestic issue, it is now creeping up the international agenda and now has the potential to precipitate yet another crisis between Britain and the rest of the EU – all courtesy of the Russian Federation and, of course, our own useless government.
You always know the "other side" is rattled, when they start making personal attacks. That is true in the courtroom where, as an expert witness I was always heartened when the opposing brief started having a go at me personally, and it is just as true in politics.
The wisdom of this, however, has not reached Gary Titley MEP, who gave the address to the Labour Party conference on the European Union, taking as the title for his speech "Only Labour values can take us forward in Europe". The full speech can be read on the Labour Party website, if you can be bothered.
It is worth dissecting the speech, however, not least for its structure, which first offered the ritual thanks for those who worked in the Euro-election campaign, and then expressed regrets that the party did not do better.
Titley than attacked first the Conservatives, who "lost because the electorate got fed up with Michael Howard's opportunism, fed up with his flip-flops, fed up with all the contradictions in his policies", then the "Liberals" – note, not the Lib-Dems - and then, for considerably longer, UKIP – "the BNP with suits and posh accents". And this is what I mean by ad hominem.
They were led into battle by the perma-tanned fallen TV idol Robert Kilroy Silk venturing out from his villa in Spain. They were supported by great has-beens like Geoffrey Boycott and Joan Collins, playing a game of "I used to be a celebrity get me in there". Their message was as much anti-immigration as anti-EU. UKIP is a collection of the paranoid, the obsessive, the little Englanders, the backwoodsmen. Yes, men. All 12 MEPs they elected are middle-aged or elderly men. Gone are the days of the angry young man. Now we just have grumpy old men.In the "mainstream", though, is Titley – or, at least, that is where he wants to position himself. He is a member of a parliament "that is vibrant and exciting" – coo!
They certainly have made a good start in the new parliament. First they dropped one of their MEPs for alleged benefit fraud before he even took his seat. Then another of their members, Godfrey Bloom, came up with a novel solution to all of Europe's problems - women should clean behind the fridge! Now they are showing their great British patriotism by backing Paris for the 2012 Olympics. Frankly, UKIP are simply a sideshow in the Parliament.
Of course, all the members of his party are "determined to work at the heart of this Parliament, - leading the way in finding solutions to the many problems that confront us." and there is no end to the miracles Mr Titley and his colleagues have to perform.
They have to "Create new and better jobs while protecting workers; make Europe's economy more dynamic while safeguarding the environment; have a coherent European response to World crises; reform world trade rules so that they are fair for all; meet the Millennium Development goals; make better European laws, which are easier to understand; and take more effective European action against crime and terrorism.
Wow! And what are they doing after breakfast?
All of this, however, looks a little bit ambitious when you compare it against the record of Titley and his colleagues over the past twelve months, which he proudly cites.
They have: ensured that new city buses are designed with disability access; secured EU investment into key UK infrastructure projects; backed EU funding to fight domestic violence, against Tory opposition; won new rights for air travellers; backed new measures to stop counterfeiting; taken action against rogue traders; given the go ahead for the EU Pakistan association agreement; opened up new opportunities for the British financial services industry; and extended the use of dolphin friendly fishing nets.
This last one is interesting – the so-called "dolphin friendly" fishing nets do not work, which is why Bradshaw sought to ban pair trawling. But never mind, Titley & Co are on the job, and they are proud of it.
On the substantive stuff, however, Titley gets serious, telling the conference that half the people who voted backed "one of the anti-European parties." "Talking to voters during the campaign", he says, "it became clear to me that a new divide has opened up in British politics".
There are those who believe that the best response to the insecurities of globalisation is to hide away in our houses, lock our windows and doors, turn out the lights and hope the rest of the world goes away. And then there are those like us who believe we have to grasp the opportunities of globalisation and counter its threats by building an outward looking agenda based on international cooperation. This is not just about Europe. It is about all our politics and values. It is the battle that we shall be fighting in the general election and in the referendum on the European Constitution. It is a battle we must win.There we have it – the "anti-Europeans" are "little Englander" isolationists, while the brave "Europeans" are reaching out to meet the challenge of globalisation. And how does he propose to meet it? Firstly, "Only by embracing constant reform…". Oh, dear God.
Secondly, "our success will be measured by our ability to deliver jobs for all our citizens and security for their families. That requires a strong and growing economy. To achieve that, Europe must embrace economic reform. But we cannot build prosperity by driving down workers rights or cutting public services as the political right demand. We must invest in the knowledge, initiative and energy of hard working people."
Er… that’s reform as well.
That leads to "our third principle" - social justice. Ah, yes, social justice. "All our citizens must get the chance to fully utilise their talents…". All of them? Whatever their talents? Mmmm.
I can’t stand much more, because the next is "an active state", although he doesn’t state which state, if you take my point. But one guesses it’s "Europe", because he goes on to say that Europe should follow the recommendations of the former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, who has called for more incentives to make work pay and for more direct help for people to find work.
And finally… "We must guarantee an open society." "The anti-foreigner, the anti-immigration, the blatant racism that we saw from some parties in the European Elections was not only a national disgrace it is the recipe for destroying our country."
Mercifully, he is all but finished, closing with this stirring peroration:
Yes, Mr Titley. Next please.
Conference, the next two years will see a fierce battle over the sort of Britain and the sort of Europe we want in the future. It is a battle we must win because only Labour values will give us the prosperity, freedom and opportunity we all cherish.
There really is something odious about fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw - something creepy and dishonest in a way that puts him in a class of his own.
Having had a rebuff from the EU commission when, at the beginning of this month, he asked it to ban pair trawling off the South West in order to reduce the carnage amongst the cetacean population, yesterday he announced that he was going ahead with a unilateral ban.
This, we understand from Charles Clover’s piece in today’s Daily Telegraph was revealed by the odious Bradshaw at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, whence he also informed his no doubt adoring audience that with would apply only to vessels within the British 12-mile limit.
Yet, anyone who knows that fishery, and anything of the Dolphin by-catch problem, will also know that by far the majority of deaths occur in the waters outside the 12-mile limit, and are largely attributable to the large, French trawlers which exploit the Bass fishery.
And, if there is anyone who should know that, it is Ben Bradshaw. Thus, his "unilateral ban" will affect a limited number of small British boats, have no effect whatsoever on the French, and not reduce Dolphin deaths one whit. This is simple gesture politics of the worst kind, largely aimed at giving the impression that our fisheries minister still has some power, when anything that matters has gone to the EU.
Almost as bad as Bradshaw were the token conservationists. Phyllis Campbell-McRae of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which organised the fringe meeting, actually congratulated Bradshaw on taking a "tough decision". Ali Ross of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said that it was "a very important political gesture" and Joan Edwards, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "I'm really pleased", although she did add that "the same number of dolphins are going to be caught next year unless similar action is taken within the Common Fisheries Policy." Too right dear.
It actually took the BBC, rather than the all-knowing Charles Clover, to give voice to a dissenter, in the form of Jim Portus, from the South Western Fish Producers' Organisation.
Rightly, he said it was a tiny step which would have little impact, making exactly the point we made in our earlier Blogs on the subject, that Bradshaw’s action simply proved "…how powerless the minister is in Brussels when clearly the only answer is an international regulation to seek protection of the dolphin stocks." "I don't think it will actually have any impact whatsoever on the dolphin population," he added.
And it was not only Portus. Lindy Hingley, from Brixham Seawatch, said it was a welcome step but ""It really won't save many dolphins lives at all."
The Scotsman also weighed in with a robust statement from environmental charity Greenpeace, whose spokesman said Bradshaw’s move would achieve "next to nothing" because very little trawling takes place within the 12-mile zone. Willie MacKenzie, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, said: "Bradshaw may as well have announced a ban on pair trawling in village ponds for all the dolphins this meaningless decision will save."
Even the RSPCA, not known for its concern for animal welfare, warned that dolphins would continue to die unless the EU follows the UK’s lead. Laila Sadler, scientific officer with the animal charity, said: "We cannot forget that the UK bass fishery, which is killing dolphins in its trawls, consists of just four boats while the French fishery may have up to 20 in the area. "Indeed", she observed, "the peak of dolphin deaths corresponds to high levels of fishing by other European boats."
So where does that leave Bradshaw? In the DEFRA press release he says, "I have always maintained that we must take firm action to reduce injury and death to dolphins from this fishery… The UK Government has been at the forefront of the campaign within Europe to encourage Member States to act jointly to protect the wider marine environment. Indeed, I am grateful for the European Commission's recent commitment to find the means to reduce dolphin by-catch".
This is dishonesty sans frontiers.
Apparently, yesterday was European Day of Languages. If you did not notice it, never mind, there will be another one soonish. Every day seems to be European or International Day of something or other. There used to be diaries and calendars that listed them all but it is not really possible to do so. Not only the Days are double-booked but they are also overwritten by Weeks of Something Worthy, Months of Something Else Desperately Notable and even Years of Completely Different Politically Correct Issues.
One person, needless to say, noticed and that was the egregious Dennis McShame. He made a speech. Not a long speech but not a very coherent one either. He started off, as is his wont, with an exhortation to the sluggish British:
“A monolingual Britain will not prosper in a globalised economy, let alone make our way as a leading nation in Europe. Not everyone in the world speaks English and it is folly for Britain to turn its back on the need to improve our abilities to speak other tongues.”The trouble with that argument is that it leads nowhere. As it happens, people who want to get on in the globalised economy, do speak English, because that is what might be termed the lingua franca at the moment and for the foreseeable future. The only organization that still produces everything in French first is the European Union and, even before enlargement eastward, English was the second language of preference for most people in it. With the new East European countries as members, English has become the language of preferred usage. And, in any case, in the globalised economy the European Union is not going very far.
Nor is British refusal to learn languages (by and large, since this country has also produced some of the best linguists in the world) a new problem. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace, the first Foreign Editor of the Times and the greatest expert on Russia at the time, complained that British businessmen were not taking proper advantage of Russia’s astonishing growth because, unlike their German counterparts, they did not learn the language well enough to find out what the Russians were really saying. Reality, in the unwelcome guise of American dominance, has since then caught up with the British.
Just to show that he misunderstands everything not just the European Union, Mr McShame has this to say about the United States:
“The United States is becoming a bilingual nation with Spanish rising as its second language.”Errr no. There is a problem with some of the Hispanic population of the United States in that, unlike previous immigrants, they do not want to learn English and do not want to assimilate. The reasons are too long to go into now, but one of the problems has been, needless to say, government money provided for bilingual teaching, health care, whatever. This has now been recognized as a problem, rather than a virtue, which is a pity, as knowing other languages is quite a good idea. Those Hispanics who want to prosper in the United States do as all the other groups and learn English, perhaps continuing the speaking of Spanish at home. Those who do not, are doomed to stay in low paid, low prospect jobs. In fact, the so-called Hispanic revolution has harmed the cause of language learning in the United States, which manages to remain at the top of the tree with English.
The point is that Mr McShame is incapable of providing good reasons for learning languages because all he wants to do is discourage people from thinking that English is the most important language in the world. But it is. For all of that, learning other languages is a good idea.
Unfortunately, at the same time as Mr McShame extolled the fact that children start learning languages that they will never be able to speak, if past experience is anything to go by, at primary school level, several newspapers noted that new rules allow pupils to drop languages at 14 and are being taken advantage of with great enthusiasm. Three in ten 16 year-olds will have given up languages by the time they get to that stage, with numbers rising in schools with higher free meal entitlement. (The chances are, of course, that in those schools the teaching of languages is so abysmal as to destroy any possibility of anybody continuing with their study.)
Stephen Twigg, the Schools Minister, pointed out rather proudly that half of the primary schools were now teaching languages, without going too deeply into how they were doing it, and added:
"We do not want to go back to the old days when we tried to force feed languages to 15-year-olds who had no aptitude or interest."A fair point but an odd one to build a curriculum on, as 15-year-olds are not known for their aptitude or interest in anything academic.
Here we have another fine example of that joined-up thinking that this government is so famous for. On the one hand, they have a Minister for Europe telling us that we must learn languages or we shall perish (or something like that); on the other hand, we have educational policies that encourage children not to learn anything, and, in particular, not to learn foreign languages.
To be fair, we also seem to have a spokesperson for the National Centre for Languages, who seems incapable of explaining why learning them is a good idea:
“We are concerned that languages are being seen as elitist when in fact they need to be seen very much as part of vocational training. We need to have chefs who speak French, engineers who speak German and estate agents who speak Spanish just as much as we need linguists and translators.”Why learning anything should be seen as elitist, when it is the exact opposite is a bit of a mystery, but that’s educationalists for you. In addition, Ms Moore seems to have a somewhat old-fashioned view of what various nationalities do and why one needs to be able to communicate with people from them.
Her comments remind me of a conversation I had with a thirteen-year old ten years or so ago. She was starting on Spanish and showed me her textbook. I knew that grammar and vocabulary were no longer part of the curriculum but I was rather surprised to find that textbooks were little more than collections of phrases about swimming pools, single and double rooms, breakfasts and other meals.
When I commented on the fact that this did not seem to be all that different from the average tourist handbook, my interlocutor asked me what other reason was there for learning Spanish. Presumably, she had been told this by her teachers, which makes one think that the gradual disappearance of language teaching from English schools is no big deal. Nobody ever managed to learn anything in those lessons. Those who see a reason for reading or speaking another one, two or more languages will do so. Most of us would settle for teachers who could teach English.
However, I can think of at least one excellent reason for learning other languages. I doubt if Mr McShame would ever use it, though. The fact is that knowledge of other languages gives you an understanding of other people. And the knowledge of European languages gives an understanding of Europe, its countries and their history. Anyone who has that understanding in any measure at all finds the idea of a European Union stupid and ridiculous as well as dangerous. Which makes me think that Mr McShame’s famous linguistic ability may not be quite as great as some people make out.
In a gushing piece in the Independent yesterday, we learn that "Green guilt" is set to transform Britain's throwaway society. Britain, according to this august newspaper, is "rubbish" when it comes to recycling, "but now a £10m campaign aims to change the country's attitudes towards waste".
This is the Independent’s report on "a revolution in the making" brought about, we are told because "the throwaway society" has run out of holes in the ground to bury its waste. We need "a great new national habit", to which effect the government has launched the biggest campaign yet to promote recycling in Britain, spending ten million pounds on a series of national television advertisements and local council publicity.
All good Greenie stuff it seems – like motherhood and apple pie, who can possibly be against recycling, and it's so last century burying stuff in the ground. In any case, all those nice well-ordered and regimented foreigners from northern Europe, such as the Dutch and Germans, have been doing it for years, so we too should get in the act.
But, unlike the BBC, which carried the same report, the Independent does recognise that this bit of Greenery is driven by EU law – to whit the Landfill Directive.
Much of the extensive clean-up of Britain's environment in the past 15 years has been driven by Brussels legislation and the EU landfill directive is yet another example: it will put a legally binding halt to Britain's long love of dumping. It requires that, by 2010, rubbish disposed of in dumps be reduced to 75 per cent of the 1995 level, and by 2020, to 35 per cent.And to achieve these huge reductions, there are only two “realistic” options: a vast rise in incineration or a massive increase in recycling. And, as has already been noted in this Blog, huge refuse incinerators are hardly popular, so the government has opted for recycling.
But what does not seem to have penetrated the collective brain of the Independent, or Greenies generally, is that producer-driven recycling schemes do not work.
There is a limited market for recovered materials and, if that market is swamped by excessive amounts of material, it simply drives the price down, making recycling prohibitively expensive. If there is gross over-supply, the market collapses entirely. You end up having to store mountains of expensive salvage – as happened in Germany – or dumping the material in landfill, which is already happening.
The intelligent way to promote recycling, on the other hand, is to use fiscal measure – tax breaks and the rest – creating a market first, so that collecting and processing the material is profitable. Then, the system driver itself without the need for expensive municipal schemes and exqually expensive promotion.
The ultimate irony, however, is that – despite the propaganda – we are not actually short of "holes in the ground". In fact, it is one of those myths that you need a hole in the ground to landfill. A controlled tip can just as easily be situated on flat ground, with the waste “contoured” to create landscape features. "Controlled tipping" is a perfectly adequate means of disposal. And, until the EU banned that as well, there was always the option of controlled dumping at sea, where waste could be used for land reclamation and for strengthening sea defences.
We have a situation, therefore, where the EU has actually prohibited a perfectly acceptable form of waste disposal and at the same time has introduced an unworkable producer-driven recycling regime, for which the UK must pay through the nose in a forlorn attempt to make it work.
The £10 million which the government is thus paying for its promotion campaign is thus a down payment in what will become an increasingly costly burden, as the government struggles to meet arbitrary targets dictated by an unworkable system. That £10 million, therefore, and the billions more that we are going to have spend, represents not an investment in improving the environment. Simply, it is a hidden cost of EU membership.
They may be on opposite wings of the Party, but they both have the same (bad) ideas when it comes to the EU.
The one is Ed Balls, Gordon Brown's closest adviser, who last night told a fringe meeting organised by the New Policy Network that he wanted to enhance “the legitimacy, accountability and understanding of European decisions". To that effect, he argued that British MPs should be allowed to question individual commissioners and other senior EU officials.
The other is Blairite Stephen Byres, who put exactly the same idea in a piece in the Observer last August, which we dealt with in an earlier Blog.
Predictably, the idea has not improved with age, which has not stopped the Guardian remarking in its own report that Balls' suggestions "would mark a major change in the way that European commissioner…are held accountable." Clearly, the newspaper, in common with Ed and Steve, does not understand the difference between accountability and scrutiny.
Hauling a commissioner up in front of a Commons select committee - or, if Balls had his way, Wim Duisenberg, the president of the European Central Bank – and asking them questions is a process of scrutiny, and a relatively ineffective one at that. It does not make them accountable if, at the end of the process, Parliament has no power to require changes to be made.
Then, even if this process could increase the "legitimacy" of the EU – which is unlikely – Balls seems to think that commissioners should be given greater powers, to achieve politically determined targets, which would have the opposite effect of that which he appears to be seeking.
An observer at the fringe, who managed to question Balls on this and other aspects of the EU gained the impression that neither he nor his boss, Brown, were really Eurosceptics. Whether that is the case remains to be seen – even if I rather tend to agree. But what was is absolutely certain is that, whether it is Brownite Ed or Blairite Steve, they both talk the same load of Balls.
As we have discussed several times on this blog, it is easy to miss news if you rely on the main-stream media. So here is an update of politics in Germany and France.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, Chancellor Schröder’s Social-Democrats went down by only 2 per cent, while the Christian Democrats lost seven points off their 1999 vote total. Not very dramatic and quite similar to the sort of developments we have seen in this country. The government is not popular but the opposition seems unable to capitalize on that.
In France, on the other hand, President Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement has lost five seats in the Senate, forfeiting its majority. Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin has won a seat. You can have a strange collection of elected and unelected positions in France, so M Raffarin will not need to resign. However, there has been some talk that, as Prime Minister, he is on the way out. He will not have to leave the corridors of power.
Meanwhile, Chirac’s challenger in waiting, Nicolas Sarkozy has said in an interview that Turkey could become member of the EU only after there has been a referendum on the subject in France. Interestingly, he did not say anywhere else in the EU. Perhaps, it did not occur to him. No-one seems to mind nationalism if it emanates from the French.
M Sarkozy added that we could not even think of Turkish membership for fifteen years or more. Prime Minister Raffarin said something similar last week, mentioning the large Muslim population of Turkey as being a problem. There are not many ways of solving that.
There are several reasons why major EU governments should be against Turkish membership. The one they always bring up is the issue of human rights, but that is becoming more and more difficult to use, especially as the Turkish parliament has finally passed the legal reforms, without adding the controversial criminalization of adultery.
Then there is the question of money, not much spoken of, since the shabby treatment of the East Europeans is becoming more and more obvious.
The problem of so many Muslims is clearly uppermost in French minds. The fonctionnaires and intellectuels of that country are already going through another agonizing self-examination process, triggered off by the undoubted dilution of their influence in the EU with the recent wave of enlargement. Despite spending large sums of money on Institutes Françaises and language teaching in the applicant states, France has had the humiliation of watching them all take to English with the greatest of ease.
Finally, there is the great unmentionable, though, like all unmentionables, it is discussed off the record: foreign policy attitudes. France has been labouring for years to construct a common European foreign policy, which would, by a strange coincidence, resemble French foreign policy. Success has always eluded her and the situation has been made worse by the entry of ten new members, eight of whom look to the United States and, to a lesser degree, Britain as the countries that helped them in their many hours of need and who are likely to help others now. In short, they are not anti-American and are uneasy about Franco-German games with Russia. Turkey, too, is pro-American on the whole and suspicious of Russia. Should that country ever come anywhere near membership of the European Union, the French dream of a “European” foreign policy to counterbalance the “arrogant” Americans (coming from the French?) will vanish in a puff of smoke.
Some of our readers may recall our Blog on 6 September reporting on the Mori survey which found that Blair could be a liability in the referendum campaign on the EU constitution.
What we did not say was that the full analysis was contained in a report produced by the Foreign Policy Centre, which is available from its website.
But the report itself is much more than an opinion survey. Entitled "The Referendum Battle", it also sets out, from the Europhile perspective, the steps needed to win the referendum. As such, it is the basis of the "yes" side’s campaign guide which, for "no" campaigners, makes it essential reading.
There is an odd little editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe today. Entitled A Trojan Horse, it deals with the rather perplexing reaction to the unsurprising revelation that Greece had “cooked the books” to get into the euro.
So unsurprising was it that “the euro barely budged” on the day this staggering piece of information was made public (together with the other equally staggering piece of information that what with Olympics and one or two other things like not putting large expenditure into the budget, Greece was seriously over the supposed 3 per cent limit on deficit).
So the financial market does not care, which is not suprising, as the editorial notes, since Greece is hardly a top league player in it. The fact that Italy and France, to name but two, had also “finangled [their] way into euroland” is not mentioned in the piece, but cannot be far from the minds of those financiers.
On the other hand, there seemed to be unexpected political squalls in response to the Greek announcement, with Jean-Claude Trichet, whose appointment to the European Central Bank Presidency, could also be said to have been finangled, tore his hair out metaphorically, announced that this was a “real enormous problem” and euro-zone interest rates might have to rise now that the cat is out of the bag.
Some national politicians have also fainted with the horror of it all. But, there it is, the financial markets remained steady. What conclusion are we to draw from it all, apart from the fact that French bankers may be too excitable for their own good?
Commendably, the WSJE tries to be stern about it all, while many of us simply snigger:
“The EU already has a credibility problem over its excessive-deficit procedures following the Franco-German power play over their deficits last year. Now it appears that even the numbers on which those deficit procedures are based may not be credible in every case. In combination, the two episodes suggest a situtation in which the EU’s attempts to impose fiscal discipline on euro-zone members are one by one being exposed as feckless, hence the vehemence of the institutional reaction to the Greek scandal. Those responsible for the euro seem to be aware that this succession of embarrassments can continue for only so long before people begin to ask seriously whether something is well and truly broken in Euroland.”Quite so. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quip about nobody being so heartless as not to laugh at the death of Little Nell.
In what seems closer to Communist-era control over media reporting, official reports on the agricultural situation in Poland spew out glowing stories of good fortune – while, according to local reports, the situation – which was already troubled - is deteriorating rapidly.
The industry has recently suffered a major blow when, on 1 September, Russia closed its borders to Polish milk and milk products after introducing new, stricter disease control measures, ostensibly aimed at reducing the risk of spreading bovine TB and brucellosis. It then required inspection certificates from the Russian Veterinary Ministry before exports could resume.
Mysteriously, however, these inspections have been postponed and fewer inspectors than anticipated will be now be sent out, prolonging the inspection process in what are regarded as stalling tactics aimed at protecting Russia's domestic dairy industry.
Meantime, Polish farmers – already wilting under the onslaught of cheaper products flooding in from their better-subsidised and more productive EU neighbours - have had a bad summer and a poor harvest, with the maize crop suffering particularly.
An early winter is now upon the country and increasingly desperate farmers have been relying on promises of relief from the EU, with early payments of the first tranche of CAP subsidies, which were not originally due until 1 December.
It appears, however, that application forms produced by the Polish government have been made deliberately complicated, in an attempt to dissuade farmers from applying for the money – which they hoped would be paid on 1 October.
Enter Andrzej Lepper, leader of the Self Defence party who, with the assistance of British consultants, ensured that the farmers were able to complete the forms. The startling and – for the government – unexpected result has been that all the forms were submitted on time. And only now is the real truth coming out: there was no money in the kitty to pay them their early subsidies.
Well away from the capital Warsaw – for the moment - and mostly confined to the southern provinces, and thus well away from the eyes of Western journalists, it appears that farmers are on the point of rioting, protesting that they were led to join the EU under false pretences.
And, as the situation continues to deteriorate, the official media spews out glowing stories of good fortune…
What does a MEP do when he is kicked out at the election – apart from line up at the bank to draw his Euro-pension?
Well, if your name is Bryan Cassidy, former Tory MEP for the South West – and you lost your cushy number in 1999 when UKIP took one of its first seats – you get yourself appointed as a member of the European Economic and Social Committee. You then front highly lucrative "high-level business briefings" in Brussels for a leading conference organiser, telling them how the EU works.
For this prestigious service, the delegates are charged £999 a throw (plus VAT) and, to make sure they think they're getting their money's worth, you get EU fonctionnaires to give some of the lectures. You then throw in a tour of the European parliament, with a reception and dinner, hosted by some of your old mates who managed to keep their seats.
Nice work if you can get it.
Latest in a long line of Euro-luvvies, trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt has warned of the dangers of allowing campaigning on the EU constitution to drift. "We absolutely need to make the case for Europe," she pleaded in an interview yesterday on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby politics show.
Yet, apart from the inane intervention by Jack Straw at a Labour conference fringe last night, there is absolutely nothing on the official programme which indicates the European Union is at all going to be an issue. Apart from what might be incidental references in the prime minister's speech, the conference looks like being an EU-free zone.
Mz Hewitt, on the other hand, would like to see campaigning for the constitution ratcheted up now, arguing that it would be dangerous to leave it until after the general election.
But she is almost certainly going to be disappointed. Blair is almost certainly relying on the same strategy he employed in 1997. Then, under pressure from the Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, the promise of a post-election referendum on the euro served to neutralise the issue. Similarly, the primary purpose of the constitutional referendum is to neutralise "Europe" as an issue during the forthcoming general election.
This "take" is effectively confirmed by reports from "Downing Street insiders" who state that Mandelson favours delaying the campaingn until after the election. Mandelson is said to fear that "a long campaign will bore the public altogether," but the greater concern must surely be that "Europe" as an election issue plays badly for Labour and will give UKIP a toehold on which to campaign.
A leader who is supposedly the most "pro-Europe" in a generation is, therefore, having to hold back on his protestations of support – not so much a question of unrequited love, as the love that dare not speak its name.
My colleague and I have been accused by some readers of not being unbiased on the subject of the European Union. There is, of course, no such thing as unbiased journalism. If nothing else, bias shows in the choice of stories and the importance allotted to them.
We also find it hard to understand how one can be unbiased on something like the European Union or the planned Constitution. Either you are in favour of that heavy-handed (in every sense of the word) document that seeks to control minutely every aspect of our existence or you are not. It is not as if this colossal text resembled the American Constitution that tried simply to define the relationship between the people and the state or between the various parts of government. You can argue about the merits and demerits of certain structures and be reasonably unbiased about it all, even though none of thecontemproary publications or journals were that.
In the spirit of our electronic media, though, we proudly proclaim ourselves to be unbiased or balanced in our coverage. Whenever, say, the BBC used to be reproached for giving a one-sided view on the EU, they would reply indignantly that they had representatives of all the major parties taking part in the dicussion. The fact that they were all europhile representatives, did not abash the great and the good of the Beeb at all. (They have, recently, changed somewhat.)
Well, we, too, shall have representatives of all the parties on our blog. We are happy to attack all of them, irrespective of their allegiance. And this is the season to do it in – the party conference season, when under pretence of good will and love for all their political brethren a good deal of stupid viciousness brews. With too much food eaten, too much drink consumed, too many people who do not see each other and have no opinion of each other having to spend several days constantly in each other’s company, it is a wonder that more crimes are not committed in those seaside resorts during the second half of September and early October.
My colleague has already dealt with the Lib-Dims and their shenanigans. I shall fire the first salvoes at the Labour Party. At today’s fringe meetings we have had two luminaries, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former Foreign Secretary, former Leader of the House and present nothing very much Robin Cook, assuring their audience that the EU Constitution was a very good thing and, with a little bit of effort, could be imposed on the British people … woops … I mean, the referendum could be won with a little effort.
Sadly, there they stop agreeing with each other. For they favour the Constitution for different reasons. Robin Cook, as behoves the voice of the Left, is calling for a strong “Europe” to counterbalance America. This is what he told the Observer, in preparation to addressing Britain in Europe:
“The Bush administration is showing a missionary zeal to remake the world in the mould of Texas: if Europe wants to avoid that fate, it's got to be strong. The lesson of the last four years is that when Europe is divided its views can be ignored and when Europe is weak its values can be undermined. The world needs a strong Europe arguing with one clear voice for respect for international law.”Setting aside the questionable assumption of Bush and his administration of rather varied background wanting to remake anything in the mould of Texas, or even what that might be (Lots of space? High standard of living? People saying what they think?), his assumption that “Europe” can or should provide a counterbalance is distinctly odd.
What is that counterbalance, precisely? What is Europe’s opinion? There is a reason why it is divided on issues and the reason is that the different countries have different interests and different attitudes to the world. The one thing we have not been able to discern through the various crises of the last few years: the Balkans, the war against terror, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on, is a specifically European point of view, despite those many attempts to describe a rather vague European attitude.
And if it does not have a point of view, it cannot counterbalance America. But this sort of ill-digested gobbledygook plays well with the left of the Labour Party, which is notoriously sceptical about the European project. Whether it is the left that will attend the fringe meeting of Britain in Europe is questionable.
Jack Straw, on the other hand, takes a different line. He is not worried about the Constitution. Come the day, the people of Britain will see sense and ratify this amazing document that will give them all the political advantage they can think of and many they cannot.
“I am comfortable as to where the battle lines on this issue have been drawn and, if we can remain united and resolute I am confident that we will win.”Why is he so comfortable with the battle lines, that no one else has discerned yet? Because the constitutional treaty will reaffirm the British people’s support for the EU. The British people, according to Mr Straw, want the EU
“…to be more responsive to their needs, to be more accountable to them and to their representatives and, crucially to be more effective at delivering on the real issues that they care about such as jobs, the environment and crime”.Really? We have been told repeatedly that “Europe” was a non-issue with most voters, who were more interested in matters such as jobs and crime, possibly the environment. Now we are told that those are precisely the issues that are part of “Europe”. But wait a minute. Was criminal justice not one of those famous red lines? The EU is now going to deal with the problems of law and order in this country? Has the police been told? Has David Blunkett?
When it comes to jobs, Mr Straw is not exactly onto a winner. It is true that various articles in the Constitution hand economic policy over to the EU, or define what sort of economic decisions can be taken (hardly what a constitution should be about) but all these do is to entrench the old social-democratic model that the EU is so desperate to promote as the new European way of thinking. So far, it has caused chronic economic stagnation and equally chronic unemployment in numerous Continental countries. Is that what the EU will deliver on the real issue of employment?
Most of all, however, one needs to ask again and with increased urgency the following: if the reason for voting in the EU Constitution is that it will deliver on all these purely domestic issues, what exactly is the purpose of, well, Mr Straw, for instance? What are our ministers and MPs supposed to deal with if all the issues that they argued on the doorstep and in their manifestos in the last election, will be the same issues that we shall be voting on in the referendum next year? Has Mr Straw thought this through any more carefully than Mr Cook has?
Of all the issues in all the world, and it comes to this. Jealous of Germany's voting power in the Council of Europe – which under the proposed constitution, rests on its population base – Italy is now trying to cut its rival down to size - by more than 7m people.
This is Berlusconi's latest idea for giving his country a bigger say. Instead of measuring – for the purpose of reckoning voting strength – the actual number of people who live in a member state, our Silvio wants the measurement to be based on citizenship.
Because Germany has probably the toughest citizenship laws in Europe, with notoriously tough standards to be met for acquiring a German passport, its 82m nominal population includes 7.3m "foreigners" who do not hold citizenship and therefore would not count in the reckoning of EU Council votes.
Even in the ranks of EU member states, however, this was regarded as a particularly stupid idea, and it was quickly slapped down during a private meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels last week, not least because it was strongly opposed by Germany and EU lawyers.
But the fact that it could even be suggested, and then earnestly discussed by the seried ranks of the ambassadors of Europe (the EU, actually, but it sounds better that way) shows just how low supposed statesmen have sunk in their bids to get one over their rivals.
And to think we deride the college of cardinals for once debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
Somewhat belatedly, we have finally got down to looking at this week’s Booker column, a process somewhat delayed by the inordinate time it took to write the piece on the special relationship.
Not entirely coincidentally, Booker picks up this same theme in his second story, which the subs have kindly given the headline, "How to lose old friends". It refers to our piece on the Green Paper on Defence Procurement and our earlier piece on the White Paper on space policy, both of which deal with issues which are pulling the UK further into the maw of the EU common defence and security policy.
But what Booker has noted is that Tory defence spokesman, Gerald Howarth MP has taken up the issue and has tabled a series of probing parliamentary questions put last week to the Secretary of State for Defence, is trying to make the Government come clean about the immense military implications of the EU's proposed Galileo satellite system.
And, as Booker writes – and out readers need no reminding - "this could be the final straw in ending Britain's close defence alliance with the United States."
On the other hand, Booker’s "picture story" deals with another facet of the EU - a surreal dispute between HM Customs and Excise and the charity running a Cotswolds opera company, which is having to face a £60,000 VAT bill – some of it retrospective - because one of its trustees offered to underwrite its losses.
This is entirely as a result of HM Customs and Excise interpreting the requirements of "the second indent of Article 13(2)(a) of the EC 6th VAT Directive", which states that for VAT purposes charities must be administered "by persons who have no direct or indirect interest" in "the result of the activities concerned" – under which diktat, a willingness to underwrite losses is deemed to be a financial interest.
Since the proceeds of the opera house go to charitable causes, my wife remarked that there should be a special place in hell for the people who devised this diabolical instrument. Then, on the other hand, why reserve it just for them?
Booker also deals with the Neil Herron’s enterprise, in serving a writ on Prescott over the misleading government information booklet on the North East region elected assembly, and adds a delicious twist to the story of the rival NESNO (North East Says No) campaign, run by the Tories, noting that, since one of NESNO’s objections to any assembly is that it will not be given enough powers, it has been dubbed the "YESNO" campaign".
The column concludes with an update on the Eursoc poll, noting that it was running at 76 percent in favour of the Falkland Islands for the permanent seat of the European parliament. The poll currently stands (Sunday evening) at 85 percent – and it is still not too late to vote.
In the Spectator this week, the lead article is given over to telly historian and fount of all wisdom on things historical, the one and only Niall Ferguson. He uses the space to discuss Britain’s "special relationship" with the United States, and concludes that the Anglo-American alliance is living on borrowed time. "Britain has much more in common with Europe" than the United States", he writes.
One hesitates to take on such an august and revered personality. From such a low position as occupied by this Blogger, it is almost like lèse majesté. But when you read the article, it turns out to be such utter tosh that the temptation to have a go at it is irresistible – so here goes. The subject is important, as it defines not only where we are with the US but where we are going with the European Union.
One has to start right at the beginning with this article though, as Ferguson starts his thesis with the rather pretentious statement: "Tony Blair and George W. Bush are perfect partners - Christian soldiers armed with Bibles and bazookas…". One is always so suspicious of trixy alliteration to make a point that one cannot let it pass.
Don’t know about the bible, but the US and British armies have long since stopped using "bazookas". Following the M-72 LAW – commonly known as the "66", after its calibre – the US moved on to equip with the AT-4, while the British selected the MBT LAW to replace the ageing LAW-80 system. None of these weapons is ever called a "bazooka".
I labour the point because it makes a point. People who do not know their terminology and use inappropriate terms are very often betraying an intellectual laziness. It is little clues like using an obsolete name for an obsolete weapon, long discarded, that reveals an awful lot about Ferguson.
Anyhow, Ferguson then has it that the Blair-Bush partnership - and the fact that, politically, both partners have survived the Iraq war - indicates that nothing can dent the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States". But this speculation is very much qualified by the word "seems".
Having raised the issue, however, Ferguson leaves it hanging and dives off at a tangent to address an equally fascinating question: "was and is Britain's support for American policy in our national interest?" He then elides that with an altogether different question, asking us to "consider the balance of advantage within the special relationship."
And arguing that these are different questions is not pedantic. With or without a special relationship, we could find ourselves supporting (or not) American policy. Furthermore, the "special relationship" is neither an alliance nor a commitment, and cannot so easily be weighed in the balance. In many ways, it just "is" – like seeking the end of a rainbow, as you get close to it, it disappears. It does not admit to close scrutiny.
But Ferguson does try to do just that, and fails. He cites Bush "almost prophetically" telling members of his National Security Council, "Two years from now only the Brits may be with us." According to Ferguson, Bush sensed that if the United States went to war against Iraq as well as Afghanistan, Britain alone could be relied upon for meaningful support. "And he was right," claims Ferguson.
The thing is, he wasn’t. Even over the past six months, the Canadians committed 11,000 troops to the campaign in Afghanistan and, as my colleague points out, even France and Germany are reluctantly contributing and the international security assistance force consists of 35 countries. The force in Iraq consists of troops from 29 countries.
But Ferguson focuses only on Britain, which delivers military support and "high class rhetoric". He then asks what does British get from the special relationship? To his own rhetorical question, he offers his own answer: the special relationship is, effectively, a linkage between the elites of two countries, military, commercial and political. That is all, and there is nothing of substance in it that guarantees the endurance of a strategic alliance between them.
Here, one can only comment that the man who writes about "bazookas" simply does not know what he is talking about. All you have to do is look at our military forces, and the US forces. For a start, the two share so much of the same tactical doctrines that they are virtually inseparable – the similarities being evident in the very equipment both armies use.
Does Ferguson think that the fact that our two different main battle tanks – the Challenger and the Abrams – are essentially the same in performance and capability is an accident? Is it a coincidence that the British FV432 APC is but a copy of the US M113, or that the Bradley and Warrior MICVs are virtually identical, and that FRES and FCS stem from the same strategic concept? The equipment belies the purpose, the purpose belies the thinking and the thinking is the same.
The Royal Marines train alongside the US Marines, the SBS train alongside the Seals, the SAS alongside the US Special Forces, RAF pilots alongside USAF pilots. Ditto Navy personnel, where cross-postings on nuclear submarines are an essential part of the manning rostas.
Both forces have an active programme of exchange postings, so that a US-badged aircraft could just as easily have a British as an American pilot. We share equipment, intelligence and, at a strategic level, work as one. The early warning system in Fylingdales is part of the US network of global early warning radars, the AWACs system is an integral part of the US system – and uses US equipment. US fighters based in Britain form an integral part of the British air defence system.
In fact, when the Tornado MRCA project was delayed – the fruits of another European co-operative venture – and the RAF ended up flying combat aircraft with concrete ballast in their noses instead of working radar sets, apart from a few squadrons of Vietnam era F-4 Phantoms, the only effective air defence in the UK was the USAF F-15 fighter wing flying out of Lakenheath.
But ignorance is a wonderful thing when you want to make a point, and Ferguson relies on it heavily. "The interests of the United States and the United Kingdom have in fact been divergent for many decades," he writes. Really? Marshall Plan? Cold War? Post-Communist reconstruction of Europe? Yugoslavia? War against Terror? These are divergent interests?
Different interests indeed we have had, and do have, not least the understandable preoccupation of the US with China and the Pacific, and the difference in stance between the US and the UK over our possession of colonies. But there have always been enough common interests to keep us together.
Nevertheless, even our "togetherness" Ferguson distorts. "The British for their part were almost equally slow to grasp that reliance on the Americans for military technology would swiftly lead to dependence," he writes. "The cancellation of the Skybolt missile system in 1962 was just one milestone on the road to a military subordination the French were able to avoid".
Where do you start with this? When Skybolt went down, we got Polaris missiles and, to make them operational, we built our own nuclear submarines, thereby acquiring a credible independent nuclear deterrent. The French built Mirage IVs as their delivery system, an aircraft with a range that could just get it to Berlin. To reach Moscow, it needed air-refuelling, for which the Force de Frappe was totally dependent on US-built KC135 tankers.
This is the trouble with these pieces. Error heaps upon error, and deconstructing them takes much longer than the original text. But, even if the point is now made, we must cement Ferguson into his (literary) grave for his comments on the British entry to the EEC. He writes:
It was precisely the unreliability of the United States — not only as an ally but also as an export market — that gradually convinced Britain’s political elite that they must abandon the Churchillian dream of a bilateral Atlantic partnership in favour of a new special relationship (in the first instance economic) with the signatories of the Treaty of Rome. Thus Britain’s entry into the EEC rang, or should have rung, the death knell for the special relationship. From 1973, Britain ceased to have an independent trade policy, removing the entire field of commerce from the realm of bilateral Anglo-American relations.This is standing history on its head. As Christopher Booker and I show in our book The Great Deception, Harold Macmillan's greatest concern in 1961 was that, if Britain applied to join the EEC, this might imperil the special relationship with America. What swung it was Kennedy’s assurance to Macmillan in April 1961 that British membership of the EEC could only strengthen the Anglo-US relationship.
There is no evidence whatever In the documents of the time that fear of US "unreliability" was a factor in the decision. Ironically, Britain’s largest export market at the time was not the USA but the Commonwealth (43 percent), much of which she would be forced to lose as a condition of joining the EEC.
As for our close military alliance with the USA, this is only now, 40 years later, being seriously threatened by our growing identification with the EU's common defence policy. The real reason why "Britain's political elite" chose ‘Europe’ in the 1960s was their belief, when the UK economy was faltering, that they were joining the world’s most dynamic economic bloc. The irony of that is now self-evident.
Perhaps Ferguson should stick to hosting lightweight television history documentaries, and leave the real history to people who know what they are talking about.
But, before we leave him, perversely, one can agree with his conclusion, that the Anglo-American alliance "is surely living on borrowed time". However, this is not for the reasons Ferguson offers. Simply, as we get ourselves embedded more and more in the EU's common defence and security policy, we are distancing ourselves more and more from the US, and putting the special relationship at risk. In prime minister Blair, therefore, we have a man who appears to have taken the special relationship forward. The reality is, though, that he has done more to damage it than any other post-war leader.
With that, all we need to do is give our own answer to the question of whether the special relationship is in the British interest. The answer can be best provided by asking another question: who would you prefer to fight alongside you: the French army, or the American?
In this, we are reminded by one of our readers that in April last, MORI (in a poll for The Economist) asked: "In a crisis which would be Britain's most reliable ally?" The answer was America 59 percent, "Europe" 16 percent, the Commonwealth 15 percent. There is your special relationship.
With the European parliament back in session, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan is back, writing his column for the Sunday Telegraph from "The Heart of Europe".
His theme this week is, "They won't listen, even if you vote against the constitution", whence he reports that a little thing like a no vote in one or more referendums will not put the federalists off. As far as they are concerned, the fact that the 25 heads of government have agreed the text is all the permission they need.
This Hannan picks up from a report before the EP's Home Affairs Committee which sternly declares that, "Even if the constitution has not yet been ratified, or even signed, it must certainly inspire, to a large extent, the future multiannual guidelines."
The fact that ratification is already being anticipated has in fact already been picked up by this Blog, with provisional monies being allocated to the space programme even though space policy only becomes a Community competence once the constitution is ratified, and in the developments in criminal justice harmonisation and the move towards the "European Enforcement Area" which relies on provisions in the constitution for its implementation.
It is clearly the case that ratification is being considered a “done deal” and whether or not the public in the member states approve it, the Eurocrats are already preparing to put the constitution into effect.
But what is also highly significant in Hannan’s piece is his observation that:
We often talk about the EU's democratic deficit as if it were a design flaw, an oversight by the founding fathers. In reality, it was their chief purpose. Monnet and Schuman knew that their project would never survive if it were regularly subjected to national electorates. That is why they vested supreme power in a civil service, insulated from public opinion. Their calculation was that, if people were simply presented with a fait accompli, they would go along with it.This again is something we have laboured in this Blog. The fact is that the European Union is not so much undemocratic but anti-democratic. Its institutions, structures and procedures were deliberately designed to circumvent the democratic process.
That much was set out in Spinelli’s original Ventotene Manifesto in 1942, when he set up the template for what would become the European Union, declaring that his “movement” would
…have the task of organising and guiding progressive forces, using all the popular bodies which form spontaneously, incandescent melting pots in which the revolutionary masses are mixed, not for the creation of plebiscites, but rather waiting to be guided.“It derives its vision and certainty of what must be done”, Spinelli wrote, “from the knowledge that it represents the deepest needs of modern society and not from any previous recognition by popular will, as yet non-existent. In this way it issues the basic guidelines of the new order, the first social discipline directed to the unformed masses. By this dictatorship of the revolutionary party a new State will be formed, and around this State new, genuine democracy will grow.”
In other words, first create the new state first and then, only when it is finished, let the people in on the project, and ask them for approval. It was all set out then, and the steamroller has trundled on, unabated. It is good to know, however, that at least Hannan has finally understood what it is all about.
After the revelation by the Guardian that Mike Nattrass, deputy leader of UKIP, has been making some incautious comparisons between Russia and Chechnya on the one hand, and the UK and the EU (see link), today's Sunday Telegraph draws attention to another less than happy situation in UKIP.
It appears that Kilroy-Silk, who achieved considerable publicity after being sacked by the BBC for writing disparaging remarks about Arabs, now employs an assistant who likens the Prophet Mohammed to a paedophile.
The "aide" is none other than Tony Bennett, who himself was hauled before a party disciplinary committee two years ago for writing offensive remarks about Islam in a pamphlet published in 2000. He was banned from holding any UKIP office for two years.
Yet, despite his uncompromising views on Islam, Bennett was given a job a month ago as a political researcher by Mr Kilroy-Silk, having been previously been sacked from his position as an aide to Jeffrey Titford MEP after making disparaging remarks about a colleague.
The full story can be read from the link above. As to the broader issues, it has been known for some time that UKIP was penetrated by a group of fundmentalist Christians, who held extreme anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic views. This group was strongly opposeed to UKIP appointing Moslem candidates to stand in the general elections.
Many of these fundamentalists have since left but, if the climate appears to be shifting closer to their position, UKIP could again find itself dealing with infiltrators who hold views totally at odds with the anti-racist mantra currently espoused by the Party.
It seems that President Putin has finally instructed his ministers to agree that the Kyoto agreement is a good thing for Russia. Well, perhaps, he has not gone that far, but he has told them to stop putting up obstacles against Russia signing it. How he squared his economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, the moving spirit behind Russia’s relative economic success in the last few years, is not clear.
The Natural Resources Ministry has approved the documents, with the Industry and Energy Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry to come. The documents have been prepared by the Foreign Ministry. Apparently the Economic Development and Trade Ministry sees nothing wrong “conceptually” with the Kyoto agreement. This does not tell us very much of what they think of the practical side of it.
Once the ministries have approved, the documents will go to the Duma, which is completely under the President’s control. No problems about the ratification can be foreseen there.
Some experts have said that Russia should negotiate special deals because of its extensive forest areas. Others have suggested that Russia might use this protocol to ease her entry into the WTO and then abandon it all in 2012.
It is, of course, the WTO that is foremost in Putin’s mind. In his negotiations with the EU he was told that Russia’s application will be supported if she signs up to Kyoto. As more and more scientists and economists come out against the agreement, the EU shows itself to be more and more desperate to blackmail or bludgeon as much of the world as possible into it.
The documents’ journey through the ministries, the Duma and finally in and out of Putin’s cabinet will take several weeks, if nothing startling happens in the meantime (never a safe assumption in Russia). Then, presumably, the various special deals will have to be negotiated. It is clear from comments by ministry officials and experts that the Russians are reluctant to commit themselves, clearly still believing that Kyoto is economically unhelpful and scientifically flawed. But they will go through the motions in order to get into the WTO.
The real problem will arise if, having reluctantly signed on the dotted line, Russia will still be kept out of the WTO. As for keeping to the agreement … well, has anyone yet?
Most of us would say that if there is any purpose it is a short-term one: to go into places where there have been severe difficulties either as a result of natural or man-made calamity, deliver whatever aid is needed, make sure that the people in the area are putting their lives together and leave them to it. Task done. On to the next calamity.
Apparently we would be wrong if we thought in such simplistic terms. Aid workers exist in order to be politically neutral and their main achievement is to stay secure in various difficult areas, where they clearly intend to remain (assuming someone, for instance, American or other coalition troops, guarantee their security). The messenger becomes the message – the aid worker becomes the centre of activity.
This was the purport of Poul Nielsen’s speech in Prague. The outgoing Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, who told us a while ago that in Darfur “[c]ontinuing violence … has claimed the lives of thousands of people, and is seriously hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid", was speaking at a conference that was discussing the responsibilities of the enlarged EU in terms of development aid.
Apart from calling on the new member states to become part of that aid-giving machine that has done so much to support corrupt and tyrannical regimes in the Third World and to undermine the economy of potentially developing countries, he has also attacked the Americans. (But of course. No political speech these days is made by any EU panjandrum without the Americans being blamed for everything, up to and including original sin.)
Apparently, it is entirely their fault that aid workers have been attacked, kidnapped or killed.
"In Afghanistan, for example, aid workers have lost their lives because the credibility of the impartiality and neutrality of aid workers has been questioned and reduced since the US has been using soldiers in civilian clothes, but armed, to deliver humanitarian aid. This brings into question the neutrality of aid workers."Well now. This raises several interesting points. One is Mr Nielsen’s assumption that those who do the attacking are complete idiots and cannot tell the difference between an American (or British, or Polish or any other) soldier in uniform or civvies and an aid worker. That seems unlikely. From what one can gather about the circumstance in which the two Italian aid workers were kidnapped, the people who came after them knew who they were and quite deliberately targeted them. We still do not know why. But they did not come rushing in demanding if there were any soldiers in civilian clothes there and then deciding what the heck, they’ll take a couple of left-wing anti-American aid workers instead.
Secondly there is the question of what he means by neutrality. Since it seems essential that their work be not confused with the soldiers’ aid work, the obvious meaning is anti-military, anti-coalition, anti-American. That is not being neutral. An aid worker is duty bound to help anyone, just as a doctor or a nurse is. But, surely they cannot be neutral between a terrorist and a non-terrorist, a tyrant like Saddam and a reasonably tolerant government that is committed to democracy like Allawi’s or Karzai’s.
Thirdly, one has to say that Mr Nielsen for all his “one world together” thinking, does not seem to understand the attitude of the various gangs who might be attacking and kidnapping people. For them the concept of neutrality does not exist. If you are western, you are an enemy. Anti-Americanism may play well at the Cannes Film Festival but means very little to the average neo-Baathist or, for that matter, somebody who thinks kidnapping westerners is a very good source of income. For all one knows, they find the left-wing “lady bountiful” type aid workers far more irritating than soldiers.
Finally, there is the question of who the soldiers in civilian clothes are and what they have been doing to annoy the Commissioner so much. Presumably Mr Nielsen is talking about the Reconstruction Task Forces, that have been active in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. Indeed, they are soldiers in civilian clothes (probably jeans and t-shirts) but armed. They have been trained in the forces to be engineers, builders, construction workers and they are turning their knowledge to good use, helping the people of those countries to put their lives together after several decades of destruction and oppression. As the places are a trifle dangerous, they go around armed when they work. So do most locals. For the life of me I cannot see what is wrong with that. Given that the coalition forces have been accused repeatedly, and with some justification, that they lack a post military plan for Iraq, it seems rather hard that when they try to put various smaller plans into action they should be attacked for that.
It seems that the success rate of the Reconstruction Task Forces has been patchy but good in some places. The success rate of the aid workers has been much worse. When they are not crying foul and withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq because it is too dangerous (of course it is dangerous – that is why they are there), they, with a few exceptions, stay in Kabul or Baghdad, perhaps Basra and a few other well protected places and, as we noted from an account given by one of the Italian aid workers, have meetings. Then they have more meetings. Then they go out and have dinner.
My colleague has repeatedly called attention to the British media’s lack of interest in any of the big stories. May I add one more to the list? The scandal of the numerous aid workers, charity employees and UN relief officials whose usefulness is somewhat doubtful, is crying out to be investigated.
Their presence in Kabul, for instance, and reluctance to leave it, means two things. One is that much of the money that has been allocated to help people in Afghanistan is used to keep these people and their offices in the city. Just as form-filling and paper work in Britain is now reported as front-line policing, so manning offices and having meetings in Kabul and Baghdad is, presumably, described as front-line aid work.
An even more serious problem is the way these people undermine the local economy. They have far more money than almost anyone in Afghanistan and most people in Iraq. Certainly they can pay more for accommodation and labour than the local people and organizations. There are now parts of Kabul that are completely out of the range of local people because of the various western aid workers and, let us face it, journalists who write rather limited accounts.
People who could be doing useful work rebuilding those two countries become employees of westerners because the pay is much better. After all, you have to be a very conscientious and idealistic person, probably unencumbered by any family to continue the hard underpaid labour of a doctor in Afghanistan when you can earn about three times as much by driving some aid worker or UN official from meeting to meeting.
Another, indirect, consequence is that the non-military westerners stick together, complain about the military, and prevent any kind of a balanced story from coming out of either country or any investigation into the activities of the NGOs or the oil-for-food scandal. It does not really surprise anyone to find an EU Commissioner lining up on that side as well.
However, it seems that Mr Nielsen did not have it all his way in Prague. Former President Vaclav Havel could be relied on to produce the acceptable anodyne comment in eurospeak:
"Not to care in today's global world about what is happening in other parts of the planet would to a large extent be suicide. The problems grow and in the end we could all pay."Other East Europeans seem to be much more outspoken, as we have noticed before. There were several calls for increasing trade with developing countries instead of distributing aid all the time. That, of course, would mean serious changes in core EU policies, such as CAP and trade. So that is not on the agenda. Let them eat aid.
Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar dismissed complaints about the post-Communist countries not being used to giving to charity (they are not because charities were banned by the Communists) as being irrelevant. In his opinion, these countries have invaluable experience to pass on to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. They, too, emerged from decades of economic and political oppression and have, now taken their place in the free world. (In fact, some would argue that they are better at appreciating it than the west Europeans.)
One can but hope that this experience will be passed on and assimilated. It has much to do with establishing solid political structures, attracting investment and developing under one’s own steam, avoiding, as far as possible, the attention of the international aid-professionals.