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Friday, August 31, 2007

good old keith vaz

We always said he was a great guy.

Actually, while his backing for a referendum is nice to have, the ludicrous combined-in-or-out-vote-plus-general-election fudge that he is proposing isn't really fair.

The Electoral Commission has warned the Government against holding a combined poll. It has said, “We believe that referendums on fundamental issues of national importance should be considered in isolation. Cross-party campaigning on a fundamental referendum could cause significant confusion amongst the electorate if combined with normal party election campaigning. There is a risk that the dominance of the referendum issue would influence other polls to an extent that may compromise the electorate's will in those other polls” (Electoral Commission policy statement, 19 July 2004)

When the Government introduced the bill for a referendum last time round (2005) it suggested that they were minded to hold a vote on the same day: Their Regulatory Impact Assessment on the European Union Bill, said “In general, combination would be expected to produce efficiency and cost savings.” (p.3)

The question the government proposed last time was “Should the United Kingdom approve the Treaty establishing a Constitution for the European Union?”

The Electoral Commission recommended a different question to that tabled by the Government. It said: “The commission believes that it is important to refer to the name of the treaty in the referendum question. The commission notes that the proposed question is a modification of the treaty title, rather than the exact title, which is a Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe” (Business, 6 February 2005).

Fun as Vaz's suggestion is, no-one serious is likely to support a bogus in-or-out vote.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blunkett

Interesting stuff from David Blunkett in his column today:

"The Government has a long way to go in providing a proper answer to the demands for a referendum on the new European Union treaty. And Foreign Office ministers still need to give a decisive answer to accusations the treaty is not really any different to the EU Constitution that was rejected by the voters of France and Holland. What horrifies me is the growing demand from trade unions for a nationwide ballot."

"Not because they are against the treaty but because they think we have secured too many opt-outs on rights issues and matters of "social protection".

"But most important is the need to take an entirely new look at what we want from Europe. We need a different sort of EU - not one built on someone's vision of the 1950s but a vision of what Europe should be like well into the 21st Century."

"We need to be discussing the democratic politics of the future, but so often the argument is about our fears of the non-democratic Europe of the past."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

vast piles of cash for the pro euro camp

There's now a temporary website for the "European Council on Foreign Relations".

Apparently George Soros is going to spend some of the vast pile of cash he took off every single person in Britain in 1992 on promoting a single EU Foreign Policy.

They are planning offices in "Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid, Rome and Warsaw as well as a presence in Brussels and the new member states." That can't be cheap.

You can bet that one of the first priorities for their cash-rich campaign will be to assist the passage of the constitutional treaty.

It will be run by Mark Leonard, inventor of "cool Britannia" and the author of "Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century" (which was launched, with brilliant comic timing, just before the "no" votes). Presumably it will compete with his former employer, the Centre for European Reform.

It sounds like the EU great and good will turn out in force to back it.

the c word

Apparently at the lobby briefing this morning the PMOS was insisting that "our position on the Constitution has not changed".

Cue Michael Lea - "Constitution?"

Brown keeps doing it as well. The unwary observer might be left with the impression that a monumental con job was in progress. Of course that would be quite wrong...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Having your cake and eating it

In a piece on BBC online Labour’s leader in the European Parliament Gary Titley has admitted that the UK has not opted out of the Charter. But hang on - hasn't the Government just spent the last two months insisting that it has?

Titley: "The RMT is arguing that the UK has opted out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is wrong. What we have done is made the wording clearer to show that the European Court should not make changes which alter or make the charter worse. "

Blair: "It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the charter and judicial and home affairs. " (Hansard, 25 June)

Titley also arrogantly claims that people “aren’t interested” in the new treaty … i.e. nothing to worry your pretty little heads about, etc.

Labour of love

The Sun reports on growing pressure for a referendum within the Labour movement.

Apparently a bunch of Labour MPs have written to Brown saying that either he needs to radically change the treaty, or give us the vote we were promised: "reform or referendum" as they put it.

There is a leader too, arguing that, "with every other EU leader confessing that this is the old EU Constitution dressed up in a flimsy new wrapper, Mr Brown is risking much by breaking his own word to the British people."

Pretty clear stuff.

Friday, August 24, 2007

they don't get it

Hmmmm... someone at BBC Online doesn't like the trade unions campaigning for a referendum.

The GMB and RMT had joined the Tories and UKIP in demanding a vote by tabling motions for the TUC annual conference.

We didn't realise that the Tories and UKIP could table motions at the TUC. Maybe they changed the rules.

More seriously, some people at the BBC seem to find it difficult to accept that unions might want to reflect the views of their membership (the polls say 88% of their members want a referendum). No no - it can't be that they are taking a principled stand, or that they have legitimate concerns about the impact of the constituiton on the economy, or public services. Instead, let's just dismiss it by saying that they are "getting into bed" with the right wing.

Memo to BBC - must try harder.


Friday, August 17, 2007

wikiscanner

Just having a first look through some results from the excellent "wikiscanner."

Someone from the European Commission has been editing the page on "byzantine bureaucracy".

Well, they would know...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Green smokescreen

The leaked paper from UK officials suggesting ways for Britain to wriggle out of EU renewable energy commitments is now up on the Guardian website.

The beginning of the document has a fascinating insight into official concerns over the contradictions in EU climate change policy:

If the EU has a 20% GHG [greenhouse gas] target for 2020, the GHG emissions savings achieved through the renewables risk making the EU ETS redundant, and prices to collapse. Given that the EU ETS is the EU’s main existing vehicle for delivering least cost reductions in GHG, and the basis on which the EU seeks to build a global carbon market to incentivise international action, this is a major risk.

Remedies to overcome this risk will be difficult to agree or ineffective. Expanding the scope of the EU ETS to include aviation emissions would not by itself create enough demand to overcome price collapse. Tightening EU ETS caps to reflect the renewables target imply taking EU wide emission reductions beyond the 20% GHG target which would be difficult to agree in the EU. Relying on later agreement to a 30% GHG target to rescue damage to the EU ETS is risky if 30% is not realised, and if not, clarity in 2009 or so this, would be very late for redesigning the ETS or renewables target in response.”


There is clearly little expectation that the ETS on its own will provide sufficient incentives for the massive investment in renewables necessary to reach the targets – which implies that renewable use will have to be enforced by other means, probably through subsidy or regulation. If this happens, the overall scarcity of carbon credits tradable in the ETS will decline, along with the price of carbon and any resulting incentive to reduce emissions through the ETS.

The paper goes on to say that UK officials have been actively lobbying the Commission to consider the “tensions” between the EU ETS and binding renewables targets – this is clearly a major concern in Whitehall.

The leaked paper illustrates perfectly just how far politicians have managed to botch EU climate change policy. They have essentially agreed to a series of mutually contradictory policies which may play well with the media in the short term, but ultimately undermine the end objective of reducing emissions.

As argued in our last post, there’s only so long politicians can maintain this charade of using ambitious-sounding gestures on the environment to their own advantage. Reality has to eventually kick in, meaning the front page of Monday’s Guardian is probably just the beginning of a long hangover the government will have to suffer for making commitments it can’t keep.

An environmental time bomb?

Interesting piece by Andrew Bounds on the FT blog today, which makes a strong argument suggesting the EU will at some point have to make tough decisions on the binding biofuel targets leaders signed up to at the EU summit in March. Indeed, although the 10% target for biofuel use was greeted with enthusiasm by some commentators when it was agreed to, the gloss is sure to come off as the full social and environmental implications of these commitments becomes clear.

First of all, as Bounds notes, whilst EU leaders basked in the positive headlines, hugely important details of the agreement were simply kicked into the long grass for negotiation at a later date. Production, transport and processing of biofuels in itself requires a lot of energy – it’s not yet clear whether this is to be taken account of in the overall targets.

Furthermore, the tide of opinion on biofuels now seems to be turning faster than politicians expected, as the negative effects begin to be felt – food price inflation is already hitting the poor in many parts of the world, whilst deforestation to clear land for biofuel production is booming – especially in South East Asia.

Deforestation (which often involves clearance by burning) is, in environmental terms, a really big deal – despite being frequently overlooked, it is a major contributor to global warming – accounting for perhaps 20-25% of total of carbon emissions, which is more than the total from all vehicles, airplanes and ships. It is also leading to immense pressure on endangered species, such as Orang-Utangs.

The other major strand of EU policy that will feed into this debate is the effect the Emissions Trading Scheme will have. Open Europe’s recent report looks at many of the major environmental concerns associated with emissions trading, in particular the ‘import’ of vast numbers of ‘Kyoto credits’ (which act as a giant system of carbon offsets) into European carbon markets.

Reuters has a fascinating report describing how the demand for credits (which mostly comes from the EU ETS) actually creates “perverse incentives” for deforestation through encouraging project developers to fell rainforest, and then replant it in order to generate credits. These credits are then used by European firms to avoid having to reduce their own carbon emissions.

As we have long argued, EU environmental policy is often badly thought out and riddled with unintended, damaging consequences. All this makes us wonder whether the EU is sitting on an ‘environmental time bomb.’ At some point, the bubble of ambitious-sounding rhetorical green commitments will have to burst as the reality of flawed policy sets in.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Freudian slip

A couple of weeks ago Gordon Brown accidentally talked at a press conference about how he had discussed "the Constitution" with the Irish PM.

But he isn't the only one making that Freudian slip. It turns out that the Portuguese presidency of the EU have also left in a couple of references to "the Constitution" in the new text of the Constitution "Reform Treaty".

Article 4 of the "new" treaty (a.k.a. Article I-14 of the Constitution) states that "The Union shall share competence with the Member States where the Constitution confers on it a competence which does not relate to the areas referred to in Articles [I-13 and 17].

Article 188c(6) of the "new treaty (a.ka. article III-315 of the Constitution) states that: "The exercise of the competences conferred by this Article in the field of the common commercial policy shall not affect the delimitation of competences between the Union and the Member States, and shall not lead to harmonisation of legislative or regulatory provisions of the Member States insofar as the Constitution excludes such harmonisation."

Ooops.

God knows how a reference to the rejected Constitution slipped into this totally-spanking-new, never-seen-before, amending-institutional-mini-reform treaty. We blame the eurosceptics.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Miow

Richard Corbett writes that:

Shame that a couple of Labour MPs, who lost their ministerial jobs several years ago and are no doubt disappointed at not returning to ministerial office under Gordon Brown, have sought to embarrass him by calling for a referendum on the proposed EU Reform Treaty.

They made their calls in the Eurosceptic Tory press (Frank Field in the Sun and Gisela Stuart in the Sunday Telegraph), knowing that, there at least, they would obtain a headline or two. I somehow doubt Gordon will be impressed by such disloyal tactics, but there is always a danger that it might influence the odd party member, especially if they believe the nonsense that they wrote on the subject, which could well have been drafted for them by Bill Cash or UKIP.

Oooh, nasty. He goes on to say:

Frank Field even tells the outright lie that the new treaty would mean Britain giving up its seat at the UN Security Council.

Obviously, the constitutional treaty would not immediately mean "giving up our seat at the UN." But in fairness to Frank Field, in his piece he appears to be predicting that this will eventually happen, rather than saying that it will immediately happen:

It is true that in the first instance the European Foreign Secretary will be given a different title. But titles, to quote the Spanish Foreign Minister again, will be part of the wrapping. This decisive shift in power will all too quickly be followed by the EU taking Britain's seat at the UN Security Council.

And there certainly is a real problem for the Government here. The new version of the constitutional treaty states that:

"When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be asked to present the Union's position."

Initially the UK Government (represented by Peter Hain) put down an amendment in the European Convention saying that this whole paragraph should be struck out.

Peter Hain wrote: "The UK cannot accept any language which implies that it would not retain the right to speak in a national capacity on the UN Security Council."

This was ignored, and so the UK then fell back to saying that it had to at least be changed, in order to remove the minister's seemingly automatic right to speak. In a second amendment the UK proposed a change to say that the Minister could only request to speak on its behalf.

"When the Security Council holds a meeting at which non-members of the Council are permitted to speak, and when the Union has defined a common position on a the subject of the meeting, which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the Minister for Foreign Affairs may request an opportunity be asked to present the Union's position."

But again this was ignored. This automatic right to speak on issues where the Union has a common position is more significant given the simultaneous introduction of majority voting into so many areas of foreign policy in the new text.

Overall, it's pretty obvious that the Government would have preferred not to see this new power. But nonetheless, they have decided to go quietly, and avoided kicking up a fuss. Perhaps Richard Corbett will post a reply and tell us why? (Or turn on comments on his own blog?)