Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chateau prices crash

The Independent reports that Former French President and architect of the EU Constitution Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is having difficulty selling his Chateau in the French interior (pictured) following an unfortunate collapse in the chateau property market this year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

With these EU missions Mr. Ambassador, you are really spoiling us

Nick Witney, the former Head of the European Defence Agency, has published an interesting report for the European Council on Foreign Relations on some of the shortcomings of the EU’s security and defence strategies. Chief amongst the problems, which were briefly mentioned in the Telegraph today, seems to be a series of planning failures of which the most “spectacularly amateurish” is the EU’s mission to Aceh in 2005 being funded by the personal credit cards of the advance party and by a loan from the entertainment allowance of the UK’s Ambassador in Jakarta.

He notes that: “the collective preference for declaring each operation an unqualified success has meant that many persistent failings, such as shortage of transport and inadequate communications, have been repeatedly ignored.” Apparently, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana has “often” been forced to ring round European Defence Ministers requesting loans of a single transplant plane or field surgeon.

He says that plans for a stronger EU defence policy should not be abandoned if the Lisbon Treaty fails to come into force – and that countries that wish to should push ahead to be allowed to do, though “nonplayers should not insist on a seat at the table”. He suggests a “sensible minimum requirement of spending at least 1% of
GDP on defence”, which would mean currently, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta bowing out. A further basic test could be a minimum level of deployment on operations; he notes that if this were set even as low as 1% of military manpower, then Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece would also fail to qualify.

Reading the paper it’s clear that based on current capabilities the EU member states are still expecting an all-out European Armageddon in a small forest somewhere in eastern
Germany. Investment is massively concentrated in hardware unsuitable for the kind of missions the EU is currently involved in: the EU may have 10,000 tanks and 2,500 combat aircraft, but it lacks sufficient inter-EU communication links, helicopters, transports and surveillance drones. Greece, the EU country that spends most on its military as a proportion of GDP, has directed most of this into constructing Europe’s largest tank fleet in order to fend off the impending Turkish invasion…

Would it be fair to say Sarkozy’s aim to create a "single European defence policy" by the end of the year is looking a bit... out of reach? (even with the platform shoes)

Why did the Doha talks collapse?

Most news reports on the breakdown of Doha have focussed on the issue of so-called safeguard mechanisms as an explanation for failure. These mechanisms are designed to allow developing countries to protect their farmers from surges in imports. India, China and the US could not reach agreement on the issue.

The safeguard mechanisms are widely acknowledged to be a comparatively small part of the talks. So why have they been assigned such prominence? This is in part because media analysis, at least in the short-term, will generally tend to look at the more immediate factors for a given event. And it is certainly true that the issue of safeguard mechanisms was an important factor in the immediate term.

However, there are longer-term factors that offer a more useful explanation for the demise of Doha. Trade negotiations are inevitably based on reciprocity – large developing countries will quite reasonably expect significant commitments on market access from the developed world as the corollary to opening up their own markets.

Viewed in these terms, a large portion of the blame must be assigned to the EU.

From the start, the EU negotiating position has been characterised by a toxic combination of stinginess and inflexibility. During the Geneva talks, the EU did not make any new concessions on tariff reductions relative to the 2006 position. Last week, Mandelson attempted to spin that the EU had proposed reducing farm tariffs by 60% - up from the pre-existing offer of 54%, calling it a "a very considerable improvement on our own part." However, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel and French Trade Minister Anne-Marie Idrac admitted that the offer was "nothing new" - the difference between the two figures was merely down to whether tropical products were included in the tariff cut calculations or not.

Even during this round of the talks, it was very unclear that Mandelson had a firm negotiating mandate from EU member states, let alone the ability to make any improved offer on market access. French Trade Minister Anne-Marie Idrac stated that the EU would refuse to compromise on opening its markets for farm goods: “We can’t go further; we won’t go further on agriculture and we expect more open market access from emerging countries”. The explicit threat from Nicolas Sarkozy to veto even the current deal went even further in undermining the credibility of Mandelson’s position. Combined with significant pressure being applied by politically important Irish farmers, these factors meant that the EU offer could never inspire much confidence amongst the other negotiating parties at the Doha talks.

Although the EU tried to spin that it was offering to reduce farm subsidies under the CAP, this was simply untrue. EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel gave categorical assurances to farmers that the negotiating text under discussion at the WTO talks would not affect EU farm payments now or in the future. "The EU has complete freedom to do what it wants with single-farm payments from the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP] before and after 2013 under the current negotiating text," said Ms Boel's spokesman. The Commission confirmed to EU ministers that the proposed Doha text would have no impact on the levels of EU payments to farmers because of reform of the CAP in 2003, which reduced production-linked subsidies to farmers – the type of farm support the Doha proposals refer to.

Given the intransigence of the EU on market access and farm subsidies, it's understandable that large developing countries were unwilling to take a more accommodating stance on opening their own markets. India and China would have no doubt taken a less defensive approach to the question of safeguard mechanisms if they felt they were being given a fair deal on market access from the developed countries, especially the EU, the largest of these markets. In the event, these countries knew they were being sold a pup – so it’s hardly surprising that they were unwilling to roll over and do as they were told when the safeguard mechanisms came up for discussion.

The question of safeguard mechanisms was merely the final straw that led to the collapse of talks. The real underlying reasons go far deeper.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Skewed polling? Ask the Commission

The Irish government has had a lot to say this weekend about Open Europe and our poll questions, but nothing at all to say about the results of the poll.

In an effort to present the whole thing as "extraordinarily skewed" (his words), Europe Minister Dick Roche went to great pains to deny that it had ever been reported that Sarko had said there should be a second referendum (See here, here and here to jog your memory of the Europe-wide coverage of his comments).

Just in case anyone is interested in a poll that really was biased - how about the Commission's recent Eurobarometer survey on
Ireland's reasons for voting no?

As the Telegraph's Brassneck blog reminds us, the Commission, refusing to make public the full results of the poll (unlike OE which published its poll in full from the outset), briefed a handful of journalists that 40% of those who had voted no did so because they didn't understand the Treaty.

The papers then ran stories with headlines like this in the Times: “Irish voters failed to understand the Lisbon Treaty”, citing a figure from the EU Commission stating that, amongst No voters, “40 per cent blamed the fact that they did not understand the treaty.”

But when the Commission finally did release the poll in full, on 20 June - after the crucial EU summit had concluded - it emerged that it had lied to the press, and that the number of people saying they hadn't understood the Treaty was in fact 22%.

Why did the Commission arbitrarily double the number of people saying they didn't understand the Treaty, making the Irish appear ignorant? And why wasn't it followed up in the press?

So the European Commission spends millions of euros in taxpayers' money (this year its Eurobarometer budget is €5.5m) fielding polls whose results and publication it is free to manipulate. That's fine. It's when think-tanks in
London spend a couple of thousand euros of private funds to ask voters how they feel about the possibility of a second referendum that you have to start accusing people of "outside interference".

Makes perfect sense.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Second referendum? Don't go there

We've commissioned the leading Irish pollsters Red C to look at how people in Ireland feel about the idea of a second referendum

It looks like they would be made to force a second vote. The key numeros are below:

- 71% oppose a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Only 24% are in favour.

- Of those who expressed an opinion, 62% said they would vote "no" in a second referendum, compared to 38% who would vote "yes".

- 17% of those who voted "yes" in the recent referendum would vote "no" in a second referendum, while only 6% of those who voted "no" would now vote "yes". Perhaps most significantly of all, those who did not vote last time would vote more than two-to-one against in a second referendum: 57% would vote "no" and 26% would vote "yes".

- 67% agreed with the statement that "politicians in Europe do not respect Ireland's no vote". Only 28% disagreed.

- 61% disagreed with the statement that "If all of the other 26 EU countries ratify the Treaty in their parliaments then Ireland has to change its mind and support the Treaty." Only 32% agreed.

- 53% said they would be less likely to vote for Brian Cowen at the next election if he called a second referendum. In particular, 43% of Fianna Fail voters said they would be less likely to vote for him.

The full results of the poll are available at:

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/redc.pdf

Friday, July 25, 2008

Europe: its part in his downfall

Perhaps the next Labour leader will take a different line on Europe now that Brown is so clearly leaving...

Harsh? Premature? Perhaps. #

But poor old Gordon Brown does look pretty finished this morning.



Its interesting to reflect on the things that have dragged him down.

Even in our most boggled-eyed moments we wouldn't claim that it was the EU issue 'wot did it. But Europe - which has ended so many promising premierships - definitely had a role.

During Brown's honeymoon period, the first issue that drove a wedge between Brown and his carefully-cultivated tabloid allies was the referendum. Back when the Mail, Sun and Express still thought he was great, the first issue they fell out over was the "new" Treaty.

And even in Brown's crucial first days, as he tried to distance himself from the previous regime, it was a problem. He talked about a "new era" of "listening and learning" - but then had to go on TV and say people would not be given the vote they had been promised.

If there is a single thing wrong with Brown's image it is that the guy is seen as somone who is out of touch - "doesn't get it" - and can't listen or respond in the way that the ideologically supple Tony Blair could.

And the referendum issue was the first clear example of that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

blimey

Hard... to... say this... but George Monbiot is right. (It had to happen eventually)



He points out:

A fair account of our carbon emissions would include those we import minus those we export: a balance that can only worsen in a post-industrial economy... Given that we are outsourcing some of our greenhouse gases, you might think it makes sense to outsource our carbon cuts as well.

But... while the emissions we export are certain and verifiable, the cuts we buy through carbon credits are often fraudulent. For instance, as the writer Oliver Tickell documents, 96% of the carbon credits from hydroelectric dam construction were issued after construction had begun: the dams would have been built without the carbon market, so no additional cuts have been achieved. About 30% of all carbon credits come from the sale of trifluoromethane cuts by Chinese and Indian companies making refrigeration gases. Many of them are still producing this pollutant only because they make so much money from cleaning it up: the carbon market pays them 47 times more for these cuts than the gas costs to remove.


However, all that said, Monbiot then manages to get through the whole article without once mentioning the origin of the Emissions Trading Scheme (hint: it's a large organisation based in Brussels).

It seems that in bien pensant circles there is still quite an unwillingness to criticise the EU.

For example we were having a chat with the head of a big NGO a while back.

Asked why he didn't do more to criticise the EU's trade policies, he said that while he passionately hated the policy, "We don't want to criticise the EU too much because it's basically a good thing".

At some point that protective shielding of the EU is going to break down. The well-meaning world is going to realise that Brussels is running the show now, and the EU doesn't always listen.

Perhaps Mr Monbiot will go to Brussels and be told to parlez à la main parce que le visage n'écoute pas.

Perhaps then things will change.

We are coming to kick your ass in an environmentally friendly way




According to a Parliamentary Answer:

Bob Ainsworth Minister of State (Armed Forces)

The EU environmental regulation that places specific requirements on the vehicles of the UK armed forces is Regulation (EC) No 715/2007. This regulation establishes common technical requirements for the type approval of motor vehicles and replacement parts with regard to their emissions. In addition, it lays down rules for in-service conformity, durability of pollution control devices, on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems, measurement of fuel consumption and accessibility of vehicle repair and maintenance information. It applies to vehicles whose mass does not exceed 2,610 kg.

It is our policy to comply with all relevant UK, EU and overseas legislation and, where granted specific exemptions from legislation, standards and arrangements are introduced that are, so far as reasonably practicable, at least as good as those required by legislation.

incroyable

The Times: Margaret Beckett tipped for a Cabinet comeback

Perhaps not to the Foreign Office, we suspect.

Some highlights from the crazy years.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A moment of honesty

from Peter Skinner MEP.

On his website page "HOW EUROPE HELPS"

Apparently

"There are no items to display"




Cheers for the newsflash mate.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why Obama is bypassing Brussels



Washington blogger and think-tanker Steve Clemons notes that Barack Obama will not be visiting Brussels on his tour of Europe.

He reckons that “what he is saying to Europeans, symbolically, is that their capital does not quite rank”, and suggests the omission of the EU’s institutional heart from Obama’s itinerary is a product of the candidate’s supposed inexperience and rumoured lack of understanding of international affairs.

But perhaps there is another explanation for Obama’s avoiding Brussels.

What is the core message of the Obama campaign? Vitality, dynamism, change, and popular empowerment are words that immediately spring to mind. But the way the EU is currently going is the polar opposite of these things.

Brussels’ as a concept just seems off-message for Obama’s brand. It’s pretty difficult to imagine him giving a rousing speech in front of the Berlaymont, or attending a photo call with the likes of Hans Gert Pottering.

Africa starves, Mandelson spins





Excellent piece on AFP today, describing how Peter Mandelson attempted to spin his way out of the embarrassing situation of the EU not offering any new concessions on tariff reductions at the Doha trade talks.

Mandelson yesterday ‘unveiled’ what appeared to be a more generous offer on market access to the EU, proposing to reduce farm tariffs by 60 per cent - up from the existing offer of 54 per cent. Mandelson presented his offer as "a very considerable improvement on our own part."

That was quickly dismissed by Brazil however as “mere propaganda”, with Foreign Minister Celso Amorim describing it as "meaningless... purely statistic gimmickry."

Mandelson’s position then began to unravel completely, with even fellow EU commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel (heading up Agriculture) admitting that her colleague’s offer was "nothing new".

Next, French trade minister Anne-Marie Idrac waded in, helpfully explaining that the difference between the two figures was merely down to whether tropical products were included in the tariff cut calculations or not. "Was there new progress, new percentages? The answer is no. Peter Mandelson this morning had clarified... what technical discussions have come up with – nothing more, nothing less," Idrac said. (In the run-up to this week's negotiations, the French government had already stated very clearly that it would accept no further concessions on the European farm support regime.)

Mandelson, by this point firmly on the defensive, was forced to concede that the 60 percent proposal was actually a "reiteration" of the EU's existing position. "The more we clarify, the clearer it becomes exactly what we are offering in this round," he told journalists.

Thanks for the clarification Peter…

It would also be interesting to have some more clarity on whether the EU is still proposing that 8 per cent of its tariff lines be given special treatment - ie. a lower rate of tariff reduction compared to other goods. The EU position on so-called ‘sensitive’ goods was one of the key issues that led to the collapse of talks in 2006 (the US was calling for 1 per cent of tariff lines to be exempted). But according to Japanese reports, Tokyo and Brussels have already agreed to ‘work together’ to maintain the 8% exemption in this round of talks.

Many of the products deemed sensitive in the EU are those exported by the developing and least-developed countries. The Commission for Africa has noted that “if only two percent of agricultural tariff lines are designated as sensitive… three quarters of global welfare gains will be lost.” The US, Canada and the Cairns Group also separately analysed the EU’s proposal, in the weeks after 28 October 2006, finding that designating 8% of goods as “sensitive” would effectively block all exports of interest to developing countries in the EU market.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s farce suggests the Commission is more interested in propaganda than in proposing real pro-development solutions on trade.

Perhaps this emphasis on spin is a tactic designed to pre-empt a breakdown in the talks this week, allowing the EU to shift the blame onto other negotiating parties and divert media attention away from its own intransigence. This was exactly the strategy that was followed last time talks broke down in 2006. But failure this week would be far more serious, and would all but kill off Doha.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Keep digging...

From PA we learn that Sarkozy has managed to fit a hair between the concept of a "referendum" and "giving people the opportunity to give their opinion".

"I never said Ireland had to organise a new referendum," he said.

"I said that at some stage or another the Irish had to be given the opportunity to give their opinion, they had to give their opinion. I never said there had to be a referendum. I didn't say on what question there would be a vote. I did not, in any way, meddle in Irish domestic affairs."

No, not meddling at all. We're sure Dublin was always intended to be his first stop as EU President...

Big Bad Mr. Bruni

Amusing analysis from the Irish Sunday Independent:

After the Lisbon Treaty was voted down, by the only electorate in Europe allowed vote on it, Mr Sarkozy announced he was coming over to talk to us. It's like when a schoolteacher (Brian Cowen) loses control of the class (us) and the headmaster (Big Bad Sarkozy) comes stomping down the corridor, eyes ablaze beneath his fearsome brow.

Mr Cowen, already in flitters after such a comprehensive referendum defeat, put a brave face on it. His glassy smile hid whatever obscenities he might be muttering. Bloody hell -- this is all I need, a bollocking from Mr Bruni.

In a functioning democracy, after a high turnout and a decisive rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Cowen had a democratic duty. That duty was to go to Brussels, to meet his fellow leaders and represent the views of his electorate. That involved saying something like the following.

"Sorry lads, the Irish voted down the Lisbon Treaty. As you know, that was not my wish, but it's now the official position of my country and as a democrat I'll represent that position with total commitment. Under EU rules, the Lisbon Treaty is now dead."

When ignorant gobshites raised the threat of a "two-speed Europe", it was Cowen's duty to stalwartly defend the unity and principles of the EU. When they insinuated we would be "punished", or somehow removed from the EU, it was his duty to demand an immediate retraction of the threat and an apology.

Anything less was a betrayal of his public duty -- and a betrayal of the supposed principles of the EU project itself.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A lecture in Europe

Disconcerting news from Agence Europe: apparently the French EU Presidency are planning to create a “University of Europe” in... you guessed it... Strasbourg.

Separate to the other controversial idea for a European Institute of Technology, this one would be “run by the European Commission” (!), and would “have its own European vision, offering training in the history of Europe and the European spirit. "

Apparently, "The idea reunites three fundamental principles: the spirit of Europe, Europe's place in international competition and building a Europe of Knowledge. It would target adults with significant professional experience who are looking to get re-trained or deepen their knowledge, or for students wanting to understand the history of Europe and the European spirit.”

In other words, the plan is to brainwash train future generations of EU bureaucrats in the ‘benefits’ of EU integration. And all this with the help of EU grants and/or grants from member states. As we’ve said before, surely a more sensible use of taxpayers' money would be to spend it improving the universities we already have?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mots sages

Rossa Fanning, Lawyer and Lecturer at University College Dublin makes a good argument in an interview with French daily Libération today:

“It is convenient for Nicolas Sarkozy to call for a second referendum, but it shows that he, like the majority of other European leaders, has not understood the profound reasons for the Irish no vote, nor the concerns that this choice expressed. To twist their arm and try to make them go back on their decision is counter-productive because, in their overwhelming majority, those who voted no do not regret having rejected the treaty. The campaign was intense and the participation massive. Furthermore, this no vote came within the continuity of those expressed three years earlier by the French and the Dutch. Public opinion, in several European countries, is hostile to closer integration. Personally, I regret that as I voted yes. But the EU cannot disrespect the sovereign choice of the Irish people, not without arousing in them a lasting sense of resentment. After the French no vote, nobody asked them to go back on their decision by making them vote again on the same text. But we’ll do it with the Irish just because there are less of them and because this time they are the only ones who have had their say on the treaty through universal suffrage?”

Arcane Parliament

PA informs us that following the final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in the UK, the implementing legislation will be printed... on goatskin.

"Parliamentary officials confirmed later that a goatskin version of the EU Amendment Act would be prepared, and kept in the UK.


The practice of Acts of Parliament and other important documents being printed on vellum has existed since the 15th century. Both Magna Carta and Charles I's death warrant were produced on skin parchment.


There have been several efforts over recent decades to move to paper records, which would be less expensive and potentially save the lives of several goats a year.


They have been successfully resisted by traditionalists."


With these plans out in the open, it's suddenly becomes clear who the first victims of Lisbon will be..



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The French must be made to vote again



The polls clearly show that the French people regret the decision they made last year.

They didn't know what they were doing... They didn't vote on the issues, but on a whole bunch of unrelated factors...

Given one country with just a tiny proportion of the EU population is now holding up all the other member states (on trade, enlargement, economic reform) surely it is only fair to ask them to vote again... and choose a new President?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bad prediction



Anand Menon opens his newish book on the EU with a quote from Lord Dilhorne, speaking in 1962:

“I venture to suggest that the vast majority of men and women in this country will never directly feel the impact of the community made law at all.”

Not quite how things have worked out.

Old Tory poster shock

Having a look at the amazing Oxford archive of old Tory posters.

It's fair to say that their line on the EU has moved on at least a bit over the years.

These two are for the euro elections of 1984.





And this number is from the 1992 Election. The only difference from today's Government line is that now they say three million jobs are at risk rather than two and a half.



By 1997 things had changed...



Which is (basically) where they are now. The challenge for them now is to move the policy on and come up with an equivalently good encapsulation.

PS - there are also some groovy posters for MEPs.

Newton Dunn (now a lib dem) has been at it since 1979.



And how about Robert Atkins' poster from his 'run' for a seat in the 1974 General Election:



Groovy! Didn't that little runner logo used to be on packets of 80s dextro energy sweets?

In fact is it running or falling over? You decide.

Austrians to get a referendum?

A post on Irish Election notes that Europe and the referendum could become a big issue in the Austrian election in September. Could that throw up another speed bump for the seemingly undead treaty?

Probably not. The Socialists' flirtation with a referendum has a tactical whiff about it. If they get in Hannan's law will kick in and they will drop the idea.

But here's where the parties stand anyway, according to the Irish Election post:

Conservatives: We don’t need any referendum, the national parliaments were elected, so they shall deal with Lisbon. Pro EU.

The Greens: Not supporting a national referendum, but a EU-wide referendum. Pro EU.

Social Democrats: Formerly same position as Conservatives. Now supporting a national referendum in case of major changes on Lisbon or a new contract. Still, Pro EU.

FPOE: Strongly longing for a national referendum. Contra EU.

BZOE (”Alliance for the future of Austria”, Haider/Westenthaler): Strongly longing for a national referendum. Contra EU. This party emerged from a Haider-powered FPOE split-off in 2005.

Nothing ever changes

Here's a list of the Government's main negotiating objectives in Europe:

(a) maintenance of the authority of national governments and Parliaments;
(b) democratic control of Community business;
(c) common policies must recognise the need for national governments to attain their economic, industrial and regional objectives;
(d) reform of the Common Agricultural Policy;
(e) the development of a Community energy policy compatible with national interests;
(f) enlargement of the Community.

This is, as you may have guessed, a list from 1977

A likely story

Russia says Czech oil supply cut "not political"

Ha! Those guys will say anything!

That's a new one

The europhiles are becoming increasingly unhinged as they seek new reasons to explain away the Irish no vote.

This fella blames - amongst other things - the smoking ban and the Irish Civil War.

Er-

Why not astrology or bad feng shui?

The EU needs a facelift

Outrageous claims in the Indie:

"Recent photos of the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, looking remarkably fresh-faced have sparked rumours that he may have had plastic surgery, with one commentator saying it "looks like he's overdosed on Botox". "I'd say that he's had a chemical facial peel, and he's having regular Botox. There also looks to be some sort of filler in his cheeks," said Dr Lorraine Ishak of Transform Plastic Surgery clinics."

"The famously image-conscious politician has been looking much more youthful of late, which surgeons believe could be down to a variety of procedures. It is thought that Botox jabs have softened his wrinkles; chemical peels have improved the texture of his skin and artificial fillers have fattened up his sagging cheeks. A spokesman for Mr Mandelson denied that he had undergone surgery."

In other, slightly less trivial news
, the EU is ripping itself apart in public as Sarkozy tries to back out of the trade deal which he signed up to previously.



In reality the existing EU WTO trade deal proposal is pathetically small, not frighteningly big. Let's review the facts:

- Overall, poor countries (those like Ethiopia with a GDP per capita of under £5,000 a year) face an EU tariff of 5 percent on average. This compares with an average tariff of 2.9 percent for middle income countries like Botswana (with a GDP per capita of between £5,000 and £15,000), and an average tariff of just 1.6 percent for the world’s richest countries, such as Japan.

- Some of the world’s poorest countries face even higher EU trade barriers. For example, Malawi pays an average tax of 12 percent on its exports to the EU, despite the average person having to live on less than £100 a year. Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland pay a tax of over 20 percent on their exports to the EU. Bolivia and Ecuador pay a tax of over 26 percent. This is because the goods which are most heavily taxed by the EU tend to be the goods which businesses in developing countries can produce at much lower prices than their Western competitors.

- Food tariffs are extremely high: 173% on lamb, 150% on garlic, 149% on beef, 134% on mushrooms, 118% on bananas, 114% on sugar, 103% on milk and 101% on rice.

- A study from Oxford Economic Forecasting for Open Europe found that global trade liberalisation could increase African GDP by 5.4%.

- The EU’s overall tariff rate is 2.4 percent compared to just under 1.8 percent in the US. Since the early 1990s the EU has been falling further and further behind the US.

- The cost of living, particularly food has gone up dramatically within the last year. Global food prices have jumped almost 50 percent in the past year, according to FAO.

- According to an OECD estimate for 2006, the CAP costs the EU 125 billion euros a year in higher prices and added taxes. The report also estimated that food in the EU is on average 20% above the world price.

- This hits the poor hardest because the bottom fifth of households in the UK spend 16% of their income on food - double the proportion spent by the richest fifth (7.5%)

- According to the report from Oxford Economic Forecasting, trade liberalisation will result in GDP gains for the EU of over €200 billion. In the UK, that’s an extra £1,500 a year for a household of four. According to the same report, scrapping the CAP and reforming tariffs could make the bottom 10% of earners £437 a year per person better off.

Leaving the rational arguments for a better deal aside, it is interesting the the people who always bang on about a "strong united Europe" with a "single foreign policy" are perfectly happy to tear the EU apart when it suits them. In terms of Britain's own trade policy, it's like being permanently shackled to a madman.


Finnishing line



As is now traditional, France has adorned the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels with a bunch of stuff to mark their Presidency.

The French effort consists of a giant globe covered in stripes representing the flags of the different member states, reflected in a giant mirror. But they have managed to get the Finnish one wrong.

Usually a blue cross on a white background, the French have inverted the colours so that it is white on a blue background. According to Coulisses de Bruxelles, the Finnish are, well - cross.

How times change

Then...

"Galileo remains a civil programme under civil control. This has repeatedly been confirmed by the EU Transport Council; most recently in its October 2006 Council Conclusions."

- Stephen Ladyman, then UK Transport minister, last year

Now...

"The European Parliament in Strasbourg approved by 502 votes to 83 the military use of the European Union's Galileo satellite."

- Report from Deutsche Welle

Friday, July 11, 2008

No more votes for the plebs

The torrent of anti-democratic vitriol continues to flow from the offices of the Irish Times.

Today a piece by Ruth Barrington on "Was holding referendum on Lisbon Treaty really necessary?"

While in a democracy one should never discount minority views, the outcome of the Lisbon referendum does raise questions about Ireland's constitutional status as a representative democracy.

Er... which minority? The one that had 53% of the vote in the referendum?

We now know the dangers for Ireland and our partners in Europe of being the only country to hold a referendum on a highly technical treaty such as Lisbon.

Perhaps we can help on that front... according to the polls, if there had been referendums everywhere, 16 countries would have said no... then you'd not be on your own.

Another consequence of the use of the referendum in situations where it is not clear why people are voting is a growing perception across Europe that the Irish are disengaging from the European Union.

Have the people lost touch with the EU? Or could it - gulp - be the other way round...?



After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Very interesting piece in the economist

On "Europe's Tory nightmare"

The Economists man in Brux writes:

"federalists have their mirror-opposites in Britain. Eurosceptic hardliners dream that Britain could negotiate a nice free-trade pact with the EU, like a giant Norway or Switzerland (but without as much fish or cheese). The odds are still against Britain walking out. But the country has changed in ways that Brussels underestimates."

Yup, lets just have a look at the graph again...

Net % saying EU is a "good thing" minus "bad thing"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's like he's psychic

Have stumbled upon this letter in the Telegraph from Lord Pearson - dated March 2005:

(i.e. before the French and Dutch no votes)

Sir - Your leading article (Mar 29) may be wrong to hope that France votes "No" to the proposed EU Constitution. If it does, Brussels is likely to respond by setting up another inter-governmental conference, "listening to the people" of course, which would render our own referendum redundant.

That IGC will then produce a new treaty, subtly achieving the constitution's aims, upon which we will not be granted a referendum, but which Parliament will rubber-stamp as usual.

Who needs a crystal ball when you understand how the EU political class think?

Duff and Duffer



Interesting snippet on EU Observer:

UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said that the European Parliament should be a place where:

"post-national democratic politics takes shape"

How many of his constituents want "post national" politics?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Someone is going to get it in the neck...

Today David Cameron has been setting out proposals to make Tory MEPs’ expenses more transparent.



Unveiling a “right to know” form, he announced that from now on Conservative MEPs will have to set out in detail exactly how much they claim from their generous euro-expenses.

It goes a lot further in terms of transparency than any of the other parties have so far.

From now on Tory MEPs will have to say how much they claim under each of the many different types of expenses available to MEPs – their staffing allowance, their two different travel allowances, a breakdown of their general office expense, and their daily subsistence allowance.

Good news eh?

But not everyone is happy.

The BBC in Brussels have been given a memo my one of the Tory MEPs.

The (unnamed) MEP claims the plan is "direct breach of the rules of the European Parliament" and likely to bring a PR "defeat".

What total arrogance.

Of course it isn't "against the rules of the Parliament" to make them publish their expenses. Utter nonsense.

And if it is going to bring a PR "defeat" that can only be because it will expose further wrong doing - thus demonstrating why Cameron is right to do it.

Nonetheless, the MEP in question has screwed up things for the Tories massively.

Presumably the motivation of today's Tory announcement was to turn the spotlight on to the other parties. To get journalists asking them why they won't they publish the same information.



It's not like there is any shortage of potential stories in the other parties.

For instance, we do know that four Lib Dem MEPs are paying their staffing expenses directly into the Party. That would be worth 6.5 million pounds over a decade, making the EU the Liberal Democrats’ biggest donor.

So far Nick Clegg has kept schtum about this – not least because he used to do the same thing when he was an MEP. But at some point it could be a very big story. At least the Tory and Labour leaders can say they didn’t know anything about what their MEPs were up to. Not so Mr Clegg. Only a lack of media interest in the Lib Dems prevents this from becoming a big story.

But instead of turning the spotlight on such goings on, the leaked memo is likely to turn the story into a "tory splits row" (indeed, that's how the beeb are now running it).



A former colleague remarked that Andy Coulson has "only two speeds - 'attack', and 'destroy'..."

Somewhere in Brussels there is an MEP marked for deletion with extreme force.

That common foreign policy in full

The President of the European Parliament today announced that he was boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games because of the lack of progress in negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama over the future of Tibet.

So that means so far we have:

EU Commission: going
EU Parliament: not going
Nicolas Sarkozy: going
Angela Merkel : not going
Gordon Brown: going
Berlusconi: going if not in jail

Great boycott!

Next stop: dealing with Iran!

"There is collective remorse in Ireland" says PR man

Unintentionally funny interview with some Northern Irish PR man on how to win the second referendum in Ireland.

He says the answer is more PR spending and more mudslinging at the no camp. Oh - and to make it an in-or-out vote.



Q: In your articles you advocate simple questions for referenda. If there is a re-run of the Lisbon Treaty referendum, the question asked will in fact be very simple: does Ireland want to remain part of the EU?

A: That is easier for the campaigners, because it really simplifies the question. It's a legitimate simplification, without banalisation.

He also suggests that there is collective remorse in Ireland about the decision. The evidence for this is..?

The Commission-funded newswire Euractiv (even the name is annoying) ask him some other pretty tough questions. 'Ferinstance:

What about the lies by the 'no' camp?

Gee, that's hardball. Whoa there, tiger.

Alternatively, what about this question: "What kind of crazy PR crack are you smoking that makes you think you can ignore and belittle the democratic vote of an entire country?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

busman's holiday

To paraphrase the great philosopher B.A. Baracus:

We pity the fool who stands between Quentin Davies and a bloody good lunch.

What is occupying the mind of the great statesman since his poorly timed principled defection over the issue of Europe?


Quentin Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether she plans to create a dedicated EU passports channel at the UK border and immigration control points in the (a) Gare du Midi, Brussels and (b) Gare du Nord, Paris; and if she will make a statement.


Great use of parliamentary time Quentin - basically just to complain about your irritation about all the foreigners getting in your way at passport control.

Sadly for the bon viveur the Government replied that it has no plans to introduce segregation.

Ach.

Speaking of fine dining... the Commission's proposed new list of activities which member states can reduce VAT on includes restaurant meals (a long running French demand).



But where is the reduced VAT on green products which Gordon Brown was supposed to have secured?

At the time the BBC reported

Gordon Brown has got what he wanted on VAT and it's far more than any of us in Brussels expected.

So where's the boeuf?

biofuels: what they really really want



Sorry for yet another post on biofuels... but in the light of comments on the last one it's worth clarifying what the Government are saying.

They want to renegotiate two things about the biofuel target:

Ruth Kelly said yesterday:

The Government believe that the EU target of 10 per cent. renewable transport fuels by 2020 can remain an overall objective, but subject to clear conditions. I would like to set those out.

First, the EU-level sustainability criteria currently being negotiated must address indirect, as well as direct, effects on land use.


Secondly, the 10 per cent. target must be subject to rigorous review in the light of the emerging evidence, so that we can make an informed decision at EU level in 2013-14 about whether the target can continue.




With a bit of sleight-of-hand she also described this as a "non binding" target in answer to a question by David Heathcoat-Amory.

He asked:

Given that the decision on the draft EU directive will be taken by majority voting, what confidence does she have that her new conditionality and different target will be accepted, as the directive is, after all, mandatory?

Ruth Kelly said:

I said that we should be arguing for a non-binding target, but a target of 10 per cent. conditional on certain elements: first, second generation biofuels should emerge; and secondly, unsustainable land use change should be avoided and sustainability safeguards adopted.

I said that we should review the evidence in 2011-12, and again later, to confirm those targets.
That is an approach for which we shall negotiate very hard in Europe. I believe that it is beginning to gain currency in France and Italy, and I hope that other countries will also see the merits of adopting a conditional rather than a binding target.

Now that's a bit dodgy. There is a big difference between a "non-binding target" and a binding target which is subject to a "review" (no matter what your EU problem is - a "review" is always the answer).

Also, how would you work out what the "indirect effect" of biofuels is? How will this be agreed?

It's interesting also that France and Italy (potentially among the biggest EU beneficiaries) are said to be in favour of the UK idea. Sounds fishy.

Fundamentally it is desperate stuff: an attempt to muddy the water. Do we really believe that if this EU target had not been agreed, the UK would be arguing for it? Not for a second.

But that's the problem with today's EU. It seems that mistakes cannot be corrected.

Is it time to launch a "Back Mandelson" campaign?

From the Guardian

Peter Mandelson risked reigniting his public row with Nicolas Sarkozy today when he warned that he would not be bullied by the French president. The EU trade commissioner insisted he was not responsible for starting the row that flared over who was to blame for the Irish "no" vote on the European constitution. But he confirmed that the spat between them was now over. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mandelson said: "This is not an argument I started."

Is it time for the campaign we never thought we'd run?



Hmmm... on second thoughts...

Are the conservatives now anti-biofuels?

There's a piece from a speech by Theresa Villiers on Con Home which certainly makes it sound like they are.

But isn't it just the same as the Government's policy, with a slightly different spin on?



Although we believe that biofuels can have a role to play in tackling climate change, there must be safeguards to ensure that they come from sustainable sources...

[The RTFO] has failed the environment because it contains no effective measures to guarantee that the biofuels it promotes come from sustainable sources."

Question: What are sustainable biofuels? The EU definition?

Remember the two basic problems:

1) It is estimated that up to 80-90 % of all the timber that comes out of Brazil and Indonesia are illegally logged, and biofuels are much harder to trace back to their origin. How will you find out if your biofuels are "sustainable"?

2) And what is "sustainable" anyway? If it just means not clearing virgin forest to plant biofuels what's to stop biofuels going on to agricultural land and the forest being hacked back to replace the land for food crops? Biofuels must inevitably compete for land, and drive up food prices, and therefore promote agricultural extensification one way or another.

T Villiers is very bright indeed. But the Tory line - although it's moving in the right direction- is still far too cautious.

Riding the gravy train

With Gawain Towler.



Lovin' the eurobabble left on the seats of the first MEP express from Brussels to Strasbourg:

Beyond a symbol of the European construction Thalys became there an actor recognized in its domain. At a moment when it seems more than ever necessary to restore the trust and envy for Europe, at a moment when it is necessary to show that there are solutions to hold the objectives 2020 of the sustainable development pertaining to mobility. I am delighted with all those who make the sucess of Thalys to have you aboard our trains today, and I thank you for it.

Jean-Michel Dancoisne

CEO Thalys International

vacuous vacuous vacuous

Uh oh. It looks like the FCO have allowed Miliband to write his own blog again.

I think the ones he writes are the ones in CAPITALS (for easy reading?)

Anyway, this priceless gem from the Miliblog:



"You can't be a global hub unless you make the most of being a mirror to the world."

Arrgrgrgrhghhh!

Not another pseudo-profound milibuzzword. We already have:

"Global hub"
"Civilian Surge"
"New Agenda vs Old Agenda"
"Carbon Credit Card"
"Second Wing of the Plane"

All of which are utterly utterly meaningless. Perhaps he thinks that running the FCO is like running an early 1990's think tank. You just come up with some breathless new buzzword and - hey presto, job done.

Good thing this guy isn't in charge of winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stopping the Iranians getting a nuclear bomb and managing rising China and a newly aggressive Russia - eh?

(Less intemperate posting later -Ed).

What about the Augean Stables?

Cam speaks out:



"In order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said. We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, deferring gratification instead of instant gratification."

"Instead we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgments about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour. Bad. Good. Right. Wrong. These are words that our political system and our public sector scarcely dare use any more."


If I were an MEP on the take I would be extremely concerned that Cameron might be about to get biblical on their ass.

Just a thought.

Monday, July 07, 2008

biofuel battle begins?... or maybe not

The UK Government has released the long awaited Gallagher report on biofuels.

It's an odd, "on the one hand, on the other hand" sort of document.

So is the Government's response. According to Ruth Kelly the Government will:

* consult on slowing down the rate of increase in the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation so that the level of biofuels will increase to 5% by 2013/14, rather than 2010/11.

But also, in seeming contradiction:

* continue to support the EU target of 10% renewable transport fuels by 2020, but argue that the target is conditional on the evidence showing that it is being delivered sustainably and without significant impacts on food prices.

In reporting the story the BBC plays up the government's increasing "caution" about biofuels. But the Guardian stresses that the Government will continue to expand the role of biofuels.

The Guardian are probably right. This is basically continuation of biofuels with a bit of caution expressed. The whole idea of "sustainable biofuels" which they are playing up here has not proved a successful sop to biofuel critics (and for good reason). But the Government are obviously going to keep plugging away at it, because there is not much else they can say.

Things would probably be different if that 10% target wasn't stuck round their necks like a millstone. But, as in the case of other unpopular policies like HIPs, the Government has signed up to something at EU level and must now continue to defend it, regardless of the mounting evidence against it.

Where were you a couple of months ago, eh?





Brendan Donnelly from the Federal Trust finally spits it out.

On the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty he writeth that it brings greater "clarity" (no sniggering please) and that :

"This new clarity could properly be described as 'constitutional' or at least constitutionalisng"'in nature".

Thanks ol' fella. But couldn't you have said that a couple of months ago?

Update !

An instant reaction to our earlier post on the var!ous exclamat!ons of the the European Commission's new blogger.

The ! count seems to have dropped off a bit now ...

But the arguments... well, see for yourself.

I also followed up a comment written on Mark Mardell’s blog about the healthcare plans, when someone wrote that “Not once in their 50-year history has the EU Commission ever proposed to return a power previously acquired by them back to the democratic arena of the nation-state”. Not true. The marketing standards for fruit and veg is a recent example.

Oh great, the European Commission are now employing someone full time at taxpayers' expense to leave annoying comments on blogs.

Gee thanks. Can we have our money back now please?


Beware: Astroturfing in progress

Also - hmmm, looking at it, actually it is true. The EU certainly isn't giving away the power to regulate the shape of fruit and veg. It is "allowing" member states to sell some veg which don't meet certain standards. Cheers, oh wonderful and all-knowing EU.

Oh, and if knobbly cucumbers is the best example you can think of where powers have been handed back to the Member States then... !

Awkward timing



Apparently the EPP is going to announce its "candidate" for head of the European Commission at a US-style "convention" in April 2009.

We can't wait.

Presumably the Conservatives and the Czech ODS will politely excuse themselves from this absurd spectacle interesting event, given that they are planning to leave the whole shebang in June 2009.

Positive discrimination part 3

The Commission has published a proposal today on reforming state aid rules. The proposal basically lengthens the list of types of state aid which the Commission will wave through without having to see first. Or as they put it.

The 26 state aid measures which fulfil the conditions laid down in the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) are considered to be compatible with state aid rules without requiring prior notification to the Commission.

Intriguingly, one of the new rules is that state aid to female entrepreneurs is going to be waved through:

The Commission integrated into the GBER five types of aid which had so far not been block exempted, but which feature highly in the Commission's agenda for growth and jobs, the revamped Lisbon agenda: aid favouring environmental protection, aid in the form of risk capital, research and development aid for large companies, innovation aid, aid for newly created small enterprises and aid for enterprises newly created by female entrepreneurs. The exemption conditions for these categories are largely inspired by the requirements of the guidelines and frameworks adopted, since 2006, by the Commission.

Is that legal? As we noted before, Article 141(4) of the treaties allows member states to take action in employment law to boost whichever sex is under represented in a particular sector. But can the EU legislate positive discrimination for one sex across the board?

Answers on a postcard.

!

An extremely chirpy new blog by the Commission's new head of press in UK.

Our view: There! are! too! many! ! in! this! blog!

Down with the kids

Famously in the Irish referendum it was the overwhelming "no" among youger voters 'wot swing it.

How can the EU make itself more popular with younder people?

Probably not by chucking them off the net for file sharing.

Civil liberties fans are up in arms about it too.

AFOE say:

"The legislation failed in France; so here it is, coming straight back via the European Parliament... since when has EU-sponsored mass telecoms snooping and censorship been the policy of the Conservative Party?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Car Tax



There's been a lot of hoo-haa bout the Government's plans on car tax.

Perhaps the EU offers a way round having to pay... if Mr Hollobone is right:

Philip Hollobone (Kettering, Conservative) With the recent expansion of the European Union, there is a growing number of EU-registered vehicles in the UK. The law is quite specific, stating that as long as those cars are taxed in their country of origin, they can be used in the UK for six months in any 12-month period. However, there does not seem to be any effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that that rule is adhered to. May we have a joint statement by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing about what Her Majesty's Government intend to do about that worrying situation?

Time to register the car in Bulgaria?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

richard corbett - letter spammer

Richard Corbett is a cheeky monkey.

He seems to have a written the exact same letter to a whole bunch of different papers.

The identical letter below appeared in, amongst others:

The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Mail
The Yorkshire Post
The Northern Echo
Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph
Huddersfield Daily Examiner
The Grimsby Evening Telegraph
Halifax Evening Courier


I feel I must comment on the reactions to the Irish "no" vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

Of course, the Irish result must be respected, but so should the results of the ratification procedures of every member country....

It is inconceivable that the other 26 member states will simply say "oh well, one country has said 'no', so let's forget about reforming the EU and leave it as it is for evermore".

We need to find a solution acceptable to all 27 member states, including Ireland. This means Ireland must have a profound internal debate to identify precisely what it is it doesn't like about the current reform package. By listening to Irish concerns, all countries can seek a compromise that will address those concerns, as well as respecting the other 26 countries that were happy with the Lisbon Treaty.

The reality is the EU needs to reform to make it more democratic and more efficient, and Eurosceptics should be the first to admit that. The Lisbon Treaty attempts to do just that. It is therefore vital we address Irish concerns to carry on the reform.

Richard Corbett, Labour MEP for Yorkshire and Humber.

sarko being a jerk

and unaware the cameras are rolling...




Enraged at the perceived snub by a technician who, while pinning a microphone to his shirt, appears not to have heard Sarkozy address him, the president gives in to a barely controlled outburst of anger.

"When you're invited on, you are entitled to have people say hello to you, or you're not on in the public sector," he growls. "It's all demonstrators here ... It's incredible ... And serious. That will change."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

wowser

Direct farm spending hit 50 billion euros last next year, according to the excellent CAP Health Check blog.

The blog also quite rightly jumps on the Commission's attempt to chop up and disguise the real extent of the spending.

The total cost, once you factor in the cost to taxpayers from higher prices due to EU tariffs, is about 120 billion euros.

To put that into context - here is how much the largest member states spend on R+D.

R+D spend (Bn euro)

Germany 58
France 38
UK 32
Italy 16

Future or past - take yer pick.

very good article

by Larry Siedentop in the FT today.

The referendum is a device viewed with suspicion by those who believe in representative government. Yet first the French and Dutch, and now the Irish, have used the referendum to defend representative government. It has become the means of protesting about the failures of representation in the European Union.

These referendum defeats amount to a damning comment on the central institutions of the EU – in particular, on the nullity of the European parliament. The problem is not that the parliament is powerless but that it has no authority. The parliament has no hold over European opinion, no ability to mobilise or shape consent across the Union.

[]

What does the EU offer in place of liberal democracy in the nation state? There is now a widespread impression across Europe – and especially among the young – that it is in danger of offering pseudo-democracy, remote bureaucratic government thinly disguised by a European parliament.

That is why the most striking moral fact about Europe today is the loss of idealism. The EU has been unable to make up for the disappearance of its founding idealism – the abolition of war in Europe, through Franco-German reconciliation – by replacing it with the idealism that can be generated by self-government.

where were you four months ago?

According to the Times' cracking Red Box blog:

Labour are searching for an idea, any idea, to get them out of their current malaise and they are becoming as extreme as they are desperate. The latest advance from Slough MP Fiona McTaggart was to suggest having a referendum on Europe which would take place three months before a general election. Not, you understand, because the battle needs to be fought but to try and expose divisions in the Tories.

Too late... you made your bed and now...

Premptive implementation

As Richard North and others have pointed out, the UK Government often scrambles to put EU legislation into practice before it is even agreed in Brussels.

The main advantage of this is to make it look like the Government are taking action rather than being forced to take action.

For controversial measures it also means the Government can say that the new EU law "will not change our current rules".

And so it seems to be with the Health Services Directive. You can find a briefing on the directive here.

It came up in December and took a beating from Labour backbenchers. Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson said that "It will be catastrophic for the NHS if this directive goes through." Jon Trickett said: "This Directive could well mark the beginning of the end of the NHS."

They were angry that the EU was basically implementing the old Conservative "Patients Passport" idea which Labour had won an election by opposing. They got together an EDM, the story started to hit the papers and the Government took fright - not least because it looked like was going to make it tricky to steer the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty through the Commons.

So it was shelved until after the UK ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the Irish referendum.

Of course, now that's all out of the way, back it comes.

It is rereleased today using a bunch of other social legislation for air cover.

And lo, the UK Government have already started to implement it. Look in the new "NHS Constitution" released two days ago we see that:

You have the right to seek treatment elsewhere in Europe if you are entitled to NHS treatment but you face undue delay in receiving that treatment.

Which is the key point in the Health Directive.

Message to Labour backbenchers: you might as well not have bothered. The EU has spoken. If you don't like it, tough luck.

Is it too early...

...to say that Sarkozy is going to be a massive disappointment as French President?

Watching the footage of him on Newsnight last night - totally pissed after his meeting with Putin - you do have to wonder. Would you drink heavily in a meeting with someone like Putin? And then give a press conference?


From Newsnight

The French papers already seem a little tired of him buzzing around like a wasp but not achieving anything.

He is in danger of turning into Bettino Craxi, the 1980s Italian PM, whose "decisionismo" style ultimately failed to mask a yawning lack of substance.

Craxi's time ended in a welter of chaos, debt, and corruption. Sarko isn't that bad.

It is tempting to say that he is all style and no substance. But when it comes to world trade, enlargement, or the future of the EU he is a genuine menace.

The little fella is certainly entertaining to watch. But when he wants to shaft people in the developing world for reasons which are utterly short-sighted (newsflash: trade is good for your economy) then he isn't so funny any more.