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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Only nationalist loons want a referendum

Great mad stuff from the CER's blog. It's bylined by Hugo Brady, who is a nice chap, and very bright. But the contents are barking.

"In the past, well meaning pro-Europeans and commentators have also called for a referendum in Britain on the EU, as a way of challenging the orthodoxies of the British European debate. This is wrong-headed. Yes, Gordon Brown should encourage passionate debate on Britain’s interests in Europe. But if he fails to stand firm against calls for a referendum, he risks opening a Pandora's box of obfuscation and media-fed nationalism, as well as handing a platform to fringe political forces from across the UK."

Ah yes: "Nationalist" extremists like those guys at The Economist. Hysterical "fringe" eurosceptics like, er... Jacques Delors. Dangerous people who should be denied a "platform" like Simon Jenkins at the Guardian.

Also - in fairness, it is only a majority of people in every single member state that want a referendum. The fact that 80%-90% of every social/employment group, every age group, in every region, including the voters of all the main parties, want a referendum, clearly shows that it's only nutters who want a vote.

No - you're right - its just a bunch of extremists who want a referendum...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tories in policy shock

Blimey - this from Theresa May, talking about reforming the European Scrutiny Committee in the Commons:

"I believe that the Scrutiny Reserve should be put on a statutory basis, so that ministers are required to come before the Scrutiny Committee before negotiations at the European Council. It would therefore be impossible to override it. Ministers should have to set out their negotiating positions to the Committee, and gain its approval.

"It makes sense for this to be conducted in private, so that ministers are not put at a disadvantage in Council negotiations. The minutes of these meetings could then be made public after the negotiations are complete. This would work along similar lines to the Danish model, although the committee would need to recognise that there would be occasions on which ministers would need to be given a degree of flexibility."

It reads like they actually mean "council of ministers" rather than "European Council". If so it would reflect something that we have been arguing for (which you can find here)

It would actually give the Committeee some meaniungful power for the first time ever. It sounds boring and dry but it would actually make a huge difference - it would let parliament stop the Government from signing up to EU legislation. For example Danish ministers sometimes send text messages back to their parliament to ask if its OK for them to sign up to a particular proposal. Europhiles won't like this much. But its a really good idea.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Loathsome smugness

The pro-euro camp are all busy congratulating themselves about having fooled the public by changing the name of the constitution.

At a meeting of the Centre for European Reform yesterday EU officials discussed their strategy for adopting the EU Constitution without a referendum.

Former Italian PM Giuliano Amato said, “They decided that the document should be unreadable. If it is unreadable, it is not constitutional, that was the sort of perception. Where they got this perception from is a mystery to me. In order to make our citizens happy, to produce a document that they will never understand! But, there is some truth [in it]. Because if this is the kind of document that the IGC will produce, any Prime Minister – imagine the UK Prime Minister - can go to the Commons and say ‘look, you see, it’s absolutely unreadable, it’s the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum.’ Should you succeed in understanding it at first sight there might be some reason for a referendum, because it would mean that there is something new.”

You can listen to them all chortling about how terribly clever they are on this clip. There is a quite lot of this kind of gloating going on in the pro-euro camp at the moment. But unfortunately for them, calls for a referendum are not going to go away...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lie watch

Jim Murphy told a whopper while being interviewed by the Lords European Union Committee this morning.

Asked about leaked legal advice for the European Scrutiny Committee which warned that the UK's "safeguards" on the Charter of Fundamental Rights would not work, he said that the advice had been written before the agreement on the new version of the constitution:

He said, “the advice given to the Commons Scrutiny Committee was on the previous Constitutional Treaty and was offered before the new treaty was agreed”

He said the advice was “an accurate assessment of the old Constitutional Treaty, but not the new treaty”

Actually, no. It was written after the agreement, and is quite specific to the new version.

Let's see if we can get a response out of Murphy on this.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Barroso on EU empire

Barroso's comments describing the EU as an "empire" are up on You Tube. Link here.


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Monday, July 09, 2007

More hot air from the Commission

The latest from the FT on EU climate change policy:

“The fight against climate change could soon be carried into the wardrobes of the European Commission’s 11,700 male bureaucrats, as the Brussels body ponders whether to crack down on neckties during the summer months. Senior commissioners hope that tie-less officials will tolerate greater levels of heat during July and August and so, in turn, reduce the need for air-conditioning in the Commission’s 64 office buildings across Brussels.

According to a note circulated by Charlie McCreevy, the internal market commissioner, this approach has been pioneered in Japan. Mr McCreevy, who has just returned from an official visit to east Asia, wrote to his fellow commissioners late last month saying: “I noted in Japan that Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has given the lead in telling his ministers and civil servants not to wear ties in summertime. This allows office temperatures to be set higher and so cut down on energy use for cooling of offices…

…McCreevy argues that Brussels should examine similar steps “as a potential contribution from the Commission to reduce global warming.. The Commission estimates that its buildings emit 56,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. It believes that reducing the cooling or heating of room temperatures by just 1°C would cut emissions by 10 per cent.”

As an aside, in 2006 alone China built about 92 gigawatts of new coal-fired power generation capacity, more than the entire fleet of generating plants in the United Kingdom, adding 500 millions tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent to 5% of the world total) to the country's annual emissions.

The Commission’s latest “contribution” to fighting climate change is self evidently meaningless – which makes it all the more surprising that much of the media does not scrutinize more carefully the EU’s record on this score and still continues to run stories like this, whilst often buying into the intellectually lazy assertion that Brussels needs ‘more power’ in order to fight global warming. This has inevitably become entwined in the debate over the new EU treaty – which we are told should be seen as an essential part of this green package.

As we’ve argued many times previously, the EU has not been good news for the environment, particularly given the Union’s flagship policy in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), has been, and will continue to be a total failure.

So it is not at all clear what possible good EU treaty change could do for the environment. The EU doesn’t need any more powers to fight climate change (it already has plenty in that respect). It simply needs the political will to develop policies that actually work – and that will mean far more than a change in the office dress code.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Blears calls for voters to have a say on “big choices”

In today's Guardian Communities Secreatary Hazel Blears says that voters should be given a say on “big choices". The Guardian reports that Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has announced that the Government needs to let the public vote on “big choices”.

She said “I think the world has changed. I think voting every four years and basically handing over responsibility and power to other people and then doing nothing again for four years, I think our democracy is not like that any more... My overriding belief is that people are capable of making quite complex difficult decisions, setting priorities, doing trade-offs if they are given the opportunity to do it. I have never believed in a paternalistic society that tells people what is good for them.”

Just as Gordon Brown’s new willingness to “listen and learn” does not sit well with his attempts to avoid a referendum, Blears’ drive to include people more in “big choices” will add to the pressure to let people have a say on the revised Constitutional Treaty.

Anti-referendum MPs have long argued that EU treaties are too complicated for ordinary people to understand and therefore any decision should be left to them, but Blears has blown that out of the water. Her “overriding belief is that people are capable of making quite complex difficult decisions”. In the coming months it is going to be increasingly difficult for the Government to explain why people should be allowed to vote on certain “big choices”, but not on the future of the European Union.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Europe minster grilled on the charter

Jim Murphy, the new Europe Minster, made his first appearance at the European Scrutiny Committee today. The general consensus that it wasn't too impressive. To be fair to him, the issues he was discussing - such as the revised Constitutional Treaty - are pretty complicated. But we would have expected him to have got his officials to brief him thoroughly on the really tricky points - such as the Charter - especially as the legal advice to the committee was leaked to the Telegraph.

After negotiating the new EU Constitutional Treaty Tony Blair told parliament that “Nothing in the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom.”

But the MPs on the scrutiny committee weren't convinced. They pointed out that the text of the UK's opt-out reads: “nothing in [Title IV] of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable in the United Kingdom.”

They asked Murphy whether this meant that everything else in the Charter was justiciable in the UK? Murphy failed to answer the question.

He struggled to explain the meaning of the opt-out and failed to back up Blair’s argument that this will not be justiciable in the UK. He could only say that the Charter “doesn’t create any new rights.” He was asked over 10 times by MPs to give a straight answer “yes or no” to the question but he failed to do so –much to their irritation. Instead he repeated that “the legal advice that we have had is that this charter brings in no new rights.”

Jim Murphy’s failure to answer this question on the Charter only strengthens the growing consensus that the UK opt-out is not worth the paper it is written on. Jacques Ziller, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, has said that the idea of one country opting out of the charter was “nonsense” and would quickly be challenged in the courts. The Guardian has reported that, former EU Justice Commissioner Antonio Vitorino has questioned the legal basis for the British opt-out and the Commission’s legal experts expect that the British opt-out will be tested in the courts.

Murphy's case wasn't helped by the fact that he was forced to defend Margaret Beckett's lie that there had not been any negotiations on the treaty until a couple of days before the summit.

He made a distinction between "discussions" and "negotiations". When it was pointed out that Government advisers had begun work on the treaty back in January he claimed that “There’s a difference between negotiation and conversation”. He argued that because no draft was on the table back then they were not negotiations.

The advisers - he said - were simply asked to "explain the UK's concerns and priorities" for the new treaty. Seemingly contradicting Beckett's definition of negotiations:

"To my mind the process of actual negotiation begins when you are invited to set out your core demands."

The MPs were not happy. Even the Labour chairman Michael Connarty - sensing he was being "had" - began ripping into him . Not the best debut performance we've ever seen.