• Facebook
  • Facebook
  • Facebook
  • Facebook

Search This Blog

Visit our new website.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas?

...Depends whether you are living in a developing country faced with higher EU tariffs on the 1st of January.

Have a look at our new briefing note for more on the state of the negotiations on "Economic Partnership Agreements" - which are supposed to be complete by the end of the year.

The messy pile up we predicted on this blog a little over a year ago seems to be coming to pass. The real question now seems to be how willing the EU is to try and sort out the mess next year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A landmark of sorts

According to the Commisssion's EUR-LEX database, some time this month the EU passed its 100,000th law. The search reveals that 100,206 pieces of secondary legislation have been passed since 1957. Thanks for that.

To put that into perspective, if you read a law every working day (it would probably take you a bit longer to do any meaningful research of course) then you could read up on them all within about 426 years.

But wait - there is good news. If you only look at those still in force there are "only" 24,657 laws to bone up on, which would take "just" 104 years to get up to speed with.

That said, the stock of EU laws in force has grown by and average of 1,793 over the last five years. So the pile would be growing all the time.


just add the magic letters "E.U."

The Indie didn't like the patients passport much. Like us they thought the top up proposals were the wrong way to go about introducing choice into the NHS.

"The Conservatives have come up with a range of extreme solutions. They include the proposal that patients and parents should have passports which would give them the "power" to take their custom to a school or hospital of their choice. For those wealthy enough to attend a private hospital, taxpayers would make a substantial contribution. This is a perverse form of targeting: increasing public expenditure on the most affluent."

- Steve Richards, Independent, 19.10.2003

"The Tory solution, however, looks suspiciously like a subsidy for wealthier patients. Their "passport" policy (rather hastily renamed "right to choose" after confused voters wondered if they had to go abroad to benefit) offers to refund part of the cost of private operations. It is right to try to use the private sector to help reform the public sector. But this assists only those who can afford to pay to go private, while doing little to help the less well-off or to confront the inherent problems of a sclerotic NHS."

- Leader, Independent, 24.06.2004

----> But now add the magic euro-ingredient... and lo - a sudden change of heart:

"Another development is news of a draft initiative from the European Commission to open up the European health system so that citizens can access services in other member states if it is quicker than in their home country. This is no panacea for the ills of our own health service. But it is certainly good news for those patients presently at the mercy of a woefully inefficient and unresponsive NHS. And the competition should be good for the NHS itself in the long-term. [...] They are also gearing up to challenge the complacency of our monolithic NHS and offering British patients greater freedom of choice in healthcare. So much for the stereotype of useless Brussels bureaucrats who do nothing but think up ways to make life more difficult for us."

- Leader, Independent, 20.12.07

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Scottish parliament votes for a referendum

So - the Scottish Parliament has tonight voted for a referendum on the revived Constitutional Treaty.

SNP, Green and Conservative MSPs voted for the referendum, while the Liberal Democrats voted against. Labour MSPs voted for an amendment opposing a referendum but then abstained in the final vote.

It’s a good propaganda coup - and nice that the Parliament reflects the view of eight out of ten Scots that there should be a referendum.

However, the parties that voted for a referendum didn't do the one thing that would have made a real difference - vote for a referendum in Scotland - which the Parliament can actually call. That would have put Brown under massive pressure... that said, various recent events seem to be putting Brown under rather a lot of pressure anyway.

Rebellion in the ludicrous parliament

From the Devil's Kitchen - Footage of the chaotic scenes in the European parliament during the ridiculous "proclaimation" of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

We seem to remember someone in a rather senior position in UKREP once saying that he wished he could "shut the - thing down".

Monday, December 17, 2007

telling it like it is

From the Guardian last week: Mandelson hits back at African leaders on trade

"If all of Africa has rejected EPAs, why are we getting people signing?" Mandelson told Reuters as he headed into a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday to discuss the talks.

"It's because in some cases they feel reluctantly that they don't have any alternative and don't want their trade disrupted..."

i.e. we have bullied them into it.

Isn't the UK Government doing something about it?

"Other EU countries pressed Mandelson on Monday to offer alternatives to the Jan. 1 deadline but did not have enough support to force a rewrite of the proposed EPA texts."

"The Netherlands wanted more time for middle-income countries if they have no deal by Jan. 1 and Britain suggested export duties be refunded once a deal was done."

"Mandelson told Reuters such proposals were "totally unrealistic" and would undermine the position of countries which have already signed up in the eyes of domestic lobbies."

Its a good thing we have built up such a stock of "influence in Europe" with all our concessions over the years...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why the FCO are wrong

Why is it always on the busiest days that really complicated things crop up?

The Foreign Office sent this “rebuttal” round the lobby journalists today. We will quote it in full then respond below.

What they say

From: xxxxx.xxxx@fco.gov.uk
Sent: 13 December 2007
To: xxxxx.xxxx@fco.gov.uk
Subject: note to Lobby from FCO Press Office - Reform Treaty and immigration

• The Charter of Fundamental Rights will not change the rights of asylum seekers or refugees to take their cases to the European Court of Justice (in Luxembourg, not Strasbourg). They only have existing rights where we have already opted in to EU law. Last year only ten cases were referred to the ECJ from UK courts.

• The Treaty will allow courts to make references for preliminary rulings to the European Court of Justice in cases concerning EU law on asylum. Currently such references can only be made by the House of Lords. References are about points of EU law - for example interpretation of EU rules. It does not mean the ECJ deciding whether people should stay or go. That will always be for national courts.

• And clarifying points of law with the ECJ quickly is strongly in the UK interest. It means we can decide on cases, and deal with the asylum seeker faster than if we wait for the case to get to the House of Lords, and then the ECJ, as happens now. So this should speed up the processing of asylum claims - without extending the ECJ's powers.

• This is only relevant to the UK in relation to EU measures we have opted into. Where we do not opt in to a measure, ECJ jurisdiction will not apply. And we have preserved an across-the-board right to choose whether or not to opt in. We can already choose not to participate in EU asylum proposals, and we will keep that right to choose under the Treaty. However, all Member States agree that working together improves our asylum systems. European co-operation can substantially help to stop the problems of "asylum shopping".

• There were quotes in one of today's papers from "EU Treaty Rules" (sic - in fact articles from the Charter of Fundamental Rights). These merely cite existing rights which, in some cases, the UK has been committed to since well before its EU membership (e.g. the Geneva Convention of 1951 and the New York Protocol of 1967). It is therefore not true to suggest that these provisions provide any new rights or competences for the EU.

• What is more, the UK protocol to the Charter puts beyond doubt that it cannot be used, either in the European Court or the UK national courts, to create any greater rights than already exist in UK or EU law or to strike down any UK laws.

xxxxx xxxx
Head of Europe Team and Press Officer for the Minister for Europe
Press Office
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

What we say

This is a typical FCO attempt to throw up a load of dust to distract from the significant changes that are being proposed here.

Basically there are two very significant things re migration and asylum in the revived Constitution.

1) The fact that the ECJ gets full jurisdiction over third pillar issues for all member states (previously it was optional and the UK chose not to give the Court these powers).

2) Various rights set out in the Charter which might make a difference in asylum / immigration cases.

Regarding the first point, what is is particularly hypocritical is that the Government themselves raised several of the same concerns they are now trying to rebut back when they were still opposed to these proposals.

In terms of the expanded jurisdiction of the Court, they were concerned that it would lead to a lot more requests for rulings, which (given that the ECJ takes 20.4 months on average to respond) could really gum up the system.

At the end of last year when the same proposal was mooted (via the use of the passerelle) Peter Hain said: “There is clearly a risk that adding what is in effect an avenue of appeal at a very early stage in the process might be an opportunity of further complicating our existing asylum and immigration processes.”

In a letter dated 12 December 2006 the minister responsible (Joan Ryan) said that the Government "recognises the difficulties in accurately estimating the potential numbers of cases that could be involved, especially because new Community laws under Title IV will only come into effect over the next year".

The Government also argued that "the Government is concerned that allowing all courts to refer cases for preliminary rulings could have an adverse impact on the speed of decision-making at the ECJ [NB the exact opposite of what they are now saying] and consequently on the length of time it takes to resolve domestic cases. Implementation of the proposal as it stands could result in significant numbers of referrals from lower courts. We recognise that even a relatively modest increase in referrals in each Member State could create large backlogs of cases at the ECJ and consequential delays in domestic decision-making, especially if similar domestic cases were stayed pending an ECJ preliminary ruling."

In other words, as well the individual cases being thrown up to the ECJ, these would affect other people's cases if they touched on similar points of law. Meanwhile people will be waiting on benefits, unable to work, or even in custody.

In fairness to the Government they did try to amend the Constitution to answer these concerns, but they were not successful. Hain pointed out that "The United Kingdom is concerned that there would be a much greater number of preliminary rulings in asylum and immigration cases in particular, which the Court of Justice is not equipped to manage, if it was open to any court or tribunal to refer a case."

Regarding the Charter, the Government make two points. Firstly they say it "merely cites existing rights" and secondly they say that the UK protocol means that it will not be used by the Court "to create any greater rights than already exist in UK or EU law."

On the first point, the Charter clearly does not just cite existing rights. The UK Government would not have been trying to stop it from getting legal force for the last seven years if it didn't change anything.

A quick look at the text of explanations (drawn up at the insistence of the UK by the Praesidium of the European Convention) makes it clear that these rights are not just copies of those found in other agreements. Even where there is overlap, the rights in the Charter are often wider, and we are only likely to discover how much wider after a series of court cases.

Take just one example at random - Article 19.2 of the Charter: "No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Now that all sounds fair enough - though of course it is just stating the core problem in the difficult business of deciding asylum cases.

According to the text of explanations it is not just a copy of an existing UK agreement but instead "incorporates the relevant case law from the European Court of Human Rights regarding article 3 of the ECHR". To what extent it widens or could be used to widen that case law is one for the lawyers of the future.

But it is certainly not just "copying" an existing text to which the UK is a signatory. Actually the original article 3 ECHR just says "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." There is nothing there, for example, about not deporting people to a country with the death penalty.

The problem is that trying to "consolidate" case law into a few words of primary legislation or treaty law can easily then lead to further rounds of case law "building on" the consolidated, paraphrased text.

The point about the UK protocol is just question begging: The Court should not use it to create "greater rights than in UK" or EU law. (our underlining). But the whole point is that it will be up to the ECJ to decide what rights "exist" in UK or EU law.

Remember that this is a court which has a well established track record of "discovering" new rights and powers for the EU. For example the "rights" which allowed Learco Chindamo to stay in the UK were based on the free movement directive, but this was itself based on a series of rulings from the ECJ.

Some would say, well, we can trust the Court to behave sensibly. But can we? Remember this is the Court which "discovered" that the Commission's has the power to propose some criminal laws by majority vote, despite the opposition of 18 member states.

In the end handing over powers to the Court over these controversial areas raises the problem that if you don’t like what it decides there is no comeback. There are good reasons why the UK and other member states did not agree to do this in the Maastricht treaty, and there are good reasons not to do it now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

happy birthday mr president

Interesting study of the revived Constitution / treaty out today from a group of Brussels think tanks. One thing we hadn't seen before is this idea:

"It is currently expected that the main political parties at European level will designate their candidate for the presidency of the Commission in the campaign prior to the next elections to the European Parliament in 2009. The personality of the candidate could presumably become a significant element in the political debate."

A likely story. Our bet is that it will be three people who are virtualy unknown across the EU. We can't help thinking that they will all have to come from small countries...

This story is a a bit like the previous federalist hope that directly electing the European Parliament would lead to a huge surge in euro-feeling. In fact turnout has fallen in every election since the first one in 1979.

When the (virtual) "European Political Parties" start putting up their "presidential candidates" in '09 it will be interesting to see what happens when federalist ideas collide with reality.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This is why they are bringing back Campbell

Yup, if Broon wanted to give people an excuse to say that he dithers and is cowardly he couldn't have done it much better than by... dithering about whether to go the Lisbon summit then opting for a cack compromise.

He plans to go to the summit but then turn up late and miss the public signing ceremony. Then he can sign the treaty secretly after lunch.

Nice one. Genius. The entire UK media will now be trying to get the "money shot" of Brown signing the treaty. It seems to be going down fairly badly both in the media and in Downing Street. According to Ben Brogan the PM was surprised to find that on his return from Afghanistan the main topic of interest in the lobby was his jaunt to Lisbon. Doh.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

paris vs berlin vs brussels

Looks like there is going to be an interesting fight. From the Times:

France set itself on collision course with Brussels yesterday as it announced green taxes on gas-guzzling cars and a state-funded discount for vehicles that emit small quantities of carbon dioxide.

Under the scheme, which may fall foul of European Union competition law, a tax of up to €2,600 (£1,900) will be slapped on 4x4s and high-powered sports cars, from next month. Purchasers of small cars will receive a government payment of up to €1,000 under the plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in France.

“We are the first Western country to give a bonus to virtuous products,” Jean-Louis Borloo, the Ecology Minister, said.

The move, dubbed the ecological no-claims bonus, was welcomed by environmentalists but is certain to anger German manufacturers, such as Mercedes and BMW, which will be hit by the new taxes. They suspect President Sarkozy’s Government of using ecology as a pretext for a programme to favour Renault, Peugeot and Citroën, the French carmakers, which tend to produce smaller vehicles.

The one-off tax will be €200 for cars emitting between 161g and 165g of CO2 per kilometre, such as the Opel Zafira; €750 for 166g to 200g, such as the BMW 3 Series; €1,600 for 201g to 250g, such as the Mercedes Class E; and €2,600 for more than 251g, such as the Volkswagen Touareg.

The bonus will be €200 for cars emitting between 121g and 130g, such as the Renault Mégane; €700 for 101g to 120g, such as the Renault Clio; and €1,000 for less than 101g, such as the Fiat 500.

There will be neither a tax nor a bonus for cars whose emissions are between 131g and 160g.

In a further move designed to take older vehicles off the roads, drivers will be able to claim a €300 payment from the State if they send a car at least 15 years old to the scrapyard and replace it with a small, environmentally friendly one.

A study by the French Automobile Observatory said that the move could generate 110,000 new car sales next year, boosting a market stagnating at an annual total of two million, compared with 2.4 million in Britain.

Paris said that the scheme would have no impact on public finances because the discounts would be funded by the new taxes. About 25 per cent of new vehicles fall into a category that will now be taxed – about 1 per cent at the highest rate – and about 30 per cent will be eligible for a payout, according to the Transport Ministry.

Christian Gerondeau, the chairman of the French Federation of Automobile Clubs, said: “If all the money taken off people whose cars have big engines goes to those whose cars have small engines, then we can admit that this is a step in the right direction.”

Michel Dubromel, of France Nature Environment, a federation of 3,000 green associations, said that the Government had reneged on initial pledges. “We recognise the importance of the initiative, but this is a step back from what was agreed.”

However, the French press said that the fiercest opposition could come from Brussels amid fears that the scheme could distort competition.

Friday, November 30, 2007

really interesting post

...from the head of policy at the environment agency - on his amazingly candid blog Bacon Butty

Thursday, November 29, 2007

why we still need NATO

EU = shambles

Also, when the "EU" force does finally get there are the Chadians really going to be fooled into thinking that this isn't a thinly disguised French mission? When they are all speaking French? We cautiously predict that they might see through that...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

EPAs in chaos

The ODI look at the mess over what exactly the EU has agreed with African countries.

Looks like little more than an agreement to come to an agreement.


Hans Martin Tillack has won his case at the European Court of Human Rights, having been given extremely rough justice by the EU anti-fraud office and the European Court of Justice.

No wonder the EU want to supplant the role of the ECHR...

signing up without reservation

Ha. As well as noting that the red lines are not met, the European Scrutiny Committee have put the Constitutional Treaty under their scrutiny reserve, meaning that ministers are not supposed to sign it until Parliament has at least had a chance to look at it.

Will Ministers listen? Unlikely.

They "override" the scrutiny reserve constantly - making a mockery of any attempt to even look at the vast flood of EU legislation going through Parliament on the nod. So it's unlikely to stop ministers jetting off to their taxpayer funded jolly in Lisbon and Brussels.

A bit of a problem for the FCO

The EUobserver reports that EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has announced plans to further harmonise rules on the processing of asylum applications and the treatment of asylum seekers across the EU.

He released a report which criticised seven EU countries - Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK - for not properly applying the EU's minimum set of rights to applicants held in detention centres, even though EU rules do not allow such exemptions. As a result Frattini said, "I intend to propose amendments to the 2003 directive in order to limit the discretion allowed". He specifically referred to further harmonisation of the level and form of reception conditions, access to employment, health care, free movement rights and identification and care of vulnerable persons."

That's very interesting, because under the final deal on the constitutional treaty the UK is not able to opt out of amendments to existing justice and home affairs legislation without opting out of the original legislation - one of several ways in which the UK opt out (in operation since Amsterdam) would be undermined by the "new" treaty

So if Frattini proposes to build on the Asylum Procedures Directive or the Reception Conditions Directive then the UK would in future no longer be able to pick and choose. It would have to opt in - or be thrown out of pervious agreements it has chosen to opt into.

There is also a philosophical question about the whole thing. Frattini said that "Creating a level playing field in the area of reception conditions is a priority for the commission". Do voters in the accept that they will not be able to vote to change the rules on these issues if it would undermine the idea of a "level playing field"? As the EU moves into increasingly contentious fields (and moves further and further away from any kind of mooring in public consent) these questions will become increasingly acute.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It never just rains...

The rows over Party funding and missing data CDs may blow over fairly soon if fortune starts to favour Gordon Brown – although this is by no means certain.

But along with Northern Rock, a more enduring problem with the potential to hole the long-term reputation of the Government below the water line is Europe. Parliamentary ratification – scheduled for early next year – would be a tortuous, drawn-out process. In this light, today’s report from the European Scrutiny Committee is yet more bad news for Brown. A few extracts below:

On the lack of opportunity for parliamentary oversight…

“We again recall that as recently as June of this year the European Council not only emphasised the “crucial importance of reinforcing communications with the European citizens … and involving them in permanent dialogue” but also stated that this would be “particularly important during the upcoming IGC and ratification processes”. Such statements now ring hollow, and we reiterate our earlier comment that the process could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national parliaments and to curtail public debate, until it has become too late for such debate to have any effect on the agreements which have been reached.”

The ‘red line’ on tax was a distraction…

“In our view, control of tax and social security was never seriously threatened. The previous Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe contained no proposals to move to QMV in relation to tax.”

On why the UK’s protocol on the Charter is not an ‘opt-out’ (as the Government originally claimed) and will not work…

“It is clear that the Government accepts that the Charter will be legally binding, and it has stated that the Protocol is not an opt-out. Since the Protocol is to operate subject to the UK’s obligations under the Treaties, it still seems doubtful to us that the Protocol has the effect that the courts of this country will not be bound by interpretations of measures of Union law given by the ECJ and based on the Charter. If the ECJ gives a ruling in a case arising outside the UK on a measure which also applies in the UK, the duty to interpret the measure in accordance with that ruling arises, not under the Charter, but under the UK’s other Treaty obligations. Nothing in the Protocol appears to excuse the UK from this obligation.

…In our view, the only way of ensuring that the Charter does not affect UK law in any way is to make clear, as we have already suggested, that the Protocol takes effect “notwithstanding the Treaties or Union law generally.” We note that this kind of provision has been made in the Protocol to the EC Treaty on the acquisition of property in Denmark (No. 16) and in the Protocol to the EU Treaty on Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution (No. 17), but it has not been made in respect of the Charter.”

There is detailed explanation of the UK’s opt-in arrangement on Justice and Home Affairs, particularly the changes that weakened the UK’s protocol subsequent to the agreement on IGC mandate in June. The Committee question whether the UK can be genuinely free to choose whether or not it opts-in to a measure amending an existing JHA measure:

“the risk of losing the benefit of an existing measure, because of a choice not to participate in its amendment, by virtue of a decision in which the UK cannot take part, must put at least some pressure on the UK to opt in. We also note the new possibility for the Council to decide by QMV that the UK should bear the direct financial consequences necessarily and unavoidably incurred if the UK ceases to participate in a measure. This must import some measure of financial risk, not present before, into a decision not to opt in and we question whether it is in the UK’s interests to be exposed to such risk.

It concludes by highlighting the danger of “exposing the UK to new and unpredictable consequences and risk if it decides not to opt in to any transposed or amended measure. The ‘opt-in’ decision under these proposals will become one which may lead to serious consequences for the UK through the transfer of jurisdiction on important measures dealing with civil and criminal justice.”

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Just a thought

The lost data disks have done nothing to make the idea of ID cards more popular...

Presumably we can look forwards to a similar spraying around of our personal details under the EU's Prum Treaty, which mandates the sharing of all kinds of data (and which is going ahead with almost no discussion at all).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The truth?

...You can't handle the truth.

From PA:

Europe's agriculture Commissioner lost her cool this afternoon over claims that EU farm subsidies are being handed out to golf clubs and riding stables in the UK.

The findings in a report last week by Europe's financial watchdog resurfaced as Mariann Fischer-Boel was promising a new streamlined, cash-efficient, environmentally-friendly Common Agricultural Policy.

And the 64-year old Dane deployed her excellent ability in the English language to full effect when she told a press conference she was "p***** off" with such "stupid" claims.

Ms Fischer-Boel wanted to focus on her plans to put a ceiling on agricultural grants to Europe's wealthiest farmers, including the Queen and members of the English land-owning aristocracy and make sure EU payments were directed towards poorer hill farmers who most need help.

But she couldn't shake off the damning evidence from the European Court of Auditors.

Asked during the press conference in Brussels about EU payments feeding golf course coffers, Ms Fischer-Boel replied: "Can I start by killing immediately this stupid message that we pay direct payments to golf courses?

"I was disappointed, then surprised, then I became angry to see the Court of Auditors say we paid money for golf courses.

"This is completely out of the question - it has never been our intention."

But, aware that more than 30 UK courses have been receiving EU budget payments under the Common Agricultural Policy, she explained: "There is a situation where you have a company that owns a golf course and next to that they may have some arable or agricultural land, and of course if they are running this land as a farmer then they are entitled to get their direct payment. But we don't support golf courses, let's be very clear, so I hope this discussion is dead."

*Sigh* The contorted phrase "running this land as a farmer" might to the uninitiated suggest that they would have to be farming the land to get the subsidy. But actually, that's not quite true. It just needs to be the right sort of land. As time goes by more and more non farmers will end up owning subsidies (Open Europe already owns one).

As for the idea that the Commission's proposal is a radical new reform... Jack Thurston has the details. Suffice to say it isn't actually new, or a meaningful reform.

What it is is an attempt to distract attention from reform. And to some extent it has worked. Yesterday's Today Programme dutifully reported that the UK and Germany were resisting the Commission's proposals for "reform".

The reality is that trying to set an artificial cap on payments to "individuals" would be instantly circumvented, as individuals, trusts and companies parceled up and dispersed their land into sub-units to get under the threshold.

What would really help tenant farmers would be a reduction in the total spent subsidising the ownership of land - and therefore increasing their rent. But that's not on the agenda.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Miliband at Bruges

His speech is up on PA - and it appears to be lots and lots of yada yada held loosely together with the rather threadbare idea that the EU - even if it is demographically doomed - can at least be a "model power" blazing a trail for regional integration elsewhere in the world.

"The EU is not and never will be a superpower. An EU of 27 nation states or more is never going to have the fleetness of foot or the fiscal base to dominate. In fact economically and demographically Europe will be less important in the world of 2050 that it was in the world of 1950.

Our opportunity is different. The EU has the opportunity to be a model power. It can chart a course for regional cooperation between medium-sized and small countries."

Never mind that African countries don't really want to have the EU "model" imposed on them through EPAs, or that the rising powers of the future are not regions but really big single states. Nonetheless, the EU needs a new "narrative" and today being a "model power" seems to be it.

Is it just us or is there also an echo here of British politicians after 1945 talking about "the moral leadership of the world" to replace its fading capacity for real leadership? Do all declining blocs grasp at these kind of straws?

One interesting irony that Miliband's main example of how the EU is supposed to become a "model power" is the environment:

"In the decisions made at the Spring Council last year, the EU showed its ambitions to be model power on climate change."

Um... you mean the targets that the UK is already trying to back out of...? Hardly "model" behaviour.

In fairness there is one new idea in the speech - again connected with the environment. But its a stinker.

We have already agreed to extend the EU ETS to include aviation, but we must also consider the case for surface transport. And we should consider moving from individual countries setting their own allocation to harmonised allocations on the road to cap-setting done centrally. As the European Central Bank regulates money supply for the eurozone, it is worth thinking whether the idea of a European Carbon Bank could in future set limits on the production of carbon across Europe.

Hmmm. A single cap is bad not just because it's a tax, and taxes should be democratically controlled.

Realistically, it is also not going to happen. Many of the other member states are only taking part in ETS on the understanding that they will be given more permits than they need and can make money out of the scheme. So any "EU carbon bank" is likely to go the way of Northern Rock - with plenty of people keen to take out, but very few willing to put anything in...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

You cannot be serious

George Parker argues on his blog that "Mr Brown has a golden opportunity to lead in Europe along with likeminded allies like Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel".

Oh no.

It's standard media fare in the UK to regard all new EU leaders as our new "natural allies", and to argue that their election proves once and for all that "Europe is reforming and coming our way" - as the Foreign Office always says.

Aznar, Berlusconi, Schroder, and even Chirac were all at one point supposed to be our new best friends.

But with Sarkozy it is particularly ludicrous. A quick run through of his priorities (as shown in his speech and comments yesterday).

- No to Turkey in the EU
- Increased protectionism "Community preference"
- Further development of EU defence structures outside NATO
- French European industrial champions
- "Political" management of monetary policy and the euro exchange rate
- No to energy monopoly reform
- No to ending the Parliament's Strasbourg seat
- A further round of integration hot on the heels of the Constitution

Again and again his position is the exact-180-degree-opposite of London. Is there anything they agree on? Ah yes, there is one thing. As Sarko said yesterday, the political class must stick together to avoid referendums:

"France was just ahead of all the other countries in voting no. It would happen in all member states if they have a referendum. There is a cleavage between people and governments. A referendum now would bring Europe into danger. There will be no Treaty if we had a referendum in France, which would again be followed by a referendum in the UK."

Friday, November 02, 2007

(Not) changing their spots

There's some fabulously cynical stuff in this discusssion paper on the Constitution from the EU's "Bureau of European Policy Advisors".

It's nice to see that they are at least aware of the hypocritical nature of what they are doing.

"a solution to the crisis over the Constitutional Treaty has to resolve the two impossibilities of (1) changing the text in order for it to stay (mostly) the same and (2) stressing the necessity and relevance of the Constitutional Treaty while emphasizing that the EU was moving on with important political projects in its absence."

"The Commission especially faces the impossible task of showing the functioning of "Europe of results" and arguing that the Constitutional Treaty is desperately needed. Whatever the solution in the end, every possibility would have a political cost to each Member State government."

We particularly like the Lampedusa-like admission about 'changing the text in order that it can stay the same'. Very EU.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Referendums on anything you want - just not the EU Constitution

So many politicians seem to be banging on about referendums and people power at the moment.

But curiously none of them seem keen on a referendum on the issue that is actually on the table - the revived EU Constitution. Perhaps it is some kind of psychological displacement activity?


Fleshing out his policy platform, Mr Huhne promised to give the public a referendum on new laws where there was a certain level of demand.

He suggested that 2.5% support for a vote could be enough to trigger a vote if it was registered within 100 days of the legislation's passage through Parliament.

"We need a people's veto to block unwanted law," he said, adding that it would introduce a new check on the "overweening" powers of the executive.


"One lesson of the last 15 plus years since the fall of the Berlin Wall is that democracy and its practice are learnt slowly - but also that they need to be learnt from the bottom up. (Some of the problems of British government are that we have forgotten this lesson and allowed local democracy to weaken - hence the repeated government efforts, including under the new government, to give more power to local government). It is not glib to talk about the local roots of self government. At the beginning of the American revolution Thomas Paine understood this. He said "Let the crown be demolished and scattered among the people whose right it is".


A referendum would be "inevitable" if plans to give the UK a written constitution go ahead, a minister says.

Justice minister Michael Wills said any "fundamental alteration in the powers of Parliament" was likely to make a vote by the public necessary.

Politicians are perfectly happy to bang on about giving more power to the people - as long as it doesn't actually ever happen. You want a referendum on the European Constitution? Forget it. There is definitely something in the idea that public dislike of politicians is driven in large part by perception of their pointlessness.

But it is also driven by the perception that so much of what politicians say is guff. And vague guff too. As Harry Frankfurt argued in his famous essay:

"Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. "

"On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires. "

"This freedom from the constraints to which the liar must submit does not necessarily mean, of course, that his task is easier than the task of the liar. But the mode of creativity upon which it relies is less analytical and less deliberative than that which is mobilized in lying. It is more expansive and independent, with mare spacious opportunities for improvisation, colour, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the “bullshit artist.”"

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Myth and reality

Standard europhile narrative:

"Yes... but we never really get outvoted... after all, when does the EU really force us to do anything we don't want to do? Its just a way for us to pool our sovereignty to have more influence."



COURTS Chindamo
31 Oct 2007 - 16:26
By John Aston, PA

Page 1

A senior High Court judge has refused a Government request to reconsider a tribunal's decision that Learco Chindamo, the murderer of headteacher Philip Lawrence, cannot be deported to Italy.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne instructed officials to apply to a senior judge for a last-ditch review.

But Mr Justice Collins, in a ruling announced today, has upheld the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal's decision that Chindamo, jailed in 1996, cannot be deported on release.

He becomes eligible for parole next year.

Refusing to order a reconsideration, the judge said: "There is no error of law in the careful determination of the tribunal."

The ruling will come as a blow to Mr Byrne, who says the Government wants foreign nationals who commit serious crimes to be "automatically deported".

It also follows news that serial sex offender Mohammed Kendeh is to be allowed to stay in Britain because deporting him to his native Sierre Leone would breach his human right to a family life.

In the Chindamo case, the judge emphasised that his decision was mainly based on EU regulations and the fact that it would be "disproportionate"
to remove the 27-year-old, as an EU citizen, under those regulations.

Although born in Italy, Chindamo has lived in the UK since the age of six.

He was 15 when, in 1995, he stabbed Mr Lawrence, who was trying to protect another pupil at the gates of his west London school.

It was reported that ministers told Frances Lawrence, the teacher's widow, that they intended to seek Chindamo's deportation to Italy when he becomes eligible for parole in 2008.

Today the judge said: "If assurances were given to the victim's widow or to the public that the appellant would be removed, they should not have been and cannot now justify removal."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

SNP call for a referendum

According to the Record the SNP have come out for a referendum on the EU Constitution.

SNP MP Angus Robertson said: "We'll trust the people while Gordon Brown will not trust the people. We are honour-bound to support a referendum."

Its nice to have them supporting a referendum. But will it make any difference? The party seems to be shying away from supporting a consultative referendum in Scotland. But that's the only way they can make things really interesting for Gordon Brown...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Why UK justice safeguard cannot be watertight

In the House of Commons yesterday Frank Dobson MP raised the "injustice" done to one of his constituents, Joseph Mendy, under the provisions of the European Arrest Warrant. Mendy was arrested in the Canary Islands in November 2003 on suspicion of counterfeiting €50 euro notes despite the fact he was never found in possession of a counterfeited note. He and his friends were released and heard nothing more from the Spanish authorities until March this year when he was served with a European Arrest Warrant. Mendy appealed the extradition but as Dobson stressed, "this involves the UK courts doing nothing more than going through the motions, because there are virtually no grounds on which to challenge a European extradition warrant."

Dobson continued:

"At the subsequent court appearance in Madrid, Joe Mendy was denied bail on the bizarre grounds that he was a flight risk. By this time, the Spanish judicial holidays were commencing, so my innocent constituent of exemplary good character was held in the Spanish jail over the summer." "After spending almost two months on remand in the Spanish jail, Joe appeared before a Spanish judge on 15 September. His Spanish lawyer advised him that if he continued to plead not guilty, he was likely to be held in jail for at least a further year before his case came to trial. If, however, he pleaded guilty, he would, because of his exemplary record in Britain, get a suspended sentence and a small fine. Understandably in such dreadful circumstances, he pleaded guilty and got a two-year suspended sentence and a €600 fine."

"The treatment of Joe Mendy is a disgrace; it is exactly the sort of incident that brings European institutions into disrepute. What happened to the warrant between June 2004 and March 2007? Was it mislaid? Sadly, the law that we passed does not require the authorities to use their common sense or to have a sense of proportion. Having being passed by the House on the argument that it would speed up extradition, our law does not demand that the authorities proceed expeditiously. Instead, it demonstrably permits them to take nearly four years to crank up this draconian machinery."

Home Office Minister Meg Hillier responded saying:

"We have to have faith in our European partners, and there are safeguards in place to ensure that each European country has a proper legal and judicial process to take such decisions. We have heard that Mr Mendy’s case has been concluded and that he is back in the UK having received a suspended sentence. I am pleased to hear that he can now start at Liverpool University next year and begin to get his life back on track."

It goes without saying that this is a totally unacceptable outcome for a system that was originally intended to expedite the fight against serious organised crime and terrorism.

Sadly, it is likely that this case is far from unique. As leaked Commission documents revealed this summer, EU Arrest Warrants (EAWs) have been frequently issued for trivial crimes - including the theft of two car tyres, and a single case of piglet rustling. The EU report admits that the arrest warrants are being used "disproportionately" to the seriousness of offences.

It is clear from this case that serious inconsistencies in standards can arise between different legal regimes across different member states. But this sits uneasily with the basis of the EAW: judicial mutual recognition. For this reason, it is almost certain that we’ll hear increasing calls for legislating for EU-wide criminal procedural standards – in other words, the problems arising from mutual recognition creates the impetus for full harmonisation.

The revised EU Constitution provides the avenue for such harmonisation, with the dropping of national vetos in justice and home affairs. It is unlikely the UK will be immune from these developments, despite the Government’s claim to have an ‘opt-in’ arrangement in this area.

In short, the nature of the UK ‘safeguard’ on JHA puts a gun to the head of the Government if it wishes to opt out of future developments based on existing legislation which already applies to the UK, like the EAW. If the UK doesn’t want to accept the amending legislation to something like the EAW, then it will be thrown out of participation in that legislation in its entirety.

Given current the current security situation, it is highly unlikely that the UK Government would be prepared to give up any form of agreement with other member states on extradition, such as the EAW. It would therefore be highly problematic for Britain not to opt-in on measures amending the EAW.

If, as seems probable, the EU does choose to move towards criminal procedural harmonisation in order to address the issues raised by cases such as that of Joe Mendy, it would be unlikely the UK could in practice exclude itself from such moves under the revised Constitution.

Should the Constitution be ratified, existing UK participation in European extradition agreements will be a powerful lever to force the UK to opt in on future EU justice and home affairs legislation.

Hands in the till

The Economist blog picks up on yet another example of the appalling mindset of the European political class.

Meanwhile Lindsay Appleby at the FCO reports that there was a "heated debate" about what legal base should be used for the updated regulation on European Political Parties.

Really. Rather than arcane rows about legal bases it might be interesting to hear exactly why the Government thinks that it should be allowed to help itself to taxpayers money to fund its campaigning activity.

It's bad enough having to listen to them spouting endless balls... but having to then pay for the privilege is really galling.

Given the row that there has been about taxpayer funding of political parties in the UK it's a shame there hasn't been more controversy about the same thing happening at EU level.

As usual, you can get away with all kinds of things if you do them in Brussels...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How ridiculous

David Miliband banging on about his admiration for "bottom up democracy".

Isn't he forgetting something?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Literally smoke filled rooms

...according to David Miliband.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

No longer *Independent* ?

A bit of off-site blogging from Neil over at the Coffee House.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Liberal Democrats - the clue should be in the name

Poor old Ming.

On the upside - the Lib Dems can have a bit of a think about what they stand for - and what's going to differentiate them as they get squeezed from both sides.

They have an opportunity to escape from the corner Sir Menzies had painted the party into on the referendum issue. But will either of the leadership challengers take it...?

On 11% in the polls - the Lib Dems could do with some popular policies soon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

EPAs - time running out

Our paper on Economic Partnership Agreements is out.

There's a piece about it on Comment is Free.

Let us know what you think...

proper names part two

"A Foreign Minister who cannot be called a Foreign Minister"

- Federalist MEP Elmar Brok finds a nice way to describe the proposed High-Representative-for-Foreign-Affairs-and-Security-Policy.

Garton Ash for a referendum?

Tim Garton Ash comes out (just about) for a referendum in his piece in the Guardian this morning.

When I talk privately to pro-European friends, this is almost invariably the clinching argument: "Because we would lose it!" ...

We now face a choice of evils: either this good thing is pushed through by the established procedures of a parliamentary democracy, but without clear popular consent; or popular consent is sought in a referendum, which will probably be lost...

Which is the lesser evil? Many of my pro-European friends will jump on me for saying this, but I must admit that I rather hanker after open combat. Sound the trumpets, stiffen the sinews, and let us march out from this boggy ground. At least it would make a change from Groundhog Day.

Welcome to the campaign, Tim.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Milliband at the FAC

David Miliband is at the Foreign Affairs Committee today. Thoughts as they occur to us below:

The Government has some very peculiar arguments: M says "it makes it clear for the first time that member states are in charge of foreign policy" - so what was the case before?

The reality is that the warm (and non binding) words in the "declaration" Miliband is talking about are only there as a sop to the UK because so much else is being given up.


An interesting question: would Miliband have been happy to campaign for the Constitutional Treaty, as promised in the 2005 Labour manifesto?

However, in answer we are being treated to the usual blah blah – its not a single treaty, UK has lots of opt outs etc. But yes, he "stands by it."


David Heathcoat Amory has picked M up on his pathetic attempt to rubbish the European Scrutiny Committee report by saying its out of date. Obviously he isn't answering the question. He talks about the "transitional" agreements in Justice and Home Affairs.

DHA is now pressing for detail on the changes in the new draft. Miliband says "there is detail now" - but he sounds jolly defensive and rightly so. Because it isn't good detail from the UK government's point of view.

Look at the new article 4a of the protocol on the UK and Ireland (on page 61 of this document).

It essentially says that in future if there are amendments to JHA legislation which the UK is opted into, then the other member states can hold a gun to the UK's head by saying that Britain will be thrown out of that piece of legislation:

If at the expiry of that period of two months from the Council's determination the United Kingdom or Ireland has not made a notification under Article 3 or Article 4, the existing measure shall no longer be binding upon or applicable to it

And indeed in future:

"The Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may determine that the United Kingdom or Ireland shall bear the direct financial consequences, if any, necessarily and unavoidably incurred as a result of the cessation of its participation in the existing measure."

In short the opt-in arrangement has been substantially weakened - after quite a strong fightback from the more federally-minded member states. Hardly a triumph. In fact it *strengthens* the ESC's case that the "red lines" will "leak like a sieve".


Miliband says, "Every single one of the rights in the Charter exists already."

This is palpable nonsense. If they were not new rights why did the Government initially spin that it had an "opt out" (before doing a u-turn)? If they are not new rights why has the Government been worried about it for the last seven years. In fact many of the rights are said in the text of explanations to be derived from documents to which the UK is not a signatory. Others are just plain new. (See our guide for more.)


Wonderful forensic stuff from Gisela Stuart. Just got him to admit that people in Britain are perfectly capable of making rational decisions in referendums. He says its only the French who vote on other off topic issues.

Also (for euro-nerds) she makes the good point that even the Constitution didn't bring all the treaties together... actually the Euratom treaty stayed out. A fair quibble on a fundamentally terrible argument from the Government. Why was stapling the treaties together "legally unprecedented" anyway?

Stuart has also come back to the first point - why do we have to say "member states are in charge of foreign policy" – aren’t they anyway?

M says "its good that its clear and established... we know where we stand". Another awful argument deflates....


Stuff on the timetable for ratification.

M says there isn't one yet. He will proceed "promptly" with ratification after December.


It's been pointed out that the declaration on foreign policy is not legally binding.

M says declarations are "worthwhile even if they don't have legal force". Grrrr-eat.


Verdict: a pretty defensive performance. Miliband better get used to it - with the election off there is going to be years of this stuff....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Constitution lives on

Just digging through the new version of the treaty which came out today.

There are lots of little changes which will need looking at more to figure out what they mean.

But one change they should have made is missing - even in the new draft it still mistakenly talks about itself as "the Constitution" at one point (Article 188c.6).


Friday, October 05, 2007

A good day to bury bad news?

Curious timing...

The long awaited report of the cross-party European Scrutiny Committee on the new Constitutional Treaty is to be released next Monday for Tuesday. Perhaps the government have been spooked by signs that the members of the Committee are rather sceptical about their much vaunted "red lines". If it is going to be a bad report from the Government's point of view then at least there will be rather a lot of other news that day - with the CSR and the final build up to the election announcement.

It appears there have been lots of other shenanigans going on too. The meeting to finalise the report was supposed to happen on 19 September. But funnily enough Jim Murphy insisted at the last minute that the meeting had to be moved... funnily enough to the week of the tory conference (he was on a school trip apparently).

Nonetheless, the report does finally seem to be about to see the light of day - but only when not a single journalist will be watching.

Weird press releases of the world unite

What kind of euro obsessive do you have to be to write a press release like this?

The Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) welcome the Commission’s Communication "Communicating Europe in Partnership" which is going to be presented on Wednesday. However, its key project, an inter-institutional agreement (IIA) on communication will not be enough. Jan Seifert, President of JEF Europe, stated: "If we really want to be serious about EU communication policy we need a constitutional base embedded in the Reform Treaty".

And how self important exactly?

More of the weirdness from planet Brussels is available here

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Back again

The conference season is finally over. We've been at: TUC, Green, Lib Dems, Labour and the Conservatives. Its been very productive for us, but the blog has kinda died of neglect in the meantime... so as a re-starter for ten, have a look at the excellent Chris Hope's piece.

As part of a long runing row with the European Scruitiny Committee about the Government's refusal to discuss the negotiations in Brussels, Jim Murphy said the other day that the Government had signed up to the outline agreement on the revived Constitution after having seen it for the first time just forty-eight hours beforehand. Its a pretty seat-of-the-pants way to negotiate something so important.

Friday, September 07, 2007

come on Ming

Ming Campbell has called for the members of the public to write a British Constitution… and then put it to a national referendum.

That doesn't sit very easily with not holding a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty.

He says: "As a first step, a written constitution is essential to ensure that the sovereignty of the citizen is established."

This, he argued, should be partly written by members of the public chosen by a lottery, before being approved by a nationwide referendum. "

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


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


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."


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


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?)

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.


If you haven't signed it then sign it now.


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.