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Friday, February 22, 2008

Brown in Brussels: in the footsteps of John Major

Gordon Brown was in Brussels yesterday. Echoing John Major, Brown said that “Britain must be at the centre of Europe”.

The Guardian notes that Brown set out "four major goals" for the EU: building global prosperity, creating an environmentally sustainable world, leading on stability and reconstruction around the world, and leading the fight against poverty. These issues will apparently be discussed at annual spring EU economic summit.

"The March summit is a natural playground for Brown," one EU official said.

Brown has also proposed setting up an independent EU carbon bank whcih would hand out pollution permits under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. If Brown's proposition were accepted, it would take away the power to hand out the permits to pollute from member states and the European Commission, which wants the power for itself after 2013, when the third phase of the ETS will begin.

This story is depressing in a number of ways.

(1) The proposal for a “carbon bank” is yet another headline British proposal which will quietly sink without trace - like the second chamber of the European Parliament… or the “subsidiarity watchdog”… or Brown’s 2003 proposal to “take back control” over regional spending. Not only does this idea have no political backing elsewhere, but more importantly it is poorly thought through. For example, is Brown trying to tell us that carbon taxes – which is what the ETS would become if all permits were auctioned - and therefore our electricity bills, should be set by an independent and unelected body? This is not serious. It shows how feeble Britain’s EU policymaking apparatus is - and that the focus of the FCO and cabinet office is entirely on grabbing headlines and “showing willing” in Europe – rather than really changing anything.

(2) Brown’s remarks are basically defensive. He seeks to persuade us that that there will be no further transfer of power to the EU for a bit after the Constitution. But Sarkozy’s “wise men” will soon start discussing the next round of integration. And the incremental centralisation which the Laeken Declaration condemned will accelerate. Brown seeks to defend the status quo with scaremongering – and argues that jobs are at risk if the status quo in Europe is questioned. This goes unchallenged. His “positive agenda” - the “four points” - lacks any specific content (like Miliband’s inane “civilian surge” and “global hub” slogans).

(3) For example: Brown wants “economic dynamism” – but as soon as ratification is “out of the way” the EU will pass the Agency Workers Directive and hugely damage our economy. He wants “global stability” – but as soon as ratification is out of the way Sarkozy will press for an EU intervention force which can do nothing but divert resources away from the wars we are really fighting, to what is essentially an EU vanity project. He wants the EU to help developing countries – but has done nothing to bring to an end EU policies which do the exact opposite. He wants the EU to lead the fight against climate change – but has acquiesced in policies like the biofuels target which may well increase emissions.

This is utterly vacuous.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hold the front page


According to the Press Association the latest Brussels storm in a tea cup has *intensified* tonight as Caroline Jackson (an MEP apparently) has launched "all out war" on her colleague Dan Hannan by calling for him to be deselected.

Tonight, in a statement acknowledging that she had "declared open war on one of her own party", she explained: "I think the Conservative Party should withdraw the whip from Mr Hannan.


We fear editors won't be holding the front page though. To be honest Hannan is one of the few MEPs that anyone has ever heard of.

As far as we can see, the current row seems to have less to do with any comments Hannan has made and a lot more to do with the inability of MEPs to stand any kind of criticism coming from within the European Parliament.

For many years the Tory MEPs have muddled through by basically splitting the difference between (a) the party's domestic stance and (b) the federalist European People's Party which they are members of in the Parliament.

However, over recent years a few younger MEPs have managed to sneak in, and the chill wind of political reality has blown in the door after them. Long serving MEPs seem to have found it hard to swallow the news that not everyone back home is favour of every closer union - and indeed not absolutely everyone is 100% impressed with the performance of the EU institutions.

Worse still, some of the younger members seem to have eschewed the enormously heavy traditional Brussels lunch for the slightly heavier workload. Quelle shock!

Mild as it may seem, this intolerable combination seems to lead to eye popping apoplexy among the old guard.

On this particular occasion the real trigger for this MEP “outburst” seems to have been Hannan complaining that the European Parliament was ignoring its own procedures, and refusing to allow MEPs to vote on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. How unreasonable can you get? Clearly he should be sacked on the spot.