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Friday, August 28, 2009

Who said giving the EP more powers was a good thing?

A new report from the cross-party House of Lord's EU Scrutiny Committee will make yet more uncomfortable reading for all those Yes campaigners who are still, against all the evidence, operating under the illusion (or lie more like) that the Lisbon Treaty will be good for national parliamentary democracy.

The report looks at the meaning and implications of the so-called 'co-decision' procedure, whereby EU ministers meeting in the European Council have a more or less equal say over decisions as the European Parliament. Those decisions which are not subject to co-decision are usually taken by the Council acting alone.

The Lisbon Treaty proposes to extend the use of the co-decision procedure to 40 more policy areas, so that just about all decisions made by the EU are decided jointly with the European Parliament (as oppposed to about 75% currently).

But the House of Lords report finds significant problems with exercising national parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation under the co-decision procedure, which could be set to worsen if it is extended under Lisbon.

The report reads, "Should the Lisbon Treaty come into force, these difficulties will be magnified by the expansion of codecision into new areas: notably agriculture, fisheries and justice and home affairs."

The report finds that, under co-decision, more and more legislative proposals are reaching a first-reading agreement in the European Parliament and Council, or an early second-reading agreement (as opposed to going to proper second and third readings). This reduces the amount of time that the legislative process takes, but also consequently reduces the (already meagre) amount of time that national parliaments have to scrutinise proposals and give their feedback to government ministers, in order to inform national positions on amendments and negotiations.

Even pro-Lisbon ex-MEP Richard Corbett (who gave evidence to the Committee) admitted that first reading agreements "limit" the "advantage" national Parliaments have, saying second and third reading agreements make Parliamentary scrutiny potentially easier.

'Informal trilogue'

The report finds that, when first-reading agreements are reached, they are often the result of "informal trilogue" meetings which take place before the official readings, in order to negotiate an acceptable text. These trilogue meetings contain representatives from the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. The French Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU who gave evidence to the committee said, "the real negotiation takes place in the trilogue" and the Lords committee says the use of these has increased to the point that they are now the primary form of negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council.

The problem is that, as the Lords report found: "informal trilogues, whilst helpful to expeditious agreement of legislation, make effective scrutiny of codecided legislation by national parliaments very difficult."

If national Parliaments receive a Commission proposal, they may be scrutinising it while it is already being negotiated and amended by the Council and the EP. Unless national Parliaments receive up-to-date information about how the proposal is changing, scrutiny becomes even more of a redundant exercise, as it fails to reflect what the final outcome of the negotations will look like.

In that respect, the report is critical of both the Government's track record in keeping Parliament in the loop about the development of EU proposals, and the speed of co-decision negotiations, which make updates difficult.

The Lords EU sub-Committee on environment and agriculture said that "the emerging consensus between the European Parliament and Council can be almost impossible to determine. Updates from the Government are usually too infrequent, and negotiations proceed too rapidly and opaquely for accurate tracking of the inter-institutional negotiations."

The same sub-Committee also found that DEFRA was "sluggish" in providing updates on the progress of inter-institutional negotiations, sometimes giving them only when prompted. Notification on the Common Position (the Council's position on the European Parliament's amendments to a proposal) reached on the Plant Protection Products (Pesticides) Regulation was not received until three months after the vote in the Council. This particular proposal was modified in co-decision and subsequently became more controversial in its implications for the UK.

The report also cites the EU's Climate Change Package as a prominent example of how early agreements are being sought on important, and controversial proposals, in order to push legislation through.

The report concludes that the expansion of the scope of the co-decision procedure and the use of these informal trilogues makes national Parliamentary scrutiny increasingly difficult.

Since this is exactly what Lisbon proposes to do, things can only get worse.

Read the question - carefully

I know we alluded to this yesterday, but it's worth hammering home. It seems Michael O'Leary truly is confused and believes Ireland is about to have a referendum on its membership of the EU (the Generation 'Yes' campaign must be having some impact).

His €500,000 campaign is called 'Ryanair votes YES to Europe', and not one of his (4) reasons for voting 'yes' have anything at all to do with the Lisbon Treaty, and instead are exclusively about Ireland's EU membership.

And they are all negative reasons. Nothing positive in there about the Treaty whatsoever.

Take a look here: http://www.ryanair.com/site/EN/news.php?yr=09&month=aug&story=gen-en-250809

In fact, if anything, these arguments read like reasons to reject the Treaty. If, as O'Leary claims, Ireland and Ryanair have done so well out of the status quo, then why do we need the Lisbon Treaty? Seriously, what possible argument is there for it?

We thought the 'yes' side said they wanted to move the debate on, and to talk about the detail of the Treaty? Obviously not. Probably because they either haven't read it, don't understand it, or simply can't come up with anything positive which outweighs all the bad stuff.

Yes, we know the EU single market has been good for Ireland and probably for all EU members. But this isn't about the single market. This is about creating a much more political EU, which is about far, far more than just the single market.

For the last time (or probably not) - Ireland's membership of the EU, or the euro, is not in question.

What's up for debate is what kind of Europe we want to see - do we want to create new and unaccountable EU institutions, like an EU President, an EU Foreign Minister, an EU Public Prosecutor? Do we want to make majority voting the norm and give the EU powers to legislate over just about every area of policy - from health to transport to employment to immigration to defence? Do we want to make the European Court of Justice the highest court in the land, with new powers to decide on everything from the rights of criminal suspects to social security for migrants? Do we want to give the green light to an organisation which has ignored the will of tens of millions of people to reject further EU integration? Do we want to make it easier for EU leaders to amend the rules the game in future, without the kind of parliamentary and public scrutiny that is currently required? Do we want this to be the last proper public debate we have about EU integration, while we can still do something about it?

If you answer no to any of the above, then the Lisbon Treaty is not for you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Trust me, I'm a Yes campigner"

It may be Thursday already, but it's not too late to tell you about an op-ed by Richard Waghorne in Saturday's Irish Daily Mail, which is important food for thought in the Irish Lisbon debate - now in full swing.

It notes that, while people have been very quick to mock the No campaign for "its various supposed links", little is said about the Yes side. His article has some pretty key revelations about two of the leading Yes campaigners in this year's second referendum.

Firstly, Waghorne notes:

"Concluding, understandably, that they are too discredited to sell the treaty themselves this time, ministers have largely stepped aside in favour of supposedly non-political pro-Lisbon groups. The problem is that the two people heading up the leading two pro-Lisbon front groups set up for this purpose are hopelessly compromised by the very real ghost of their political pasts."

We then learn that Pat Cox, the former President of the European Parliament who has been drafted in to head the 'Ireland for Europe' organisation, is in fact:

"a director of two heavyweight Brussels lobbying firms, one called CAPA and the other called European Integration Solutions. So whatever else happens between now and polling day in six weeks’ time, we are presented with the odd spectacle of a man in the pay of a variety of vested interests heading the chief Yes outfit."

More is to come as it is revealed that neither of Cox's lobbying firms have signed up to the European Commission's voluntary register, which would provide brief details of their workings and an estimate of the amount of cash spent lobbying the EU institutions. The firms are in fact so secretive that they do not even have public websites.

Cox has also been a special advisor to one of the EU Commissioners while retaining his links to these lobbying firms. Waghorne notes that: "In more robust jurisdictions, that would be considered a conflict of interest."

But this is Brussels we're talking about - remember Lord Mandelson's sojourn on a certain aluminium-exporting Russian oligarch's yacht while he was Trade Commissioner?

Waghorne then focuses his attention on another leading Yes campaign group 'We Belong', which is aimed at younger voters. This outfit is headed by Olivia Buckley, who was "central to [former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's] attempts at media management in the months when he was lying about money lodged in his private account while he was finance minister."

All very unsavoury stuff, I'm sure you will agree.

Today, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has also thrown his hat into the ring, promising €500,000 to the Yes campaign and various PR stunts such as cheaper seats on planes. He has proudly claimed to have read the Treaty - something which PM Brian Cowen and EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy failed to manage first time around.

However, it seems O'Leary may have been 'skimming', if that. Asked by the Irish Daily Mail how the Treaty would affect the EU's Single Market, all he could muster was: "I’m not going to get into explaining the European treaty; go read it yourself."

He went on to pluck some very familiar general arguments out of thin air, such as: "Without Europe and the euro, the Irish economy would be run by our incompetent politicians, our inept civil service and the greedy public sector trade union bosses."

Yet, in the same press conference he readily admits that, if there's a no vote, "I don’t think we’ll get drummed out of the euro." As we've said before, it is highly misleading and patronising to pretend that this is a referendum on being 'in or out' of the EU, or the euro. This is not a question of being "with" or "without" Europe - it is specifically about the kind of Europe we want to see. Even the Editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette felt compelled this week to appeal to campaigners to stop using this kind of "moral blackmail."

(It's also plain wishful thinking to suggest that Lisbon would be the remedy to Ireland's economic ills. Again, as we've pointed out before, any 'EU bailout' would require at the very least the tacit support of German taxpayers, which is simply not forthcoming.)

We've noticed that the 'yes' campaigners are increasingly falling back on these shallow 'in-out' arguments in the absence of anything decent or detailed to say about the actual Treaty.

Very poor effort, people. Very poor.

About to hit the jackpot

The Parliament.com website is taking a welcome new look at the fact that the team of EU Commissioners due to leave office in a few months' time will each walk away with more than £1 million in pensions and perks alone.

This is on top of the more than £1 million each will have earned over each 5-year period in office, which doesn't include the host of other perks, such as residence and entertainment allowances they will also have received from the public purse. All these figures are the EU's own.

The best thing about this story, however, is the telling (and ramshackle) responses this story drew from the Commissioners themselves when it first broke back in April. Well worth another read.

Double standards

Easy to see why this google alert for "Lisbon Treaty" went into my junk mail this morning - European Voice runs a story with the headline:

"People of Ireland, vote 'Yes' for sex with Eastern Europeans".

Sketch-writer Nick McGinley has apparently written a book "100 reasons to vote yes to Lisbon II", which includes such reasons as:

“Carla [Bruni] wants us to. And what Carla wants, Carla gets” and “it encourages a wider gene pool”.

It goes on:

"Voting yes for Lisbon... is the only act of patriotism left: if we want our sons and daughters to have green eyes, cheekbones you could skin a cat with, long legs and a musculature that's fit and svelte with bizarrely little need for exercise, then we have to do everything in our power to encourage more eastern Europeans to dull, grey Irish towns. The only thing to do in these places, during a recession, when it rains, on a Sunday is to engage in copious amounts of Irish-Latvian, Irish-Polish, Irish-Lithuanian, Irish-Hungarian, Irish-Czech Republican sexual activity leading to planned, unplanned, phantom and glorious new Euro-pregnancies.”

Obv this is all pretty tongue-in-cheek and designed to raise a laugh. Fair enough. (And we're all in favour of encouraging EU enlargement and free movement of EU citizens throughout Europe.)

But, it does make us wonder - how come, when people say bonkers things in favour of EU integration (remember that ridiculous "50 reasons to love the EU" from the Independent, which included things like "Britons now feel a lot less insular" and "British restaurants now much more cosmopolitan"), they are comedians, but when people say mad things that are in any way critical or against integration, they're just, well, bonkers? Or maybe even xenophobic, anti-European and all those other unsavoury words people like Denis MacShane like to use.

Somehow I doubt if "100 reasons to vote no to Lisbon II" (or '50 reasons to hate the EU', for that matter), whoever wrote it, would prompt light-hearted newspaper coverage like this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

There was a better way

The Economist's Charlemagne today claims that by opposing the incredible 60 percent rise of the British contribution to the EU budget, the Conservative Party is turning its back on "such ideas as promoting free trade, the pursuit of economic growth and the defence of Western values."

By doing so, Charlemagne risks perpetuating the myth that the only way of paying for the EU's new members to integrate was to increase an already bloated and misdirected EU budget.

Charlemagne summarises Tony Blair's 2005 budget deal as follows:

To cut a long story short, Mr Blair was snookered by the French, among others...The French very cleverly managed to force the British into a position where they had to choose between defending their rebate and cutting funds earmarked for the new member states from the ex-Communist block who had joined a year earlier.

The article goes on to argue that the Conservatives' hostility to the budget rise is "purely about British money going to Brussels" and that the increase was imperative for enlargement to be a success.

It says the Conservatives are dismissing one of "Britain’s greatest victories in more than 30 years of EU membership, securing valuable allies for the cause of Atlanticism and open markets and burying forever any thoughts of turning Europe into a federalist superstate."

Charlemagne concedes that Blair's budget deal was "not brilliant" as it was supposed to prompt a review and reform of EU agricultural spending which, surprise, surprise, has not so far materialised. It should also be noted that central and eastern European countries received a very poor deal when it came to their share of agricultural spending.

But the rest of Charlemagne's argument seems to rest on the notion that EU regional spending is a 'good' in itself. He writes that EU funds for new members "have a long record of improving infrastructure such as motorways, ports and railways for the general benefit of trade and growth."

If only it were so for the 50 percent of EU regional spending that is spent in the EU's 15 richest states. This money does nothing to boost trade and growth but is simply a money-go-round which helps keep countless EU (and UK) bureaucrats in work.

Of course, having invested so much political capital in enlargement, it is only right that the UK ensured that the EU takes its responsibilities to its new members seriously. What is not forgivable is that the UK failed to make others understand that enlargement fundamentally changed the 'rules of the game' and that the EU's budget should reflect that.

As we have argued in the past, the EU's regional policy needs fundamental reform. It simply does not make sense for the UK to send money to Brussels to only see it sent to countries of equivalent wealth to be spent on highly prescriptive and dubious projects. The EU's 'structural funds' should only be spent in countries that need it such as those whose GDP is 90 percent or below the EU average. The rest should be scrapped.

This is perhaps what Conservatives should consider arguing for. It would have many useful effects: Firstly, it would still allow money to be spent where it is needed most, thus fulfilling the UK's commitment to the policy of enlargement. Secondly, it would result in a net and gross decrease in the UK's EU budget contribution. And third, it would allow them the political victory of reclaiming powers from Brussels by returning regional policy to the UK.

Instead, it seems that Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois is following the mantra of "try, try again" by saying he would offer a deal painfully similar to Blair's in 2005. The Telegraph reports that Francois is suggesting giving up more of the UK rebate, if the Conservatives "thought there was genuine reform available.”

Seeing as this worked so well in the past (not), why not play 'hard-ball' and actually refuse to agree the next budget at all, unless the new deal is palatable. This would force the EU to live on a budget paid out in 'provisional twelfths'. This is a bargaining chip which is only available every seven years. The Conservatives, if elected, will still have the energy and the room to manoeuvre in the next round of budget negotiations (due in 2011-12) and what better way to prove that they are serious about reforming the EU?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

MEPs to the rescue?

We learn today that the Government is proposing a tougher stance on internet file-sharing, which would include cutting off repeat offenders from the net. A Department of Business, Innovation and Skills press release said that:

"This would involve an obligation on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take action against individual, repeat infringers - for example by blocking access to download sites, reducing broadband speeds, or by temporarily suspending the individual’s Internet account."

The proposals do not seem to require any judicial decision before punishing internet users. Since when was this OK?

One leading ISP said that they were in favour of tackling illegal file-sharing but that, "This is best done by making sure there are legal alternatives and educating people, writing letters to alleged file-sharers and, if necessary, taking them to court."

There are also concerns that the method of identifying offenders using the IP address of a specific computer may unfairly punish those who share a web connection.

All of this sounds a bit familiar. A French law proposed by President Sarkozy (the one with the pop star wife whose music is doubtless being downloaded by millions of young pirates) is currently being held up somewhere in the legislative machine, following a ruling from the country's constitutional court which found that any removal of internet access would have to be decided by a judge, and not by the proposed 'Hadopi' authority.

Interestingly enough this is also the view of the European Parliament, which is holding the EU's entire telecoms package hostage over the issue. MEPs frantically introduced an amendment guaranteeing the need for a judicial decision before internet access could be cut. Member states were unwilling to accept the amendment and as a result the whole package will now be subject to lengthy negotiations, which will probably last the year.

Now, regular readers will know we're probably not the world's biggest fans of the European Parliament, but it seems that faced with the very disconcerting trajectory our Government appears to be on, we may be forced to rely on it to safeguard our civil liberties and the basic tenet of UK law: that you're innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Desperate times

Some interesting developments in Ireland over the weekend.

The 'Yes' side is due to outspend the 'No' side by 10 to 1 in the next referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. You will remember that last time around pro-Lisbon types cried foul when businessman Declan Ganley used some of his own money to campaign for a No vote, to try and counterbalance the public funds going into the 'yes' campaign. Several high-profile MEPs did their best to try and discredit him, claiming that the funds came from dubious sources. Don't expect them to ask any such questions about the hundreds of thousands now being poured into the 'yes' camp.

According to the Sunday Times, the 'yes' side will apparently spend at least €2.4m, compared with the No campaigners' €270,000.

€2.4m? That isn't even the half of it.

What about the salaries, building and operational costs of the European Commission delegation in Ireland?

Because, in case you hadn't heard, this body, paid for by taxpayers from across the EU, has once again weighed into the debate on the 'yes' side - this time a bit more publicly than usual. (It usually tries to operate a bit more behind-the-scenes).

According to the Irish Times the office "vigorously" rejected the arguments being made by the 'Farmers For No' campaign. It goes without saying that the Commission has absolutely no mandate to intervene in the politics of EU member states.

In a press release, Canon Ian Ellis, Editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, responded saying:

"I was surprised that the European Commission entered the Irish debate on Saturday, commenting on the Farmers For No group's understanding of the treaty. Challenges made to whatever groups in the referendum run-up should be made by the Irish parties involved and should not eminate from the European institutions. Inevitably, there will be differences over the interpretation of the treaty, but it is not for the EU itself, or any of its institutions, to enter into what must now be an Irish discussion. Because the debate is about the nature of the EU, the EU must 'leave the room'."

Calling for a "clean" debate on the Lisbon Treaty, Canon Ellis added:

"It is not fair to suggest that the Lisbon vote is about being at the heart of Europe or about being good Europeans. That kind of moral blackmail is not 'fair play'. The referendum is only about the Lisbon Treaty and its provisions for the EU. Is this how the EU should be? That is the question for voters."

Hear hear.

Another eyebrow-raising development is that Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness has called on farmers to vote Yes, adding: "I would ask you to give the vote serious thought and perhaps to turn the radio off and not listen to all the argey bargey that is being said."

So now politicians don't want voters to engage in the debate, and instead switch off the radio? This speaks volumes about her lack of faith in the 'yes' side to say anything that will do their campaign any favours. Either that or a fear that the 'no' side might actually have a better argument. For all the money that's being spent, this does not show much faith in the quality of the campaigners, or the arguments for Lisbon (are there any?).

But back to what the Commission actually said. It seemed very angry in particular about the claim that the Treaty would make it easier for Turkey to join the EU.

According to the paper: "The commission was emphatic in saying that the treaty did not promote Turkey’s application to join the union “in any way”."

But hang on, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and others have repeated time and time again that the Lisbon Treaty is necessary for enlargement, going as far as to claim that future enlargement will be impossible without Lisbon (in a transparent attempt to win over people they perceive to be 'pro-enlargement' in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere).

Is the Commission now saying that Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and all the other politicians who have made this claim and directed it at Ireland were lying? And if so, why did it never intervene and tell us that at the time?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Showdown over alternative investment

In HFM Week, we're today setting out our thoughts on one of this year's most contentious EU proposals: the Directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers (i.e. stricter rules for hedge fund and private equity managers and various other more or less obscure managers with alternative investment styles). The proposal is up for discussion and amendment in the European Parliament and the Council this autumn.

It's clear that there will be a Directive, but exactly what it will look like is a completely different story. In a nutshell: The Directive will - quite literally - force more transparency on fund managers, while giving them the opportunity to market their products across the EU once they've been authorisied to do so. Within reason and market practice, these are no bad things.

However, overall, the Directive is in danger of becoming a prime example of bad business law - especially when viewed through the prism of the Commission's own 'better regulation' principles. As we argue in the article, the Directive's objectives and benefits are unclear, it is riddled with legal uncertainty, and it is inconsistent with both existing regulations and prevailing market practices. Perhaps most critically, the Directive is protectionist to its very core.

The battle will primarily take place over the Directive's protectionism and the provisions which seek to overturn how managers are stuctured and how they go about their business (which could seriously harm the industry, restrict investor choice, etc.).

In the absence of a proper Impact Assessment on the proposal from the UK Government, Open Europe will soon publish a report on the possible impact of the Directive on the industry, investors and the wider economy. Watch this space.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Toys and terrorists

It's the middle of August and there's almost no political news, especially not of the EU variety, given the whole of Brussels is on a (well deserved?) five-week holiday.

But if you look hard enough there's always something worth writing about. Henrik Alexandersson, prominent Swedish blogger and Pirate Party employee, for instance, has found that the EU Directorate General for Justice, Freedom and Security is proposing a ban on the fuel used for children’s toy steam engines in an effort to prevent terrorism.

The EU fears that a terrorist could buy tens of thousands of fuel tablets and then extract a sufficient amount of an explosive substance out of them to make a bomb. As Henrik says, quite why anyone would go to the trouble of using tens of thousands of fuel tablets, since it would surely be far easier to build a bomb from staple goods such as ammonia and formalin, we're not sure. But he says a ban would effectively be the end for the German manufactured steam engines, as no substitute fuel exists. Will the Germans resist?

Monday, August 17, 2009

What's the question?

As another yes campaign group launches in Ireland, we're struck by the overriding focus on Ireland's EU membership as a talking point.

As Bruce Arnold pointed out this morning in the Irish Independent, Ireland's membership of the EU is not in question. And yet, short of good arguments in favour of the Treaty, it is what most of these campaigns have chosen to focus on, safe in the knowledge that the prospect of sitting alone in the Irish sea, having been slung out of the EU for having the cheek to vote no a second time, is a fairly frightening scenario and one that will scare people into voting yes.

But it's dishonest in the extreme, not to mention hypocritical. So many of these websites talk about the need to "fight the lies" and focus on what's in the Treaty. And yet, they quickly run out of arguments about the detail and revert instead to a song and dance about what Ireland has gained from being in the EU up to now - as if that had anything at all to do with it.

The fact is, that yes, Ireland has done well out of the EU since joining, like most (if not all) member states. But, despite what the desperate 'yes' campaigners will have you believe, this is not about showing appreciation and reverence to our nice leaders in Europe for all their kind benevolence and patience over the past 30-odd years.

This is about the kind of Europe we want to see in the future - it is about the boring detail of the text that is in front of us - about questions like do you want to see a single EU President and a Foreign Minister? Do you want your country's government to lose its power to veto decisions it doesn't agree with in everything from criminal justice policy to employment to sport to foreign policy? Do you want EU governments to be able to change the text of the Treaties in future without the kind of public debate we are currently having? Do you want the European Court of Justice to have the final say over decisions relating to criminal justice? Do you want to give the green light to a system of government which ignores its own rules and discourages direct democracy? Etc etc etc.

Take Pat Cox’s Ireland for Europe website, for instance ("We're stronger in Europe" - as if anyone at all is suggesting otherwise). It has around 20 short videos on why people will be voting Yes, with at least half of them purely about the benefits of Ireland's EU membership, rather than what the Treaty is actually about. (On a side note - one of the people speaking out is the campaign director of Women for Europe - it seems that despite the plethora of websites there's quite a small pool of campaigners, with some having their hands in several of the 'yes' pies - for example, Ireland for Europe's Chief of Operations Andrew Byrne is doubling up as the Chief Executive of Generation Yes... Business for Europe is run by Ireland for Europe, etc).

What none of these sites tell you, is the political (and legal) reality if Ireland chooses to stick to its first legitimate answer and vote 'no'. Rather than Ireland being booted out, or denied EU farm subsidies, or generally languishing on the sidelines of the world for ever more, the Czech and the Polish Presidents will simply refuse to sign the Treaty (as they are chivalrously waiting until Ireland gives its consent), and shortly afterwards, there'll be a British election (there has to be one by spring next year), likely to be won by the Tories, who will then also put the thing to a referendum here (they have explicitly promised to do so, if the Treaty is not already in force).

As the British would be likely to vote no (with a brand new government campaigning against), this would cease to be Ireland's problem and would well and truly be Europe's problem. That is, the people we pay pretty good money to sort these things out. No-one would be kicked out the EU, and the thing would rumble on just as it did after the French and Dutch 'no' votes. The sky wouldn't fall in, and the EU would still have the ability to find ways to cooperate on climate change, international crime, and all the rest of it. If you don't believe that, if Lisbon really is the be all and end all in European cooperation - then how on earth have they already managed an Emissions Trading Scheme, a Climate Action and Renewable Energy Package, complete with Directives on biofuels and renewables, and a European Arrest Warrant, for instance?

With only weeks to go, it's time for the 'yes' side to ditch its lazy reliance on the tired, worn out and utterly irrelevant 'in/out' arguments if it is going to live up to its word and engage on the real issues at stake.

Friday, August 14, 2009

There's more

At the risk of banging on quite a lot about EU propaganda (but there's so much to say!), further to yesterday's post, we reckon that email from the UK Commission office looks pretty embarrassing for EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.

Just this week, in response to criticisms about EU propaganda from Swedish think-tank Timbro, she said:

"Timbro blames the Commission for wasting tax-payers’ money on 'propaganda', but the truth is that the EU has no control or influence over the media and no involvement in the national education curricula."

That's not for want of trying, believe us. Sending 600 EU officials a year into schools all over Europe in its "Back to School" programme? Despatching 'specialists' to promote EU policies in universities? Sending literature and 'teaching guides' to teachers?

Margot, this is bordering on a downright lie.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

EU Commission officials - coming to a Uni near you

We have just seen an email that the European Commission would probably have preferred we didn't.

Dominic Brett, Head of Public Diplomacy (!) at the European Commission Representation in the UK, has just sent an email out to students and teachers using the huge mailing list of the University Association for Contemporary University Studies. (UACES)

In it, he offers Commission staff to speak to students, either by visiting their universities or by hosting meetings in London, about topics such as climate change and the Lisbon Treaty.

As we've argued many times before, the Commission is engaged in many attempts to influence young people's thinking about the EU - but this has to be one of the most blatent.

Is there any possibility whatsoever that these talks will be balanced? Of course not - this is the Commission, whose job it is to work towards 'ever closer union'. Commission officials speaking to students about the Lisbon Treaty can only mean one thing - trying to convince them that it is a good thing .

How do we know that? Because endless Commission documents confirm that it sees its "mission" as promoting the EU and its policies, not merely providing neutral information. See this latest one for example, which we mentioned the other day. It clearly states that in its communication policy, the Commission aims to "build up support for the European Union's policies and its objectives".

That means, therefore, that this is a completely unacceptable use of public money, and goes way beyond even the remit of the EU institutions. The EU has no mandate for education policy - so why is the Commission interferring in university teaching?

Here is the email in full - we particularly like the "we specialize in" bit, which makes it sound like some kind of corporate marketing bumf. It's like an after-dinner speech service with a twist (i.e. that it's "of course" free of charge, because we EU taxpayers are forking out for it.)

Following the high level of demand over the past twelve months, we're repeating our offer to speak to students in 2009-10. I'm the head of public diplomacy here at the EC Representation in London. Part of our job is to offer relevant departments in English universities (other parts of the UK have their own Commission office) presentations to their undergraduate and master's students. Over the past couple of years, we've hosted dozens of student groupings here in London or gone out to visit universities across the country.

We specialize in:
- key policy areas (climate change, economic recovery package, Lisbon Agenda, Lisbon Treaty, etc.) - the structure of the EU and the division of labour in Brussels and between the Union and its Member States on the other
- careers in the EU institutions.

This service is of course free of charge to any universities who so request it. Generally, we look for a two-month lead time. Our tight schedule and limited budget means we can't satisfy every request.

If you're interested, please e-mail me.
All the best, Dominic Brett
Dominic Brett Head of Public Diplomacy European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Generation Yes: Insulting your intelligence

For all its claims to want to 'Fight the Lies', the 'Generation Yes' campaign in Ireland is making some very bold claims which don't stand up to scrutiny (surprise surprise).

The latest one is that "the Lisbon Treaty will stop human trafficking and drug smuggling into Ireland." That is a pretty strong statement, which the Irish media should surely be investigating very closely indeed. The claim comes complete with a 1 minute video which tells us about the horrors of these crimes to a backdrop of moving music, and a claim that "The Lisbon Treaty is a direct response to these grave problems".

It points to Article 83 TFEU, proabably in the hope that no-one will bother to go and read it. What this article does, is allow the EU to adopt "minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension resulting from the nature or impact of such offences or from a special need to combat them on a common basis."

It lists the areas of crime concerned as "terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime and organised
crime", but notes that the Council may at a later date add to this list.

This is an extremely important article in the Treaty, and one of the most contentious of all. It is not, as Generation Yes quite shockingly states, a magic potion to end the evils of international organised crime. This video is easily worse than any of the attempts by various anti-abortion campaigners who were accused of sensationalising the debate out of all proportion. Playing on people's emotions in this way is highly suspect.

When considering how to vote on this Treaty, people need to take a sober look at the issues, and not be scaremongered one way or the other. Who, for example, would really argue against putting an end to human trafficking and drug smuggling? Nobody. But to suggest otherwise and to pretend that this is the crux of the issue is convenient for 'Generation Yes' and allows them to distract people from the very important detail of the Treaty - particularly on the issue of justice and home affairs - the rights of criminals and so on - which truly go to the heart of most people's political views.

Let's take a look at those important details. Article 83 allows the EU to set “rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions”, by qualified majority voting. It is intended to prevent criminals “shopping around” for countries where their activities will carry the lightest penalties. The list of crimes over which the EU can harmonise sentences was supposed to limit the EU to dealing with cross-border crimes, but the vaguely-defined categories such as “organised crime” and “corruption”, is likely to enable the EU to rule over a wide variety of offences (see here for how previous attempts to combat 'serious' cross-border crimes with the European Arrest Warrant have had a horrible spillover effects and unintended consequences). As noted already, the list is also designed to be expanded over time, as a clause allows EU leaders to add to the list of crimes on which the EU can legislate.

The real question Irish voters must ask themselves on this issue is do they really want the EU to determine Europe-wide minimum prison sentences, and by a majority vote? What if you disagree to the length of times the (unelected) Commission believes certain criminals should get? Why should the Commission even have a role, instead of just individual national governments? And how, exactly, will minimum rules put an end once and for all to human trafficking and drug smuggling, as the Generation Yes website explicitely claims?

The European Commission has already begun to propose EU-wide minimum standards. When he was EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner in January 2005, Franco Frattini called for minimum prison sentences of five years for gang members and a minimum of ten years for gang leaders. He has argued that he will not prescribe the sentences member states’ justice systems should set because “the method I prefer is to indicate minimum and maximum, a range leaving Member States free to harmonise”. He claimed that, “We cannot live without a European definition of what is a criminal organisation and trafficking in human beings.”

It's worth noting that the UK Government opposed giving the EU this power to set minimum sentences when the Constitution (which later became the Lisbon Treaty) was first being negotiated. In an attempt to change the wording of the text, then-Europe Minister Peter Hain wrote:

“Framework laws on substantive criminal law must not require the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties. We hope that the Treaty would exclude the possibility of measures requiring all Member States to impose a minimum penalty of at least x years on anyone convicted of a crime.. irrespective of the circumstances or any mitigating factors.”

Not only that, but Open Europe can reveal that the Irish Government, and specifically Ireland's very own Dick Roche, who as Europe Minister is now fighting tooth and nail to get Lisbon passed in order to save face in the EU Council, was himself dead against these provisions when they were first proposed back in 2001.

Looking at his proposed amendments to the original Constitution, he didn't want the EU defining criminal offences and sanctions, he didn't want such things to be decided on by majority voting instead of unanimity, and he didn't want to make it possible for the EU to expand the list of crimes that would be affected.

He told the Convention on the Future of Europe:

"Given the sensitivity of the issues involved, this is an area where unanimity should be the general decision-making procedure. The Article should make it explicitly clear that mutual recognition is the principle underpinning the Union’s work in this area. The existing language of Article 31 TEU should be used. The second indent is too widely drafted. As fraud against the Union is a serious crime it is already covered by the first paragraph."

See here too for another instance where Dick Roche reiterated that there should be no majority voting in the area of criminal procedure "because of the particularly sensitive nature of this area." Oh, and here - this time he said: "In our view, unanimity is the appropriate decision-making procedure for the more fundamental aspects of judicial cooperation."

While we're at it, we should also note that articles 82 and 83 also allow the EU to set common rules concerning legal procedures in criminal cases. This means that EU rules, decided by QMV, could determine the rights of criminal suspects and control the admissibility of evidence in Court. There is also a provision for EU rules to cover “any other specific aspects” of legal procedure if EU leaders so decide.

One problem with this proposal is that it would no longer be possible for voters in individual member states to alter the balance of the legal system between the rights of victims and suspects’ rights. For example, if EU rules were to set the balance in such a way as to favour protection for suspects, voters in any one member state would not be able to vote for a policy which would make it easier to secure convictions. The rules could only be changed subsequently if the majority of other members agreed.

The over-simplification of such important issues by slick 'yes' campaigns is (excuse the pun) criminal. To follow the logic of Generation Yes's argument, people voting no must be against putting a stop to organised cross-border crime. Do they honestly think the Government was arguing against this when it tried to remove the clauses from the Treaty? Do they honestly believe the Government saw these articles in the Treaty as an opportunity to "stop human trafficking and drug smuggling into Ireland", and said, no, hang on a sec, we don't agree with that? Come on, people, get real.

Just like the embarrassing and patronising 'Women for Europe' campaign, the shameless Generation Yes should be avoided by anyone with the ability to think for themselves.

To be fair, we should probably throw the anti-democrats over at 'We Belong' in with that too - especially after reading in one of the Irish paper's Saturday supplements a couple of weeks ago that some of the people working on the campaign are so plugged in to what's going on they didn't actually even vote in the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. We think that says a lot.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spin spin spin

Before disappearing on holiday, EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom (who, BTW, will have earned more than £2 million in basic salary when her term ends in November, and who will then receive an extra £1.8 million in pension payments and so-called 'transitional' and 'resettlement' allowances), has today posted a response to the recent claims by Swedish think-tank Timbro that the EU uses propaganda to promote the concept of EU integration.

This may or may not have been spurred by an article today by Open Europe in Sweden's biggest newspaper, Aftonbladet, on the same subject. (See here for an English version of the arguments).

As well as the usual predictable and unconvincing arguments about how the Commission is, in fact, using our money to "promot[e] questioning of what the EU does, and action to change it" (ha!), Wallstrom also makes a shaky counter-claim, which on close inspection is a classic example of exactly the kind of spin for which she is being criticised.

She says:

"Some media who picked up the report made sweeping claims along the lines that ‘every time’ the public is consulted about the EU they say ‘No’ and that this proves the unpopularity of the EU. The fact is that since 1972, no less than 35 referenda have been held on EU-related issues, only 9 of which produced negative results, two of which were in Norway."

Let's take a look.

First of all, 17 of these 35 referendums took place in countries outside the EC/EU as they considered whether or not to join. Norway, for instance, voted against twice and Aland Island (a dependency of Finland) voted in favour. One referendum was held in the UK to decide if it should remain in the EC and one was held in France prior to the first enlargement in 1973 whether to allow new members.

In other words, 19 out of 35 referenda have been held to decide whether to join the EC/EU or related questions as in France and the UK.

Margot knows fine well that usually, when people talk about rejecting further EU integration in referendums, they are not referring to countries voting on EU membership. To suggest otherwise risks muddling the difference between how people feel about further EU integration, or specific policies such as the Euro, with how they feel about membership per se. As we've argued many times before, over-simplifying this issue only serves to disenfranchise the vast majority of people who are in favour of their country's EU membership, but who do not support giving ever more powers to the EU.

The remaining 16 referenda were held to approve policy or ratify treaties (SEA, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, the European Constitution, Treaty of Lisbon). 7 out of these 16 referenda returned negative results.

(Wallstrom seems to have sensibly discounted the two 'yes' referendums which should arguably have never been held in the first place, since they were repeats of referendums in which the public had already said 'no' - the second Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty, and the second Danish referendum on the Maastricht Treaty).

After 1998, the overwhelming trend is quite clear - 6 out of 8 referenda on treaties and policy issues have returned negative outcomes.

Post-1998 referenda:

Nice, 2001: Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum. Negative outcome. It subsequently voted again and said yes.

Euro, Denmark 2000: Negative outcome.
Euro, Sweden 2003: Negative outcome.

European Constitution Mark I 2005: Spain and Luxembourg both voted in favour and the Netherlands and France voted against.

European Constitution Mark II (Treaty of Lisbon) 2008: Ireland only country to hold a referendum: Negative outcome.

Note that turnout was 42% in Spain. Compared with 69% in France, 62% in the Netherlands, and 53% in Ireland - all of which voted no, but were ignored and overridden. (Luxembourg has compulsory voting, so a fair comparison of turnout there is not possible. However note that a smaller percentage said 'yes' in Luxembourg than said 'no' in the Netherlands).

While we're at it, we also find the following claim particularly interesting:

"The European Radio Network and Euronews receive some EU funding because they meet the aim of providing a cross-border platform for news, analysis and discussion and helping to create a European public space for debate and discussion but both have complete editorial independence."

How then, does Wallstrom explain this March 2009 Commission policy document, which describes EuroNews and the radio network etc as the Commission's "corporate communication"?

Answers please. Or is the whole of 'DG Communication' on holiday this month?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Brussels: Shut down?

August is no doubt the month when most Brussels folk choose to go on vacation - spending a couple of weeks in the countryside or taking advantage of the competitive market for air travel to go abroad, for instance.

That's alright - everyone has the right to a break (within reason). However, we are moved to ask if the entire of Brussels has gone away recently? Dealing with EU issues, it can be a touch
frustrating if everyone you try and get hold of is out of the office.

Some days, it can feel like trying to catch someone at their desks in Brussels is like expecting EU leaders to learn how to take No for an answer.

(clue: it won't happen)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Turn the air con down

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has produced an Impact Assessment for the Government's 'Renewable Energy Strategy' - in other words, its plans for meeting EU targets for renewable energy. It it rather serious stuff. The plans will cost £4.2bn a year ,with annual benefits of £0.3bn a year. The cumulative cost is estimated at £60bn over 20 years, while the value of carbon saved is estimated at £5bn.

While these large figures might seem pretty abstract to many, the following will not. A significant proportion of the cost will be passed on to consumers, with the Government estimating that domestic electricity prices will increase by 15 percent and gas prices by 23 percent by 2020. This equates to average increases of £75 and £172 to electricity and gas bills.

Besides the cost, the UK’s share of the EU target of producing 20 percent of energy from renewables by 2020, a national target of 15 percent, is widely regarded as 'ambitious' and by others as 'unrealistic'.

Those in the latter camp include the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor at the time the agreement was made (Tony Blair was in the hotseat for us). Sir David King said:
"I think there was some degree of confusion at the heads of states meeting dealing with this. If they had said 20% renewables on the electricity grids across the European Union by 2020, we would have had a realistic target but by saying 20% of all energy, I actually wonder whether that wasn't a mistake."
In a report last year we estimated that the EU's entire climate and energy package, of which the renewables target is only a part, will cost the UK £9bn a year and push an extra 1 million people into fuel poverty.

We're not arguing against an EU role in fighting climate change - a global challenge which the EU can contribute to solving with regional cooperation. We are, however, objecting to the EU's desire to micro-manage and continually centralise policy.

An EU-wide binding renewables target removes the UK’s flexibility to find the cheapest way of reducing emissions, which should be the overall aim. The cost is so high because the Government is now forced to 'pick winners' by subsidising the renewable technologies it thinks can achieve reduced emissions at the cheapest cost.

State bureaucrats do not have the ability to predict new advances in renewable technologies and their relative costs, which are at different stages of development and also depend on the fluctuating price of fossil fuels.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What's in a name?

Quite apart from the presumptiousness inherent in today's news that Chris Patten fancies himself for one of the job EU jobs that will be created if and only if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, it is interesting to note the language used in the FT to report the story.

You will remember the Government made a song and dance about the decision to change the title of one of the new positions from 'EU Foreign Minister', as it appeared in the original EU Constitution, to "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy", as it now appears in the Lisbon Treaty.

This title change was one of the main arguments used by the Government when it argued again and again that the Lisbon Treaty was "fundamentally different" from the rejected EU Constitution, in order to backpeddle out of its commitment to hold a referendum on the Treaty.

At the time, Open Europe, as well as many others, pointed out that the change was so cosmetic as to be utterly irrelevant.

Even the-then Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, admitted it:

"It's the original job as proposed but they just put on this long title - High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and also vice President of the Commission. It's the same job [.] it's still going to be the same position." (Irish Independent, 24 June 2007)

We argued that the title of "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy" was so deliberately long and awkward that it would inevitably be ditched in favour of the much easier-sounding "EU Foreign Minister" (while also pointing out that none of the important bits about the role had changed - such as the fact that he or she will be a member of the Commission, thereby giving the supranational body a role in foreign policy for the first time, or the fact that he or she will be nominated by a qualified majority vote, or that his or her proposals will be voted on by QMV...etc etc etc.)

And lo and behold, it is happening already. The FT today talks about "Europe's first foreign minister".

Is David Miliband going to write to the editor and correct this 'error'?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

(B of the) Bang for our Buck?

If ever you wanted a metaphor for the shambles that is the EU budget, this is it. The Times tells us that the “B of the Bang” sculpture in Manchester is being dismantled and sent for recycling, after only four years of existence.

Last month the Mail reported the original design and construction of B of the Bang cost £1.42 million, £700,000 of which was funded by the EU's European Regional Development Fund - money matched by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and Manchester City Council. Bear in mind that the EU's regional funds are meant to boost regional employment and growth.

The project was plagued by delays, spiralling costs and safety fears. Only two weeks after the work was unveiled in January 2005, parts of the sculpture, which swayed alarmingly in the wind, began to fall off and more spikes had to be removed. Manchester City Council closed the nearby road amid concerns that a passer-by could be injured by a falling spike.

If local councils want to waste taxpayers' money, then they are at least accountable to their electorates. It's a mistake that local councillors would be unwise to repeat if they want to hold on to their jobs.

However, there is no such incentive for anyone to put a stop to the EU wasting our money - in fact, the unaccountable nature of the EU budget, designed for the 1950s rather than the 21st Century, leads to these ridiculous types of projects year after year after year. See here for last year's '100 examples of EU fraud and waste', for instance.

Any fool can see how ridiculous the system is: sending money to Brussels only to have it sent back (minus the admin fee) with strict guidelines on how it can be spent and with the added caveat that failure to spend it (even badly) means less money next time around. To read our take on why the EU shouldn't run regional policy, see here.

How many more examples does the Government need to take EU budget reform seriously?

A new level of ridiculousness

The other day we brought you news of the EU-sponsored conference ‘Promoting a creative generation - children and young people in the new culture and media landscape’. Experts gathered in Sweden last week to discuss "the creativity and cultural habits of children and young people."

We've just stumbled across some bizarre new detail of what went on:

"The conference will be attended by 350 delegates from across Europe and will provide an arena for policy discussions, along with flashmobs, guerrilla knitting and young silent theatre in locations including the Röhsska Museum, the Göteborg Opera and the Museum of World Culture."

Guerilla knitting eh? What the...?? If anyone has any idea what this is or why taxpayers are shelling out for it, please do let us know.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Don't go Gordon, all is forgiven!

An interesting piece in the Times this morning from William Rees-Mogg reminds us that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is to introduce an amendment which allows life peers to resign from the House of Lords (it was also reported in the FT a few weeks ago). This would allow Lord Mandelson to resign his peerage, stand for the Commons at the next election (Hilary Armstrong's seat in North-West Durham?) and therefore qualify for the Labour leadership should Gordon Brown stand down after the election.

Far fetched? Maybe so, but it's mouth-watering for the Euro-integrationists in Brussels.

He is after all strongly pro-Lisbon and strongly pro-euro - far more so than Brown. Back in December, shortly after Mandy's third-time-lucky-reappearance on the British political scene, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso let slip that Britain was "closer than ever" to joining the Euro and that the "people who matter in Britain" were thinking about joining the single currency. (Clue: he wasn't talking about those plebs the great British public).

In separate (but worringly related) news, a new YouGov poll for the Sunday Times shows opposition to the idea of President Blair remains strong.

Voters were asked:

"The Government is backing Tony Blair to be president of the European Union. What is your view of this?"

24% agreed with the statement, "I agree with it and I think it will be good for Britain"

54% agreed with the statement, "I don't agree with it - it will mainly be of benefit to Tony Blair."

19% said they didn't know.

The bad news is that, while we might still have a choice over who runs our country (no thanks, Mandy) we haven't got the slightest influence over who will become the first all-powerful EU President if Ireland votes 'yes' and the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

It won't even matter much if it's Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Peter Mandelson representing us in October's Council (when the nominations are set to be made), since even our own Prime Minister won't have a veto over the preferred candidate (Blair or whoever becomes President will be nominated by a qualified majority vote).

As we've argued before, the only way to stop political has-beens from bagging the most high-profile and best-paid job in Europe is to put a stop to the Lisbon Treaty, so the daft job never sees the light of day in the first place.