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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.

Fantastic

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?

HUHNE

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.


MILIBAND

"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".

WILLS

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.”"