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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wild claims












On 14 June 2009 the Irish Independent reported that Margot Wallstrom, European Commissioner for Communication, said during a visit to Dublin that the Lisbon Treaty would "encourage" affordable childcare in the EU.

A question was tabled to her in the European Parliament, by Syed Kamall MEP, asking the simple question:

"Can you please clarify which articles in the Lisbon Treaty will encourage affordable childcare in the EU?"

The question was tabled in order to deliver a response mid-September at the latest. However, having delayed this far, our Commissioner for "Communication" has, at a minute to midnight today declared her response will only be ready on 6 October, conveniently after the Irish referendum has already taken place.

So this completely unsubstantiated, nonsense claim from the politician we pay good money to communicate the Lisbon Treaty is allowed to stay just as it is, with no explanation.

We're reminded of The Economist column last week which described Wallstrom as "a Swede whose 'kum-bay-yah' approach grated with colleagues". It's grating with us a bit too.

If you haven't already checked it out you should have a look at her here on Newsnight after the last Irish referendum, when she failed spectacularly to explain what on earth people are supposed to do to reject this Treaty, since voting no is clearly not enough.

Double standards part 125

In an extraordinary admission today Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary confesses to his real motives behind his €500,000 campaign for a 'yes' vote in the Irish referendum on Friday.

He said: "One of the reasons that I am campaigning for a 'yes' vote is that our Government is incompetent, yet I need to persuade them to sell me Aer Lingus." Funny that. In June 2007 the European Comission blocked a bid by Ryanair to purchase rival airline Aer Lingus on competition grounds.

And in a clear conflict of interest, the EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani spent six hours last week campaigning aboard a Ryanair flight alongside O'Leary.

Don't expect the Irish media to jump up and down about this though. If Declan Ganley had let slip that he was campaigning for a 'No' vote for some similarly dubious reason, all hell would of course have broken loose.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Paying people to tell you what you want to hear

Just received a ridiculous survey to fill in from Gallup Europe, which is working on behalf of 'Friends of Europe' - a Brussels-based outfit that gets most of its funding from the European Commission.

The survey asks questions about the EU's 'communication policy', with a view to producing a new report on the subject to feed back into the Commission and "improving communication about Europe."

Apart from the obvious issues with the Commission paying organisations to come up with policy ideas to feed back into the Commission, the problem is that all the questions are asked on the assumption that the respondant believes there should be an EU Communication Policy in the first place, which we do not (click here to read why).

Clearly the Friends of Europe wishes to help the Commission's DG Communications department in its ongoing efforts to convince people of the benefits of EU integration. Judging by its last effort along these lines, which was a report for the institutions called Can EU Hear Me?, (resulting in a letter to the EU Commission recommending it "Promote the benefits of EU Membership"), it has no intention of improving people's knowledge of the EU but instead wishes to improve its popularity.

If this survey is to be the basis of the future direction of EU 'communication' policy, we should be very worried indeed. Questions focus on such things as what the Commission should be doing to improve 'communication' about Europe in schools and in the media, making use of the internet to persuade people of the benefits of the EU, creating a 'Europe' brand, and creating a 'Commissioner for Citizens'.

Having commissioned many polls in the past, we imagine this online questionnaire is not coming cheap. Hopefully they will take note of some of our suggestions, such as scrapping EU Communication Policy altogether and allowing people a direct say on the big EU questions like treaty change. Is anyone in any doubt that Irish people will be the best informed about the Lisbon Treaty and the EU in general than any of their European neighbours, as a direct result of the recent referendums?


Friday, September 25, 2009

A blank cheque

While the Irish government continues to play down the EU's ambitions in defence policy in order to get the Lisbon Treaty safely passed, some telling comments have been forthcoming from other Europeans this week, which give us some insight into the kind of agenda that Lisbon will effectively authorise.

First there was the news that French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche was in favour of a budget specifically dedicated to EU defence, just as there is one for agriculture:

He said that, "In order to progress with 'defence Europe', it should not be that spending linked to security is completely separate from the EU's financial perspectives. Why should three member states contribute to the equivalent of two thirds of the military spending of the 27?..We need to put these questions on the table, in the same way as agricultural policy, technological innovation, or the environment."

He also confirmed that the French Foreign Office was already working on the establishment of the EU Diplomatic Force, which should only come into effect if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, saying "In the Quai d'Orsay, we are already working on defining the nature, the scope, and the missions of this new service, in close relations with our partners."

We wonder if one of these partners was Ireland, seeing as they have not yet made a decision on whether or not they even want the Treaty yet? (or rather they have, but they're being given a second opportunity to make the 'right' choice).

And now we have the French Defence Minister Hervé Morin saying that he is "convinced" that the EU will have its own permament military headquarters in Brussels, and that it will not be possible to deploy tactical groupings of 1,500 soldiers without such a headquarters.

He suggested British reluctance is holding up progress towards this goal, but predicted that within "one, two or five years, we will end up with a command, planning and operations centre in Europe."

He also said he hoped that there would be "one day, a Council of European defence ministers" in Brussels, as there is for agirculture or foreign affairs ministers.

Of course, noone should really be surprised at this, given that the warning signs that France was chomping at the bit to move ahead with this have been there for a while. But this talk of actually creating an EU defence policy, funded from the EU budget, and with decisions taken by the Council of Ministers just as they decide on agricultural policy, is big news.

Meanwhile, the Polish government has announced this week that its top priority for its EU Presidency in the latter half of 2011 will be the development of a "European defence policy".

According to Coulisses de Bruxelles:

"Warsaw wants the EU to have a fleet of A400M military transport planes so it can independently carry out military operations outside Europe. The planes could be bought by a European Armaments Agency whose powers would be considerably strengthened. Poland is also proposing a deputy EU Foreign Minister in charge of security questions, and Warsaw wants the future EU Foreign Minister to take part in Nato meetings! One can only imagine the reaction of the Brits to such proposals, which will delight Paris to find in them a strong ally in the East."

The combination of all these statements is important. A dedicated EU defence budget, open to mistargeted spending and abuse on the same scale as the agriculture budget?

An unelected Deputy EU Foreign Minister as well as an unelected Foreign Minister and President Blair?

Presumably the feeling in Brussels is that once Lisbon is ratified, people can put forward all sorts of ideas for new jobs without bothering with any more pesky EU Treaties to authorise them. And allowing the Foreign Minister to take part in NATO meetings will no doubt be one of the inevitable consequences of allowing so much of the Foreign Minister role to go undefined in the Treaty. (He's going to look pretty out of place sitting there next to all the democratically-elected Foreign Ministers around the NATO table. Or maybe he'll eventually be sent instead and on behalf of EU ministers?)

On top of everything else, it is deeply worrying that these ideas are being discussed and touted behind the scenes, and the shape of the future of the EU's defence policy is being quietly nudged along in the Quai d'Orsay and other such locations, away from prying eyes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't count those chickens

Reuters has the story that Ireland's largest independent bookies, Boylesport, is already paying out on a Yes vote for the second Lisbon Treaty referendum, to be held on 2 October.

Apparently their spokesman said, "With odds at 1/12 a positive outcome looks like a foregone conclusion at this stage", before adding, "although we do expect it to be tight."



Rival betting company Paddy Power has said they won't be paying out a penny before 2 October, perhaps wary of getting their fingers burned like last year when they paid out more than 180,000 euros to those who had placed Yes wagers, before even a single vote had been counted.

While the Yes side do have a lead in the polls, the latest Millward Brown poll at the weekend shows that 21% of people still say they don't know how they are going to vote, which means there is still time to convince people that the Treaty is a bad deal for Ireland and a bad deal for Europe.
See here to read why http://www.europesaysno.org/

Monday, September 21, 2009

How you are paying for the Irish 'yes' campaign

Apparently the Young European Federalists are launching yet another 'yes' campaign to urge Ireland to adopt the Lisbon Treaty.

They write:

“The absence of a strong No side demonstrates that there are no real arguments to reject this treaty.”

Or maybe it’s more to do with the fact that there’s no public money being pumped into the ‘No’ side. The YEF, on the other hand, enjoys funding from the EU Commission in order to promote European integration, as we pointed out in our December publication, 'The Hard Sell'.

The group received a rather sizeable €132,927 from the EU between January 2005 and October 2007.

But don't take our word for it - check out the YEF's own website, where they proudly show off their EU funding.

Turn up the sound and click here for an example of the sort of stuff this group is spending your money on to get you to support EU federalism (warning - it's possibly the cringiest thing on the internet).

As regards the Lisbon Treaty, they believe it "is crucial to put the EU back on track on the road to unification".

One proposal they've put forward recently is for a single EU Olympic Team, an idea they came up with when Britain was doing well winning medals last year in Beijing. After the idea was covered in the newspapers in the UK, Toni Giugliano , the Vice-President of the group issued this extraordinary statement. Here's an extract:

“It’s great to see that the British press have reacted so passionately to the proposed European Olympic Team, especially since this is the year that team GB finally showed the continent and the world that Britain is not only the heart disease, cancer and diabetes capital of the world, nor the couch potato Rupert Murdoch reading state that everyone makes it out to be. No! Brits really do love playing sports, and winning at them too!... It may be the case that team GB did better than usual in these Olympics. Perhaps they fed their athletes with Special K instead of the usual fried chips ‘n egg. Mmmm, they’re learning.”

Quite why taxpayers should be paying for this kind of amateur rubbish is beyond us.

Say what you see














Strong stuff coming out of the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth today... Hat-tip Spectator Coffee House Blog.

Chris Davies MEP gets worked up over the issue of politicians fiddling their expenses:

"I hate the dirty, cheating b******s, who have taken every opportunity to fill their private pockets with public money. I despise them for dragging down the reputation of my Parliament and all its members. I want them exposed. I want them punished. I want them thrown out."

We don't know exactly who he's referring to but in the past he has singled out disgraced ex-Conservative MEP Den Dover, who apparently still owes the taxpayer £500,000 in "unduly paid expenses", saying that some people see him as "no better than a thief".

Davies' comments are a useful reminder that the problem of MEPs and their expenses is still to be resolved. Since July MEPs have been governed by a new Members' Statute, governing rules on expenses and allowances for MEPs, which offers some very small improvements.

For instance, whereas in the past, MEPs did not have to produce a single receipt for the more than £360,000 available to them every year in allowances (on top of their salary), MEPs must now produce receipts for one chunk of that, which is their travel expenses (although the rules now state that all travel can be by business class). As well as that, MEPs' staff in Brussels are now directly employed, and paid for, by the European Parliament.

MEPs may also no longer employ direct family members (although if they were already working for them in July, they may carry on working for them).

But office expenses and the daily subsistence allowance are still available without receipts - effectively leaving huge amounts of money going straight into MEPs' pockets every year, with no check on how that your money is being spent.

Outrageously, as recently as March this year, MEPs voted to exempt documents which detail how much they are claiming in expenses, and what they are claiming for, from public information requests.

Full credit to Chris Davies - he is one of avery few MEPs who has consistently encouraged and voted in favour of greater transparency in the European Parliament (he voted against exempting documents relating to MEPs' expenses, along with about a quarter of UK MEPs).

Just like at Westminster, the Brussels (and Strasbourg) system needs root-and-branch reform, as we've spelled out before.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Former Labour Minister blasts Lisbon Treaty

In a similar vein to the last post, the Mail today picks up on comments made by Labour MP and former Minister Gisela Stuart at Open Europe's Dublin meeting last week, at which she blasted the Lisbon Treaty because of its serious implications for democracy.

As a member of the European Convention which drafted the Treaty, Gisela really knows her stuff. Warning that "the nature of democracy is really at stake", she said there would be "no more treaties, no more referendums anywhere" on EU integration.

She is also a key supporter of the Europe Says No campaign.

You can read her important comments in more detail here on our website.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tell it like it is

Hat-tip to Iain Dale for this find:

Labour's candidate in Folkestone & Hyde, Donald Worsley, has told the Romney Marsh Times:

“Top of the reasons for the euro [elections] disaster must surely be the Government’s failure to honour its Manifesto pledge to call a referendum on a New European Treaty. Such serious pledges once given must never be denied.”

Yup.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nothing to fear from a 'no' vote

Good piece in the Wall Street Journal today, about how Ireland has nothing to fear from a 'no' vote.

Well worth a read.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Europe Says No

Check out this new pan-European campaign: "Europe Says No: No to Lisbon, Yes to Democracy" - http://www.europesaysno.org/

As well as explaining in detail why the Treaty is so bad for democracy, there's also a place to add your comments, and to show your support by signing up to the Facebook group.

Reading through all the comments, you can see how Charlie McCreevy got the idea that 95% of Europeans would have said 'no' to the Treaty if only they'd be allowed a say on it...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

EU leaders admit Lisbon is unnecessary

Following an interview with the Swedish Secretary of State for Europe, Maria Asenius, a headline on EurActiv(German) reads: “EU can function without Lisbon Treaty” (including quote marks).

It reports that several "leading EU politicians digress from the thesis that the Lisbon Treaty is necessary for the effective functioning of the enlarged EU. The new message is that, without the Lisbon Treaty, the EU would be as capable of acting as hitherto."

Maria Asenius is quoted saying, "We cannot wait forever for a decision on this issue. We need a new Commission to continue EU businesses. With or without the Lisbon Treaty. We've got no choice."

This comes hot on the heels of Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt's admission that the Lisbon Treaty is not necessary in order for Ireland to keep its EU Commissioner, as claimed by the Irish government and the 'yes' campaign.

This kind of honesty - that the EU will continue to function as normal without Lisbon, and that it isn't, in fact, important enough to warrant the sacrifice of so much democracy - is most welcome at this stage in the debate.

Europeans for Democracy

For those of you unable to make it to Dublin for our recent event, "Europeans for Democracy", which brought together various people from across the EU to discuss their reasons for rejecting Lisbon, you may wish to read the transcript or listen to an audio recording over on our events page.

Lots of food for thought, and we would welcome your comments.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The ECJ strikes again


We've just come across another hugely significant ruling by the European Court of Justice on the EU's Working Time Directive (WTD), which slipped largely under the radar last week. HR magazine People Management has the story.

Essentially, in the latest Pereda v Madrid Movilidad case, the EU judges' ruling opens up the possibility of employees 'reallocating' their annual leave if they are struck down by 'illness' while on holiday.

The employee in the case, Vicente Pereda, was injured shortly before his annual leave was due to start but his employer refused a request to move his holiday. The Court ruled that this was illegal under the WTD. Lawyers have warned that there is now no reason in principle why an employee whose holiday had already started could not claim the right to reallocate leave, if they were entitled to sick leave at the same time.

To call this a can of worms would be a gross understatement. How would employers be expected to police this in practice? Fly 'compliance officers' to the Costa Del Sol to verify a bout of food poisoning at the hands of a dodgy paella?

But there is a wider and more serious point about EU law here - that at the hands of the ECJ judges it can take on a life of its own.

Since the WTD was agreed in 1993 the ECJ has continuously extended the Directive's reach, ruling against national governments and increasing employment costs to both the private and public sector.

In November 1996, the EU's judges in Luxembourg ruled against the UK Government by determining that the WTD's legal base fell under health and safety rather than social policy, meaning the UK no longer retained its veto (which existed at the time).

In October 2000, in the 'SiMAP' ruling, the ECJ decided that time spent resident on call in a hospital or other place of work should count as working time, even if the worker is asleep for some of that on-call time. This has had a huge impact on the NHS, for example, as resident on-call doctors' hours
were slashed.

In June 2001, the ECJ ruled that the UK was in violation of the WTD’s provision on annual leave.

In April 2003, in the 'Jaeger' ruling, the ECJ ruled that rest periods entailed in the WTD have to be taken immediately rather than within a “reasonable time” if the minimum rest period has been interrupted by an emergency. This causes huge problems for the rota system at British hospitals and the British Medical Association estimates that the effect would be tantamount to losing between 4,300 and 9,900 junior doctors.

In March 2006, the ECJ ruled that British firms that pay workers in place of their holiday entitlements – so-called rolled up holiday pay – were violating the WTD.

In September 2006, an ECJ ruling found that UK Government guidance on rest entitlement was incompatible with the WTD.

In January 2009, European judges ruled that employees on long term sick leave must remain entitled to annual statutory holiday pay upon their return to work. This means that staff can take their annual holiday built up while at home as soon as they return to work.

For more of our thoughts on the WTD, see here.

Now, one can debate the merits of each of these individual rulings but what is surely not in doubt is the immense power vested in the unelected ECJ to extend and interpret EU law as it sees fit. The ECJ is able to drive policy almost at will
and yet it answers to no-one .

If only UK ministers had known that by signing the WTD all those years ago, they were creating their very own Frankenstein.

Rasmussen v. Lord Myners (and the rest of the City)


In case you missed it, Open Europe last week organised a debate on the EU's proposed new rules for hedge funds, private equity firms, and various other funds currently not regulated by EU law. In good-old Brussels fashion the proposal goes under the acronym AIFMD (Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive), and has been recieved with some scepticism in the City of London - to put it mildly.

In a Guildhall filled to the brink with angry pin-striped suited City people, the AIFM Directive's key proponent, Poul Nuryp Rasmussen, fearlessly explained why he didn't think the proposal goes far enough. The arguments aside, you have to give Rasmussen credit for his dedication, courage and willingness to walk into what can only be described as a lion's den. And he certainly stood his ground. During the course of the debate, it became evident that Rasmussen knows more about the alternative investment industry than the industry itself perhaps feels comfortable admitting. It would be a mistake to underestimate him, particularly as he still - despite no longer being an MEP - has much input into what kind of amendments the socialists in the EP will put down on the draft Directive.

Rasmussen carries a lot of respect around Europe. During the 90s he took on the unions in Denmark in a bid to get the Danish economy up and running again - a point he was keen to make at the end of the debate. This, he said, highlights that he's a "pragmatic Scandinavian" and a "pro-growth guy" (in addition to being an economist). He's not out to get the City of London. A Scandianvian economist with pragmatist credentials is the nightmare opponent for the alternative investment industry, insofar as he'll draw a lot of sympathy from around Europe (and hedge fund managers aren't exactly the most popular kids on the block). However, notwithstanding his courage and the rest of it, the arguments are against Rasmussen on this issue - as we've outlined here.

The main counter-blast to Rasmussen's arguments did not come from any of the industry representatives, but from City Minister Lord Myners, who used surprisingly strong rethoric - no doubt mindful of his audience. In particular Lord Myners hit out at "the lamentable lack of consultation" which preceded the Directive, and said that the proposal amounted to "protectionism hiding as if it were protection".

One of the most interesting admissions from Rasmussen was that the Directive was designed to keep fund managers from the rest of the world out of the single market, unless they "pay a price". "No one can have my Danish passport", Rasmussen said. As we've argued many times before, this type of protectionist thinking remains one of the EU's greatest flaws. Whether it's raising barriers to global capital flows and investment, or free trade in products and agricultural commodities, this kind of approach leaves everyone worse off.

This flaw is more than enough reason to oppose the draft Directive in its current form.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Astounding hypocrisy

The Vice-President of the European Commission Margot Wallstrom has today given an extraordinary interview to the Irish Herald, in which she attacks "false statements" from the 'no' side, and then goes on to pretend that Ireland is having a vote on its membership of the EU, rather than a Treaty.

In what reads like the lyrics of a love ballad, she says: "Ireland would be so much worse off without Europe.... Maybe we don't tell you often enough: We want Ireland in the EU ... Ireland being in the EU, to the rest of the EU, it means so much."

It also reads a bit like a threat to kick Ireland out if it does vote 'no'.

The paper says: "The Swedish politician is in Dublin to seek support for the Lisbon Treaty."

But the European Commission has repeatedly claimed in no uncertain terms that it does not get involved in national referendums.

See here for example, where the Irish Commission office claims: “It has been the long standing policy of the European Commission not to interfere in internal elections or referenda in Members States".

Or here, where Wallstrom's spokesperson Joe Hennon says: "There will be no advocacy or publicity campaign ahead of the second referendum."

We look forward to reading the full interview tomorrow, which, according to the Herald includes how the European Central Bank is prepared to put "an enormous amount of money" in Ireland and "Ms Wallstrom's view that Charlie McCreevy must regret his loose tongue."

No doubt she is referring to McCreevy's admission that 95% of EU countries would have rejected the Lisbon Treaty if their citizens had been allowed a say on it. Or perhaps his statement yesterday evening at Gresham College, when he said that last time around "Irish people in their wisdom decided... against the advice of everybody and said No."

We can only wonder how Mr McCreevy will feel about being publicly chastised by his colleagues for speaking his mind in his own country.

He's back

The Wall Street Journal carries an interview today with Declan Ganley, who is back from the wildnerness to fight the Lisbon Treaty.

His belief?

"Approving the treaty would be a betrayal of those in France and the Netherlands—not to mention the millions of others who were never offered a vote on the Constitution or Lisbon."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sticking to the point

Just returned from Ireland where we hosted an extremely fruitful debate on the Lisbon Treaty with an excellent panel of speakers from across the EU. Many of the debates on Lisbon are being hijacked by irrelevant issues, such as Ireland's membership of the EU, which is not up for debate.

So it was very refreshing to have a solid two hours dedicated to the detail of the Treaty and the ways in which it has been ratified in other countries around Europe.

Click here to read extracts - well worth a read if you would like to hear some new arguments from some new faces, such as Dr Jochen Bittner, Europe correspondent at German newspaper Die Zeit; Gisela Stuart, British Labour MP and member of the Convention on the Future of Europe which drew up the Treaty; Erik Lakomaa, a political strategist from Sweden; and Roland Vaubel, Professor in Economics at Mannheim University. And more.

In stark contrast, it struck us while over in Dublin that unfortunately, some of the more desperate 'yes' campaigners have now degenerated into anti-foreigner rants, short of detailed arguments for the Treaty itself.

First it was Professor Brigid Laffan, Chairwoman of 'Ireland for Europe', shouting about "the British" on Vincent Browne's TV3 debate on Tuesday. On the programme, Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally was asked why she believes the Treaty should be rejected, and responded saying it was a matter of trust and democracy. Trust, because the Irish government had repeatedly promised not to make Irish people vote again, and yet is doing so regardless. Democracy, because the Treaty abolishes the national veto in 60 areas of policy, and because Ireland stands to lose more than 40% of its power to block legislation it disagrees with. Under Lisbon, more decisions than ever before will be taken at European level as opposed to the national level, which means that citizens will have less say and less control.

Instead of replying to that point, and making a sensible counter-argument, Professor Laffan launched a desperate attack on Open Europe, including the bizarre argument that our input should be ignored because there are no women on our Advisory Council. Actually there are two, but hey ho.

Worse, we returned to the office today to see an email accusing us of being "paddy-hating".

Accusations of racism are a very low blow. Normally we'd dismiss this kind of thing but we were surprised to discover this pretty shocking email came from Dr John O'Brennan, a lecturer, no less, in European Politics and Society in the Sociology department at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, and director of the Center for the Study of Wider Europe. Surely he should know better? His message is not the kind of thing you would normally expect from an academic.

As a scholar concerned about the future of Europe, he should surely be welcoming debate about the future of the EU from people around Europe. In any case, as has been well documented, Lorraine herself is "paddy", so it would be a pretty weird case of self-hatred if true.

All that petty nonsense aside, isn't there an inherent contradiction in the arguments of those who are championing EU integration, and calling for more through the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, and who are also so quick to dismiss the arguments of people from other EU countries? (Very ironic, too, that they - John O'Brennan - should do that while simultaneously accusing others of being racist).

These people are claiming the moral highground but their offensive and wild accusations are testament to an increasingly desperate campaign lacking in real arguments for the Treaty itself. Very sad.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Without a hint of irony...

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has flown to Dublin to tell the Irish people to beware of 'outside' influences telling them how to vote in next month's Lisbon Treaty referendum. He described the Lisbon No campaign as “made up of marginal groups…and some [located] outside your country”.

He then went on to say that he had no wish to “tell people how to vote”, before telling people how to vote by suggesting that the referendum should not be “used for domestic messages” to bash the Irish government.

We've talked about the various EU institutions' penchant for meddling in the Irish referendum many times before but these remarks are a fine illustration of how seemingly intelligent people manage to lose all sense of reason and self-awareness.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Swedish PM lets the cat out the bag

Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt has finally admitted what no other EU leader dare say ahead of the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

He has drawn attention to the fact that, contrary to what Irish politicians are saying, the current, Nice Treaty rules represent a far better and far safer deal for Ireland in terms of its representation in the European Commission.

As we've argued many times before, the Nice Treaty arrangements do indeed call for the size of the Commission to be reduced. But only by one member. This means that if we were to stick to the current rules, Ireland would be without an EU Commissioner for 5 out of every 135 years (there are 27 member states, and each one would take it in turns to forego their commissioner for a five-year period at a time).

The Lisbon Treaty, however, still clearly states (go and check it out if you don't believe us), that the number of EU Commissioners must be no more than two thirds of the number of member states. Under these arrangements, Ireland will be without a Commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years.

In an effort to appease Irish people long enough to get them to say 'yes' to the Treaty, EU leaders made a political (not legal) agreement in June that, in return for ratifying the Treaty and giving the EU swathes of new powers, every member state would be able to keep its Commissioner.

Here's the thing. In the event that future EU leaders (they are bound to be different to the ones who made the promise in June) decide to stick to the promise made by their predecessors, and vote to allow the Commission to remain at 27 members (of which there is no guarantee), nobody knows how long that arrangement will last. As we said, the text of the Treaty remains unchanged, and the default Lisbon position, under which EU leaders will by then be operating, remains that Ireland will be without a commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years. There is absolutely nothing to stop them reverting to that default position at any time in the future.

As admitted by the Swedish Prime Minister.

Under the headline "Keeping our commissioner without Lisbon", the Irish Times' Europe correspondent Jamie Smyth writes on his State of the Union blog, that following an interview with Fredrik Reinfeldt, "a no vote would be respected and the Nice Treaty would prevail. Contrary to some of the exaggerated claims of yes campaigners the sky wouldn't fall on Ireland's head."

Smyth also reports that Reinfeldt said a "26 plus one" plan is favoured by diplomats and the probable solution, with 26 member states keeping a Commissioner, and the last state taking the 'High Representative' role currently played by Javier Solana.

Crucially, he quotes Reinfeldt saying: "We might in the future get back to this discussion. What if we keep on enlarging?"

Indeed.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Double standards II

As the Lisbon campaign in Ireland gets into full swing things are starting to get heated.

Ireland's Defence Minister Willie O'Dea yesterday told us to butt out after we published research showing that the Irish government only managed to get 24 percent of their proposed amendments made to the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty, when it was negotiated back in 2002-2004 by Europe Minister Dick Roche. The fact is he was dead against some of the things the government is now pushing - such as a permanent EU President, a change to the voting weights, which will see Ireland lose 40% of its power to block decisions it disagrees with, and many of the important veto losses.

It seems fairly inevitable that the Government would have a pop at us for publishing facts they desperately would prefer to hide. But in light of the recent interventions from the EU Commission in the debate, it seems highly hypocritical to tell us to "butt out".

Only two weeks ago, the Commission felt the need to weigh in and rebuff claims made by the 'Farmers for No' campaign. Maybe the Irish government was too busy that day to do the rebutting itself, or maybe it wasn't considered to be up to the job by the "experts" (ha ha) occupying the corridors of DG Communication.

Other imaginative ways to use our taxes its resources to promote a Yes vote include sending EU officials into schools, to foster that all important pester power, and sending Communication Commissioner Margot Wallström to Ireland later this week to speak at various events, including the 'Lisbon Treaty Business Lunch with European Chamber of Ireland' and the 'Labour Women's Conference'. That's not to mention the appearances already seen by EU Commissioners Neelie Kroes, Magelena Kuneva and senior EU Commission official Catherine Day.

Will their salaries be included in the public cost of the 'yes' campaign?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

'ello, 'ello, 'ello

The European Police College, designed to train EU member states' police officers, has had its fair share of controversy in recent years. In February, MEPs on the European Parliament's Budgetary Committee refused to sign off its accounts amid a scandal over the "private use of public funds". Apparently, almost £21,000 in EU funds was wrongly paid out for staff use of cars, transport services, mobile phones and furniture.

So who better to put in charge of such an institution than a man under suspicion for corruption himself. We wish we were joking but today's Belgian daily De Morgen reports that the Belgian police officer who will preside over the executive board of the European Policy Academy (CEPOL) during the Belgian EU Presidency in 2010 is currently a corruption suspect.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Quote of the day

"Whilst the original Constitutional Treaty was technical, and correct, people didn't read the Lisbon Treaty, they didn't understand the first word about it. No real debate about the Lisbon Treaty could happen. This was a deliberate decision of the European Council"

- New EU Development Commissioner Karel de Gucht (replaced Louis Michel after he became an MEP in June)

(Hat-tip Conservative Home).