Friday, July 30, 2010

UKIP's financial problems abate

Yesterday's big news in the eurosceptic world (and, to be fair beyond it as this posting by Iain Dale shows) was that UKIP had won its appeal to the Supreme Court (it feels very odd typing those words in connection with the British legal system). The saga of the Alan Bown donations and the subsequent tortuous legal process was followed on EUReferendum, mostly by the Boss but with an odd addition by me. So I do not have to reiterated any of it.

As the BBC reported it yesterday:
The UK Independence Party does not have to forfeit all of a £367,697 "impermissible donation", the Supreme Court has ruled.

UKIP received the money from a donor who was not on the electoral register.

The party was initially told to forfeit £14,481 but that was increased after the Electoral Commission took the case to the Appeal Court.

UKIP's victory at the Supreme Court lifts the threat of financial ruin that was hanging over the party.

But it represents a defeat for the Electoral Commission which was pressing UKIP to return the full amount donated by retired bookmaker Alan Bown.
The party can, as its Leader, Lord Pearson said, get on with its job of getting Britain out of the EU. Whether the party can achieve anything of the kind remains to be seen. At present that end remains as distant as ever and the possibility of the EU collapsing while British politicians, civil servants and various hangers-on continue to bleat about the need to reform it, is far higher.

The question of costs has been deferred and may well become something of a millstone round UKIP's neck.

An interesting blog run by members of 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers gives the news and quotes the press summary from the court. For some bizarre reason the otherwise measured though clearly disapproving piece is headlined: UKIP can keep foreign donation despite breach of party funding rules. Well, no, not exactly. Alan Bown was not a foreign donor; he merely slipped off the electoral register by some curious oversight. Nobody has ever argued that he was not entitled to be on that register. The ladies and gentlemen of the barristers' chambers appear to be confusing two separate cases. (Hint: the name Michael Brown and the party Lib-Dims).

For those who want all the details, here is the press summary of the judgement and here is the judgement in full. I prefer the more common spelling of the word.

More on Iceland

Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson writes about the country's attitude to EU membership on EUObserver. You mean they do not want to enormous benefits of the Common Fisheries Policy? My word!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Left wants silence

This is the unsurprising conclusion Andrew Klavan comes to after the publication of his "controversial" or different from the usual consensus novel Empire of Lies is cancelled in France. The reason given is that the publisher in question is too worried about the political and religious aspects of the plot. Apparently, it is all about the main-stream media trying to hush up details of a plot. Fantasy! Couldn't possibly happen!
The book’s French cancellation is, I realize, a rather small cultural event. Yet it gives specific color to the recent revelations on the Daily Caller website that left-wing journalists conspired to suppress scandals that might harm Barack Obama and to the brouhaha over Breitbart’s online release of a video that resulted in a government worker’s momentarily losing her job. In both stories, one thing leaps out at me: everywhere, the Left favors fewer voices and less information, and conservatives favor more. Everywhere, the Left seeks to disappear its opposition, whereas the Right is willing to meet them head-on.
I am going to try to get hold of a copy and read it.

This should keep everyone happy (not!)

Lord Stoddart of Swindon has been pursuing a number of issues with the Cleggeron Coalition, otherwise known as Her Majesty's Government. For example, he asked about the money spent by the Commission on propaganda or media output (but I repeat myself):
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Howell of Guildford on 12 July (WA 96) about the payment of journalists by the European Commission, what assessment they have made of the impact of that policy on public opinion of the European Commission.
The reply that came through Lord Howell was everything we have learnt to expect from the "transparent" new government:
At a time when both citizens and Governments across the EU are reining in their spending, the EU institutions should be more rigorous in making sure that they get the maximum value out of every euro of taxpayers' money that they spend. I am confident that the majority of public opinion in the UK would agree with me that paying journalists is not a good use of EU funding.
Probably not, though the Commission might consider that paying journalists to produce propaganda in the guise of news and opinion is value for money. The question is what assessment has the government made of the whole process and, more to the point, will anything be done about it. This is, after all, our money.

On to the subject of that blue flag with the gold stars. Readers of this blog will recall a certain recent contretemps about whether the flag should or should not be flown. The Daily Mail said that the UK was fined £150 million for failing to fly the flag and displaying the logo, the Daily Telegraph quoted an EU official who denied the story.
A spokesman said: "The EU has not fined the UK GBP150m and most definitely not for 'not displaying the EU flag'.

"There are legal provisions adopted by the EU member states (the UK included) that ask them to comply with certain minimum requirements on publicity and this includes the display of the EU logo on a permanent plaque.

"However, there have been no issues with the UK in this respect."

The ERDF requires any project accepting its money to display the EU flag on a permanent plaque in a prominent position.
No issues with the UK presumably means that the rule is obeyed and adhered to in every particular. Furthermore, stories that appear in the Daily Wail ought to be treated with some caution.

What is the status of the EU flag. It was, as readers will recall, taken out of the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty thus making it completely different and dispensing with the need for a referendum. According to the official blurb
It is the symbol not only of the European Union but also of Europe's unity and identity in a wider sense. The circle of gold stars represents solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe.
As soon as everyone has recovered from nausea and worse we can carry on. The same site informs us that the 12 stars have nothing to do with the number of member states (I should think not, there being 27) but is a symbol of "perfection, completeness and unity". What it does not tell anyone is that the symbol was used by the Council of Europe before the burgeoning European state appropriated it. For once, Wikipedia is a much better source of information. The article gives the list of the many ways in which the number 12 is assumed to be of importance.

The flag may not have been in the treaty but its importance as a symbol of European unification continues to exist. Unfortunately, the people of the various countries do not see it as anything but a flag that needs to be flown from time to time according to some legal requirement.

We come back to Lord Stoddart's question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the United Kingdom can be compelled to fly the European Union flag or use prescribed logos.
Astonishingly enough Her Majesty's Government saw fit to give some information in its reply:
The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) is the managing authority for the European Development Fund (ERDF). Among other things under EC Regulation 1828/2006, Article 7(2), CLG is required to fly the EU flag for one week from 9 May from the front of its premises. There are two flag poles outside the departmental building of Eland House, and it is the policy of the department always to fly the United Kingdom's Union Flag in the superior position.

Article 9 of the same EC regulation requires that all information and publicity aimed at beneficiaries, potential beneficiaries and the public generally includes the EU emblem, a reference to ERDF and a statement highlighting the added value of the intervention of the Community, in accordance with set graphical standards. In addition, Article 69(1) of EC Regulation 1083/2006 requires that all member states, which act as managing authorities for EU funded programmes, ensure that projects highlight the role of the EU.
Two whole Regulations (which are, allow me to remind everyone) that deal with the need to promote the image and importance of the EU in our lives and to emphasise its benevolence though not, perhaps, the rules whereby all EU money (and Britain is a net contributor) has to be matched by national or local funds even though it is the EU that decides on the validity of the project.

EC Regulation 1828/2006 rejoiced in the catchy title of
of 8 December 2006
setting out rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and of Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Regional Development Fund
Let us have a look at the Article quoted by the noble Minister (or Sir Humphrey's minions who had been detailed to answer the pesky question). Article 7 (on p. 14 of the pdf version) deals with
Responsibilities of the managing authority relating to information and publicity measures for the public
Section 2 in full states:
The managing authority shall be responsible for organising at least the following information and publicity measures:

(a) a major information activity publicising the launch of an operational programme, even in the absence of the final version of the communication plan;

(b) at least one major information activity a year, as set out in the communication plan, presenting the achievements of the operational programme(s) including, where relevant, major projects;

(c) flying the flag of the European Union for one week starting 9 May, in front of the premises of each managing authority;

(d) the publication, electronically or otherwise, of the list of beneficiaries, the names of the operations and the amount of public funding allocated to the operations.
It is not clear whether apart from that one week the blue flag with the golden stars does not need to be flown. If so, why on earth is it always there outside the managing authorities?

So we come to the original Regulation, 1083/2006, for which the Rules were set out in the long Regulation quoted above. While the original Regulation consists of 54 pages, the one that sets out the Rules is 163 pages long. I think this is called simplification of legislation. Or so we are told.

Article 69 of the Regulation deals with - yes, you guessed it - Information and Publicity. Here we are, Section 1 lays it down the line:
The Member State and the managing authority for the operational programme shall provide information on and publicise operations and co-financed programmes. The information shall be addressed to European Union citizens and beneficiaries with the aim of highlighting the role of the Community and ensure that assistance from the Funds is transparent.
Of course, if we are talking about transparency, it would be useful, as I mentioned above, to explain exactly how the funding is managed and have the logos of all the organizations that contribute willy-nilly displayed. I wonder what the taxpayers' logo might be? Perhaps, a milch-cow.

HMG is not happy with the arrangement. How do I know? Well, there is one more paragraph in Lord Howell's response that tells one so:
As laid out in my department's press release of 7 July 2010, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is keen to challenge the complicated and over-bureaucratic rules and to avoid penalties being imposed for minor infringements of the regulations-such as for not displaying the EU emblem. Furthermore, he is urgently reviewing how these funds are managed and distributed to make sure that taxpayers' money is used wisely.
Who decides what is wisely and how is the Secretary of State going to change EU rules? We await answers with bated breath.

Iceland is not all that keen either

There were two recent items about Iceland and the EU on EUObserver. On Monday we were told that formal talks on Iceland joining the European Union are to begin the following day.
Talks will formally begin on Tuesday. The small north Atlantic island, with a population of just 320,000, has aligned itself with many EU laws and is seen as fitting snugly with the slightly more ineffable European 'norms', but negotiations on a few key issues - such as fishing rights and its traditional whale hunting - are expected to be difficult.

Iceland, whose fishing policies have largely been a success in terms of sustainability, is keen to see that its rich fishing waters are not over-fished by EU member states. The EU's common fisheries policy has led to the severe depletion of stocks in western Europe.

"Efforts will have to be made by Iceland," Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said after chairing the meeting in Brussels. "Think of environment, think of whale hunting."
How about: think of the environment, think of the catastrophic CFP?

By Wednesday we were told that "Brussels" was worried about falling support for EU membership in Iceland.
"I'm concerned by the current lack of broad public support for European Union membership in Iceland," said enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele speaking to reporters alongside Icelandic foreign minister Oessur Skarphedinsson after talks were opened.

"This shows that there's a need for more objective information about the EU and its policies," he added.
At present opposition to membership seems to be around 60 per cent, according to EUObserver itself. Any more "objective information" and that proportion might go up to 75 or 80 per cent.

Not all is lost, however. There is, apparently, one person who believes support for membership is going up. As the invaluable EU News from Iceland puts it: "Iceland Foreign Minister in his own world".
Foreign Minister Össur Skarphéðinsson said yesterday in an interview with, the website of the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið, that he thought that support for his government's application to join the European Union had increased among Icelandic MPs. Ask what evidence he had for his claim he said he knew the parliament.
Not very well, it seems:
Today has asked leading people from the other political parties represented in the Icelandic parliament, Althingi, if their think support for EU membership has increased among their MPs. They all agree that they haven't sensed anything of that sort but on the contrary that there is a rising scepticism among them. This includes the chairman of the Left Greens, the junior coalition partner. It is safe to say that Skaphéðinsson's comments have amazed people in Iceland as no one recognises them to be true. Not even MPs in his own party find them in the position of being able to back up his comments.
Mind you, Mr Skarphéðinsson may have his own reasons for insisting on the growing popularity of the EU. He has been travelling round the member states hoping to nab a job for himself trying to reassure the colleagues about the unhelpful Icelanders.

The Avengers would have loved this

As a matter of fact, the notion of Russia using existing and new links in the countries of Eastern Europe who are all now in NATO and the EU to intensify her efforts to get military secrets (not that the EU has all that many) is no laughing matter. Nevertheless, this story, as reported in the Irish Times, did make me think about Steed and Mrs Peel.
THREE TOP Czech generals have been forced to leave the military after one of their aides was compromised by contact with a Russian spy, amid intelligence agency warnings that Moscow is intensifying efforts to steal Prague’s secrets.

The officers stepped down after serving as the head of president Vaclav Klaus’s military office, the Czech Nato representative in Europe, and as deputy general for the military chief-of-staff, according to leading Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes .

The generals’ departure was prompted by the discovery last year that a female major who had worked in each of their offices had become close to a state-employed psychologist named as Robert R, who was spying for the Kremlin.
It is not clear whether the female major was involved in anything nefarious but, clearly, the Czech authorities are very worried about developments.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oliver Stone and Walter Duranty

Roger Simon thinks that Oliver Stone is a close modern approximation of the late unlamented liar and Stalinist stooge Walter Duranty. There is a good deal to that theory. The one difference is, I am glad to say, that the new technology makes it just a little more difficult for the man to get away with his lies and glorification of bloodthirsty tyrants. Also, telling the world that Hitler has been misunderstood (has he seen The Producers?) was probably not a great career move.


Yesterday was the 7oth birthday of a very great personality, indeed. Bugs Bunny no less and how many politicians can compete with him in savviness and long-lasting appeal. He is, of course, seriously conservative and politically incorrect as Rand Simberg and other commenters point out.

Here is one delightful film - Bugs Bunny as the Barber of Seville.

And now on to another birthday and planned celebrations thereof. Jim Lindgren on the Volokh Conspiracy has a slightly creepy tale. Apparently he has received an e-mail from First Lady Michelle Obama who is asking all and sundry to sign a birthday card for the President. Millions of signatures are being collected from all Americans. Ahem, isn't that what they do in North Korea?
At another level, asking millions of Americans to sign a birthday card for the President suggests a tone-deafness about the cult of personality. If we lived in a dictatorship, getting millions of subjects to celebrate the Dear Leader’s birthday would be routine, but in a free republic this appeal to get millions of citizens to celebrate a current president’s birthday strikes a discordant note to my ear.

No, I am not saying we are in a dictatorship; I am saying that because we are not, we should not be emulating the trappings characteristic of that fundamentally different sort of regime. Nor do I think this is particularly ominous, just a very small step in the wrong direction.

Last, it seems strange for Michelle Obama to be trying to get us to sign Barack’s birthday card when she is scheduled to be in Spain with [at least one of] her daughters during the President’s birthday.
Now if this were a card for Bugs Bunny!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is getting to be serious

Naturally, I know who writes the responses to Written Questions in the House of Lords and it is not the Ministers themselves. However, I seem to recall promises of transparency and honesty when the unelected Cleggeron Coalition assumed the mantle of what power the EU leaves it. Therefore, it might be a good idea for answers to be tailored to the questions that are asked.

Take this example. Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Henley on 12 July (WA 97), which European Union countries support their position on reform of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries policies; and what voting power those countries have in the Council of Ministers.
This was carefully worded to find out exactly which countries will give support for that putative reform that has not materialized in all these years or, in other words, how many votes can Britain count on. Apparently, this is a state secret or something because the answer was to a completely different question:
There is broad agreement across the EU about the case for reform of the common fisheries policy, including the need to decentralise and simplify the current complex regulations. Few, if any, member states support the status quo, though views vary as to the changes needed. A draft legislative proposal will be published in 2011 and the UK is fully engaged in dialogue with other member states, the European Commission, industry, environmental NGOs and scientists to establish common ground for reform.

The UK's aim of a competitive, thriving and sustainable agriculture sector is supported by all member states. The Government are starting to consider their detailed position on reform of the common agricultural policy beyond 2013. Individual member states' positions will become clear in their responses to the European Commission's communication on CAP reform later this year.
Given that those reforms never seem to happen and every Fisheries Council finishes with the status quo more or less intact; given that a number of countries have already made it clear that they have no intention of changing the CAP come 2013, just as they refused to introduce any big reforms last time, these statements are fatuous, quite apart from ignoring the question.

Show time

Here is a wonderful clip from Deanna Durbin's first full-length film, Three Smart Girls, singing Arditi's Il Bacio, as being the best way of getting herself out of a legal problem.

Norwegians want to stay out

Le Monde reports (well quotes AFP but at least the agency is credited) that opposition to Norway's EU membership is growing in the country. According to the latest opinion poll, 66.9 per cent are against, 24.6 per cent are in favour and 9.1 per cent don't know or can't be bothered to reply. Norwegians, let us not forget, voted No to membership twice before and, despite all apocalyptic predictions, have been flourishing outside the EU.

Am I surprised?

It seems that, despite all the hoopla, the Food Standards Agency, as this blog predicted, will not be abolished. There will, apparently, be a few changes, none major and none that involves redundancies among the bloated pay roll:
Responsibility for nutritional policy in England will shift to the Department of Health and authority for country of origin labeling and other food labeling not related to food safety and food composition policies in England will go to the Department for Environmental, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Those changes will mean about 100 Food Standards Agency positions will shift to one of the other two ministerial departments, the government said.
Just one point that the Food Safety News seems unable to grasp: country of origin labelling is EU competence. Whoever allegedly has "the authority" for it in the various parts of this country will be implementing EU rules.

This has to be asked

What exactly is the difference of enforced lending to small businesses whether the banks think they are credit-worthy or not, as demanded by our (unelected) Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and sub-prime mortgages, also forced on companies by legislation? Remind me: how did that pan out?

Monday, July 26, 2010

A small achievement

Getting over the 100,000 mark seems to me to be an achievement albeit a very small one. Not even a giant step for the blogosphere. But it will encourage me to do better in future.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So, is there a left-wing media conspiracy?

This is, once again, an American story as all the really important and interesting ones are. After all, David Cameron not knowing what happened in 1940 having had the best education money can buy in this country is not precisely a story. But the story of JournoList, its demise and how its members actually planned to destroy conservative commentators, submerged stories that could embarrass Barack Obama during the electoral campaign and plotted how to ensure that he would be voted in no matter what it took is becoming ever more fascinating. At some point I shall have to write more about it, especially as there were some Grauniad journos involved, as a reader of this blog pointed out to me.

In the meantime, here is a measured summary by Fred Barnes Executive Editor of the Weekly Standard and a commentator on Fox News Channel, which, according to some on the Journolist, ought to be shut down by the Feds. James Taranto quotes some of the e-mails with his usual tart comments.

Jig-saw pieces

It is not surprising to anyone who has the slightest knowledge of twentieth century that there shouldbe mass-graves in Russia (and other ex-Soviet republics) that date back to the Bolshevik days. But each one is like a piece of a jig-saw puzzle. Therefore the uncovery of six mass graves with the remains of over eighty bodies clearly from the very early Soviet period is interesting but not surprising. Many people were executed summarily in those years and it is next to impossible to identify the particular victims in these graves.

One would prefer to see less slip-shod writing in the Daily Telegraph but that is past hoping for. The Red Terror (why the quotation marks in the article - is it something anyone has any doubts about?) did not start after the Russian Civil War but immediately after the Bolshevik coup in November 1917. It continued throughout the Civil War and outlasted the latter.

Nor is it exactly true that the Romanov family is buried in the Cathedral. The Tsars from Peter I to Alexander III (with the exception of Peter II) are buried there together with their spouses. Even Mariya Feodorovna, Alexander III's widow, has now been re-buried there. Other members of the family are buried in a separater mausoleum. This, however, is a detail though easily verified.

It is true that the fortress has been a museum for many decades and, together with the sandy beach under it, is a popular tourist destination. It seems entirely reasonable that the mass graves should now become part of the museum. They could become very popular with people who might like to know a little more about their country's history.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Missing the point

Lord Willoughby de Broke asked on Tuesday about the large combustion plants directive about which he had written on epolitix, expressing his view that the implementation of the directive (which, apparently, we have to do despite being told that Parliament is the sovereign legislator)"could mean lights out for Britain".
The European Union's Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) came into effect on January 1, 2008. It sets limits on the amount of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and dust particulates that coal- or oil-fired generating plants may emit. All these plants must comply by January 1, 2016 either by meeting the limits set out in the directive, or 'opting out' by reducing their total operating time to 20,000 hours by the end of 2015 and then shutting down.

As with so much EU legislation, this is well-meaning who could reasonably object to reducing environmentally harmful emissions? but is likely to give the UK serious difficulties in retaining adequate generating capacity for its needs. Under the LCPD, 14 power stations, generating 25 per cent of the UK's current energy requirements, would have to close by the end of 2015.

A leaked 2009 Whitehall briefing paper prepared for MEPs warned that the LCPD 'raises potentially serious issues about security of electricity supply'. In other words, the lights could go out under the LCPD's deadlines. The government's concerns have been echoed by the Confederation of British Industry, who stated that: 'Businesses want to help air pollution, but this directive must be implemented in a way that doesn't undermine the UK's energy security'.
So what is HMG's attitude? The Starred Question was:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what are their intentions as regards the large combustion plant directive and the generating plants concerned.
HMG's response, given by Lord Henley was tight-lipped:
My Lords, the Government's intention is that all combustion plants in the UK which are subject to that directive should comply with its requirements.
Lord Willoughby persisted, even suggesting that British legislation should be carried out by the British Parliament for the good of the British people.
My Lords, I am grateful for that frank Answer. However, can the Minister confirm that, under the provisions of that directive, 25 per cent of the UK's generating capacity is due to close down by 2015? Would it not be preferable for the United Kingdom's energy policy to be made by the Government and the Parliament in this country rather than contract it out to the European Commission?
Lord Henley dealt with that by simply ignoring it:
My Lords, I cannot confirm the noble Lord's figure; I would not accept that it will be as high as 25 per cent by 2015. I accept that a number of plants are so dirty in their emissions that they will have to close in due course, but I can confirm that other generating capacity is coming on stream in time to replace those that will close.
All a little vague, as was the rest of the debate, which consisted of several rather well-meaning comments (if somewhat catty at UKIP's expense) about certain problems being international and needing international solutions and, of course, everybody's health will be so much better if we get rid of the nasty emissions. Of course, people's health may take a turn for the worse if there is not enough power to provide everyone with light and heat but that is not going to happen. No, no, no.

Lord Pearson raised the subject of fuel poverty and the Minister deliberately misunderstood the question, pretending that it was about unemployment. When put right, he simply assured everyone that electricity prices will not go up by nearly as much as is feared. Of course, if they do, Lord Henley is not likely to be called to account for misleading the House.

A new blog and a good quote

The blog is not exactly new but I have not come across it before. It is called Pileus and it describes itself:
Pileus is a group of scholars who examine public policy and philosophy in light of our respective disciplines. We differ in many ways but share a commitment to liberty and personal responsibility.
I shall return to it without doubt, even though I have a personal aversion to people who blog under the name of a historical figure, such as Grover Cleveland. His co-authors clearly use their real names.

I found this blog through Instapundit who linked to this story of gratitude to four black men and a gun bt Marcus Cole.

At the top of Pileus I found a quote from Samuel Adams. On October 14, 1771 he either said or wrote:
The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom and defended it as they ought.
I appreciate that this is a very Anglospheric sort of comment made by a man who looked around a world where liberty was appreciated if only in theory at times. There are many parts of the world where this comment would cause either derision or a sad sigh of impossibility. But it is a good sentiment to remember.

Memo to the Cleggeron Coalition

It occurred to me that I should send a memo to the Cleggeron Coalition every time I find something that they might be interested in and clearly know nothing about. Well, maybe not every time but every third time or so.

Today's memo is about food regulations. I am still on the Food Standards Agency's mailing list for consultations although I no longer represent any stakeholders. What should pop into my inbox today but a note about a consultation Enforcement of the European Parliament and Council Regulation on Food Flavourings (England). There will be similar consultations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FSA's role is to enforce these Regulations that are directly applicable.

I just thought they would like to know.

Economics for non-economists

Yesterday I went to the launch of a new book by Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, called Understanding Economics and subtitled Economics for non-economists. Dr Pirie maintains that economics is an intuitive discipline and depends largely on people understanding their own and others' actions and desires. The aim of his book is to explain the basic principles to all of us and not just those whose brains have been somewhat befuddled by academic economists.
The chapters I read on my way home yesterday deal with trade and its beneficial effect on all those who participate in it. As this happens to be something I more or less understand and more than agree with, I can testify to those chapters being clear and persuasive. I may, later on, take issue with Dr Pirie's apparent assumption that people will always make a rational decision to improve their performance and productivity. History is littered with examples of people, for instance the peasants of Russia, who, offered ideas and assistance to improve their productivity, refused to do so, continued with their inadequate methods and nursed resentment against those who did better. I shall see how Dr Pirie deals with that problem. In the meantime, I do recommend the book - it is clearly written and assumes an intelligent but not specialist reader.
The launch took place in St Stephen's Club, the favourite grazing place of all conservatives and the garden space was shared (and separated by a niftily tied rope) with the Conservative Way Forward's summer party where Lady Thatcher was the guest of honour. Would she have preferred the ASI launch, one wonders.

The Moon landing is 21 41 years old

Actually the anniversary was yesterday (by just over half an hour) but I feel that we still need to celebrate this great achievement. Here is the NASA restored video as well as the original. And if you think it was filmed in some Hollywood back lot you had better come up with some evidence.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Snazzy and Shabby

Here is a solid analysis of the perpetual fight between those who believe in individual freedom being the only way a society can develop and those who believe that we cannot manage without the wise guidance of the state. David Solway starts with
a pair of small, wooden, humanoid counters, resembling those effigies we see on TV commercials advertising a cure for aching joints. One was called Snazzy Guy, the other Shabby Guy, and they would engage in furious battles which, after immense exertions and much thunderous pounding into one another, Snazzy Guy would invariably win. Shabby Guy would lie prostrate on the floor for some time before slowly reviving and preparing to enter the lists again.
Snazzy guy is the representative of those who love freedom, the true liberals (this nomenclature whereby liberals are the equivalent of socialists is truly confusing and misleading) and Shabby guy is the statist. Personally, I would say that it is Snazzy guy who gets knocked out and comes back again and again. By the end of the piece, David Solway takes the same view:
Snazzy Aristotle and shabby Plato are still banging heads. But the outcome of the conflict remains undecided although the shabby guys, it must be admitted, appear to have the upper hand, at least for the time being. The sorry fact is that in the actual world, befitting sequels are reversed and Snazzy Guy finds himself rather more often on the floor than his shabby opponent, both in the current scrimmage and the larger historical context. But his native resilience should not be underestimated as he picks himself up once again for yet another round in the brawl of ideologies.
Meanwhile, we have our own Shabby guy, otherwise known as the Boy-King of the Conservative Party or the Leader of the Cleggeron Coalition. His idea, which is not exactly new, of the Big Society is rooted precisely in the notion that people cannot organize anything for themselves. Far from being power to people, which would be a relatively easy thing to do, the Big Society sees local groups and communities being organized with the help of civil servants, appointed community activists and other suchlike statist regulators. As the official document explains:
Building this Big Society isn’t just the responsibility of just one or two departments. It is the responsibility of every department of Government, and the responsibility of every citizen too. Government on its own cannot fix every problem. We are all in this together. We need to draw on the skills and expertise of people across the country as we respond to the social, political and economic challenges Britain faces.
Read the rest of the document to see how the government is going to organize us all and create new jobs for community organizers to ensure that we are organized the way they think we should be in order to build that Big Society.

So, errm, how is this rather large piece of government expenditure going to be funded, given that the Cleggeron Coalition is faced with a huge deficit already? Easy. Dormant accounts as the BBC story explains. Perish the thought that the public sector be really cut and taxes be reduced so people might be able to fund voluntary organizations themselves. After all, if they are funded by the state, they are not exactly voluntary, no matter what they say.

When did we last hear about those dormant accounts the government was going to raid and use to its own purposes? Yes, indeed, it was a certain Gordon Brown who said that the money would be used " to fund youth and community projects". That was in 2005 and despite legislation in 2008 stealing the money from those dormant accounts has not proved to be easy. But worry not: Shabby guy Cameron is on the job.

The burka argument goes on

Damian Green, Immigration Minister thinks that banning the burqua is somehow un-British, as if the niquab were simply a fashion choice. Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary is deluded enough to think that somehow or other the burqua empowers women. I presume that somewhere in her fluffy brain there is the thought that the women who are forced make the feminist choice to wear the burqua would not, otherwise, be allowed out of the house by their tyrannical enlightened families.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown comes roaring into the battle.
These British apologists for the burka make me see red, whatever side of the political spectrum they come from.

They can be Left-wingers who'll countenance no criticism, however valid, of hardline Muslims. They can be Right-wing libertarians who insist any woman has the right to wear whatever she chooses.

And, as we discovered this week, they can be members of the British Cabinet who ludicrously claim the burka actually empowers women.
Having had to put up with moronic soi-disant libertarians waffling on about the right to wear whatever people want to wear (and then they wonder why there are so few women in the so-called libertarian movement in Britain) I cannot but agree with that comment of "whatever side of the political spectrum they come from".

Furthermore, I cannot help agreeing with this:
Immigrant Muslims who came to Britain to get away from Stalinist ayatollahs, mullahs and women-hating fanatic regimes in their home countries must be spitting their teeth out after hearing Spelman's astounding endorsement of this dreadful garment.

We Muslims who came here wanted the freedom that Britain's proud history of democracy was renowned for. We wanted better education for our children and to live and pray in peace in a country which, for all its faults, gives us civil rights and equality between the sexes.

Yet Spelman's support for the burka suddenly puts all of our expectations under threat; for the most obvious manifestation of the oppressive Islam we left behind is welcomed here with the blessing of the ruling elite.
We should be helping Muslim women to get away from the oppression they suffer not work with the oppressors. But then, what do I expect from this Government and these Ministers? Read the whole article. The arguments are convincing and the barely controlled rage behind them is very understandable.

In his Daily Telegraph blog Toby Young demonstrates that men are as capable of understanding this point as women and, indeed, most do. Politicians and people who think they are political creatures on the other hand ....

Meanwhile, Syria has banned the wearing of the niquab in universities for reasons of security.

Monday, July 19, 2010

But you see, it is the EU that decides on food labelling

Periodically we get Conservative politicians and the Coalition government promising to do such things about food labelling though what they are they know not. For the sad fact is that food labelling has been EU competence for many years and a long unrolling "consolidation", which has produced, is producing and will produce many far-reaching EU Regulations has been negotiated for years by the Food Standards Agency (an unaccountable quango), which is also in charge of implementing those Regulations. And being Regulations they are directly applicable and do not require Parliamentary legislation.

It so happens that as the negotiations for the Food Standards Agency went on (history detailed here on the Agency's site) I was working with various small food producers, cheese makers and, especially, small and medium-sized slaughter houses and meat processors. The work, which resulted in a report on the meat industry and the threats it faced, published in 2000 by the Countryside Alliance, was two-fold: we aimed to clarify the problems and make people aware of them and to save small(ish) food producers. Our success rate on both counts was variable.

In the midst of it all the Food Standards Agency was being set up, ostensibly in response to various food safety crises in Britain but, more importantly, because it was known that the EU was setting up its own institution, the European Food Safety Authority.
EFSA’s remit covers food and feed safety, nutrition, animal health and welfare, plant protection and plant health. In all these fields, EFSA’s most critical commitment is to provide objective and independent science-based advice and clear communication grounded in the most up-to-date scientific information and knowledge.

EFSA’s goal is to become globally recognized as the European reference body for risk assessment on food and feed safety, animal health and welfare, nutrition, plant protection and plant health.

EFSA’s independent scientific advice underpins the European food safety system. Thanks to this system, European consumers are among the best protected and best informed in the world as regards risks in the food chain.
Just recently there was a good deal of rejoicing because the Coalition has announced that it might abolish the Food Standards Agency. There was an article in the Guardian that caused all that excitement and rejoicing and the subject came up in the House of Lords during a Starred Question asked by Lord Krebs, erstwhile Chairman of said organization, despite the fact that he is actually an ornithologist.

One can make several interesting comments in connection with both the article and the breif debate in the Lords. Firstly, there is no certainty that the FSA will be abolished; secondly, if it is the people who work in it will simply be parcelled out between various departments and will then, almost certainly, be seconded to a special unit, which will probably find itself in the already existing offices. This pattern, one suspects will be repeated in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, there is an assumption that as we have problems with people eating unhealthy food and, perhaps, with obesity, the existence of the Food Standards Agency is vital though, as it happens, no evidence is produced that the situation has, in any way, improved during that body's existence.

Fourthly, there is still a body of opinion out there that is convinced that the main purpose of all food producers is to poison its customers and only the wise and all-seeing government can prevent that dire outcome. Fifthly, and most importantly, no discussion of the FSA mentions the words European and Union, though everything it deals with is EU competence and, as long as we are in the EU there will have to be a body that will negotiate those laws and regulations and implement them. Incidentally, the FSA makes no secret of this and any journalist could have found out the truth by looking on the website.
The European Commission issued a proposal for a new Food Information Regulation on 4 February 2008. This proposal follows an EU-wide review of both general food and nutrition labelling legislation, which began in 2004.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been representing the UK at Experts' Group meetings during the development of this proposal. Interested parties letters providing summaries of these meetings can be found at the links below.

The proposal will bring EU rules on general and nutrition labelling together into a single regulation which will simplify and consolidate existing labelling legislation. Eventually the regulation will be directly applicable in all Member States, and replace current UK law.

The adoption and publication of the proposal is the first step in the development of the regulation. Not only does the regulation have to be agreed between the 27 members of the Council but the European Parliament has to approve the text.

The FSA will represent the UK during the negotiations in the European Council, which are expected to start later this year, and will be actively engaging with stakeholders across the UK.

The FSA Board will consider the proposal in May 2008 and the UK position will then be agreed in discussion between Government Departments in Westminster and between the FSA and departments in the devolved administrations.

This is a complex process and we will be using this webpage to update stakeholders as progress is made in the negotiations on the proposal.
That seems to me to be clear enough to be understood by all but somehow this clearly explained state of affairs remains hidden from most politicians and journalists.

One of the pleasant after effects of my work with food producers and retailers is that I still receive the bi-monthly Speciality Food Magazine. I read it and sigh for the days spent working with the food industry. Then I recall the many meetings I had to attend as a stake-holder at DEFRA and smile with the thought that I no longer have to do so.

The July-August issue has a couple of short notes about the decision by the European Parliament to get rid of the so-called "traffic light" system of telling consumers about the dangers inherent in the particular item of food they are buying. As these notes are not on the website, I shall copy them out:
EU Favours GDA Labelling

Following a multimillion-pound lobbying campaign by manufacturers, MEPs have rejected plans for the compulsory introduction of 'traffic light' nutrition labels. The European Union has instead opted for the rival Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) scheme, which expresses nutritional content as a percentage of recommended daily intake. This will be introduced on a mandatory basis. The rejection has caused some controversy because independent research previously revealed that consumers found the system the simplest and most informative way to make healthier choices about the foods they buy.
Further on in the magazine there are comments from small retailers who give various opinions on the subject.

Setting aside the "multimillion-pound campaign", which so horrifies readers of the Grauniad who clearly do not bother to find out whether it was put together by small or large producers. After all, any new regulation hits small producers much harder and they tend to campaign against them through various organizations.

Let us also set aside those "independent" researchers who were almost certainly funded by various consumer organizations who usually have an agenda of their own and the welfare of consumers is not it.

The important thing to remember is that the decision on what kind of labelling to use is made by the EU, in this case one of the Toy European Parliament's committees and that decision will be mandatory for British firms. No if, no buts.

Looks like Hungary will not be joining the euro any time soon

On the Economist blog you will find this rather mysterious news item:
MONDAY may be a good time to pick up Hungarian assets on the cheap. The IMF and the EU walked away from negotiations with the Hungarian government on Saturday after the latter refused to give in to the international organisations’ demands for more clarity on the country’s plans for tax and spending. It seems safe to assume the Hungarian forint will start the week with a sharp lurch downwards.
The reference is to a Reuters story:
The IMF and EU suspended on Saturday a review of Hungary's funding program, set up in 2008 to save the country from financial meltdown, saying it must take tough action to meet targets for cutting its budget deficit.

Suspension of talks means Hungary will not have access to remaining funds in its $25.1 billion loan package, created by the International Monetary Fund and European Union and which it now uses as financial safety net, until the review is concluded.
Not everything is bleak, though:
Christoph Rosenberg, who led the IMF delegation to Hungary, signaled that the Fund wanted more on next year's budget. "By definition when we come next time -- unless we come next week -- the government will have made more progress on the 2011 budget and that will be a very important budget," he told Reuters.

In an interview, he also said the IMF had not discussed the possibility of a new financing deal for 2011 and 2012.

"We are aware of what has been said in public but in our meetings we didn't really get to that point, because we obviously needed to first resolve the policy issues and those have not been resolved," he said.

The EU issued a separate statement saying the conclusion of the review had to be postponed and further talks should be held at a later stage.

"Hungary has returned to a positive economic growth path and now has one of the lowest budget deficits in the EU. I welcome the authorities' commitment to the 2010 deficit target," said Olli Rehn, Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

"However, the correction of the excessive deficit by next year will require tough decisions, notably on spending."
What the EU wants to see is that magical 3 per cent deficit target in next year's budget. Without that Hungary cannot contemplate entering the euro (unless it manages to fudge the figures a little better than it has done so far).

As the Economist adds, FIDESZ won a landslide victory in April by promising many things, some of which are mutually incompatible. There are local elections coming in the autumn and the far-right party, Jobbik, with a somewhat left-wing economic agenda, is snapping at the heels of FIDESZ. Perhaps, Prime Minister Orban assumes that faced with the possibility of a victory by Jobbik, the IMF and the EU will relent.

Wise man

The Czech Central Bank's new Governor does not think that the solution to his country's problems is entry into the euro.
The new Czech central bank governor said uncertainty surrounding the euro zone in the wake of the Greek debt crisis is so great that there is no point considering adopting the common currency for now and expressed serious reservations about possible new Europe-wide regulations.

Miroslav Singer, a former vice governor of the Czech National Bank who was named to the top job last week, also said Czech interest rates are likely to stay at their current low levels "longer than people generally think." But he said further cuts were unlikely unless the economy slowed sharply.
Now there's a man who has been paying attention.

EU and UN

Those two organizations are two of a kind and need each other in their fight against democratic, genuinely liberal (I have to say this because of that tiresome American definition of liberal, which is really socialist), constitutional, fully accountable political structures. If the UN can be said to be the centre of the tranzi network, the EU is distinguished from others of that ilk by being the only one that has pretensions (many of which are now reality) to being a state.

Given Britain's rather feeble behaviour in the UN Security Council and General Assembly in the last couple of decades, I have never quite understood why we are so anxious to retain our position there. Why not just pull out completely together with our allies and let the countries that contribute next to no money, do not recognize or understand any of the supposed principles that underlie that organization but manage to bully all others into accepting their views run it.

So the notion that the EU's Foreign Affairs Supremo, Baroness Ashton will be allowed to address the UNGA leaves me cold. Nevertheless, it does excite some people and so I propose to do my public duty by telling everyone what HMG the Coalition thinks on the matter.

On Wednesday, July 14 there was a Written Ministerial Statement on the subject. Very interesting it is, too. Once we get past the obvious statement that the EU's structure has changed after the Lisbon Treaty (which is nothing like the Constitution, no, no, no) we find out the following.
A further element of the external representation question is the ability of the EU to participate in international organisations. In some cases, such as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the EU has the status of an observer with limited rights of participation. This means that the EU is not able to represent the EU and the member states, where we have an agreed position, to the same extent as was possible for the rotating presidency, which, of course, was a full member of the UNGA.
Well, UNGA has not particular powers except for passing stupid resolutions that condemn Israel but nobody else ever. Still, the EU's Lady High Panjandrum may well think that she would like to be able to address it as a person of some importance, like President Ahmadinejad, for instance.
Following the entry into force of the treaty of Lisbon the role previously played by the rotating presidency in representing the EU externally has passed to the high representative and the EU delegations who act under her authority. So, in order for the EU to fill effectively the role previously played by the rotating presidency in the UN General Assembly, the Foreign Secretary has agreed that, together with our EU partners, we should table an UNGA resolution which, if approved by the wider UN membership, would grant the EU certain additional rights as an observer delegation. These rights are, as the proposal stands, the right to speak in a timely manner, the right of reply, the right to circulate documents, the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right to raise points of order, and more seats for the high representative and her officials. As is currently the case, the EU will not have the right to vote, it will not be a full member of the UNGA, nor will it be seated among the UN member states.

The granting of such rights to the EU will not affect the UK's position as a member of the UNGA or the UN Security Council. Furthermore, this does not change the existing balance of competence between the EU and member states.
Well, that's fine and, in any case, I have already expressed my view of Britain's position as a member of the UNGA or the Security Council. But why exactly does the EU want these apparently meaningless rights? Hmmm?

This is a peculiarly American problem but ...

... we have a similar difficulty here. Monty Pelerin on American Thinker compares the Tiger Woods story with the extraordinary situation whereby the media with all its resources has still not been able to find out the smallest detail that matters about President Obama.
Obama has been in office for over a year now, and this same press:

· Still cannot find any of his childhood friends or neighbors,
· Or locate any of Obama's college papers or grades,
· Or how he paid for a Harvard education,
· Or which country issued his visa to travel to Pakistan in the 1980's,
· Or Barry Soretoro or even Michelle Obama's Princeton thesis on racism.
· They just can't seem to find them.
· Yet the public still trusts that same press to give them the whole truth!
Admittedly, we do not have mysterious politicians rising to the top but we also know far more about such things as the details of Cheryl Cole's health than about the way this country is governed. As for believing the media, the situation here is far worse. The number of people who shake their heads, agree that the media is biased and unreliable yet get all their information from it without realizing the basic irony of that is enormous. The blogosphere in Britain has not become a powerful alternative force, not least because it has allowed itself to be co-opted by the MSM but also because the audience is content to accept what it knows to be inadequate, biased and trivial.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Censorship as Tolerance"

The National Review has a very interesting and thoughtful article about the way censorship is now touted as the truest method of "tolerance". The author, Jacob Mchangama, who is head of legal affairs at the Danish Center for Political Studies, lecturer on international human-rights law at the University of Copenhagen, and co-founder of Fri Debat, a Danish-based network committed to the protection of freedom of expression.

We have moved a long way from 1670 when the great philosopher, Baruch Spinoza could proclaim that freedom of expression is a universal and inalienable right, adding: "Hence it is that that authority which is exerted over the mind is characterized as tyrannical."

Unsurprisingly, our loss of that freedom has been speeded up by the action of the various tranzis and NGOs, led by the UN in which, ever since its inception, countries with the worst records on freedom and human rights, have managed to impose their views that tolerance means more and more control, particularly through "hate-speech laws and regulations".

It is best to read the article as a whole but I do want to quote a couple of paragraphs that show the nonsensical attitude of those who tell us that it was indifference to the Nazis in Weimar Germany that caused all the subsequent problems:
The Holocaust was still fresh in the minds of those who drafted the hate-speech-related U.N. conventions during the 1950s and ’60s, and fresh memories of Nazi atrocities helped them to get those conventions passed. A lax attitude to Nazi propaganda, their argument went, had helped pave the way for Nazi rule and the annihilation of millions of Jews. But justifying hate-speech laws with reference to the Holocaust ignores some crucial points. Contrary to common perceptions, Weimar Germany was not indifferent to Nazi propaganda; several Nazis were convicted for anti-Semitic outbursts. One of the most vicious Jew-baiters of the era was Julius Streicher, who edited the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer; he was twice convicted of causing “offenses against religion” with his virulently anti-Semitic speeches and writings. Hitler himself was prohibited from speaking publicly in several German jurisdictions in 1925. None of this prevented Streicher from increasing the circulation of Der Stürmer, or Hitler from assuming power. The trials and bans merely gave them publicity, with Streicher and Hitler cunningly casting themselves as victims.

Perhaps even more important, when the Nazis swept to power in 1933, they abolished freedom of expression. Nazi propaganda became official truth that could not be opposed, ridiculed, or challenged with dissenting views or new information. Such a mono poly on “truth” is impossible in a society with unfettered freedom of expression, where all information and viewpoints are subject to intense public debate. While Germans were being brainwashed into hating Jews and acquiescing to the Holocaust, their Lutheran brethren to the north in Denmark — which maintained a free press until it was occupied in 1940 — saved most of their country’s Jews from extermination.
Let us hope that Denmark will recover its sanity and the rest of us will follow that country's example. And let us hope, that the United States, the only country that is holding out, at least in legal terms, against this evil nonsense, will continue to do so and that, sooner or later, we shall join them in that camp.

Chaos reigns

The Financial Times reports that "Brussels" is trying to sort out the chaos caused by the new system it has tried to introduce in VAT calculations and, specifically, the refunds. Needless to say, warnings of the system's and its implication's inadequacy have been sounded for some time but, in keeping with past precedents, the EU creates chaos, watches "helplessly" as it gets worse, then wades in to show that it is the only organization that is capable of solving anything.
Brussels waded into the chaos that has surrounded the introduction of a new, EU-wide electronic value-added tax system on Thursday in an effort to get an estimated €8bn of annual VAT refund claims flowing more smoothly.

The European Commission announced plans to intervene in the design and technical operation of all 27 national web portals in an effort to get them running properly.

Because some taxpayers have not even been able to submit refund claims amid the technical mayhem, the commission said it would also extend the deadline for submitting 2009 expenses from September 2010 to March 2011.

A new VAT system, switching from a paper-based to an electronic system was meant to come into force in January and speed up VAT refunds across EU borders. But delays by some EU countries in launching their national web portals and technical glitches with others have caused severe financial problems for many European companies.
In the meantime, companies have been experiencing difficulties, particularly unwelcome, they say, in the current financial crisis, with getting money back.

Interestingly or predictably, there have been problems with member states working together, except for one or two.
A survey by the International VAT Association found that, by the electronic system’s January launch, only seven EU countries had fully working electronic refund systems. Fourteen either did not have working portals or only partially working ones, and it could not obtain information from a further six countries.

The association criticised the failure to conduct end-to-end testing of the IT system before it went live, and also the failure of countries to collaborate in building compatible portals – and cited Finland and Sweden as the only countries known to have worked together.
As a Swedish reader of this blog said: this has nothing to do with the EU but a result of certain historic developments. Go figure!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

At least they are not in prison

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the case of the Russian art curators who had been put on trial because they had dared to put on an exhibition that talked of the close link between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state (not that there is anything new in that notion). The sentence has now been passed and as the Economist says, it could have been much worse.
After a two-year long trial, the organisers of the “Forbidden Art” exhibition in Moscow which infuriated the Orthodox Church could have gone to jail if the prosecutors had it all their way. Instead, Andrei Yerofeev, an art historian and curator of the exhibition and Yuri Samodurov, the director of the Sakharov museum where it was held, were fined 150,000 Roubles and 200,000 Roubles respectively for “inciting religious hatred”.
Rightly, in my opinion, the article says that the compromise sentence was the result of a world-wide campaign organized by some Russian human rights organizations, though compared to the sort of campaigns we see about other countries this was small potatoes. Still, it probably worked. Or, possibly, there never was an intention to imprison the hapless curators.

Reuters reports that the two curators intend to appeal against the sentence and, if that fails, will go to the European Court of Human Rights, which gets more complaints from Russia than any other member state of the Council of Europe.

Budget cut-backs are not popular

Further to the pious hope expressed by Lord Howell (or whoever was writing that reply)
At a time when Governments across the EU are reining in their spending, it is only right that the EU institutions think carefully about every euro that they spend to ensure that they get the most from their money. We are currently pushing for a freeze in the 2011 budget and expect salary levels to reflect the current economic conditions.
The European Voice reports a great deal of outrage in the Toy European Parliament on the subject.
Members of the European Parliament have accused national governments of seeking cuts to the European Union's budget that would undermine attempts to spur economic growth.

Ambassadors from the member states have agreed a draft budget for 2011 of €126.58 billion, €3.6bn less than the draft budget presented by the European Commission in April. The reductions agreed by the ambassadors would affect most areas of EU spending, but the biggest cuts would be to programmes intended to boost growth and competitiveness. The Council of Ministers wants to cut the allocation for growth by almost €2bn and save €1.075bn on cohesion spending compared to the Commission's proposal. A further €821 million would be cut from spending on support to farmers and the fisheries sector.
To a more or less rational person the idea of taking more money away from the potentially productive sectors of society and giving them to the leeches that constitute the eurocracy would contribute to economic growth is insane but these puffed up little muppets (apologies to Kermit, Miss Piggy et al) really do believe it that they are the ones who are essential for that process.
Sidonia Jedrzejewska, a Polish centre-right MEP who is preparing the Parliament's position on the 2011 budget, told her colleagues on the budgets committee: “I take these cuts not only as a provocation but as an offence.” She pointed out that the budget lines concerned were supposed to pay for the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to boost competitiveness and stimulate growth. Jedrzejewska called plans to cut the budget for youth training programmes, which the Parliament has made a priority, “a slap in the face”.
The Europe 2020 Strategy was, as this blog mentioned before, the one thing that came out of the last European Council. It is to be the replacement for the Lisbon Strategy that was going to make the European economy [sic] the most modern and most competitive by 2010. And what a success that was.

Seven member states, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, think that the Council has not gone far enough and there should be even further cut-backs. After all, they argue, we all have to introduce austerity measures and, indeed, the Commission is demanding that; it seems somewhat wrong for the EU budget to remain as large and as wasteful as it has been all these years. One might argue, pace certain Polish apparatchiks centre-right MEPs that continuing to extract money for EU projects when everything else, including employment is being cut back, is a slap in the face of the taxpayer.

Something in common

Der Spiegel says that German authorities have finally woken up to a fact that has been known for some time in many other countries:
Until now, attacks on Jews, Jewish institutions and Jewish symbols have almost always been committed by right-wing extremist groups. In the first quarter of 2010 alone, the German Interior Ministry documented 183 anti-Semitic offences committed by right-wing radicals, including graffiti, inflammatory propaganda and physical violence.

The stone-throwing incident in Hanover, however, has finally forced the authorities to take a closer look at a group of offenders that, though largely overlooked until now, is no less motivated by anti-Zionist sentiments: adolescents and young adults from an immigrant community who are influenced by Islamist ideas and are prepared to commit acts of violence.
One wonders why it has taken them so long to recognize reality and how many of those incidents that had been attributed to neo-Nazi groups were, in fact, the work of Islamist ones. It is understandable that German police authorities, politicians, journalists and analysts should be terrified of a resurgent neo-Nazi movement and its anti-Semitism. However, times move on and much of the European anti-Semitism now comes from the Left and the Islamist groups supported by the Left.

This is a little disturbing

Replying to a Starred Question on the BBC World Service Lord Howell of Guildford managed to heap enormous amount of praise on that highly successful institution while skilfully avoiding giving any information about future funding or, indeed, existence of such sections as the Arabic Service.

However, this exchange struck chill in my heart:
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, while understanding the need to make necessary cuts, as a former Development Minister I recommend that my noble friend has a serious talk with the Department for International Development. It is engaged in much valuable education work. That is also what the BBC World Service does. That should be a shared responsibility, not one falling solely upon the Foreign Office.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right and I always listen closely to her recommendations. This is a correct recommendation: we are having such close talks. The possibilities for the future are there but it remains the fact that the World Service is independent, financed by grant in aid. It is an immensely valuable tool, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, in the promotion not only of this country's interest but of peace and stability throughout the entire world.
Baroness Chalker, formerly Lynda Chalker MP, is someone who talks rubbish with the greatest of ease and fluency and once can only hope that Lord Howell assuring the House that he listens closely to her recommendations is just a matter of courtesy. The idea, however, that the BBC World Service should be tied in any way to DFID, a Department, whose abolition would be cheered by all except its enormous staff, trade unions and NGOs that receive its largesse and bloodthirsty kleptocrats with their flunkeys, fills one with dismay.

And how, exactly, are we going to control it?

A Written Question from Lord Stoddart of Swindon deals with those Brussels salaries.
To ask Her Majesty's Government which European Union Commissioners and officials receive a higher salary than the Prime Minister.
The reply is only partial since you cannot expect civil servants to find out the facts required. However, the following was put down in the name of Lord Howell of Guildford:
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister's salary of £142,500 equates to approximately €170,000 (at current exchange rates). All 27 members of the College of Commissioners receive a higher salary than this. We do not hold information as to which EU officials earn a salary in excess of €170,000.

We do not have access to the salary details of individual EU officials. We do have access to salary scales and the approximate number of officials in each grade. Officials in grades AD 16 and AD 15 (director-general level) have scales in which the minimum is above the salary of the Prime Minister. There are some 300 staff in these grades.
One could argue that it is right and proper that members of the real government should earn more than their regional representatives. All the same, that is rather a lot of people who earn over £142,500 out of the public purse, Europe-wide though it may be. Let me emphasise that this only the salary. Both Westminster and, especially, Brussels provides generous perks and expenses.

The last paragraph of the reply is interesting in its own way:
At a time when Governments across the EU are reining in their spending, it is only right that the EU institutions think carefully about every euro that they spend to ensure that they get the most from their money. We are currently pushing for a freeze in the 2011 budget and expect salary levels to reflect the current economic conditions.
And if it does not happen? We'll thcream and thcream until we are thick? If only we did have a Violet Elizabeth Bott to negotiate on our behalf.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A new age

Since May 7 (well, OK, May 15 or thereabouts when the Cleggeron Coalition was finalized more or less) we have been living in a new age. Gone is the interfering nanny socialist government that thinks nobody can decide anything for themselves and no social, economic or cultural development is possible without the benign guiding hand of the state. Instead, we have .... well, what do we have?

We have Martha Lane Fox, of course, the Digital Tsarina or the government's "digital champion" as she is more politely known. She has launched a plan because nobody can survive without a plan.
Launching a plan to get the 10 million Britons who have never used the internet online, the Government's "digital champion", Martha Lane Fox claimed “the Government needs to think ‘internet first’ – by getting more people online, everyone wins.” She suggested that everyone applying for benefits should also be subject to “informal” tests on their computer skills.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that most (though far from all) jobs now require some kind of computer literacy but Ms Lane Fox with the blessing of the new non-socialist government goes further:
‘Networked Nation’ plans to get businesses and charities to encourage people to use the web, and suggests a plan for low-cost web access for elderly people and those on low incomes. Libraries and job centres should also appoint their own “digital champions”, while electronics retailers will be encouraged to offer discounts on products to people who have completed basic IT skills courses. A national equipment recycling scheme could also be developed for the 12 million web-enabled devices shipped into the UK every year, allowing new users cheaper access.
This reminds me of the campaign to get a computer into every primary school classroom in the land, which disregarded the fact that a very large proportion of primary school pupils could not read or write adequately.

Most libraries and charities that deal with older people (who are not necessarily quite a computer illiterate as Ms Lane Fox, still a spring chicken in her estimation, makes out) offer various classes to help those who want to learn more about the internet or any other part of computing they see as necessary to their lives or desirable. Those who do not, may not want to. (Then again, given the way the Post Office functions these days, going on e-mail might become an absolute necessity very soon.) In other words, and in very simple words, it is not the government's business to interfere; neither is the government likely to solve problems, be they treatment of cancer (as Tony Blair guaranteed personally) or net illiteracy, with a magic wand and a great deal of taxpayers' money wasted.

I thought The Register got it right:
Martha Lane Fox has launched a campaign to make sure everybody in Britain of working age has heard of Martha Lane Fox by 2015. It's an ambitious goal, especially since she doesn't actually have her quango any more - her Digital Services Unit was created in March but abolished last month.

This hasn't stopped her soaking up valuable civil servants' time, or launching an initiative with David Cameron today to promote greater awareness of Martha Lane Fox.

As many as 10 million people live a Fox-free existence, and among those targeted are the most vulnerable in society. Fox promises that "the disadvantaged, unemployed and retired", will be cajoled and berated to get online. As if they haven't got enough to worry about already.

In her "Manifesto for a Networked Nation", Fox proposes that local authorities - which are cutting front-line services - appoint "digital champions", although it isn't clear where the cash might come from.
Mind you, as they rightly point out, she could take a few lessons herself. Her 65 page manifesto is full of italics, purple prose as well as pink and peach. "You can tell it's unofficial, because nobody would ever have approved such an eccentric document."

Aren't we all glad that the days of nagging chivvying do-as-I-say-because-I-know-better-than-you Labour have gone?

Why does this not surprise me?

Thanks to Powerline I find a story in the Washington Post of all newspapers: six Algerians due to be repatriated to their own country from the evil, villainous place called Guantanamo, which is according to Amnesty International, the nearest thing we have to a Gulag these days (clearly not heard of China or North Korea), have refused to do so. Yes, that's right, these people want to stay and suffer the humiliation and maltreatment they have to experience every day rather than go back to their own country where they are likely to be treated far worse.
The administration secured a significant legal victory Thursday when a federal appeals court overturned a lower court's ruling that had barred the government from repatriating one of them. The detainee had asserted that if he is returned, the Algerian government will torture him or he will be targeted by terrorist groups who will kill him if he refuses to join.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler had ruled that the claims of Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, 49, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than eight years, "are of great concern." She said the court must ensure that there is "real substance" behind any diplomatic assurances obtained by the administration that detainees repatriated to Algeria will be treated humanely.
Dear me. You mean there are places in the world where people are treated less humanely than in Guantanamo? You'd never believe it if you pay attention to the outcries in the media and from various tranzis. Though, to be fair, now that President Obama has decided that the urgent moral necessity is no longer there and Gitmo stays open for the time being, you hear far fewer outcries.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Open Europe's meeting on the AIFM Directive - 1

My intention was to write just a single posting on that meeting but I got carried away in the previous one about Open Europe's pamphlet and certain pronouncements about the euro. This afternoon, however, Open Europe and Policy Exchange hosted a joint meeting at J. P. Morgan's rather grand conference hall in Moorgate, on the subject of the AIFM Directive, at present still stuck in a trialogue between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission.

A trialogue, incidentally, is now an accepted part of EU legislation, another stage of negotiations conducted between the three institutions behind closed doors in order to speed up the process of imposing laws and regulations on the member states and their people. It is, as the European Commission points out, part of the complicated codecision process. If you scroll down past all the various stages and actions, you find this explanation:
“Informal trialogue”: the true negotiating forum

The briefness of the periods laid down by the Treaty for reaching an agreement, combined with the complexity of dossiers and the constricted timetable make it necessary to organise work on an informal basis upstream of conciliation. Thus, the negotiators frequently meet well in advance of the opening of formal conciliation. These meetings, mostly on a trilateral basis, constitute informal trialogues at technical or political levels, with a limited number of participants in the interest of effectiveness. For the European Parliament, the participants are the chairperson of the delegation, the chair of the parliamentary committee and the rapporteur, assisted by members of the European Parliament's conciliations secretariat and, if necessary, a member of the European Parliament's legal service. For the Council, the permanent representative of the Member State holding the Council Presidency is assisted by members of the Council's secretariat, including its legal service.

Lastly, the Commission is represented in the trialogues by the Director-General of the department in charge of the dossier, assisted by experts, its legal service and Secretariat-General. The participants in the trialogues operate on the basis of negotiating mandates given to them by their respective delegations. They explore possible avenues of compromise in an informal manner and report to their delegations. Informal technical trialogues may also be organised, attended for the most part by the three institutions’ experts and secretariats.
In other words, it is often at this "informal" stage that the final wording of far-reaching pieces of legislation is hammered out. Then again, it is not as simple as it might seem as a House of Lords European Union Report on Codecision and National Parliamentary Scrutiny, published in July 2009 pointed out
Informal trilogues are private meetings between representatives of the European Parliament, Council and Commission which take place at each stage of the codecision procedure. Contrary to popular belief these meetings are not small. Although numbers vary, usually they are attended by the Parliament's rapporteur, shadow rapporteurs and support staff, staff from the Council Presidency and staff from the Commission. In total there may be some 20 to 40 people in attendance. They are a vital part of the codecision procedure because they allow frank, face-to-face discussions between those leading on the Proposal under discussion from each of the Institutions. But, as M Léglise-Costa told us, they are preceded by even more informal contacts between the rapporteur and Presidency at which the real decisions can be made: "there is a lot of preparation before the actual negotiation in order to assess with the Parliament ... what is the right way to proceed" (Q 83). In terms of a record, the Parliament requires a report back to the responsible committee. We understand that the Council Secretariat produces a summary of the discussions which it circulates to the Representations of the Member States.
I am sure that makes everyone feel a good deal better.

As the same Report pointed out among its various Conclusions:
109. We consider that informal trilogues, whilst helpful to expeditious agreement of legislation, make effective scrutiny of codecided legislation by national parliaments very difficult. There are two reasons for this:

(a) Their informal and confidential nature is not transparent: as a result it is difficult for us to follow the course of negotiations and comment usefully to the Government; and
(b) The Council is represented only by the Presidency which tends to hold its cards close to its chest: as a result it may be difficult for all governments other than the Presidency to follow the course of negotiations and to represent the views of their national parliament at the appropriate point. (paragraph 60)
Bear in mind that scrutiny that is much discussed is not actually legislation, merely the ability to read the forthcoming legislation some time before it is actually passed. Even that is made difficult by the endless layers of informality added to the formal process, already complex enough, and the purported need for speed, which came up in this afternoon's discussion.

However, I seem to have digressed again and shall have to write about the meeting and discussion in yet another posting.

Open Europe reminds politicians and analysts of past crimes

It is really hard to be a perestroika europhile as you are doomed to constant disappointment (as were the proponents of the original perestroika). You call for reforms, you put forward all sorts of excellent ideas for reforms of the EU, which would be a very good and popular organization if only its bosses would listen to your ideas for reform, and what do you get? The EU and its institutions powering ahead with their own plans, which are not very sensible and not very popular but are what the EU is all about.

So you find yourself publishing pamphlets with titles like THEY SAID IT .... How the EU elite got it wrong on the euro, which is OK because Open Europe and its various predecessors were always against the euro. Or there is one that is called STILL OUT OF CONTROL - Measuring eleven years of EU regulation. Goodness knows the Boss and I get despondent about lack of progress but, at least, neither of us makes the mistake of thinking the EU can be reformed.

Actually I rather enjoyed THEY SAID IT. It is always good to be reminded of the blatant idiocies people came up with (or possibly blatant lies but the two are not mutually exclusive). Take the case of a certain Nick Clegg.
In 2002 he said:

The single currency, far from being an agent of continental style corporatism, is probably the greatest export vehicle of Anglo-Saxon economics. The euro has done more to enforce budgetary discipline, to promote privatisation and force through labour and product market liberalisation in the rest of Europe than any
number of exhortations from the IMF, the OECD, or the editors of The Economist.
He had already said in 2001
If we remain outside the euro, we will simply continue to subside into a position of relative poverty and inefficiency compared to our more prosperous European neighbours. Remember, we are already only the tenth richest nation in the EU in terms of national wealth per head. Yet you seem to think that such relative decline is a price worth paying for the sentimental satisfaction of retaining increasingly meaningless ‘control’ over our own interest rates.
In January 2009 he wrote in the Independent
The euro may well come to be regarded in the coming years as part of the answer to saving the City from permanent decline. It was easy to dismiss the fledgling euro as a ‘toilet currency’ before we realised our own economic growth was built on sand.
Yet on April 7, 2010 he told the BBC a very different story:
I don’t think the euro is for now. I go even further and say I don’t think interest rates under the Eurozone over the last few years wouldn’t have been right for the British economy […] I accept that Eurozone interest rates over the last few years would have been wrong for Britain.
Hmm. Those "last few years" included years in which he was praising the euro as the way of the future though, apparently, the interest rates were always wrong for Britain. He just forgot to mention it.

So, the pamphlet is very useful but it does soar into realms of porcine aviation by ending its Introduction with the following paragraph:
This note highlights that the politicians who sold their citizens the euro failed to either grasp or tell the whole truth about the single currency. While it is a reminder that the experts and our elected representatives can get it wrong, more importantly, it is a call for greater honesty about the future of European cooperation and a reminder of the urgent need to find a new model that is both politically and economically sustainable; one that is more in tune with the interests and preferences of European citizens.
Can't wait for the appearance of that new model.