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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Myth and reality

Standard europhile narrative:

"Yes... but we never really get outvoted... after all, when does the EU really force us to do anything we don't want to do? Its just a way for us to pool our sovereignty to have more influence."

Reality:

TEACHER KILLER CANNOT BE DEPORTED, JUDGE CONFIRMS

COURTS Chindamo
31 Oct 2007 - 16:26
By John Aston, PA

Page 1

A senior High Court judge has refused a Government request to reconsider a tribunal's decision that Learco Chindamo, the murderer of headteacher Philip Lawrence, cannot be deported to Italy.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne instructed officials to apply to a senior judge for a last-ditch review.

But Mr Justice Collins, in a ruling announced today, has upheld the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal's decision that Chindamo, jailed in 1996, cannot be deported on release.

He becomes eligible for parole next year.

Refusing to order a reconsideration, the judge said: "There is no error of law in the careful determination of the tribunal."

The ruling will come as a blow to Mr Byrne, who says the Government wants foreign nationals who commit serious crimes to be "automatically deported".

It also follows news that serial sex offender Mohammed Kendeh is to be allowed to stay in Britain because deporting him to his native Sierre Leone would breach his human right to a family life.

In the Chindamo case, the judge emphasised that his decision was mainly based on EU regulations and the fact that it would be "disproportionate"
to remove the 27-year-old, as an EU citizen, under those regulations.

Although born in Italy, Chindamo has lived in the UK since the age of six.

He was 15 when, in 1995, he stabbed Mr Lawrence, who was trying to protect another pupil at the gates of his west London school.

It was reported that ministers told Frances Lawrence, the teacher's widow, that they intended to seek Chindamo's deportation to Italy when he becomes eligible for parole in 2008.

Today the judge said: "If assurances were given to the victim's widow or to the public that the appellant would be removed, they should not have been and cannot now justify removal."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

SNP call for a referendum

According to the Record the SNP have come out for a referendum on the EU Constitution.

SNP MP Angus Robertson said: "We'll trust the people while Gordon Brown will not trust the people. We are honour-bound to support a referendum."

Its nice to have them supporting a referendum. But will it make any difference? The party seems to be shying away from supporting a consultative referendum in Scotland. But that's the only way they can make things really interesting for Gordon Brown...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Why UK justice safeguard cannot be watertight

In the House of Commons yesterday Frank Dobson MP raised the "injustice" done to one of his constituents, Joseph Mendy, under the provisions of the European Arrest Warrant. Mendy was arrested in the Canary Islands in November 2003 on suspicion of counterfeiting €50 euro notes despite the fact he was never found in possession of a counterfeited note. He and his friends were released and heard nothing more from the Spanish authorities until March this year when he was served with a European Arrest Warrant. Mendy appealed the extradition but as Dobson stressed, "this involves the UK courts doing nothing more than going through the motions, because there are virtually no grounds on which to challenge a European extradition warrant."

Dobson continued:

"At the subsequent court appearance in Madrid, Joe Mendy was denied bail on the bizarre grounds that he was a flight risk. By this time, the Spanish judicial holidays were commencing, so my innocent constituent of exemplary good character was held in the Spanish jail over the summer." "After spending almost two months on remand in the Spanish jail, Joe appeared before a Spanish judge on 15 September. His Spanish lawyer advised him that if he continued to plead not guilty, he was likely to be held in jail for at least a further year before his case came to trial. If, however, he pleaded guilty, he would, because of his exemplary record in Britain, get a suspended sentence and a small fine. Understandably in such dreadful circumstances, he pleaded guilty and got a two-year suspended sentence and a €600 fine."

"The treatment of Joe Mendy is a disgrace; it is exactly the sort of incident that brings European institutions into disrepute. What happened to the warrant between June 2004 and March 2007? Was it mislaid? Sadly, the law that we passed does not require the authorities to use their common sense or to have a sense of proportion. Having being passed by the House on the argument that it would speed up extradition, our law does not demand that the authorities proceed expeditiously. Instead, it demonstrably permits them to take nearly four years to crank up this draconian machinery."

Home Office Minister Meg Hillier responded saying:

"We have to have faith in our European partners, and there are safeguards in place to ensure that each European country has a proper legal and judicial process to take such decisions. We have heard that Mr Mendy’s case has been concluded and that he is back in the UK having received a suspended sentence. I am pleased to hear that he can now start at Liverpool University next year and begin to get his life back on track."

It goes without saying that this is a totally unacceptable outcome for a system that was originally intended to expedite the fight against serious organised crime and terrorism.

Sadly, it is likely that this case is far from unique. As leaked Commission documents revealed this summer, EU Arrest Warrants (EAWs) have been frequently issued for trivial crimes - including the theft of two car tyres, and a single case of piglet rustling. The EU report admits that the arrest warrants are being used "disproportionately" to the seriousness of offences.

It is clear from this case that serious inconsistencies in standards can arise between different legal regimes across different member states. But this sits uneasily with the basis of the EAW: judicial mutual recognition. For this reason, it is almost certain that we’ll hear increasing calls for legislating for EU-wide criminal procedural standards – in other words, the problems arising from mutual recognition creates the impetus for full harmonisation.

The revised EU Constitution provides the avenue for such harmonisation, with the dropping of national vetos in justice and home affairs. It is unlikely the UK will be immune from these developments, despite the Government’s claim to have an ‘opt-in’ arrangement in this area.

In short, the nature of the UK ‘safeguard’ on JHA puts a gun to the head of the Government if it wishes to opt out of future developments based on existing legislation which already applies to the UK, like the EAW. If the UK doesn’t want to accept the amending legislation to something like the EAW, then it will be thrown out of participation in that legislation in its entirety.

Given current the current security situation, it is highly unlikely that the UK Government would be prepared to give up any form of agreement with other member states on extradition, such as the EAW. It would therefore be highly problematic for Britain not to opt-in on measures amending the EAW.

If, as seems probable, the EU does choose to move towards criminal procedural harmonisation in order to address the issues raised by cases such as that of Joe Mendy, it would be unlikely the UK could in practice exclude itself from such moves under the revised Constitution.

Should the Constitution be ratified, existing UK participation in European extradition agreements will be a powerful lever to force the UK to opt in on future EU justice and home affairs legislation.

Hands in the till

The Economist blog picks up on yet another example of the appalling mindset of the European political class.

Meanwhile Lindsay Appleby at the FCO reports that there was a "heated debate" about what legal base should be used for the updated regulation on European Political Parties.

Really. Rather than arcane rows about legal bases it might be interesting to hear exactly why the Government thinks that it should be allowed to help itself to taxpayers money to fund its campaigning activity.

It's bad enough having to listen to them spouting endless balls... but having to then pay for the privilege is really galling.

Given the row that there has been about taxpayer funding of political parties in the UK it's a shame there hasn't been more controversy about the same thing happening at EU level.

As usual, you can get away with all kinds of things if you do them in Brussels...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How ridiculous

David Miliband banging on about his admiration for "bottom up democracy".

Isn't he forgetting something?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Literally smoke filled rooms

...according to David Miliband.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

No longer *Independent* ?

A bit of off-site blogging from Neil over at the Coffee House.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Liberal Democrats - the clue should be in the name

Poor old Ming.

On the upside - the Lib Dems can have a bit of a think about what they stand for - and what's going to differentiate them as they get squeezed from both sides.

They have an opportunity to escape from the corner Sir Menzies had painted the party into on the referendum issue. But will either of the leadership challengers take it...?

On 11% in the polls - the Lib Dems could do with some popular policies soon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

EPAs - time running out

Our paper on Economic Partnership Agreements is out.

There's a piece about it on Comment is Free.

Let us know what you think...

proper names part two

"A Foreign Minister who cannot be called a Foreign Minister"

- Federalist MEP Elmar Brok finds a nice way to describe the proposed High-Representative-for-Foreign-Affairs-and-Security-Policy.

Garton Ash for a referendum?

Tim Garton Ash comes out (just about) for a referendum in his piece in the Guardian this morning.

When I talk privately to pro-European friends, this is almost invariably the clinching argument: "Because we would lose it!" ...

We now face a choice of evils: either this good thing is pushed through by the established procedures of a parliamentary democracy, but without clear popular consent; or popular consent is sought in a referendum, which will probably be lost...

Which is the lesser evil? Many of my pro-European friends will jump on me for saying this, but I must admit that I rather hanker after open combat. Sound the trumpets, stiffen the sinews, and let us march out from this boggy ground. At least it would make a change from Groundhog Day.

Welcome to the campaign, Tim.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Milliband at the FAC

David Miliband is at the Foreign Affairs Committee today. Thoughts as they occur to us below:
.....

The Government has some very peculiar arguments: M says "it makes it clear for the first time that member states are in charge of foreign policy" - so what was the case before?

The reality is that the warm (and non binding) words in the "declaration" Miliband is talking about are only there as a sop to the UK because so much else is being given up.

.....

An interesting question: would Miliband have been happy to campaign for the Constitutional Treaty, as promised in the 2005 Labour manifesto?

However, in answer we are being treated to the usual blah blah – its not a single treaty, UK has lots of opt outs etc. But yes, he "stands by it."

.....

David Heathcoat Amory has picked M up on his pathetic attempt to rubbish the European Scrutiny Committee report by saying its out of date. Obviously he isn't answering the question. He talks about the "transitional" agreements in Justice and Home Affairs.

DHA is now pressing for detail on the changes in the new draft. Miliband says "there is detail now" - but he sounds jolly defensive and rightly so. Because it isn't good detail from the UK government's point of view.

Look at the new article 4a of the protocol on the UK and Ireland (on page 61 of this document).

It essentially says that in future if there are amendments to JHA legislation which the UK is opted into, then the other member states can hold a gun to the UK's head by saying that Britain will be thrown out of that piece of legislation:

If at the expiry of that period of two months from the Council's determination the United Kingdom or Ireland has not made a notification under Article 3 or Article 4, the existing measure shall no longer be binding upon or applicable to it

And indeed in future:

"The Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may determine that the United Kingdom or Ireland shall bear the direct financial consequences, if any, necessarily and unavoidably incurred as a result of the cessation of its participation in the existing measure."

In short the opt-in arrangement has been substantially weakened - after quite a strong fightback from the more federally-minded member states. Hardly a triumph. In fact it *strengthens* the ESC's case that the "red lines" will "leak like a sieve".

.....

Miliband says, "Every single one of the rights in the Charter exists already."

This is palpable nonsense. If they were not new rights why did the Government initially spin that it had an "opt out" (before doing a u-turn)? If they are not new rights why has the Government been worried about it for the last seven years. In fact many of the rights are said in the text of explanations to be derived from documents to which the UK is not a signatory. Others are just plain new. (See our guide for more.)

.....

Wonderful forensic stuff from Gisela Stuart. Just got him to admit that people in Britain are perfectly capable of making rational decisions in referendums. He says its only the French who vote on other off topic issues.

Also (for euro-nerds) she makes the good point that even the Constitution didn't bring all the treaties together... actually the Euratom treaty stayed out. A fair quibble on a fundamentally terrible argument from the Government. Why was stapling the treaties together "legally unprecedented" anyway?

Stuart has also come back to the first point - why do we have to say "member states are in charge of foreign policy" – aren’t they anyway?

M says "its good that its clear and established... we know where we stand". Another awful argument deflates....

.....

Stuff on the timetable for ratification.

M says there isn't one yet. He will proceed "promptly" with ratification after December.

.....

It's been pointed out that the declaration on foreign policy is not legally binding.

M says declarations are "worthwhile even if they don't have legal force". Grrrr-eat.

.....

Verdict: a pretty defensive performance. Miliband better get used to it - with the election off there is going to be years of this stuff....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Constitution lives on

Just digging through the new version of the treaty which came out today.

There are lots of little changes which will need looking at more to figure out what they mean.

But one change they should have made is missing - even in the new draft it still mistakenly talks about itself as "the Constitution" at one point (Article 188c.6).

Ooops.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A good day to bury bad news?

Curious timing...

The long awaited report of the cross-party European Scrutiny Committee on the new Constitutional Treaty is to be released next Monday for Tuesday. Perhaps the government have been spooked by signs that the members of the Committee are rather sceptical about their much vaunted "red lines". If it is going to be a bad report from the Government's point of view then at least there will be rather a lot of other news that day - with the CSR and the final build up to the election announcement.

It appears there have been lots of other shenanigans going on too. The meeting to finalise the report was supposed to happen on 19 September. But funnily enough Jim Murphy insisted at the last minute that the meeting had to be moved... funnily enough to the week of the tory conference (he was on a school trip apparently).

Nonetheless, the report does finally seem to be about to see the light of day - but only when not a single journalist will be watching.

Weird press releases of the world unite

What kind of euro obsessive do you have to be to write a press release like this?

The Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) welcome the Commission’s Communication "Communicating Europe in Partnership" which is going to be presented on Wednesday. However, its key project, an inter-institutional agreement (IIA) on communication will not be enough. Jan Seifert, President of JEF Europe, stated: "If we really want to be serious about EU communication policy we need a constitutional base embedded in the Reform Treaty".

And how self important exactly?

More of the weirdness from planet Brussels is available here

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Back again

The conference season is finally over. We've been at: TUC, Green, Lib Dems, Labour and the Conservatives. Its been very productive for us, but the blog has kinda died of neglect in the meantime... so as a re-starter for ten, have a look at the excellent Chris Hope's piece.

As part of a long runing row with the European Scruitiny Committee about the Government's refusal to discuss the negotiations in Brussels, Jim Murphy said the other day that the Government had signed up to the outline agreement on the revived Constitution after having seen it for the first time just forty-eight hours beforehand. Its a pretty seat-of-the-pants way to negotiate something so important.