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Monday, April 14, 2008

Irish memo in full

Here's a copy of the Irish memo in full:

Irish have picked May 29 for voting but will delay an announcement to keep the no camp guessing (please protect). DFA's EU director gives us referendum timetable and details of the bill, to be published next week. Aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of EU rather than the treaty itself. Concern about the potential impact of a WTO deal and of
Sarkozy.

The draft, largely incomprehensible to the lay reader, had been agreed following lengthy consultation with government lawyers and with the political parties.

The bill would enter parliament in the second week of April and it would probably take two weeks to go through and be passed around 22 April. The minister for the environment would thus be entitled to set an order naming the date for the referendum between 30 to 90 days of the order being made. Technically, the Taoiseach and Ahern saw a slight advantage in keeping the no campaign guessing. 29 May was the assumed date in working plans.

Mulhall said a date in October would have been easier from a procedural point of view. But the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency - particularly related to EU defence - were just too great. Sarkozy was completely unpredictable. The only other unhelpful event the Irish thought might impact on the May vote would be a WTO deal based on agricultural concessions that could lead the powerful farming association to withdraw its support.

I ran through the UK parliamentary ratification timetable and noted that the refernedum vote on 5 March would be a particularly sensitive moment. Mulhall remarked that the media had been relatively quiet on the ratification process so far. We would need to remain in close touch given the media crossover.

Mulhall said other partners - including the Commission - were playing a helpful, low-profile role. Vice-president Margot Wallstrom, who had been in Dublin yesterday and today, had told Dermot Ahern that the Commission was willing to tone down or delay messages that might be unhelpful.

??? ??? ???...so Irish thought treaty was taken for granted...... David Miliband not going

Most people would not have time to study the text and would go with the politicians they trusted.

Irish referendum games

The front page of the Irish Daily Mail today reports on a typically cynical leaked email from the Irish Foreign Office to the British Government, which shows that ministers are planning a deliberate campaign of misinformation to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty is passed in the upcoming referendum. Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern has apparently been personally assured by Margot Wallstrom that the EU Commission will “tone down or delay” any announcement from Brussels “that might be unhelpful.”

It also says that ministers ruled out an October referendum, which would have been better procedurally, out of fear of “unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence.” The email said “the risk of unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence – were just too great. Sarkozy was completely unpredictable.”

It also suggested that the Irish Government plans to keep people from analysing the details of the Treaty, saying, the “aim is to focus the campaign on overall benefits of the EU rather than the Treaty itself.”

Until now it had been widely assumed that the date of the referendum would be June 12. However, the memo throws this into uncertainty, admitting that the Government are playing trying to fool campaigners over the date of the referendum. It says: “Irish have picked 29 May for voting but will delay an announcement to keep the No camp guessing. The Taoiseach and (Dermot) Ahern saw a slight advantage in keeping the No camp guessing.”

Biofuels: will the Commission start listening?

We would never accuse them of lacking persistence… the EU Commission is sticking to its guns on biofuel targets, despite a wave of negative press coverage brought on by soaring food prices, and – perhaps most significantly – outbreaks of hunger-related violence in the developing world. This has so far occurred in several West African countries, Egypt and Haiti (leading to the fall of the Government there). We are also told that the Bangladeshi army has had to take control of food distribution.

Meanwhile the list of international institutions calling for the immediate suspension of biofuel targets grows ever bigger: the UN, IMF, World Bank, OECD, European Environment Agency and the EU Joint Research Centre are those we can think of (the latter two are responsible for providing scientific advice to the EU Commission).

Despite all this, the Commission still has its head in the sand on biofuels. Andrew Bounds at the FT reports that Barroso will continue to push ahead with the 10% target. Meanwhile, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, in an extraordinary blog post, attempts to make the Commission’s case:

In Europe, we use less than 2 percent of our cereals production for biofuels, so they do not contribute significantly to higher food prices in the European context.”

This is misleading in a number of ways. A relatively small amount of cereal production may be currently diverted towards biofuels, but Europe has always been a far bigger producer of biodiesel, which is derived from oilseed plants such as rapeseed – not cereals. So the total crop production devoted to biofuel production in Europe is already far higher than 2%.

More importantly, consumption of biofuels in Europe may be very low at the moment, but the target for 2020 will change this dramatically in the future – use of these fuels would have to increase around fivefold. Academic estimates suggest 38% of current agricultural land in Europe would need to be turned over to biofuel production in order to meet that demand. The IMF note that biofuels were responsible for just under half of the increase in the consumption of major food crops in 2006–07. Of course, a great deal of this is due to the separate US targets. But the EU targets are just as ambitious as those in the US, and America has had a highly interventionist biofuel policy for the past couple of years, whilst Europe’s hasn’t really kicked in yet – meaning that much of the future escalation of demand will most likely come from this side of the Atlantic.

Piebalgs continues:

Even if we reach our 10% biofuels target by 2020, the price impact will be small. Our modeling suggests that it will cause a 8 to 10% increase in rape seed prices and 3 to 6% increase in cereal prices.”

Exactly the same thing was being said by the farm lobby in the US prior to the introduction of biofuel subsidies over there. Moreover, the Commission’s modelling is based on the assumption that ‘second generation’ biofuels (which would be derived from wood etc, rather than food crops) will be developed in the near future, and can satisfy around 30% of demand. But this is a non-existent technology, and there is no scientific consensus as to whether these fuels can actually be produced cost-effectively on an industrial scale. The Commission also assume imports from cheaper biofuel producers (such as Brazil or Indonesia); but at the same time the EU maintains big import tariffs on ethanol. In any case, importing palm oil from South East Asia raises some serious environmental concerns – massive deforestation is already happening in this region in anticipation of future import demand from Europe.

The Commission’s figures for commodity price changes are therefore likely to be a big underestimate. But even if they are correct, this increase in price is highly significant for the world's poorest people, who already spend 50 to 80 percent of their total household income on food. Profs. Runge and Benjamin Senauer estimate that for every percentage increase in real prices of staple foods, 16 million extra people will be drawn into food insecurity. Those in the most marginal positions will starve.

The Commissioner responds with the following:

The charge now is that EU biofuel policy will contribute to third world poverty by driving food prices up. My impression from this debate sometimes is that we the Europeans know best what is good for people in developing world. Let them speak for themselves.”

Clearly Piebalgs hasn’t been reading the news lately – the message from developing countries seems pretty clear...


Without a good domestic production base for so called first-generation or crop based biofuels, the more innovative and efficient products will probably never take off. We need to use first-generation biofuels as a bridge to the second generation biofuels using lignocellulosic materials as a feedstock.”

Apologists for biofuels usually argue that we need targets for biofuels now in order to spur development of new and better versions of the Victorian-era first generation agrofuels we rely on now. But according to the EU’s Joint Research Centre, €33-60bn will be spent on subsidising biofuels up until 2020. To reemphasise the point: there still no viable industrial process for producing second generation biofuels – it is pure theory. Is this really the time to be throwing taxpayers’ money at something that might prove to be a mere pipe-dream? If second generation biofuels can in fact be developed, fair enough: but surely the research funding necessary to work out how would come in at a tiny fraction of this insane cost? Why does the EU continue to defy all scientific and economic logic to promote a policy which wastes such vast amounts of our money, pushes the poor towards starvation, and will harm rather than help the environment? Piebalgs in fact answers this question in the conclusion of his blog piece:

The EU’s ambitious but realistic 10% target will provide the market pull stimulation that farmers need to face a future market based agricultural economy and less dependence on EU subsidies.”

Translation: it’s a great way of replacing the CAP. Direct farm subsidies can be scaled down and substituted with binding targets which create artificial, state-mandated demand – another mechanism of price support for EU agribusinesses. In this light, it is abundantly clear why Brussels is so determined to press ahead with its lonely campaign for the promotion of biofuels.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting down with the kids


The European Parliament’s UK ‘Outreach’ office has today sent teachers an email full of ideas to help them decide how to celebrate “Europe Day for Schools” (no laughing at the back). This is part of a wider initiative called “Spring Day for Europe”, (which in actual fact runs from March to June), and which aims to “raise awareness about the European Union, its citizens and institutions and promote European citizenship education at school through traditional and ICT curriculum-based activities.” Every year millions of euros are thrown at this blatant propaganda exercise which aims to brainwash school children about the joys of EU "citizenship".

In case you’re in any doubt about the aims of the exercise, take a look at some of the ideas they give to teachers:

“Set up a European café in school using Euros/European currencies and arrange a European lunch provided by the canteen or the children” and “Play maths games using the Euro and other European currencies or distances from one capital to another.”

“Young people are invited to express in a picture what they think about the impact of Europe in their region and how Europe begins first and foremost in their community.”

There’s also some simple sheet music for Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – otherwise known as the EU anthem (wasn’t that supposed to have been binned?)

If that wasn't enough the theme for this year’s Spring Day is the catchy “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue”, on which the EU is spanking a tidy €7 million. We somehow doubt that phrase is going to catch on in the playground...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

France appoints “artistic director” for EU Presidency

So now we start to see where some of the 190 million euro budget for the Presidency is going…

According to La Tribune de Geneve French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said he wants the French EU Presidency to be “very creative” and has appointed well-known French designer Philippe Starck as “artistic director for the French EU Presidency.” Starck told AFP, “Bernard Kouchner wants to mark a very, very vivid, very interesting, very creative French Presidency.” He said it was a matter of giving “the image of very modern, very creative France, using the most sophisticated technologies, and therefore not a ‘basque beret’ France but an avant-garde France.” Starck has been chosen to come up with the French Presidency merchandise. He said “There are many things which are traditionally given out to journalists, ministers, delegates… for the first time in the whole history of the EU, all that will be created with high quality”, instead of “simply sticking little logos on things.” He said he has created “many useful things”, between “ten to fifteen objects” which will be presented in June. He has also come up with “events,” and said, “there will be loads of them”, of all kinds, but mostly cultural.

Meanwhile, the Wikipedia entry for Philippe Starck quotes him telling a German newspaper last month that he plans to retire within two years because his work is "unnecessary and materialistic".