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Friday, August 29, 2008

Outgunned and outspent

The report from International Crisis Group on Georgia is worth a read. One paragraph that jumps out:

"Unable to define its political role and to put boots quickly on the ground, the EU has focused on providing humanitarian assistance, though the European Commission’s pledge of a maximum of €11 million in such aid for Georgia’s post-war rehabilitation is dwarfed by Russia’s promise of $420 million for South Ossetia… The EU is now sending an assessment mission to calculate more substantial reconstruction and economic support needs. Italian Foreign Minister Frattini has recommended that a stabilisation conference for the South Caucasus be held in Rome on 13 November but an earlier donors conference is needed well before the difficult winter months."

The only way Georgia could conceivably ‘win back’ the breakaway provinces is through a huge improvement in its own relative prosperity – in a similar manner to the ‘draw’ that West Germany exerted on East Germany before reunification. To do so, it will probably need plenty of external help.

It looks like the EU is a long way from being able to pull this off in the Caucasus – especially given the small size of the populations of the breakaway provinces (Abkazia is about 300,000, South Ossetia 70,000) that are receiving such huge funding from Russia.

Given that the remainder of Georgia has a population of 4 million, EU aid works out at about €2.75 per person; whilst Russian aid to South Ossetia will be €4,000 per person.

As the report points out, the other important thing here is speed. If the EU stalls on upping its aid commitments until mid-November, this will be too late for many of the internally displaced people and others affected by the conflict. Over to you Washington…

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Compare and contrast

There's this sort of mindset:

“The EU is, and must aspire to become even more, an example of a "soft power" founded on norms and values such as human dignity, solidarity, tolerance, freedom of expression, respect for diversity and intercultural dialogue, values which, provided they are upheld and promoted, can be of inspiration for the world of tomorrow.”


- 2007 European Commission communication

And then there's this sort:

“We are not afraid of... a Cold War”

- Dimitry Medvedev

[On the US] "Comrade wolf knows who to eat. He eats without listening to anybody and it seems he is not ever going to listen."

- Vladimir Putin

And now:

"Someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president."

- Vladimir Putin

Duff analysis

Andrew Duff writes in the FT that:

Faced with Europe’s dramatic security crisis, the Irish position looks increasingly preposterous. Viewed from the perspective of Gori or Tskhinvali, Irish misgivings about neutrality rather pale into insignificance. Lisbon gives the European Union the wherewithal to do good in world affairs. If Ireland really wants to play no part in that effort, it should say so and depart.

Everything about this is wrong. Its like a double negative.

Firstly, why does the prospect of the EU getting into a scrap in the Caucasus make Irish concerns about neutrality "insignificant"? Surely the opposite.

Secondly of course, the EU isn't really going get in the mix in military terms. The dangerous thing about EU defence is its illusory nature - the EU speaks loudly but carries no big stick, which is always risky.

Duff's other advice is pretty weird too:

The EU badly needs to distinguish itself from Nato by counselling a halt to both Georgian and Ukrainian pretensions to Nato membership. If Nato is worth saving, it is worth keeping strong: membership of Georgia and the Ukraine would not contribute to its strength, at least for the foreseeable future. Both countries would be better off engaging more directly and deeply with the EU as its own neighbourhood policy and security strategy are fine-tuned in 2008-09.

Um?

Is he saying that EU members should veto the Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO? Or that they themselves should just forget NATO, and rely on the good ol' EU to look after them?

Neither is a good idea.

More fundamentally, the underlying idea that the EU can somehow "create" a common foreign policy by introducing institutions like a Foreign Minister or majority voting is really crackers.

Various people have pointed out that the Lisbon Treaty wouldn't actually have created a common foreign policy, because there is no way it could have papered over the obvious split in the EU. (e.g. the Economist last week in response to Sarkozy's ridiculous comments)

But even though it wouldn't work, it would still caused a problem.

The Lisbon treaty allows majority voting on foreign policy proposals from the Foreign Minister. And the situation in Georgia is exactly the sort of thing the Council would have asked for a proposal on. Perhaps you might hope that an EU Foreign Minister might play safe, and never aim for more than the lowest common denominator.

But then again, maybe not. Attempting to introduce majority voting on a serious issue, when there is no common policy, is certainly a potential disaster.

The idea of the EU and people like Duff being put in charge of our defence is enough to send a shudder down the spine. In a best case scenario they would have a meeting three weeks after your country had been invaded, and then decide to do nothing.

But it's not enough to say the EU is the wrong sort of institution to try and run our defence. NATO must now prove that it can act, or another institution must fill the gap. We should get on with our report.

This is what is going to happen in Ireland

A piece in the Irish Times by political insider Stephen Collins confirms something we have thought for a while now.

Under the headline "Irish officials meet Danes for advice on Lisbon opt-outs", the article reports that:

Senior Irish officials met their Danish counterparts in Copenhagen earlier this month to get advice on how Ireland could opt out of significant provisions of the Lisbon Treaty in order to resolve the impasse created by the outcome of the referendum in June.

It adds:

If Ireland proceeds down the road of seeking opt-outs from the treaty on issues like defence and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which provoked such controversy during the referendum campaign, the approval of all 26 EU partners would be required. In that event, another referendum in Ireland would be necessary, but what form it would take and whether it would be one question or a combination of questions will not become clear for some time.



Here's how we see it.

The Government won't have another referendum on the same text because they would lose by an even bigger margin.

They probably can't hold the pro-treaty coalition together to just overtly push it through parliament with no referendum. Labour and FG would get hammered by their own voters.

So they will explore the legal edges of the Crotty case, and find out which elements in Lisbon are clearly constitutional changes. Remember that Crotty lost on every point except one, so on that restrictive reading, the list might not be long: perhaps just Defence, the Charter and the Justice and Home Affairs provisions.

In October (or afterwards) Ireland will be offered opt outs from these elements, and EU leaders will will stuff everything else in Lisbon into the Croatian accession treaty, and put that through the Dail.

The EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty will then apply as planned to the whole EU, and Ireland will be offered a referendum only on those opt outs.

That way, even if the Irish referendum on the opt outs returns a no vote, the Constitution / Treaty will still come into effect for everyone else.

The advantages for the political elite are several. They will have given people a referendum, but stopped them actually changing anything. Indeed there will be greater pressure to say yes in that referendum, because you are no longer talking about what should happen, only whether Ireland should be part of it. Not voting on behalf of the millions of Europeans who were denied a vote, but only on whether Ireland should "exclude itself" (you can hear them saying it now).

Politicians elsewhere might hope that by using the Croatians as a human shield, they will deter calls for a referendum.

On the other hand, this plan might not work.

People are not going to be fooled just because The Constitutional / Reform / Lisbon Treaty is rebranded yet again.

It's very nasty timing for the British Government, as the Croatian Accession Treaty is slated for Jan 2010 - just before the likely General Election. Gordon Brown won't want to hand the Tories a great opportunity to present him as a liar just before the election.

It also requires a hell of a nerve for the Irish opposition parties to go along with such a stitch up. And indeed Cowen, whose poll ratings seem to be going the way of Brown's.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the Irish public have been watching the politicians scheming *in public* ever since the no vote. So they can see that the con is firmly on.

It's one thing to write an oh-so-clever article in the Irish Times explaining your cunning plan to get round the no vote.

But in reality it might not be so easy to circumvent the democratic vote of an entire country.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Danish government promises to overturn the Metock ruling

From Bloomberg:

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the country would keep immigration limits that contradict the free movement of labor enshrined in the European Union's founding treaty.

``Denmark's immigration policy is not going to change; the voters need to know that the law holds,'' Rasmussen told voters in a speech last night in his constituency of Greve. ``We're going to the EU to change the rules.''

Rasmussen faces an uphill battle. The European Court of Justice struck down an attempt by Ireland on July 25 to keep its stricter immigration standards, stating EU rules override national laws.


There's a lot going on in this story:

Migration...

Denmark is trying to stem an inflow that saw the number of non-western immigrants jump 50 percent to 177,5000 between 1990 and 2000.

Islam...

Danish law forbids citizens under 24 from bringing non-EU spouses into the country in a bid to prevent Danish Muslims from bringing in young brides through arranged marriages. Until now, the government hasn't even allowed those couples into the country after they have lived in other EU states - something that conflicts with EU law.

Bad advice...

Twenty-two year-old Per Christensen has been trapped by the new regulations. He was told two years ago that he couldn't reside in Denmark with his American wife, even though he was working in London at the time.

When Per asked if European law on freedom of movement applied in his case, Danish officials told him it didn't. "I feel cheated, misguided and I feel that we have been dealing with some shady people," he said. "It makes me feel like I wasted two years of my life playing this immigration game."

Lobbying...

Denmark has misinformed thousands of applicants like Christensen, Copenhagen-based Marriage Without Borders chairman Bolette Kornum said.


Judicial activism...

`The political feeling is that Denmark has been pushed around by EU courts too often,'' said Hjalte Rasmussen, a professor at Copenhagen University who specializes in EU law.

And the EU's (seemingly endless) ability to take politicians by surprise...

"We've agreed to free movement of labor in the EU but not the consequences of this principle,'' Integration Minister Birth Roenn Hornbech said in a July 29 TV2 interview. "When we passed our immigration law in 2002, no one imagined that the EU would go as far as it has."

That statement -"We agreed to the principle but not the consequences" - pretty much sums up the whole history of the EU.

Do we really think that Denmark will overturn this ruling? We doubt it somehow.

The invisible hand

AC Grayling quite rightly protests in the Guardian that:

In the Queen's speech this autumn Gordon Brown's government will announce a scheme to institute a database of every telephone call, email, and act of online usage by every resident of the UK. It will propose that this information will be gathered, stored, and "made accessible" to the security and law enforcement agencies, local councils, and "other public bodies".

But actually, it isn't Gordon Brown's plan at all.

The purpuse of the Communications Data Bill is, as the office of the leader of the Commons points out, to "Transpose EU Directive 2006/24/EC on the retention of communications data into UK law."



Grayling writes that:

Not even George Orwell in his most febrile moments could have envisaged a world in which every citizen could be so thoroughly monitored every moment of the day, spied upon, eavesdropped, watched, tracked, followed by CCTV cameras, recorded and scrutinised.

[...]

The efficiency of bureaucracy has one of its finest moments in the neat and sorted piles of false teeth, hair and spectacles at the gas chamber doors. Oh no: better the milling crowd than the police-disciplined queues of bureaucratic efficiency; better the irritation of dealing with human fallibility than the fear of dealing with jack-booted gendarmes whose grip on one's arms follows stepping out of the queue.

This is pretty strong stuff. So why hasn't he bothered to look at where this is coming from? It looks like another case of selective blindness.


p.s - speaking of journalists' odd EU blindspot...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For fatuous advice ring Brussels...

... but if your country has been invaded, please ring someone else.



The euro-commentariat are now frantically working up grand "strategies" and "ten point plans" for Georgia.

Blithely ignoring the facts that (a) the Russians have annexed parts of Georgia and (b) we are apparently not going to do anything about it, vapid euro tripe of the worst kind is now being served up by the shovel-load.

The grandly-titled "European Council on Foreign Relations" (see what they did there?) suggest that:

The EU should promote an international peace-keeping mission and offer to deploy a civilian reconstruction mission dealing with development, building confidence and security between both sides, and tackling wider political issues. It should also encourage the United Nations to set up a commission of enquiry to help establish the truth on the causes and conduct of the war.

Ah. That sounds a bit like James Boren's famous advice for bureaucrats: "When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder."

Veteran europhile John Palmer also has a cunning plan:

If the growing divide between the EU and its eastern neighbours (including Russia) is not to grow into a chasm, some alternative will have to be found. One possibility would be for the EU and those of its neighbours who are members of the pan-European Council of Europe to create a United European Commonwealth. This would replicate the EU's own arrangement for deciding issues of mutual interest through both co-operation and a degree of sovereignty sharing...

Although qualification for membership should be linked to proven observation of the Council of Europe's democratic and legal standards, accession should be open in principle to all countries across the greater Europe - including the Russian Federation.


So, we invite Putin to a meeting with tea and biscuits and he will play nice, right? A likely story.

Of course it's easier to criticise than come up with a plan. So we should probably write something about this. If we really don't want Russia to invade / attack targets in its near abroad then we need a policy of aggressive containment. The elephant in the room here (sorry) is Europe's piddly military spending. Russia invading countries is (oddly enough) mainly a military problem.

Not all the advice coming out of Europe is bad though. This greek dude seems to have grasped the main point here:

you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Panic

Uh oh. Something is up. There's another article by George Monbiot in the Guardian that makes sense. Should we be worried?

He writes:

The EU has two big fish problems. One is that, partly as a result of its failure to manage them properly, its own fisheries can no longer meet European demand. The other is that its governments won't confront their fishing lobbies and decommission all the surplus boats.

The EU has tried to solve both problems by sending its fishermen to west Africa. Since 1979 it has struck agreements with the government of Senegal, granting our fleets access to its waters. As a result, Senegal's marine ecosystem has started to go the same way as ours. Between 1994 and 2005, the weight of fish taken from the country's waters fell from 95,000 tonnes to 45,000 tonnes. Muscled out by European trawlers, the indigenous fishery is crumpling: the number of boats run by local people has fallen by 48% since 1997.

In a recent report on this pillage, ActionAid shows that fishing families that once ate three times a day are now eating only once or twice. As the price of fish rises, their customers also go hungry. The same thing has happened in all the west African countries with which the EU has maintained fisheries agreements. In return for wretched amounts of foreign exchange, their primary source of protein has been looted.

By the way, here is a pic taken by a contact from the Outer Hebridies. This is the Irish-owned trawler Atlantic Dawn, which can store 7,000 tonnes of fish, fishing off the coast of Mauritania.



The speck in the foreground is a native fishing boat. Ever feel outgunned?

Friday, August 22, 2008

hear hear

The great Paul Collier has a piece on Comment is Free on the EU's GM ban:

The GM ban has three adverse effects. It has retarded productivity in European agriculture; grain production could be increased by about 15% were the ban lifted. More subtly, because Europe is out of the market for GM technology, the pace of research has slowed. GM research takes a long time to come to fruition, and its core benefit - the permanent reduction of global food prices - cannot fully be captured through patents. European governments should be funding this research, but it is entirely reliant on the private sector. Private money for research depends on the prospect of sales, so the ban has not only blocked public research - it has reduced private research.

However, the worst consequence of the European ban is that it has terrified African governments - with the exception of South Africa - into banning genetic modification. They fear that growing modified crops would shut them out of European markets. Because Africa banned GM, there was no market for discoveries pertinent to the crops that Africa grows, and so no research. In turn, this has led to the critique that GM is irrelevant for Africa.

...

Europe can afford romanticism, but the African poor cannot. The return to organic peasant agriculture is an appealing fantasy with disturbing consequences. The GM ban has already persisted for 12 years: how much more hunger must be endured before it is faced down?

What on earth?

Andrew Murray from stop the war writeth in the Guardian:

If there is a Labour party leadership election this autumn, Dick Cheney and John McCain have their candidate. Step forward David Miliband, neoconservative. The foreign secretary's aggressive posturing on the side of Washington over the Ossetian crisis has made it abundantly clear where he stands on the great divide in world politics today. He is for the US empire.

Woah there tiger. This blog has never had much sympathy for the little fella... but the Milipede has hardly been on a "neo-con" rampage over the last couple of weeks.

Sample Miliband quote on Georgia:

“I favour hard-headed engagement that leverages the benefits that the Kremlin needs from the international system - economically and politically - into a force for responsible behaviour from Russia.”

Yowzer! Pretty controversial and firey neo-con stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Turkey shoot

From the Telegraph:

MOD in talks to offload Eurofighters because of cash crisis


MOD officials are said to be in talks with foreign powers to offload the Eurofighter Typhoons after running up a £2 billion deficit.

The Royal Air Force had ordered 144 Typhoons and is committed to buying a further 88 after signing up to a trade agreement with Spain, Italy and Germany.



Just brilliant. Decades late, Budget absurdly over-run, and now we... don't want it. But like all good euro-projects, there is no way to correct mistakes:

Since the Eurofighter deal was brokered, both Italy and the UK have shown reticence to buy the ordered jets, asking how much it would cost to take fewer or no aircraft. But that was deemed unworkable because the financial penalties are so harsh.

The Eurofighter contract was designed to discourage countries from cutting back orders making it almost as cheap to take delivery of the aircraft as to buy out of the scheme.


Groan.

Without wishing to argue that the euro-enthusiasts always get everything wrong, here is a quote from Michael Heseltine's 1989 book, "The Challenge of Europe: Can Britain Win?":

"The European Fighter Aircraft Programme will save the British defence budget £1 billion. It is one of the largest industrial contracts in which Britain has ever participated and the most ambitious co-operative veture in Europe. The French, I believe, now regret their decision to go it alone."

Prophetic stuff indeed.

The Information

There are some interesting snippets on the brilliant new mySociety website Whatdotheyknow.com

It collates together FOI responses in a searchable form and allows people to make new FOI requests. There are some interesting EU-related requests.

In response to a question about how many EU citizens are claiming Job Seekers Allowance in the UK the DWP replied:

We are not able to provide information on the amount of benefits paid to EU nationals. The country of origin or nationality at birth of benefit claimants is not recorded on the data extracts from our administrative systems which are available for analysis.

Hmm. That's odd.

Another person requested information on his local council's involvement in an EU-wide road pricing initiative. It turned up the Council's response to an EU questionaire:

We are conducting this questionnaire as part of an EC-funded project to promote and support road pricing schemes in Europe’s cities. The project builds upon the EC’s previous round of road pricing projects – PRoGRESS, CUPID and EUROPRICE – and involves many of the experts and cities from those projects. Where the CURACAO differs from previous projects is in its focus on the delivery of products and events that will enable cities to overcome the barriers to road pricing implementation.

Never mind that about a gazillion people have already said they don't want it.

How much do you think it would cost the EU to put up two road signs telling people to slow down? Couple of grand? Try £176404.73. That's 88 grand a pop. Ouch!

And what have FCO types been muttering about down at Wilton Park? Lots of stuff about the EU, and some other intriguing-sounding conferences like: "Al Qaeda: Challenging the Brand."

Anyway there's all manner of other curious stuff on there. Go have a look.

Don't go back

Jan Seifert notes that the Vice Prez of the European Parliament says that if the collapsing roof of the Parliament in Strasbourg can't be fixed in time then they will have their plenary meeting in Brussels instead:

If it becomes clear that we do not rapidly have the ABSOLUTE certainty that everything can be finished on time under the strictest respect of safety, the President of the Parliament and the Secretary General (the only ones competent for questions relating to safety) will decide - according to the evidence - that the first plenary session of September (01-04 September) will exceptionally be held in Brussels.

Hopefully when they experience the delights of not moving all their boxes once a month (at a cost of £200m a year) they won't go back...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When euro-English goes wrong

The Team behind the whizzy EU-funded website "Cafe Babel" describe themselves as:

"A young, open team who are ripping to crunch into life and play their parts not only as spectators of European life, but actors too."

They also think that:

"With the Lisbon Strategy back on track, a European business industry blooming, a European Central Bank on the front scene, Europe is a true economic giant."

It goes on and on the same vein. They think that:

"Europeans create and discover each other's multicultural skills"

Blimey.

Does anyone else have any examples of meaningless euro-ese?

Tomorrow's news today

A friend got called up by Gallup as part of the Commission's Eurobarometer poll.

Its always interesting to know what they are asking, because Eurobarometer is mainly used to support new EU wheezes. Eurobarometer numbers are used to back up the claim that "European citizens are demanding that we take action" etc etc.

The results aren't always published in full either.



He reports:

They asked me to list two concerns at the moment from a fairly long list, of things like cost of raising children, cost of housing, cost of child care, access to flexible working.

They then posited a list of possible solutions to the cost of raising a family. which solutions were most appealing to me and then listing preferences on each particular policy area. On families/child care, the ones i remember were greater tax incentives for families, greater subsidy for child care (words to that effect) a right to part time work to look after a family. There were some other questions in a similar vein.


We suspect one of the things they are looking for here is a european right to some kind of flexible working (be interesting to see Dave Cameron's reaction to that) and a right to part time work for older people. They are thinking about those anyway as part of Barroso's re-election campaign.

They asked if I was concerned about access to justice; immigration and asylum; border control; international terrorism; drug dealing; human rights; the rights of children. They then asked if I thought that the European Union could add value to the above list.

We love it. The Commission asks whether the EU can "add value" (it's hard to say the EU cannot possibly add any value) - but it will then present the findings as "overwhelming support for EU action" in these areas.

The sound of a boomerang...

...hitting someone firmly on the back of the head.

From the Times, courtesy of the revived EU rota:

Vodafone today added to the increasing cost of living burdening Britons after it announced plans to raise its minimum call charges, leaving customers paying higher mobile phone bills.

How could they! The heartless swine!

Industry analysts say operators are slipping in price rises to combat lost revenue as the European Commission plans to cut termination rates — the price that mobile companies charge each other and fixed-line operators, such as BT, to connect calls to their networks.

Aha. The saintly EU tries to directly fix prices - but ungrateful businesses simply respond by increasing other prices. Typical.

The whole ludicrous operation is like a flashback to the 1970s. There used to be a vintage 1975 pamphlet called "The Attack on Inflation" lying around the Open Europe office.

It explained why inflation in Britain had hit 25%, and answered what now seem to be rather curious questions like, "Why did the Government not just freeze all prices?"

Such questions seem retro in the era of basic economic literacy, but apparently there are some people who still don't get it. Perhaps we will dig out our copy and mail it to Brussels...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Worlds apart

There was a good column by Gideon Rachman in the FT a while back, arguing that the EU was dropping out of world history, safe and utterly absorbed in its own concerns:

There are some advantages to the semi-pacifist outlook of modern Europe. The downside is that when an international crisis breaks out, Europeans often look like irrelevant whiners. They complain about the American response – but they are powerless to alter events themselves.

Irrelevance is not particularly dignified or noble. But it could still be the logical choice for Europe. Arguably, the EU has achieved a sort of nirvana. It is too strong to be attacked; and too weak to be asked to sort out the rest of the world’s problems. As Harry Lime might have pointed out, Europe has become a giant Switzerland.


We were powerfully reminded of that piece when we saw this comment from the Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors, which he made back in April:

“[The Swedish military] has for example assisted in introducing an Environmental Management System in Georgia. In this way, the Georgian military should be taking a more environmentally friendly approach, from the command level down to the unit level.”

Given what just happened, it's incredible to think that back in April (when things were already on the slide) EU members were worried about whether the Georgian military were environmentally friendly.

The EU members and Georgia are living in different worlds.

A stab in the back

Wowser. Strong views from this euro-think-tank.

Rainer Plassmann, Secretary General of CEEP, comments as follows:

“The Irish NO is a stab in the back for democracy, subsidiarity, solidarity and stability within the European Union and not too conducive for economic growth and Europe’s position in a globalised world. "

Um...

"4 million Irish put the remaining 495 million EU citizens into trouble. Is that democratic? According to the present rules: Yes! Is that ingratitude or haughtiness? Those categories do not exist in politics. But the Irish might have only expressed what many other European citizens also feel. The “NO” is no wonder since an EU without a European press, without integrating personalities, without committed national politicians, in other words without a European identity, cannot be more than just an economic zone. "

Should we say good-bye to the single market? No, but without the legitimating political instruments of the Lisbon Treaty it will be much more difficult to face and to mitigate the consequences of globalisation in Europe.

Aren't you taking this a bit hard?

"There is no alternative to the general approach of the Lisbon Treaty. Therefore, Member States and European politicians should not surrender to agony but go on designing European policy in the spirit of this Treaty, i.e. creating a climate of political and social progress and economic strength. Europe is, no doubt, a success story - and Ireland itself is proof of that."


This has to tick most of the boxes of europhile anti-Ireland rage.

Stab in the back... ingratuitude... no alternative... no surrender... Froth, froth etc.

Somebody needs a stressball and a calming chai latte.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

judicial activism is in the house

This is slightly off-topic, because it relates to the ECHR rather than the EU.

The Times Law Report today on the recent 'sham marriges' judgement (from 30 July) is really striking. It's relevant to the EU because it is a classic example of the unintended consequences that so often flow from setting out positive rights.

To cut a long story short, the UK has had a statutory scheme requiring the permission of the Home Secretary for marriages by people are were subject to immigration control, or illegal entrants - basically to avoid people arriving illegally and then procuring a sham marriage purely in order to stay.

However, the ECHR sets out a right to marry. It sounds fair enough, because:

A national authority might properly impose reasonable conditions on the right of a third-country national to marry in order ascertain whether a proposed marriage was one of convenience and, if it were, to prevent it. That was because article 12 existed to protect the right to enter a genuine marriage, not a right to secure an adventitious advantage by going through a form of marriage for ulterior reasons.

So far, fair enough. But the problem is that allowing people to marry first and requiring the burden of proof to be on the authorities to investigate every single marriage is totally unworkable in practice.

But this is the law, so practical considerations need not apply...



It might be that persons in the categories specified in the Instructions were more likely to enter a marriage of convenience than others and that might be material in investigating genuineness but the section 19 scheme did not provide for or envisage any investigation at all, because it would be too expensive and administratively burdensome.

Subject to the discretionary compassionate exception, the scheme imposed a blanket prohibition on exercise of the right to marry by all in the specified categories, irrespective of whether their proposed marriages were ones of convenience. That was a disproportionate interference with the exercise of the right to marry.

Lady Hale delivered a concurring opinion; Lord Rodger, Lord Brown and Lord Neuberger agreed.


So the law will be completely changed. The Home Office is having kittens.

Do you think politicians saw this coming? This sort of case is the reason why we are sceptical when (as in the case of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) politicians claim that it is "just a load of words" and that they are sure it "won't change national law".

Its odd that despite the fact that so many politicians seem to be lawyers by background, the reasonings of activist judges always seems to take them by surprise...

The EU is collapsing



Or at least, the roof is falling in. There's film here. There must be some kind of nerdy gag about collapsing pillars to be had here...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

not so fast

Someone finally wrote the inevitable article about how the war in Georgia is good for the EU.

Bruce Ackerman writes in the Guardian that:

The Russian invasion of Georgia marks a decisive turning point in the history of the European Union. While the Irish referendum suggested an exhaustion of the centralising ambitions of recent years, the Russian invasion will generate a new centralising dynamic based on military security.

Which seems to contradict this other argument:

Whatever the Irish thought they were voting on, the Russian military threat wasn't on the radar screen when they recently went to the polls to say 'no' to Europe. But Georgia has decisively placed the security question on the agenda - raising the stakes, and putting a great deal of responsibility on Ireland to reach an accommodation with the rest of Europe that will allow the Union to move forward without another period of anxious renegotiation.

So Europe is going to become more centralised and become militarised... and that will encourage the Irish to vote yes? I think somebody missed an important episode here.

Ackerman's article is not quite as bad the comment by Graham Watson MEP that "Osama bin Laden has done more for European integration than anyone since Jacques Delors".

But why does every crisis has to be an opportunity for the EU?

The argument in the article is just wrong, wrong, wrong. This for example:

The collapse of the Soviet Union removed all serious military threats to Europe's eastern frontier. The Russian invasion changes all that. Quite suddenly, the new eastern members of the Union will be clamouring for security. And it will soon become apparent that the United States is entirely unwilling to reassume its Cold War role as guarantor of Europe's military integrity. The country is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, without the political will to open up third or fourth fronts on Europe's eastern frontier.

No one was scared of Russia after 1991? Nonsense. Ask the Baltic countries. The Finnish army still all train to fight "the invader" (unspecified) who always, curiously enough, attacks from the east...

Nor is the obstacle to enlargement of the EU a lack of willingness of eastern European countries to join. Georgia has been talking to the EU for years (we met someone who had taken part in early negotiations in 1994) and was planning to formally apply in three years time. The problem is the lack of willingness of the existing members to let them in...



And will countries in the east really now conclude that the EU, not NATO or the US, is the best guarantee of their security? The Russian campaign seemed to stop after a step up in rhetoric from the US. The US also flew back Georgian troops from Iraq, much to Russia's chagrin.

No one wants to start world war three. But at least the US has options, whereas the EU is going to do what?

Perhaps the most serious problem with the argument here is the idea that EU members are now more likely to want to admit new members (more unlikely than ever, sadly) or that Europeans will do anything real about the state of their armed forces.

The Spanish PM has said that the EU should aim to be “the most important world power in 10 years”. But there is no sign of EU willingness to spend the money required to play the leading role.

Both individually and collectively, EU nations are loath to spend money on defence. NATO figures show that the US spent 4% of its GDP on defence in 2007, compared to an EU average of 1.6%. The US spent $545 bn in 2007 while the UK spent $63bn, France $60bn and Germany $41bn.



Having made major cuts after the cold war, EU members continued to cut spending during the late 1990s and this decade. Defence spending fell by €5.4bn or 4.6% between 2002 and 2006 in the 9 NATO-eurozone countries. Even in the UK, which is one of the most willing to spend, defence spending is at its lowest as a share of GDP since 1930.

Why will the short war in Georgia change this long trend when the other wars - which EU members are actually fighting in - have not?

If anything these figures underestimate the capability gap. Much of the EU’s military spending is useless, going on large, poorly trained, conscript forces which cannot be deployed outside their own country. The EU members are not equipped for any kind of expeditionary role. The EU does not have the capacity to sustain a major out-of-area military operation without American logistical support. It lacks air- and sea-lift, advanced communications systems, UAVs and modern military computers. While the US spends 32% of its military budget on salaries, 57% of the EU members’ spending goes on wages.

None of this is intended to simply knock the EU. In fact Mr Kouchner seemed to be playing a perfectly decent role in the Georgian war, touring the country calling for a ceasefire (to no particular effect). All perfectly laudable and wholly compatible with NATO.

But there is such a strong element of make-believe in europhile thinking about EU defence that it is almost impossible not to criticise it. If anything, the war should be a reminder about why we need still need NATO, and should be careful about relying too much on the EU's "soft power". Even Europe is still a dangerous place.

Monday, August 11, 2008

first person singular

A fair point made by Foreign Policy magazine

Let's dial back the clock to April, when NATO failed to admit Ukraine and Georgia as members. Georgia was told that it must first resolve its "frozen conflicts" with renegade regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia to join. Nobody in NATO relished the prospect of being on the hook for some inscrutable ethnic conflict in the Caucasus.

But, coming on the heels of Kosovo's February declaration of independence, this was practically an invitation to Putin to do his utmost to ensure that Georgia wouldn't ever be stable enough to be a NATO member.

Here's the basic logic:

* Georgia can't join NATO until it is stable
* Russia doesn't want Georgia to join NATO
* Ergo, Russia will destabilize Georgia

The policy had the added bonus of revenge for the Western powers' recognition of Kosovo and it cast doubts on the wisdom of using Georgia as an energy corridor. Plus, it puts the United States in an awkward position and exposes American backing of Georgia as not worth a damned thing. For Putin, it's a quadruple play.

You can relax



...The EU is planning to hold a meeting about it on wednesday.

Now is obviously not the time for sarky comments. But there's a reminder here about why its not smart to rely too much on "soft power."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Rasmussen cuts and runs

The Telegraph picks up on the Danish announcement that they are dumping their plans to hold a referendum on two of their opt-outs:

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, has shelved the vote, scheduled for the autumn, following the EU's wider political uncertainty after the Irish referendum rejection of the Lisbon Treaty last month.

"We had originally made reservations for an EU debate in the autumn and perhaps a referendum. Due to the Irish referendum, the situation is now so unclear that the plan is no longer current," he told the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Oi! Lego of my power station

Ohgod

Its clearly the season of silly protests.

After the antics of "subsidiarity man" (below) now we have the world's first lego protest.



E.ON’s replica of the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station has been occupied by one inch tall climate change campaigners. The drama unfolded at the Legoland park in Windsor – sponsored by E.ON – where the Lego Kingsnorth is given pride of place next to Big Ben and Canary Wharf.

The Lego campaigners struck as hundreds of people gather at this year’s Climate Camp to protest the planned new coal plant at Kingsnorth in Kent.

The six campaigners appeared at the top of the construction at around 11am this morning, before unveiling a banner saying STOP CLIMATE CHANGE down the length of the tower. Lego police are in attendance at the foot of the tower, along with a Lego police helicopter.

Indymedia notes that

Neither the campaigners nor the police would comment, because they’re made of Lego and therefore can’t talk.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sacre bleu

Is Sarko deliberately trying to wind up the Irish?

As part of his latest wheeze - shared commissioners for groups of countries with a "shared culture" - he suggests that Britain and Ireland should share a Commissioner.

So Peter Mandelson could be Ireland's man in the Commission.



Ireland: Be afraid, be very afraid.

Things you don't see every day

"Subsidiarity Man jumps from bridge to set new world record"

Er...

Thousands of onlookers chanted “subsidijarnost” yesterday as Subsidiarity Man jumped from the famous Old Bridge in Mostar (BiH) to kick off the second phase of “Subsidiarity is a word”, a worldwide movement launched in May by the Assembly of European Regions (AER).

Er...

The action was part of an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for “the most number of people chanting the word ‘subsidiarity’”.

Okaaaayyy. We are backing awaaayyy from you very sloooowwwlly.

(Htp: Jon Worth)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Uh oh

Incoming...

More EU "humour" from the European Movement Ireland.

A "hillarous" spoof copy of the Sun which looks at what life would be like if the EU didn't exist.



It's as painfully cack as you can imagine.

MEP collides with real world

From PA:

A West Midlands MEP has called for car rental firms to be made more accountable to the public after being charged for damage she had not caused to a hired vehicle.

Liberal Democrat Liz Lynne, who has written to the EU Commissioner for Consumer Affairs to ask if current practice contravenes EU legislation, said she often received letters from constituents complaining about shabby treatment from car hire firms.

Ms Lynne expressed particular concern that car rental customers were sometimes required to sign papers in foreign languages which allowed companies to levy extra charges with little or no requirement to provide evidence of any damage.


See also:

MEPs ask for police protection on their way to the gravy train.

MEP's lost luggage is "diplomatic incident".

MEPs self-important? Shurely not.

idiots

What a load of utter rubbish the so-called "Centre for European Reform" spout:

Eurosceptics make a good point when they argue that the EU should concentrate on external challenges like climate change, energy security, migration and global trade. But Ireland's vote against the Lisbon treaty means that the EU now has to devote more time and energy to sorting out its rules and institutions. Those who urge the EU to look outwards but celebrate the Irish No are inconsistent and hypocritical.

Clearly the possibility of actually accepting the result of three referendums and dropping the treaty has simply never occurred to them.

In reality the CER was never about trying to change Brussels (which has, after all, generously funded them). It is all about trying to sell Brussels to Britain. We don't think people are buying it.

(Htp: Bruno Waterfield)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Now pay your EU car tax

Amid the row in Britain about changes to vehicle excise duty, not a lot of people have noticed what the EU is doing in this area (although Mark Mardell has been following this doggedly...)

The EU is currently debating a fuel economy target of 130g Co2/km for new cars*. The current average is about 160g.

The Commission has smelled a revenue-raising opportunity.



The proposal says that there will be fines for manufacturers who fail to hit the targets.

And it wants the money for itself. On page 15 it says:

"Manufacturers whose average specific emissions of CO2 exceed those permitted under this Regulation should pay an excess emissions premium in respect of each calendar year from 2012 onwards... The amounts of the excess emissions premium should be considered as revenue for the budget of the European Union."

Who do you think is ultimately going to pay these fines? The manufacturer?

Or perhaps you?


*Actually, this being the EU, it isn't that simple. The target is supposed to be reached as an mass-adjusted average across fleets, which can be pooled between manufacturers, and some smaller manufacturers can be exempted. Phew!

Why not defect?

According to the European Commission's media person in London, apparently the EU is rather bureaucratic:

Having some admin nightmares, not only on the personal front, with no-one having come back to me yet about my move, but also as I’m trying to recruit some new staff and have to wait until September for someone from Brussels to OK my choice. Given that I can only recruit people off a list drawn up after a recruitment procedure, I’m having difficulty seeing the logic in that…

Kafkaesque bureaucracy? The EU? Whodathunkit?!?!?!

running for re-election

The FT blog makes a good point:

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president who wants to be reappointed next year to a second five-year term, has in recent days received two important but somewhat curious endorsements. The first was from Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who has been sharply and publicly at odds with Barroso over the European Central Bank’s policies and over the European Commission’s handling of world trade negotiations.

The second was from Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister. The areas of potential or actual conflict between Italy and the EU are numerous to list here. But among them are Italian state aid to the near-bankrupt airline Alitalia, a rubbish collection crisis in Naples, and the treatment - or mistreatment - of Italy’s gypsy population.

To these one might add a warning from Berlusconi, issued on the eve of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels last month, about the European Commission. “We must no longer see public remarks by commissioners who create a lot of trouble for ministers [at national level],” he declared.

Barroso puts up with this needling from the likes of Berlusconi and Sarkozy because, if he wants the EU’s 27 government leaders to re-select him next year, he really has no choice.


The Commission sells itself as being "above politics" - it isn't.

The Italian gypsy-caravan-torching issue is a classic example. We have oodles of human rights law in the UK, often going far beyond core human rights and deep into judicial activism (sham marriages are OK apparently).

But then when someone really needs human rights (to stop the caribineri burning down their house with them in it) they seem to vanish and those in charge (like the Commission) look the other way. Thanks for nowt.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The heart of the matter




Cracking piece from David Quinn in today’s Irish Independent:

“Here is why the Lisbon Treaty referendum was lost -- and if the Government does not address this, the next one will likely be lost as well: people are worried about the loss of sovereignty and national identity… the European Court of Justice, an institution of the EU, will gain immeasurably more power over Irish law if the Lisbon treaty and the accompanying Charter of Fundamental Rights is ever passed… We have to wake up to the fact that the more power we cede to judges, lawyers and other experts, whether they are based in Ireland or overseas, the less democratic we become. The heart of democracy in any country has to be the national legislature with its elected representatives, not the courts and the law library.”

Quinn is spot on with this analysis. All the polling evidence (pre and post referendum) confirms that people in Ireland were above all concerned about the transfer of power from national to EU level.

Politicians habitually talk down voters’ ability to understand ‘complex international treaties’. In fact, the Irish people did ‘get’ the fundamental argument over Lisbon – whether or not to trade in more centralised powers at European level for reduced democratic control over national decision-making.

The debate over Lisbon is actually pretty simple. Professional politicians naturally want to preserve that debate as their exclusive domain – they have a vested interest in constantly trying to emphasise its supposed complexity.

Vote again, or else

Under the headline “24 to 1”, French journalist Jean Quatremer writes on his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog:

"The recent poll showing that 71% of Irish people are opposed to a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has not had much impact in European capitals, since the wording of the question indicated that the vote would be on the same text. There is no question of that: either the Irish will be asked to adopt the Lisbon Treaty with ad hoc declarations responding to their concerns (like in 2002 for Nice), or they will be asked if they want to continue to be part of a Union that is governed by the Lisbon Treaty… This second possibility would clarify things: either you stay or you go, but you do not block
Europe as a whole.”

So unless the Irish are willing to vote again on the Lisbon Treaty in its entirety, with a couple of non-legally binding words of appeasement tacked on, then they will have to vote on whether they stay in the EU or leave altogether.

Talk about having a gun to your head...