Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Trade sanctions imposed on the Faroe Islands

Oh goody. The EU has picked someone small enough to bully and to Britain's shame its representatives as well as the representatives of fishermen's organizations have joined in.

The Scotsman reports that
THE European Commission today finally moved to impose trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands because of their continued refusal to enter into an international agreement on the division of the North Atlantic herring stock.

A total ban on the import of Faroese catches of both herring and mackerel into European ports is to be brought into force before the end of August in a major blow for the Nordic nation’s fishing industry. Similar sanctions are expected to be imposed in the near future against Iceland on mackerel.

Last year Icelandic vessels landed 123,000 tonnes of mackerel while Faroese boats took 159,000 tonnes of mackerel, one of the most important catches for Scotland’s powerful pelagic fleet.

Member States have agreed to impose sanctions on the trade of both herring and mackerel from the Faroes to the EU. Mackerel has been included in this EU sanctions package because the Faroese catch the mackerel in association with landings of Atlanto-Scandian herring.

And there may be scope under the sanctions deal to introduce further fish products in the trade ban at a later date. Future sanctions could include fishmeal, fish oil and Faroese salmon products because herring is used in the manufacture of their feed.
Well, what fun that is. The EU is determined to destroy the economy of the Faroe Islands and, if possible, that of Iceland. That will teach them not to want to join us. Of course, they might start exporting to other countries and thumb their noses at the EU.

The argument in both cases is that there has been a recent increase in the fish stock in northern Atlantic; I have not yet seen that argument disproved. The EU is merely shouting hysterically that these people are not allowed to fish more than they are allowed to do by the EU though they are not actually members. (The Faroe Islands have a complicated status. They are a "a self-governing country within the Danish Realm" and not part of the European Union. Indeed, Danish citizens who live there are not EU citizens though those of other member states are.)

EurActiv and EUObserver have both published an article by Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen, the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, which is worth reading in full. Here are some excerpts:
Underpinning the Commission’s proposal to implement economic measures against the Faroe Islands is the assertion by European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki that the Faroe Islands have “left the negotiation table” on Atlanto-Scandian herring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Faroese government has been repeatedly calling for negotiations between all coastal states to discuss a revision of the sharing arrangement for this important and very valuable shared fish stock in the Northeast Atlantic.

Multilateral management of shared fish stocks should always be based on the best available scientific information on the size and behaviour of the stock. We have been witness in recent years to a marked increase in abundance of herring in Faroese waters, also for longer periods.

Assessments by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in 2011 and 2012 confirm these new trends and the increased dependency of the herring on maritime areas within Faroese jurisdiction.
Despite the virtual absence of Atlanto-Scandian herring in EU waters, the EU became a party to the arrangement, after having set itself a unilateral quota of 150,000 tonnes in 1996, which it could only effectively fish in international waters.

The allocation key was modified again in 2007, after four years without an agreed arrangement, due to Norway’s demands that its share was increased.

In contrast, the Faroese share has remained by far the smallest all these years at just over 5%. This by no means reflects the occurrence of Atlanto-Scandian herring in Faroese waters today, nor the long-standing dependency of the Faroe Islands on fisheries.

Both the Faroese and Danish governments have underlined to the Commission that all options for renegotiating an equitable allocation of the Atlanto-Scandian herring have far from been exhausted. The Faroe Islands have also repeatedly pointed out that we remain ready and willing to resume consultations with the other parties as soon as possible.

We are seeking the opportunity to present a reasoned and justified claim for an increased Faroese share of the Atlanto-Scandian herring stock to be discussed in the appropriate multilateral context.

But all this seems to have fallen on deaf ears in Brussels. The relentless determination to implement measures against the Faroes is being rushed through the EU system with an absolute minimum of time for EU member states to scrutinise and discuss the political rationale and factual details of the proposal.

A meeting between the five coastal States has now been scheduled for 2 and 3 September in London. Regardless of this, the Commission has chosen to proceed with its proposal for measures against the Faroe Islands, aiming for its adoption by the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture on 31 July.
Why do I find the arguments in this article as well as the account of the EU's behaviour so persuasive? Could it be that they smack of the truth? As I said, read the whole article.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Clearing the ground

Every now and then I am moved to write a blog that puts most of my readers into the position of the proverbial grandmother who is being taught how to consume an egg or two without using her teeth. I apologize to those who are particularly annoyed but feel that a little ground needs clearing. The immediate cause of this rant discussion of basic facts is someone trotting out the old chestnut on another forum that Gordon Brown was not even elected to be Prime Minister. When I stopped raving and tearing my hair out in fury I replied in words of utmost simplicity and tried to explain that we do not elect Prime Ministers in this country. Why is that so difficult to understand?

So, let me try to clear some of that ground. We do not have a directly elected Executive in this country. Maybe we should but that is another story altogether. Once out of the EU or standing beside its debris we might change our constitution and create a system that would, indeed, elect our government directly rather than indirectly through Parliament. So far I have not seen a single proposal that would create anything but a Premiership that was even less accountable than it is now.

Let me go through it all again: in the General Election we vote for individual MPs on a first past the post system and the party that collects the largest number of MPs, should it find itself in a position of being  able to form a government, does so. Who becomes Prime Minister in those circumstances is up to the party in question to decide. Whoever is the leader of that party is summoned by Her Majesty and asked  to form the next government. Presumably, she also adds sotto voce "and God help you".

This does not run smoothly all the time and there have been various  occasions when the party in question, being in an overall minority in the House of Commons, has to make choices: its leader can form a minority government with the certain knowledge that there will be another election within a few months; he (the one time we had a she the question did not arise) can form a minority government with the full support of one of the smaller parties, usually the third one; or he can team up with another party to form a coalition, a tricky but not particularly unusual course of action in modern British politics.

As a matter of fact, there was no talk of any coalition during the 2010 election and it was formed against the wishes of elected representatives of both parties as well as those of the electorate. So, if any government is unelected, it is this one.

The argument about Gordon Brown runs as follows: when it is pointed out that his party happens to have won unequivocally three elections, with two of them as landslides, the response is that he was not the leader at the time so people did not vote for him. (They did, as it happens, in his own constituency but let that pass.) This is true and, perhaps, the Labour Party would have done better to hold some sort of a leadership election when Tony Blair announced his resignation. However, I repeat, that is up to them.

A new Prime Minister taking over in the middle of a parliamentary term is a very common occurrence. In 1935 Stanley Baldwin replaced Ramsay Macdonald, called a general election, which gave the National Government  another huge victory. Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937. An election was going to be called in 1940, which the Conservatives would have won, but events intervened. Instead, another "unelected" Prime Minister came to power, Winston Churchill. No election till 1945, which was called with great reluctance on his part and which resulted in a Labour landslide. Then there was another Labour victory and in 1951 a grudging Conservative one.

Chuchill hung on till 1955 when he was succeeded by the "unelected" Anthony Eden, who called an election and increased the Conservative majority. The Suez debacle led to his resignation and he was succeeded by the "unelected" Harold Macmillan who resigned in 1963 to be succeeded by the "unelected" Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

Moving right along, we have an "unelected" Prime Minister in James Callaghan in 1976 and in John Major in 1991 1990. Quite a common occurrence in fact and nobody has ever called them unelected in the past, possibly because people were better versed in the British constitutional rules.

Let me also add that until 1965 the Conservatives did not elect their leaders, who simply emerged after a great deal of negotiation behind the scenes. Labour did elect but there was just as much negotiation behind those scenes before the vote went through.

Apart from Eden, all the post-war Prime Ministers who took over between elections, continued in place to the last possible minute after which the party they led was either returned with a smaller majority as in the case of Macmillan and Major or lost as in the case of Douglas-Home and Callaghan. No particular conclusions can be drawn from that.

I trust I have cleared some ground.

Can't help laughing

Politicians' self-importance is always a matter of great amusement; Western politicians's self importance when they pronounce on matters they know nothing about and can do nothing about is even more amusing; but nothing can beat the self-importance of EU politicians pronouncing on many subjects, none of which they understand or could possibly affect. As it happens, there is something a little funnier even than that: the media taking these people seriously.

Let us look at the High Panjandrum of EU foreign policy, the Lady Ashton or, as she prefers to be known nowadays, Cathy Ashton. This morning I received by e-mail the following selection of headlines about the lady's activity:

EU foreign policy chief praises 'calm' presidential vote in Mali. Well gosh, that must have cheered them up in Mali no end. Would they even have heard of the lady or known that neither she nor any one of her colleagues, including the several Presidents, have been elected?

After that, it's a joyous festival of irrelevance:

EU foreign policy chief arrives in Egypt to meet with leaders

EU's Ashton on mediation mission to Egypt, which, to be fair, became Egypt sides defiant as EU envoy seeks compromise. Is she the High Panjandrum, a mere envoy or, as the article describes her, Europe's top diplomat who fruitlessly shuttles between the various factions?

Al-Arabiya said that EU's Ashton headed to Cario for talks while according to Fox News EU's Ashton arrives in Cairo as crisis deepens. Post hoc is not necessarily propter hoc.

Then we have EU's Ashton in Egypt for Second Time in Two Weeks, not a definition of success; EU's Ashton visits Egypt, calls to return to civilian rule and EU's Ashton on mediation mission to Egypt post Cairo violence.

And all the time they know and we know and they know that we know that it makes no earthly difference to anyone or anything what that incompetent and grossly overpaid woman says or does.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Show time

Today is the birthday of one of the greatest of film stars from the days when stars were truly great. (Yes, I am getting maudlin.) Here he is with his equally wonderful co-star in the only Christmas morning scene one can even begin to tolerate.


 Happy Birthday William Powell.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Gladstone's influence

On another blog I shall be reviewing Dick Leonard's interesting but not entirely adequate double biography of those two Victorian political titans, Disraeli and Gladstone, The Great Rivalry. It is generally accepted that they created modern British politics though the party Gladstone left behind lasted a considerably shorter time than did the one Disraeli left.

There is one other aspect of Gladstone's political activity that, perhaps, is not emphasised often enough and that is his long service as Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is what Dick Leonard says:

There are many who consider Gladstone to be the greatest man ever to have held the premiership ...... Few, however, would challenge his pre-eminence as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He held the post for far longer than any of his successors, serving four times, twice in conjunction with the premiership, for a total of 12 and a half years. He effectively created the post as it exists in modern times, and none of his successors has rivalled the impact which he made.

Before his time, the Prime Minister still wielded substantial financial powers in his function as First Lord of the Treasury, and the Chancellor played only a secondary role, comparable to that of the chief Secretary to the Treasury today. Gladstone subsumed to his office all the financial powers formerly wielded by the Prime Minister and clearly established that the Chancellor should normally be seen as the second person in the government, even though the office remained - in formal terms - junior to those of the sercretaries of state.

In the words of [Roy] Jenkins, one of his most successful followers in the office, he gave his annual budgets 'such a sweep and force that their presentation became a fixture of the national life to Derby Day or the State Opening of Parliament'.
There is some incoherence in that: what exactly does he mean by describing Gladstone (and subsequently Churchill) as being the "greatest man ever to have held the premiership"? Were they the greatest Prime Ministers? In what way were they the greatest men?

Furthermore, I beg leave to disagree with the judgement that Roy Jenkins was one of the successful post-Gladstone Chancellors.

However, the main point here is what the effect of Gladstone's undoubtedly highly influential chancellorship has been and that, alas, one cannot call healthy. Budget Day has, indeed, become one of the great events in the political calendar but the most obvious result of that is the budget is not seriously discussed in any detail. Disraeli's budget of 1852 was voted out and the government fell. Can anyone seriously imagine something like that happening nowadays?

Not only is the Budget always voted through but it is always voted through as a whole - the many different sections are not separated out either for serious debating or voting purposes. Or, in other words, thanks to Mr Gladstone's activity and influence, Parliament or, to be precise, the House of Commons lost its power over the finances that the Executive needs, the very issue over which battles of various kinds were fought between the Legislative and the Executive or between Parliament and the Crown. Ironic, is it not that it should be a great leader of the Liberal Party who should be responsible for that development.

Writing in margins of books

Last Saturday the Guildhall Library, an institution in the City of London that is not perhaps as well known as it ought to be, held an open day. Apart from exhibiting some of its treasures, which include a Shakespeare First Folio in its original binding as well as Lloyds Lists that go back to the beginning of that publication and some spectacular cookery books from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the staff organized several talks. I attended two, the one on Regency cooks, cooking and kitchens, of course, and the one on books as history, given by David Pearson, highly important librarian and the author of a study with the same title.

His theme was exactly that: books as a subject of historical study rather than their own subjects. It is almost a truism to say that the future of books, publishing and the form literacy will take is unpredictable, with the growth of electronic publishing and the proliferations of electronic reading tools. What will happen when there will be a whole generation who will learn to read on tablets and ipads? Will there even be such a generation?

My own view and, I think, Mr Pearson shares it, is that there will always be a demand for books as a physical entity for all kinds of reasons, some purely tactile, some more intellectual. Will this mean that we might go back to a less industrial production and once again see many distinctions between individual publications of the same book? It's not impossible but, equally, unpredictable.

Who, for example, knew in the seventies when publishers were consolidating into huge conglomerates that several decades later there would be a flowering of small publishers, all highly individual? The unpredictability is, in itself, exciting.

The journey each book takes, the list of its owners, their attitudes and what they take from those books are all part of history and of our understanding of society. No frequenter of second-hand bookshops can possibly deny the excitement of finding a long sought volume that happens to have been given as a present or a prize to someone a hundred years ago and was then owned by someone else, perhaps, in another country. On my last trip to Budapest undertaken partly to have a look at the books my recently deceased aunt left I found many that had belonged to my family and were left behind when we upped and left. There was a copy of The Tempest that had been published in London in 1904; a delightful little tome, one of the Temple editions. The inscription was to my mother from her then best friend who somehow managed to find this book in Moscow in 1947. In my mother's possession it travelled to Budapest but was left behind to be looked after by my aunt along with many other books; it is now in London, still in the family's possession. That is a great deal of history behind one small book.

Inscriptions are all very well but what of people writing in books? What of people who underline or mark important passages, scribble question marks, exclamation marks or even comments? I must admit I have not done anything of the kind since I stopped using textbooks for revision (and that was a long time ago) though I do occasionally make a short notation with a page number at the back when I am reading a book for a review. Even then I prefer to do it on a piece of paper that I use as a bookmark. But is it actually wrong?

Mr Pearson, interestingly enough, despite being a librarian, does not thinks so. He told a story of him giving a talk to the various librarians of the Houses of Parliament when he asked them how they would react if they saw David Cameron making a note in a book. The obvious answer is that they would faint with surprise to see the Boy-King picking up a book and actually reading it but, clearly, they were all too polite to say so. Apparently, about half said they would rush over and stop him while the other half clearly thought of future historians being fascinated what the Prime Minister of the day thought of some particular pronouncement (assuming any future historian remembers this Prime Minister).

There is something to that. One of the joys of studying the history of Bolshevism (and there are very few joys, indeed) is reading the comments, mostly extremely rude ones, Lenin made on the margins of the various books written by his colleagues and predecessors.

Recently I have been reading Earls of Creation by James Lees-Milne, a study of five eighteenth century earls who also happen to have been architects and garden designers. The third Earl of Burlington, designer and owner of Chiswick House, was a great admirer of Andrea Palladio and owned several copies of his Quattro Libri, in one of which he wrote meticulous marginal notes about the builidngs he had seen during his two Italian trips and what he thought of them. Historians of architecture, of the eighteenth century, of English houses and other related matters must remain eternally grateful that the noble earl did not consider the books he owned to be untouchable with pen or pencil.

Finally, there are those readers at London Library, past and present, the despair of librarians and the object of much huffing and puffing in the comments' book, who insist on correcting typos and misprints as well as pointing out wrong dates, erroneous facts and, above all, non sequiturs in detective stories. What pleasure they give to the rest of us, especially those of us who cannot quite muster enough courage to do the same.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Well d'uh!

EUObserver reports that the latest Eurobarometer survey has produced some ..... fairly predictable results.
While 80 percent of Swedes and 77 percent of Germans expressed confidence about the state of their country's economy, this contrasted with only 1 percent of Spaniards, and 2 percent of Cypriots and Greeks.

Respondents from the crisis countries were also far more likely to feel disconnected from EU decision making, according to the eurobarometer survey released Tuesday (23 June).

Two thirds responded negatively to the question "my voice counts in the European Union", including 89 percent of Cypriots and Greeks.
I wonder if there is a reason for those opinions and their geographical spead.

Reassuring as ever

The Lord Pearson of Rannoch put the following Written Question to HMG:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the present status of the Luxembourg Compromise; how many times it has been invoked, and to what effect; and whether they intend to use it in relation to proposals affecting the United Kingdom's financial services industry.
The Luxembourg Compromise is an odd little agreement that is supposed to keep countries who are not keen on certain aspects of European integration moderately happy. It was signed in 1966 after de Gaulle's "empty chair policy" over aspects of the then EEC policy that he did not think were in the French interests.
The Luxembourg Compromise, signed on 30 January 1966, provides that "Where, in the case of decisions which may be taken by majority vote on a proposal of the Commission, very important interests of one or more partners are at stake, the Members of the Council will endeavour, within a reasonable time, to reach solutions which can be adopted by all the Members of the Council while respecting their mutual interests and those of the Community".
Given the importance of the financial services industry to this country's economy, it is not unreasonable to suggest that HMG might, at some point, having handed most of that industry over to the EU, consider invoking the Luxembourg Compromise. Well, they might. On behalf of HMG Lord Deighton replied:
The Luxembourg Compromise is a convention which has not been formalised and the procedure for invoking it is not defined.

The Government has always led the case for a competitive and stable UK financial services sector and believes that the prosperity of the City is in the interests of the UK and the EU. The Government will use the relevant negotiating and legal framework to protect the interests of the UK financial services sector.
It is, of course, very reassuring to us all that we have a government whose negotiators act in our best interests at all times.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An analysis of what Pope Francis said

Philip Booth's blogs at the IEA are always interesting to read. He is a free-marketeer, a devout Catholic and a man who thinks about social and ethical matters as much as economic ones. His analysis of where Pope Francis is going frighteningly wrong in his statements about matters economic is of great interest. He compares this Pope with his two predecessors and the comparison is not to his advantage.
[W]hen John Paul asked whether capitalism should be the model that ought to be proposed to poor countries, he answered: “If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy".” Of course, the economy should be, argued John Paul, circumscribed by the rule of law.

It is because of the Christian understanding of man as a moral and reasoning person that Pope Benedict argued in Caritas in veritate: “Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man's darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.” In other words, we are not animals; the economy is not autonomous: it is guided by the decisions of moral human persons. Indeed, the snappy youth version of the Catholic Catechism is very strong on the importance of not circumscribing freedom, even when it is not used appropriately.
Read the whole piece.

This is slightly bizarre

Bulgarians demonstrating against their corrupt politicians (whom, I believe, they elected but that is another story) is not bizarre. Nor is the trapping of "more than 100 politicians, journalists and staff" inside the Parliament building overnight particularly bizarre. I bet most of them were harmless, underpaid staff rather than politicians but that is the way of demonstrations, riots and even revolutions.

What is bizarre in my view is the support voiced by the European Commission for the anti-corruption protests.
EU commissioner for justice Viviane Reding at a Citizens’ Dialogue event in Sofia said she was “very much moved by the strong desire of the Bulgarian citizen to have this change, to fight for democracy, to fight against corruption.”

“My sympathy is with the Bulgarian citizens who are protesting on the streets against corruption,” she said.
Nothing wrong, one might say, with supporting the protesters. I feel the same way myself. But is the Commission now on the side of street protests against the governments of member states? Does it intend to form an alliance in order to strengthen its own position?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No, I don't think the controversy will end

Naturally, I am delighted for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the whole family; I am a little miffed it was not a girl but even if it had been there would have been no constitutional crisis until the second one if that was a boy. Two girls would have been the same situation as that in George VI's family and that resolved itself satisfactorily. However, it was a boy, as I heard proclaimed happily in Old Compton Street while I was heading for coffee and cake at Maison Bertaux. So that is that. Let us turn to less happy matters.

Historian at large is a new blog for me. It is run by Roger Moorhouse, an historian with a very impressive list of publications. In his latest posting he turns to the subject of particular interest to me and that is the Reichstag fire of 1933 and the historical myths that have surrounded it ever since. Mr Moorhouse goes through the evidence, with especial reference to a recent book by a German historian, Sven Felix Kellerhoff, Der Reichstagsbrand (The Reichstag Fire). The book, Mr Moorhouse tells us, will lay all the mythology to rest: it examines all the evidence in detail and comes to the obvious conclusion that Marinus van der Lubbe acted alone and The Brown Book that "proved" Nazi guilt was a farrago of lies and nonsense.

Alas for good hopes. I really do not think it is that simple. After all, this has been known for some time and was proved conclusively on several occasions by different authors. That the myth has not died shows the enormous strength of the little lies of the Comintern and its propagandists as against the big lie referred to by Goebbels, who turned out to have been considerably less efficient at propaganda than Willi Münzenberg.

I can only refer my readers back to a piece I wrote about this back in 2007 and hope that by some miracle Roger Moorhouse reads it as well. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

So that's that

Those readers who might have found the saga of the Czech Prime Minister of some interest (here, here and here) will, undoubtedly, be disappointed though possibly not surprised to find out that it is not going anywhere.

According to this detailed Wall Street Journal article
Earlier this month, prosecutors asked Parliament to lift immunity for Mr. Necas, as they investigated his role in the awarding of jobs at state enterprises to three former legislators allegedly in exchange for their help in passing a bill to raise taxes.

On Tuesday, the Czech Supreme Court ruled that the three former lawmakers and Mr. Necas couldn't be prosecuted since at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, they were legislators. The three former lawmakers were released from jail Tuesday night. They couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

In a news conference late Wednesday, Mr. Necas criticized the probe as "an absurd drama. It isn't an absurd comedy, but it's actually very serious, affecting actual people who ended up in prison during the investigation."

Lawyers for the MPs have previously said their clients did nothing wrong. Mr. Necas has also denied any wrongdoing and said the deal with the MPs was just normal political horse-trading, akin to offering an ambassadorship to a political ally.
Meanwhile the doubtfully appointed caretaker government may face opposition from the parliament but the lower house has voted not to dissolve itself and call an early election. They will somehow manage with the government they do not like and do not agree with, which was appointed over their heads by President Zeman.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Phoney Charities and civil society

Christopher Snowdon:
IEA Discussion Paper No. 45
February 2013

It is not precisely news that a large number of organizations that assume the mantle of charities with all the public approval (vague but widespread) that it implies are, in reality, funded by the state that uses taxpayers’ money often to ensure that the organizations in question pursue a political line that is of benefit to it. Nevertheless, this knowledge is carefully hidden, partly by the organizations in question but partly by the public’s own desire not to know the truth, which might result in a completely new way of looking at “settled” notions or supposed right and wrong.

It is, however, useful to have some chapter and verse as we get in this pamphlet and its predecessor, the IEA’s Paper No. 39, also by Christopher Snowdon, published last June and entitled Sock Puppets – How the government lobbies itself and why.

Both papers enumerate organizations that receive money from the government or the EU, which would not exist without that input and which do not, therefore, need to answer to their donors about their activity as charities. Many of them are really lobby groups, coincidentally or not, lobbying for policies that the government or the EU (it is often hard to tell the difference) want to push through and which are not particularly popular with the populace.

With the Euro Puppets there is a further complication: the EU, by and large an unpopular project imposed on the population of various member states by the political elites, has felt for some years that it needs to find some credibility with that population. As it is not about to become accountable or less centralized (au contraire), let alone less devoted to the ideas of regulating every aspect of life it can lay its hands on, it has to think of another solution. One presented itself almost immediately, an adapted version of something instituted in the early Soviet years: the creation of something called civil society. This is an expression that is used more and more and particularly by transnational organizations of which the EU is particularly important as its aim is to become a state (not something it hides or is particularly ashamed of. Such organizations have no accountability and their credibility has to rely on emotionalism rather than political structures, just as the governance they try to impose is managerial (sometimes openly as it happened recently in a few EU member states, sometimes less so, as in normal EU legislation). They, therefore, announce that certain organizations to do with social activity are the real civil society. It just so happens that those organizations are ones either founded or approved of by the governing structures and, as the Euro Puppets demonstrates, funded by them. A closed and rather vicious circle is created: the unaccountable and managerial governance “proves” its credibility by pointing to the support given it by the civil society that consists of organizations it has created and approved that will never display any kind of independence. Needless to say, we are paying for it and for the legislation that those organizations campaign for.

But it was a famous victory

A quick diversion from serious matters and a reminder about the ridiculous olive oil controversy that, as every school child will know in weeks and months to come, ended with victory for Common Sense, an army led by the British negotiators (or something). Apparently not.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked the following Written Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how United Kingdom representatives voted in the European Union Commission and COREPER on the Commission's proposal to ban the selling of olive oil in restaurants except in sealed non-refillable containers.
Ought to be an easy one: we voted against it and with our gallant allies defeated the dark monster. Errm, no. Lord De Mauley on behalf of HMG read out the reply his officials wrote for him:
During negotiations on an amendment to EU marketing standards for olive oil (Commission Regulation no. 29/2012) the Government consistently opposed a new EU requirement for bottles containing olive oil in the catering sector to be non-refillable and non-resealable from 1 January 2014. However, this only formed one element of the proposals which also included improved labelling provisions for consumers and the UK, therefore, abstained in the final vote. Given the support for the proposal from olive oil producing Member States, a vote against the proposal would have had no impact on the outcome.

Subsequent to the vote, common sense prevailed; the EU Agriculture Commissioner announced on 23 May that the proposal would be withdrawn and that he would consult further on the issue before deciding next steps. We await the outcome of those consultations.
It seems that the massed forces of Common Sense were led by someone else as the British negotiators abstained in the vote as it would have had no impact, given the support from olive oil producing countries. Yet, something must have had an impact and it was not British negotiating technique.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Russian criminals use EU banks. Shock!

Given how many different bits of regulation the EU has imposed on its member states and how many other bits of legislation and regulation those member states imposed on their citizens, all in order to prevent money laundering, it may come as a surprise to readers of this blog to find out that none of them manage to prevent money, stolen from the Russian people and Russian businesses from being laundered through EU banks. Well, it may. Personally, whenever I hear stories like that I recall Captain Renault:

  Mind you, that wonderful scene also shows what a complete numpty Victor Laszlo was and how unlikely it was for the resistance to get anywhere under his idiotic leadership but that's another story.

Back to those EU banks and Russian money. Bear in mind that the EU makes all sorts of noises about the terrible state of affairs in Russia. The noises are not loud enough to make any difference. For instance the killers and torturers of Sergei Magnitsky, found guilty of "fraud" several years after his death, happily come and frolic in EU countries. This is known as sophisticated soft power that is different from the rough and tough American foreign policy (though we don't hear so much about that under Barack Obama's presidency.)

The next well known Russian dissident to go to prison will be the anti-corruption blogger and protest organizer, Alexei Navalny. To be fair, a number of other Russian dissident dislike him but that has ever been so. There are no dissident movements anywhere that do not spend more time fighting each other than the enemy.

Meanwhile Navalny is trying to tie up some lose ends before he is put out of action for six years if the prosecution gets its wish, which is quite likely as the judge in question has never presided over an acquittal.
On Tuesday (16 July), he, and his group of other young jurists, unveiled the secret business empire of Vladimir Yakunin [in Russian], a government official who runs Russian Railways, the country's state-owned train operator.

According to their information, Russian Railways has channelled millions upon millions of taxpayers' money into businesses owned by Yakunin's wife and two sons.

The businesses include hotel chains, blocks of flats and marine ports.

But the Yakunin connection is hidden behind layers of offshore firms, dozens of which are registered in EU member state Cyprus.
That would be the Cyprus that has recently been bailed out by the rest of the EU, I take it.

Here is the Yakunin story on the BBC Russian Service that is easily translated into English, on Forbes (ditto) and on Kommersant. Apart from EUObserver there seem to be no English-language media accounts. (Sorry, there is one, the Moscow Times.)
Navalny told EUobserver by email from Moscow on Tuesday that the EU's frequent statements on lack of rule of law in Russia "are, of course, a good thing."

But he is "sceptical" they will prompt change.

Instead, he urged EU authorities to help Russian people by enforcing rule of law in EU member states.

Or, in other words, by stopping Russian criminals from using European banks and offshore structures to conceal their ill-gotten gains.

Noting that the EU's joint police body, Europol, the European Commission and six EU countries are now investigating a money laundering trail linked to the death of Russian whistleblower-auditor Sergei Magnitsky, Navalny said: "This work is fundamentally important."

He added: "Stolen money was smuggled outside my country and re-invested in Europe … If the commission and Europol do their job properly, it will create an extremely important precedent."

He said the EU should go further, by creating new legal obligations for sensitive Russian investments.
It is always rather charming to see people from countries that are considerably more corrupt than the EU (believe it or not) look to that organization for some action rather than just pretty words in the battle they are waging. Sadly, I have to tell Mr Navalny (should he be reading this blog, which is not very likely) that the EU is not going to do anything to upset President Putin and his camarilla and neither will the member states, which is a good deal more shameful.

UPDATE: A day before expected, Alexei Navalny was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, allegedly for corruption but in reality for blogging against the Putin mafia and exposing their corruption. Self-pitying activists and members of the blogosphere, please note: this is what oppression looks like.

That prize

I ought to have written about it yesterday, as the Boss did, needless to say. He is just much better at this sort of thing and does not find the heat enervating. (Not complaining, mind you, not after the last few months, just stating a fact.)

Anyway, just about everybody knows that the IEA has announced a Brexit (loathsome word but that is the one they are using) Prize for best submissions about what this country will have to do in the two years after an assumed "out" vote in a referendum. We have to assume it or there will be no prize.

Should one enter, given the number of organizations who are likely to do so and given the dubious nature of the judges? (David Starkey? Really?) I am minded to do so, though, unlike the Boss I have no organization to back me. At least, I don't think I do. But if I don't enter, can I really complain about the nature of submissions? Of course, any advice on the subject will be treated in the spirit in which it is offered.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

They never fade away

Several news items of interest about people who really should retire from the political and media circuit but seem unable to do so. First of all, we have our old friend Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the man who has caused so much hilarity through the various scandals he was involved in and who opened up a, sadly, brief discussion about the sexual mores of the the French political left. He is back in the news, having gone the way of other dubious Western politicians and taken the Putin rouble.

He "has been given a board position in the Russian Regional Development Bank" in order to raise the corporate profile of said Kremlin owned organization. The New York Times reminds us that the bank is a subsidiary of Rosneft.
Rosneft’s media office declined to elaborate on the appointment or on how Mr. Strauss-Kahn would be compensated.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a former French presidential contender, is re-emerging in a much smaller role than he once had. The Russian Regional Development Bank is hardly a financial heavyweight. It ranks No. 64 in Russia by assets.

Vedomosti, the leading Russian business newspaper, reported that Rosneft may be seeking to raise the profile of the bank by hiring a former International Monetary Fund director.
It is not as good as the various lavish positions former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder managed to grab.

If DSK is trying to make his way back or, at least, to earn large sums of money, Claude Juncker is refusing to go away. As Der Spiegel put it yesterday:
Jean-Claude Juncker has been in power in Luxembourg for 18 years, but he still isn't ready to fade into retirement. After tripping over a secret service scandal, he is now planning his comeback -- a project that could ultimately land him a senior European Union position.
The Luxembourg Prime Minister, the longest serving politician in Europe, has been holding on, refusing to admit that he had any responsibility for decisions taken by government officials while he was in the main seat (that is, for the last eighteen years).
In the end, he chose to go on the offensive. He appeared in parliament and proposed holding snap new elections. In doing so, he escaped the humiliation of a no-confidence vote and didn't even have to officially resign. Not even Helmut Kohl could have come up with a better trick.
His position in the EU is not nearly as strong as it used to be and his relationship with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande (the only two that matter) is said to be tense. But he has become used to being a political leader and he does not want to go.
Now that the decision has been made to hold new elections, it is unclear how much longer Juncker will continue to sit at the table of EU leaders. Although his CSV is likely to remain the strongest party, it is unclear whether the patriarch will be able to easily find a coalition partner. In the wake of the intelligence scandals, the Socialists, part of the current coalition government, have moved closer to the opposition Liberals and Greens. It can't be ruled out that, for the first time, there will be a three-party-alliance in Luxembourg after the new elections. Unlike the CSV, the Socialists have completed a generational shift. Long-standing Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn is no longer campaigning as the party's top candidate, instead paving the way for the younger generation.

But even if Juncker doesn't get another chance at home, his career likely won't come to a rapid end. The European People's Party is urgently seeking a top candidate for the European Parliament election in May 2014. Juncker, known throughout Europe and fluent in many languages, would be the ideal candidate.

The winner of the election also stands to be appointed to a top EU post. Juncker, for instance, could become president of the European Commission or the European Council, even though he, of course, denies any such ambitions. He wants to remain in Luxembourg, says Juncker. "I'm campaigning to become my own successor."
And talking of people who refuse to fade away, I see those giants of political thought, Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson are back, having formed a new pressure group with the help of Danny Alexander. Called British Influence (the one that has been missing in recent decades) it is proposing that
Britain should abandon attempts to secure a new "special deal" from the European Union and push instead for reform covering all 28 EU members.
That should work. Mind you, I can see those ideas becoming quite popular when we reach the fabled referendum shore.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Where are we on prime ministerial resignations?

Reuters reports that another Prime Minister, this time the Spanish one, is under some pressure to resign. So far, he is holding the line, admitting nothing or saying "if you please ma'am, it was only a little one" and definitely not resigning as that might jeopardize his career his reforming polices.

The scandal this time is not to do with convoluted political corruption as in the Czech Republic or with "illegal security agency activity such as phone-taps and corruption", as in Luxembourg, where the venerable Claude Juncker has temporarily retired from active politics.

The Spanish story is about money going into ... ahem ... wrong hands.
[Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy has so far limited the impact of the scandal, which involves alleged illegal donations by construction magnates that were supposedly distributed as cash payments to party leaders in return for juicy contracts.
The former party treasurer, Luis Barcenas, is now inside a prison for "charged with bribery, money laundering, tax fraud and other crimes" and, it seems, that there were close contacts between the Prime Minister and the former party treasurer.

Once again: the Prime Minister of Spain is a member of our real government.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Misdirection that is almost worthy of Agatha Christie

As every fan of detective stories knows, there are no misdirections like Christie's misdirections. One pootles along happily, convinced that one can at least guess what the solution of a mystery is going to be and then one is thrown for a loop. The solution is completely different and, what is so irritating, completely logical and fairly signposted. As Robert Barnard, another excellent detective fiction writer, once said, with other writers, the reader on being offered the solution, wants to kick them; with Christie the reader wants to kick himself. (Or words to that effect and himself includes herself.)

I am not suggesting that our not so beloved government is in the same league of misdirection but it is not doing badly. Take the Home Office and the egregious Home Secretary, Theresa May. (Well, OK, I'll take them for the time being.) Not only has that wretched woman banned a couple of American bloggers to make up for the fact that Abu Qatada has finally left these shores, not only has she or her Department been economical with the truth as far as the Magnitsky list is concerned (subjects that need a more detailed coverage) but she and her minions are busy misdirecting people's attention on the subject of the various EU agencies, directives and regulations that affect the UK.

To start with, as this blog has pointed out before, far from the UK opting out of anything (a more or less impossible action), it has been busily opting in to agencies and agreements that they had not been in before (here and here). They are playing that game again while trying to misdirect the voters's attention, no doubt, in order to show at some later date that they are capable of opting out or changing relationships or reforming something or other as long as the country votes to stay in the European Union.

The EUObserver reports
The UK wants to retain 35 EU-wide police and justice laws out of some 130 in its wider efforts to claw back power from the EU.

“We believe the UK should opt out of the measures in question for reasons of principle, policy, and pragmatism,” UK home secretary Theresa May told ministers in London on Tuesday (9 July).

Tory-right wingers want to repatriate all 133 laws, but May said the UK should retain its co-operation with the EU police agency, Europol, and the EU's joint judicial authority, Eurojust.

“We should opt in post-adoption provided that Europol is not given the power to direct national law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations or share data that conflicts with our national security,” she noted.

The European Arrest Warrant will also figure into UK’s provisional opt-in list but with added conditions to better protect British nationals of extradition to other member states in case of minor offences.
This is not clawing back (the latest dramatic phrase the government and its spinners like to use) powers but merely weighing up how to deal with matters that were decided in the Treaty of Lisbon.
The UK has to accept all 133 measures, made before the Lisbon Treaty was adopted in 2009, or reject them all. If it rejects them all, it can then opt back into individual laws it wants to keep.

The decision must be made by June 2014 or all the EU laws, as of December of the same year, will be subject to oversight by EU judges as well as the European Commission’s enforcement powers.

“Following our discussions in Europe, another vote will be held on the final list of measures that the UK will formally apply to rejoin,” said May.

Some senior government officials see the move as part of David Cameron’s push for an in/out referendum on its EU membership.
Presumably, there will be a vote to reject the 133 measures, as it is unlikely that any MP will have the time to read the 159 pages that explain HMG's plans and over the following months, with neither the media nor the electorate paying much attention, there will be wholesale opt-ins.

In the meantime, let us be quite clear: we shall not be rejecting the European Arrest Warrant, no matter what some over-excited Tories might say. According to the Guardian, the UK government will join with other like-minded governments in an attempt to reform the EAW. Good luck with that. After all, reforming the EU and its various aspects has been such a successful process for the UK and its assorted governments.

The Daily Telegraph is equally blunt:
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is today expected to announce that Britain will continue to take part in more than 30 pan-European crime and justice programmes. These will include the European arrest warrant – which allows foreign police forces to summon Britons and for detectives in this country to extradite suspects from the continent.

Britain will also remain a member of Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, and Eurojust, the EU’s judicial co-operation unit.

However, a new “proportionality test” will be introduced which is intended to stop Britons accused of low-level offences from being sent abroad and potentially held in custody while they await trial.

MPs will be given a vote on the new EU deal next week – which is expected to be opposed by dozens of Conservatives who have demanded that Britain opt-out of all pan-European crime and justice measures.
Another "rebellion", eh? Well, I wonder how many will take part in it this time?

More on the saga of the Czech government

After the resignation of the Czech Prime Minister in the wake of yet another scandal and news of an interim Prime Minister being considered we can report that Prsident Zeman has, indeed, sworn in an interim Prime Minister and has stirred up yet another political row.
Czech President Milos Zeman swore in a cabinet led by a longtime ally on Wednesday that faces almost certain rejection by parties in parliament, raising the prospect of prolonged political uncertainty in the central European nation.

The leftist president confirmed economist Jiri Rusnok as prime minister, hoping that he can pull the Czech economy out of a recession now into its second year and lead the country into an election due next year.

But the cabinet is likely to lose a vote of confidence, due within 30 days, as Rusnok's appointment has infuriated both the three parties of the outgoing center-right coalition and the leftist opposition, who all view it as a power grab by Zeman.

Rusnok, who served as finance minister in a Zeman-led cabinet a decade ago, replaces Petr Necas, who resigned last month after a close aide was charged with bribery and abuse of office. Prosecutors have asked parliament to lift the center-right former premier's parliamentary immunity.

If Rusnok loses the parliamentary vote of confidence, Zeman is meant to appoint another prime minister. But there are no time limits and politicians fear Zeman could drag out the process, leaving Rusnok's team in place for many months to carry out the president's wishes.
Let us not forget that the interim Prime Minister who will be battling the duly elected parliament is a member of our own real government.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Kenneth Minogue RIP

It was actually late on Friday evening when an American friend put up the news on Facebook: he had heard from another friend and colleague that Ken Minogue had died on the way home from the Mont Pelerin Society meeting at the Galapagos. Why has it taken me so long to write about a man I liked and admired as a thinker, a great force in politics and as a dear friend? Somehow, I feel it is appropriate to write about him on July 4, American Independence Day, when many English and, as some of us say, Anglospheric ideas were codified on the other side of the Pond, even if it meant a break with the mother country. (And a nasty war between American colonists as well as between some of them and British forces. Then again, America's loss of the Loyalists was Canada's gain after the war.)

Minogue, as John O'Sullivan pointed out in his piece on the CPS website
was born in New Zealand, brought up in Australia, and adopted by Britain when he arrived here in the 1950s. He never lost contact with the Antipodes which he visited regularly and to whose intellectual life he contributed through lectures and articles in such influential outlets as “Quadrant” magazine. He was a proud holder of the Order of Australia. In later life he visited the United States regularly to write, lecture, and research. All in all he was a citizen of what Goldwin Smith called “the moral federation of the English-speaking world” - though this did not prevent his playing a lively part in European debates, most recently in lectures to the Instituto Bruno Leoni in Milan.
Being a man of the English-speaking world but also one who loved European culture and knew European history and ideas he was, naturally, an opponent of the European Union. He was also an opponent of the growing bureaucratization of politics, of the managerial tendencies shown in the various unaccountable organizations, whether national or transnational and of the subsequent destruction of genuine liberalism and individual liberty.

His last book (apparently he was working on another one but that, alas, we shall never see) was The Servile Mind, which was subtitled How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. Here is the publisher's summary:
One of the grim comedies of the twentieth century was the fate of miserable victims of communist regimes who climbed walls, swam rivers, dodged bullets, and found other desperate ways to achieve liberty in the West at the same time as intellectuals in the West sentimentally proclaimed that these very regimes were the wave of the future. A similar tragicomedy is being played out in our century: as the victims of despotism and backwardness from third world nations pour into Western states, the same ivory tower intellectuals assert that Western life is a nightmare of inequality and oppression.

In The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue explores the intelligentsia’s love affair with social perfection and reveals how that idealistic dream is destroying exactly what has made the inventive Western world irresistible to the peoples of foreign lands. The Servile Mind looks at how Western morality has evolved into mere “politico-moral” posturing about admired ethical causes—from solving world poverty and creating peace to curing climate change. Today, merely making the correct noises and parading one’s essential decency by having the correct opinions has become a substitute for individual moral actions.

Instead, Minogue posits, we ask that our government carry the burden of solving our social—and especially moral—problems for us. The sad and frightening irony is that as we allow the state to determine our moral order and inner convictions, the more we need to be told how to behave and what to think.
One cannot help admiring the courage of any modern writer on political philosophy who casts doubts on the concept of democracy - the holy of holies - in the name of moral and liberal ideas.

There really is no need for me to go through Ken Minogue's many academic achievements as the obituaries have done that but before I move on to my own personal views and memories, I'd like to quote Roger Kimball, another of Ken's close friends and publisher of The Servile Mind.
Ken was one of the merriest, most gentle, and most philosophically acute people I have ever known. He was also one of the most hospitable. He and his late wife, Beverly Cohen, presided over countless dinner parties at their London house, where the wine and comestibles were as delightful as the conversation was wide-ranging and tonic. (I should also record that Beverly made the best steak and kidney pie I have ever had.)

Ken’s jovial temperament — it was rare indeed to find him without a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes — was disarming. A student of the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, and for many years a beneficent presence at the London School of Economics, Ken was deeply respected by a profession he regarded with, shall we say, a certain ironical distance. Nevertheless, despite the high regard he commanded, it was my impression that many people tended to underestimate Ken. His coruscating intelligence was too obvious to overlook, so people took refuge in the idea that his character lacked steel. Ken was clearly a conservative, but could anyone possessing his calm demeanor and emollient personality really be counted a staunch conservative? If a body wasn’t that, how could he be a reliable ally?

Such people were wrong about Ken. He was the staunchest of allies, it’s just that he didn’t like bruiting it about. Ken’s was a deeply interrogative temperament. The world, and the people in it, puzzled him. I remember the occasion, fairly early in our friendship, when we were lunching at the Garrick Club in London. We somehow got round to the subject of utilitarianism, whose basic axiom is that the test of value is whether a given policy affords the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. If that were true, Ken mused, then imagine someone invented a machine that could eliminate highway fatalities, those tens of thousands of deaths per annum, only it needed to be fed 6 people at random to work. Most of us would recoil from such a solution, but why? We spent a tonic hour over the wine and the ice cream with crystallized ginger (a Minogue favorite) teasing out the answer.
First of all, let me put it on record that Beverley Minogue who, sadly, died three years ago not only made the best steak and kidney pie but was the only person in my experience who made the most marvellous steak and kidney pudding.

Secondly, nobody who knew the Minogues could forget their joint warmth and hospitality; nor could anyone remember with anything but a smile the sight of Ken in some public forum and the sudden grin that would split his face as he greeted his many friends or just made some comment that seemed nothing but jolly until one analyzed it at leisure.

Although Ken Minogue wrote for the fabled Encounter magazine at the time my father did as well, my own friendship with him is much more recent. Ken was one of the founders of the Bruges Group, chaired it for some years and retained a close interest in its doings. It was through that and other eurosceptic organizations that I knew him and through other friends became friends with him and Beverley. There are few things in my life I am more pleased and proud of than this friendship and few things I shall recall with greater pleasure than the various lunches, dinners, outings to the theatre (once to see the wonderful production of Guys and Dolls with Adam Cooper as Sky Masterson) and the cinema, and the many talks about subjects that ranged from musicals and Hollywood films to serious political ideas.

I was not surprised to hear that he delivered the best paper at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting at the Galapagos. All Ken's papers were highly lucid, informative and entertaining. Some years ago I ran a programme of informal talks in the Red Lion Pub in Parliament Street, called, unsurprisingly, the Red Lion Talks. Many of them of high quality but the one that packed out the room and the stairs outside with people hanging on to the banisters was, inevitably, Ken Minogue's in which he dissected the whole concept of European state building.

We shall all miss Ken Minogue as a person and as a thinker and writer. It is sad to know that there will be no more books, articles, talks, witty discussions or comments. But it is good to know that his achievement will live with us and it is good to know that his last few days and hours were happy and successful, spent among friends and colleagues. RIP Ken.

Today in the House of Commons

Fridays are when Private Members' Bills get their Second Reading and today we see three of them on parade. The first is the one that is causing all the excitement, James Wharton's European Union (Referendum Bill). The way the media is going on about it, one would think that today's debate will pass the Bill into legislation; the way some eurosceptics are going on about it, one would think that not only will today's debate pass the legislation but it will actually get us out of the European Union by some magical procedure.

Today's debate will do neither; it will merely push matters on to the next stage, which is Committee and then Report and Third Reading in the House of Commons, after which the Bill will go to the House of Lords. It does have a very fair wind from the government, which is always helpful to a Private Member's Bill and David Cameron together with his side-kick, William Hague, appear to be benefiting from the implication that, somehow, this is all their idea. In a way it is. As this blog has pointed out before, the sequence of events was interesting: Mr Cameron makes a speech, which promises a referendum in 2016 or 2017, assuming there is a Conservative-led government in place; there is a mild rebellion of Conservative MPs who want legislation for a referendum; in a ballot for Private Members' Bills one of the rebels comes top and promptly introduces a Bill that reflects faithfully what the Prime Minister said. Some people think this is a defeat for the Boy-King. Not so but far from it - this is yet another victory for him over his party and its not very bright members.

There is, as it happens, another Bill going through that has its Second Reading this morning and that is Christopher Chope's EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits). There have been several attempts to pass a Bill of this kind, notably by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and some of them went some way. Sadly, none of the Bills ever became law and, I suspect, Mr Chope's will not either. Under no circumstances will HMG allow an audit of costs and benefits of our membership of the European project to be carried out, except on its own, rather dubious, terms.

UPDATE: Second Reading is agreed to by 304 to 0. It would appear that opponents of the Bill stayed away or abstained. There is much rejoicing in some eurosceptic circles, particularly among the ones I would call faux-eurosceptic, the organizations that are concentrating on the referendum at the expense of discussions that matter: how do we get out and what do we do after that. They (and we all know who they are, though every time I turn round there is at least one more) can rest easy - those funds are not about to dry up.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Curious developments in Hungary

Rumours of this reached me a couple of weeks ago and the story is being confirmed through a secretly made tape as well as denied officially while investigated by the public prosecutor. So, provisionally, we might say it is true.

Like most European countries, Hungary has been trying to control smoking in public and has now moved towards controlling the sale of tobacco products, allegedly, in order to wean young people away from smoking.

Unfortunately, as this story makes clear, there are problems in the system. There are now far fewer outlets and all those who had sold tobacco in the past had to apply for licence. Astonishingly, licences were awarded to people close to the ruling Fidesz party, often, as in the case of the town described in this article Szekszárd, people directly related to those in power.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Now we are 28

I do not believe in either personal or national predestination and I think Sir Karl Popper said everything that needed to be said about historicism but there are times when I look at the European Union and think that the whole nasty mess will just have to play itself out to the end. Of course, after that it will leave an even nastier mess.

Yesterday (when I started writing this blog) saw another, smallish enlargement: Croatia became the 28th member of the EU and opinion in the country seems rather split. The BBC is trying to concentrate on the rejoicing but other notes sound as well.
But correspondents say enthusiasm for the EU in the country has been dampened by the eurozone crisis, and Croatia's own economic problems.
President Josipovic may have been excited and full of joy:
President Josipovic said it was "a great and joyful day for our homeland".

"This the day when we open a new chapter in the thick book of our history," he added.

Earlier he told a meeting of EU and regional leaders: "The accession of Croatia to the European Union is confirmation that each one of us belongs to the European democratic and cultural set of values."

Croatian officials then unveiled EU signs and removed customs posts at the borders with Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav republic to have joined the bloc, and with Hungary.
Others are a little less happy:
But with one in five unemployed and Croatia's national debt officially classed as junk, some Croatians feel joining an economic bloc with its own serious troubles will do little to improve their prospects.
The Wall Street Journal, which, for reasons unknown refers to the European Union as "Europe's club of democracies" also thinks that the enthusiasm is a little damper than it ought to be:
Still, the public mood here is far from celebratory. The country of 4.4 million is in the throes of a painful recession. Unemployment is more than 20%. And EU membership, once seen as a glittering prize, is now viewed with mounting skepticism. "We don't know what to expect from joining," said Dragutin Bobic, a 54-year-old farmer. "We'd be better off on our own."

Croatia's annual economic output per capita is 61% of the EU average. Its government budget deficit exceeds EU limits, and public debt has been rising. The rate of youth unemployment is among the highest in Europe.
Others are worried about an invasion of other East European workers though why that should happen in the circumstances is a mystery. The BBC reminded us that the Croatians voted by a large majority in favour of joining this sinking ship and so they did: by 66.27 per cent. Unfortunately, the turn-out was 43.51 per cent but that is the sort of thing we rarely find out from the media. Mind you, that is still better than the first election for the Toy Parliament, which saw a turn-out of 21 per cent.

Astonishingly enough, Hot Air put up a posting about something that cannot be that important to most Americans and gave all the pros and cons as well.

And on to the next one. Negotiations with Serbia will begin next year. This will not end until there is a complete and total collapse, I am telling you.