Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Too Cool For School
It's the silly season in the run up to Christmas and somewhat the silly season in the EU as well. First we had the brouhaha of the Lisbon Treaty, followed by the selection of Barroso Commission 2 and of course a ship load of delegates blowing more hot air into the Earth's atmosphere have been ferried over to Copenhagen. Just as crowds are beginning to gather on High Streets and in Malls to spend obscene amounts money on nonsense, it seems to me Europe are planning on doing much the same. France and Germany have already scrawled their letters to Santa, and if Sarkozy is to be believed, have already peeked at the biggest parcel under the tree. As per usual, Britain's name was on the naughty list and should expect to find no more than a shrivelled Satsuma and a lump of once-mined-in-Britain coal at the bottom of the stocking.
The legislative machine has not shown any sign of slowing down for Christmas yet. A barrage of new Commissioners, Presidents, Foreign Secretaries and crazed Lobbyists all want to throw in their two bit before the dawn of 2010.
To kick off the silliness we had yet another pop star, who by virtue of the fact he wrote pretty good music, now thinks he's privileged and informed enough to tell Europeans what they must eat and when. It was bad enough when Geldof was shaking his tin and muttering profanities on air, then Bozo, I mean Bono, preached to us from behind ever present sunglasses, now Quorn McCartney is demanding we give up meat on Mondays because cows fart. At the end of the day, you simply cannot tell people to become vegetarians, even for just one day a week. The average British man wouldn't have a clue what to eat instead and the EU would soon run out of perfectly orange and tapered carrots, or end up staging a debate on the vegetable's sentience. "All You Need is Love" may sell pop songs but fails to be the most workable of political slogans. I strongly support giving people the right to disseminating an opinion, but there are plenty of rational, intelligent and worthy consituents who deserve to have their voices heard as much as a man who could well afford to buy everyone in Europe an organic seasonal vegetable box and still come out the other side in better condition than a British bank. I was delighted then that UKIP hosted a real meat lover's barbecue in Brussels to remind everyone that there's no harm or shame in being an omnivore and farmers right now desperately need support, not hostility.
At the same time we are now being bullied by the EU itself to give prisoners the vote. A ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2004 found that Britain’s blanket ban on inmates getting the vote breached democratic provisions laid down in the convention. The British Government has now spent four years pondering what changes to make, annoying Europe by dithering. In order to satisfy the European Court, voting rights could be granted in accordance with sentence length , meaning some prisoners may well be voting in the next general election. I was surprised to learn that only six other EU countries, mainly eastern European ones, block prisoners from voting. The rest either allow prisoners full voting rights or levy certain restrictions on certain prisoners. America, of course, go their own way on such matters, and unsurprisingly ban inmates from voting in most states and even ban former inmates in a few. Should prisoners be allowed a vote? The point is surely that this is an issue one would hope Britain should decide on herself and not something Brussels should dictate. Like much of the Human Rights Act, it sounds like something positive but brings with it a flurry of exemptions, loopholes and windows of opportunity that are exploited by crooks at the expense of hardworking, law abiding citizens. How significant would a decision on prisoner's votes be to politics? Well in actual terms it wouldn't dramatically improve voter turn out or amass enough votes to favour one party or another. In truth, the number of votes accounted for in such legislation would be but a drop in the electoral ocean. So if it doesn't actually affect anything, it is a matter of belief, something Brussels should not be messing with. It is of my opinion when you commit a crime you are making a choice to live outside society when you choose not to abide by the laws that govern and protect its citizens. It's a knotty issue philosophically and ethically. It is a "marmite" policy, and for this reason, should not be dictated from above.
So who are these people saying what we should do and how? We have had the pleasure of learning the Who's Who of Barroso's new Commission in recent days and will, over the coming weeks, hear each of them defend and justify their unelected positions of importance. The various portfolios for the coming season have been divvied up among the Member States, resulting, amongst other things, with Romania getting the farming portfolio, which has raised a few eyebrows, and France getting Finance, which has raised hell in London. Little Napoleon Sarko bragged with glee about how the British are the big losers on the job front and showed little restraint in his proclamation that now Europe could wipe out the "Anglo-Saxon" style of banking. Franco-British relations have been somewhat strained ever since. We should have seen it coming a long time ago, but we were distracted by his radiant wife Carla for a while. He has been doing everything in his power to raise his profile and spend EU money like it grows on Carbon Neutral Trees.
In Europe, France, Germany and Britain are arguably the biggest players. And like the most popular kids in the school playground, the picking of sides, teaming up, tugging of hair and bloodying of noses tends to involve them. Britain, who has always been a bit too cool for school when it comes to Europe, preferring to hang out with the bigger kids like America, is starting to see the other bullies club together for playground domination and is falling out of favour with the USA. First we saw a Franco-German deal over the EU Presidency. The two countries stood steadfastly together with Merkel and Sarkozy making deals and private promises. The two countries brokered an agreement they thought would best suit them, which de facto had to come at Britain's expense. Sarkozy's initial zeal for Blair was tied up in Britain's special relationship with the USA. So delighted he must be that the new President is far more open to pan-European relations and a federal Europe than he is for maintaining the cross Atlantic relationship with Westminster. The French President's obsession with the American Leader is all to apparent in french coverage of an alleged "snub" at the G20 meeting.
The other big European players are now taking the opportunity during the UK/USA cooling off period, to extend a warm welcome to the new President feeling they no longer have to pal up with the UK to do so. It is interesting then that this very dynamic is something that Niles Gardiner, in The Telegraph, has observed.
But now the situation gets stickier. Not only do we have The Most Powerful Man in the World backing the Lisbon Treaty and the concept of a Federal European Superstate, in the most recent round of job appointments, the French have got their hands, or so they think, all over The City. Michel Barnier, a longstanding politician in France who exceled in Sarkozy's Government, has been handed the portfolio of Commissioner for the Internal Market. The portfolio combines the protection of the Eurozone and Single Market with duties of financial regulation. The appointment has left Sarkozy licking his lips, suggesting the French want to curb "Anglo-Saxon attitudes" that have governed The City to date. Whilst we have every reason to be livid at the bankers who caused the credit crunch through excessive risk taking and greed, they are the devil you do not want to live without. However many of the big players are now flocking in droves to Switzerland, not a member state of the EU, where life is less taxed and the game has fewer rules. But the problem is, when the bankers leave they take with them all their money, and the power that comes with it. Where once we stood side by side with Wall Street, European intervention could see Britain stripped of a real trophy of power, and thus be stripped of that widely coveted presence on the global stage. Make no mistake that any power shed by the UK will fall directly into the outstretched arms of our continental counterparts. Poor Michel Barnier during his first few days on the job has been running around trying to tell everyone to stop getting their knickers in a twist. Commissioners are supposed to be pan-European ideologists anyway, and are not supposed to reflect National preferences. But it seems Paris indeed has an agenda and London is supsicious. The regulation of hedge funds is high up on the list as well as regulation of the banks themselves. A meeting arranged between Sarko, Barnier and Brown was reportedly cancelled after Sarkozy's comments were made known, although this being the reason for the cancellation has been widely denied. Add to that the lack of invitation for Britain to an EU agricultural meeting arranged by Sarkozy to look into the future of CAP- Common Agricultural Policy - and you can see a pattern emerging. 21 member states met up with the French President to discuss Common Agricultural Policy and how the £50 billion of EU money set aside for farmers should be distributed. France, who have a 20% stake in CAP payments totalling £10bn a year, did not want countries who favour scaling down CAP spending, attending the meeting. Agricultural net contributors Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Malta and Britain were all refused an invitation, galling when you consider that we handed back our £7bn rebate in order to coerce the EU into delivering a more even handed agricultural policy.
The EU are far from being Pan European. Instead pockets of alliances, mistrust and secret deals are becoming increasingly present on the European stage. And sadly for Britain, the picture is more akin to the voting trends of the Eurovision song contest than post war appreciation of Churchill's valiant country. It seems to me when it comes to dolling out portfolios and responsibilities, most member states would like to see Britain to get "nil point". I am not suggesting there is an anti-British trend, but that simply by participating in this Orwellian Animal Farm set up, we are denying ourselves from ever being cock of the walk again.
When you look at those historic photographs from Yalta, it is America, Britain and Russia who are left to contemplate the post war future of Europe. The lifetime of a generation has seen a proud and strong Britain slip down the global ranking and emerge as a Satellite of Brussels. It has also seen inter continental relations reshape into forms which during the post war period would have been unimaginable. The 11th November is of course Armistice Day across Europe. Well perhaps not for too much longer. France and Germany are now talking of making this most important date in European History a "France Germany Friendship day". The fact that it was Britain who bailed out France and convinced America to lend a hand to her European Allies has somehow been forgotten, just as Barnier and Sarkozy will forget how it was the British people who bailed out the banks they now want to control.
The point is, we don't care what the other kids in the playground are doing. Who they're friends with. Who they are fighting with. Britain would rather not be in that playground at all. When i comes to the European Union, we need to be too cool for school.