Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Fishy Goings On

You would have had to have had your head in the sand to not know how unpopular EU Common Fisheries Policy has been over the years. Well tomorrow in Brussels I will be tackling the Commission on the latest potential amendment to policy, which drags the every day hobby fisherman into the battle of the quotas. I'm backing Nigel's appeal to Commissioner Damanaki for sensitivity to Britain in the reworking of Article 47 Common Fisheries Policy which seeks to include recreational sea angling in the regulation and control of sea fishing.

I thought the whole point of quotas was to prevent diminishing stocks? European fisheries policy has been so unsuccessful in achieving sustainability, that 91% of fisheries are on course to be classified as "overfished" by 2015.

But the problem is how waters are being fished, not by whom. Indiscriminate trawling or long line fishing dredge our seas of marine life. But throwing dead fish that have already been caught and are good for the table back into the sea is surely the opposite of sustainability?

What is sustainable fishing however is recreational sea angling, enjoyed by around a million people in the UK and supporting as business thought to be worth around 2bn euros alone in tackle trade across the continent. Some 19000 people are employed in some 1300 businesses in England and Wales a result of the recreational angling industry [DEFRA Figs]

Recreational sea anglers catch and remove from the sea only what they intend to eat, leaving small young fish to develop and breed and throwing back what they do not strictly need. In some cases, they tag the fish first, contributing to conservation programmes. If the European Commission gets its way, they will be forced to land everything they catch, and count their quota against the national one. Recreational Sea Angling supports ecologically sound self sufficiency that, if practiced by more people, would lessen the demand that currently fuels the indiscriminate commercial fishing putting whole species of marine life under threat.

Common Fisheries Policy has always been prejudiced against the British fleet who are permitted to currently fish only 7% of the Channel cod quota and are permitted to fish only one fifth of the quota in our own territorial waters. Perhaps the Commissioner will see fit to favour the needs of harmless recreational fishermen in the UK in the same way as her predecessor showed open sensitivity to the needs of his own country’s fishermen when he opposed the ban on the sale of bluefin tuna, an industry that earns €100 million a year for his country Malta.

It pains me so much to go into the supermarket and see nothing for sale but foreign fish or farmed fish. It is staggering when you think that we live on an island, yet our fish is flown in from the other side of the world.

And now a past time that entertains some one million Brits is under threat for the sake of regulating everything. It is typical of the EU to regard unregulation as synonymous with "illegal".

But the EU's passion to destroy the fishing industry doesn't just stop with the 27 member states. The EU has been over fishing in West Africa, as part of its "Economic Partnership Agreements" for years. EU fishing vessels have sucked the oceans dry, leaving no big fish for the local fishermen to sell. The result is poverty and desperation, further fueling political instability in these countries and leaving illegal trades such as piracy the only option for out of work fishermen.

The fishing industry has dramatically suffered across the world. Above are pictures of the Chinese Fishing Nets in the Southern Indian State of Kerala, which despite being a huge tourist attraction, are failing to bring in the necessary stocks as the coastlines of the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean still suffer the incredible damage caused by the 2006 Boxing Day Tsunami.

But what we are about to face in Europe is no man made disaster. It is the single handed destruction of an entire industry by erroneous EU policy.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The mismanagement of money is in and out of the press like most hardworking people's money is in and out of their bank accounts. If it's not MPs expenses it's Council cuts, bankers' bonuses or the BBC.

The South Wales Echo reported today that BBC Wales has commissioned a bronze statue of late Welsh Rugby star Ray Gravell to stand in Broadcasting House in Llandaff. The article states that "BBC Wales has commissioned sculptor John Meirion Morris to create a commemorative sculpture of the late broadcaster, who died suddenly while on holiday with his family.He is to create a portrait sculpture as a permanent tribute to the Grav, from Mynydd-y-Garreg, near Kidwelly, portraying his later role as a broadcaster."

Now I think it's wonderful when we commemorate the great and good of our country, and the BBC certainly has a part to play in this. But their domain is broadcasting, not commissioning artwork for their foyer. But the real sting comes for those staff from News and Current Affairs who are either having to take voluntary redundancy or lose their jobs as BBC Wales downsizes two of its most valued departments. At a time when highly skilled, multi-experienced editors and producers who deal into delivering the news into our living rooms are being forced out of work due to a lack of money, BBC Cymru Wales Director Menna Richards sees fit to be buying busts as they go bust.

If you were to ask people across Wales, many of whom will never set foot inside BBC Wales foyer, whether they would prefer quality in the delivery of Welsh news and current affairs or a scultpure of a Rugby hero, I think you know what they would say. And whilst the BBC are cutting back on staff in departments that provide the people with Wales with information about what is actually happening in Wales, funding for programmes that get little audience share and the many expensive Welsh language shows that probably require more production staff than the audiences they attract do not seem to be under threat.

And moving on from the Beeb, the Independent today is telling us that our vital services are likely to take a hammering as local councils face a jobs cull in order to claw back millions in debt.

Again I have to raise the point that were we not paying so much into the European Union and helping countries like Spain build better roads, we may be able to afford to patch up the potholes that are blighting our highway after the recent bad weather. But the most frightening aspect of these cuts is where they will be made.

We're not talking roads. We're not talking translation services or gimmicky marketing departments or stripping down Quangos of their waste. We are talking about the minority services set up to protect and help the most vulnerable in society.

Taxation has it's origins in tithes, a ten per cent donation set up by the Chruch in the middle ages. The ten per cent was not so much of money but of crops or equipment - whatever it is that a particular village or town may need to store for hard times. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, such taxation was transfered to the crown. We would like to hope that when we pay thousands to the local councils, our money is not being used to pay the inflated salaries of execs who stumbled across their new-fangled, importantly titled quangoid job in The Guardian but affording teachers or careworkers or public services. But just like the EU, non-jobs are protected whilst service delivery is slashed, and we are all told what to do and when or face substantial fines when we put the green bin out on a wheelie bin day. It's enough to make your blood boil.

Welsh local government leaders are predicting between 2,000 and 4,000 job losses, including 400 in Powys and 300 in Cardiff. So if you live in rural Powys, don't expect your street lights to be glowing proudly anytime soon, and watch out for running into gaping craters in the roads as you drive around in the pitch black. And as for you Cardiffians, at least the Council want to cheer us up after all this terrible weather by planning to build a snowdome at the Bay. Perhaps local government officals all intend to line up inside and stick their heads in the ground when the really bad weather sets in...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A Greek Tragedy?

Well we don't know yet, we'll have to wait and see, but it has been at least a tragi-comedy.

It is such if we don't have to bail them out, but if we do, public mood over here deserves to change with regards to the EU.
We can smile, or perhaps breathe a sigh of relief, as we have always staunchly rejected inclusion in the Eurozone, whereas it is in France and Germany's interests to not watch Greece go under. But apparently the Council, under Van Rompuy, has come to an agreement, although the details wont be revealed until probably Monday when the Heads of State sit down for a summit regarding economic and fiscal strategy in Europe.
So who is to blame? Well, everyone of course says Greece, who apparently covered up the true extent of their deficit in order to become a member of the Union. But look what has happened, one falls and risks dragging the rest down. At least if Greece were going solo, the problem would be contained in one country.
But what happens here will set a precedent for future behaviour. A bail-out is by all accounts "illegal" under European Law - Open Europe cover this really well. At first there was hesitation from other member states at rushing to Greece's aid, and help has only been forthcoming from those states-France and Germany- who would suffer the fall-out of a Greek fall-apart. So much for strength through solidarity. It goes to show that this Union to which we belong is more of a dead weight than an enriching co-operative, and is certainly no elixir for a good economy.

Throughout the recession Federalists would have had you believe that the only reason so many European countries haven't folded under the weight of all those red letters is because of the global bargaining power and economic strength the Union delivers. This week we've heard how Obama thinks the EU is all hot-air, and wouldn't attend the latest summit. Then the Greek affair has turned that on it's head and goes to show that, if anything, doubt has been cast over the value of the EU globally and speculation and caution have been tempered towards the other Eurozone countries because the single currency has no single treasury, no stringent development plan and no recognisable fiscal policy. We have also seen that, get it wrong, lose it all and fall to your knees and the European Union will only kick you while your down and take the opportunity to march in and turn you into an economic protectorate!

I wonder how we'd be doing right now had we not joined the European Union at all. Those countries that are flourishing and are set to grow over the coming era are historically more likely to call upon Britain than Europe, as a whole. Our Commonwealth ties should serve us very well as we progress into a new era of socio-economic development. India has one of the world's fastest growing economies and already trades with us separately from the EU. Oil fields have been found offf the coast of Ghana (not to mention the Falklands of course) - and already the Chinese,who have always shown great trading interest with Africa, are offering to provide the technoloy to drill it. Why we follow around France and Germany and fund the development of their lesser continental friends rather than standing on our own two feet and using all the trade relations and opportunities centuries of history enshrine, we'd rather sit back and lose out all for the sake of creating a better Europe.
We may not have been the most fair or ethical country in terms of our practices in trade and foreign affairs. We have a lot of apologising to do. But the UK was mighty due to attitude, industry and innovation and can be once again. As for Greece, perhaps they kept in mind the concept expressed by their very own Socrates in Plato's Republic and sought a Philosopher to take control in times of crisis...Haiku-writing van Rompuy certainly channels Karl Marx.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Who are they to talk about voting rights?

The week is off to a flying start with the latest EU news being that prisoners must be given the right to vote or our spring election is "illegal". The UK is one of the only countries in the EU that denies prisoners the right to vote - a fact that may surprise many Brits.

Jack Straw is said to be considering allowing anyone sentenced to less than four years the right to cast a ballot. This would give the vote to 28,000 prisoners. I'm sure the Tories will make some comment about Labour desperately trawling the depths for extra votes...

Actually the latest activity is 5 years overdue, according to the European Court of Human Rights who ruled that the ban on prisoners voting was unlawful in 2005.

The ruling was a result of former prisoner John Hirst, who was jailed for manslaughter after killing his landlady with an axe, challenged the ban in Europe.

I have pasted below an excerpt from an article published in the Guardian by John "Ben" Dunn, the current secretary for the Association of Prisoners. His predecessor was Hirst.

Talking about the EU, he says "we signed an international treaty that was intended to give European citizens fundamental rights with which no government could interfere. For the first time, British people had a basis on which they could stand and say no to the government.

And much to our surprise, dozens of legal challenges based on these new rights revealed that our comfortable view of how free and liberal our society was to be a soporific myth. Britain has one of the worst records before the European court of human rights. And that disturbs us, for we are not used to having our liberality questioned. Instead of using these realities to wonder about the nature of our political system and the power of government we prefer to complain about trivia – foreign judges, for instance. Rather than embracing our new rights we handle them as if they are an unexploded grenade."

Surrounding the debate on prisoners and voting is this term "Human Rights". It carries grave overtones of mitigating tyranny and circumventing genocide and has it's own international court. Surely if they say we are wrong, we are, aren't we?

The European Court of Human Rights is a thorn in the side of many.The fact that so-called rights, a term banded around far too much that it has become lost entirely in its interpretation, can be doled out or determined by some higher European body is in itself ludicrous.

The argument that we all have rights is regressive ad nauseum. Philosophers for centuries have debated the concept of "Free Will" and Existentialism and if they couldn't define what exactly consitutes rights, why can a court in Europe?

The side that holds the view that by choosing to live outside the law you forfeit your societal rights have taken a beating. Apparently they completely misinterpret the whole point of human rights. If somebody from the Human Rights camp wants to step forward and list what they constitute I'm sure we'd listen, but we might reply "who gave YOU the right to decide?"

Anyway, the irony is that this is coming out of Europe again. That very political body that we were not given a Referendum on...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Hours are Ours

Our right to choose how many hours a week we work is under threat from the European Union again. Debate over the 48 hour week has been going on for more than a decade. In Britain we have retained an opt-out which allows individuals to choose if they wish to work longer hours. However, the prospective EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Laszlo Andor, recently told MEPs that there was a "compelling case to revisit" the Working Time Directive.
The result of losing the opt-out would be disastrous for medical staff, small businesses, emergency services, and the hospitality and tourism industry. Ambulance services and hospitals in Wales are already under a great deal of pressure and the EU’s ever-changing legislation on rest breaks and on-call time has proven a disaster for patient care. Likewise more than three quarters of our firemen are retained. Losing the opt-out clause would dramatically reduce their capacity to deliver round the clock emergency cover.
Finally the Welsh economy is greatly strengthened by small businesses and tourism. Both would struggle to cope if staff were told they could only work 48 hours per week.
This legislation would also affect some 3 million people in Britain who choose to work more per week. Perhaps they are self-employed or perhaps they rely upon the extra money at the end of the month. Either way, capping the working week would affect anybody who currently benefits from voluntary overtime. Whilst it’s essential that no-one is obliged to work long hours, being told how much we can work by Brussels is an affront to the liberty of our hard working nation.
I am meeting figures from the BMA, CBI Wales, the Fire Brigade Union and British Hospitality Association over the coming weeks, the majority of my appointments being tomorrow ahead of Strasbourg next week where I hope to appeal to British MEPs before the Commissioner Nominees are voted in. After fact finding I hope to present to Parliament the arguments that will dissuade MEPs voting in a Commissioner who refuses to pledge protection to our opt-out. On Tuesday when we sit in the hemicycle to vote, anyone pressing for Andor will have guilt on their hands when you can no longer work over time. It's about time we repatriated such powers entirely back into our own hands and not let faceless individuals in country's hundreds of miles away tell the likes of you and I when we can and cannot work, and worse still, tell our emergency services when they can or cannot respond to a call!
I will be posting on this regularly. Please join in the debate!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Finger on the Trigger

News that the Welsh assembly vote next week could enable AMs to "trigger" the process for a referendum on further powers should come as no surprise.
But reports that the Assembly would not necessarily get the 40 votes it needs are somewhat surprising. Talk that both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats say they could abstain could be more of a threatening searchlight trying to seek dissidents in the shadows. The result was a flurry of claims and counter-claims revolving around the potential date of a referendum and whether it would be concurrent with the next Assembly Elections.

We should expect next week's trigger vote to be passed, especially as UKIP are the only party uniformly opposing further law making powers, and even then would not reject a referendum on the grounds that it is a democratic tool.

However the process of reaching that Referendum is a knotty and many-tiered beast. The draft order for a referendum would have to be voted on by both houses of Parliament, with a change in power imminent yet not entirely predictable.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems say they wont back the trigger vote unless they get an assurance that the referendum will not happen on or around the assembly election day in May 2011, and do not want to fight two campaigns at once. But Labour and Plaid are not prepared to rule any dates in or out, and senior sources are adamant that no date has yet been chosen.

Although an Autumn Referendum might be favoured by most, coordinating such an event after the flurry of a General Election and a new Government hoping to put their stamp on policy would be a hard task.