Sep 2010 01

To most people, Four Seasons is a type of pizza topping. To the EU, it’s the name of a “creative activity book for children.”

20 pages long, the booklet endorses organic farming. Children learn that organic farms are where special eggs come from that are “mixed into yummy cakes and cookies”, and where happy hens peck away.

Activities contained inside include cartoony guides for making a cress-head eggshell character; growing your own potted basil; and playing “garden  detective” by identifying a plant by touch and smell alone. Alternatively, you can make your own apple candleholder (“always ask an adult to light the candle for you”), or invite friends over to play the autumn memory game. Those wishing to create “an organic food restaurant for birds” know where to turn, as do people wishing to make a “freezing cold sun catcher”; basically a block of ice you hang from a tree.

Best of all are the pages headed “Showtime! Starring Corn Puppets”. As you can see from the picture below, this looks startlingly like the greetings card series involving anthropomorphic legumes making biting vegetable puns such as “Bertie could only just resist spilling the beans”. Perhaps you could suggest a better caption;

Sally was amaized at public opposition to GM crops

Organic farming is generally a positive thing. It’s vastly better than battery farming in terms of animal welfare. But that’s not the issue. EU publicity is rarely as straightforward as it first seems.

Dig into it and this is more than a booklet about organics (some of the activities have no farming connection in them at all). This is, as the introduction  gently indicates, at its most basic a publication justifying “special rules”, which are of course sourced from the EU (as the EU flag on the front cover reminds us), and where children are the selected target audience.

EU funding in support of one method of farming is of itself open to challenge. But as a child-targeting booklet endorsing EU regulations paid for by the  taxpayer, it deserves no place on the distribution list of the Commission.

Aug 2010 17

Over the past couple of weeks, journalists and commentators have been beginning to look with real worry at proposals over a new EU-level tax. It’s worth stressing the indefinite article, as the complex system of how countries ‘contribute’ to the EU budget already includes a quasi-contributory element through the VAT system.

But the mooted schemes that have been suggested would apply in parallel across all the countries, and for the first time be a very visible and very direct way of funding the EU.

Dispassionately viewed, there is something to be said for providing a mechanism so that people realise where their tax money is going. The problem in this case is firstly, that it’s likely to once again disproportionately cost the UK more (especially if financial services pay); secondly, that there is no sense of ownership of EU revenue and a duty to good management that follows, as witnessed by the repeated reticence of the Court of Auditors to fully sign off accounts year after year; and thirdly, because such a proposal encourages ever more taxes (and duplicate ones at that) to be levied in the future. All in all, it’s a very bad deal.

So it’s right that journalists should criticise the proposal. But the danger is that we are prepping ourselves for a fall. When the EU’s revenues are being reviewed in a few months time, a common taxation system will only be one area for discussion. By setting it up as a bugbear, we risk as it were letting the goblins in instead. Our eyes are too focused on the totem threat.

The same is true with the British Rebate. The CAP countries are already targeting it as part of their negotiating tactics. If the media in the coming months are distracted into printing headlines of it being under danger, it is to the advantage of those who are stifling reform and pushing for more money being spent on grand scheme projects (and typically not in the UK).

Realistically, it is unlikely that a common taxation system or a reduction in the Rebate will happen. These would most probably be vetoed by this British Government. What we are witnessing is an attempt – and historically a successful one – by certain foreign governments on the one hand, and supporters of ever-closer union on the other, to rub away at the red lines so that the British taxpayer is spared disaster in return for Whitehall acceding to a lesser defeat.

We have been here before, time and time again, thanks to diplomats repeatedly failing the national interest and ministers signing up for short term cover. It’s time to be aggressive and radical. British taxpayers pay too much to the EU, and deserve their money back. The cellophane is coming off the old salami slicing machine in Brussels; even if the FCO is wobbly, the Treasury needs to pull the plug on it right now.

Aug 2010 11

Spot the mistake in the latest press release from the EU's new External Action Service;

"The European Union has a long and close relationship with the Solomon Islands."

A note to Baroness Ashton's press office: reread the Maastricht Treaty (date: 1992) defining the "EU"; review when the Solomon Islands joined the Lome Convention (clue: it was after 1975); reflect on which country intervenes military locally if democracy hits a rocky patch (it's Australia); and reappraise which individual countries have real historic ties to the area (hint: its former name is the British Solomon Islands, and it's in the Commonwealth).

We've written in the past about EU aspirations to supplant the FCO, and its ambitions to rewrite history in its own favour. These 13 words from the EEAS are just another sign of a lot of trouble ahead.

Aug 2010 10

Today’s Sun newspaper carries one of those fascinating snippet stories that you just know will get the rebuttal teams fired up in Brussels. It’s about Viagra being available for MEPs.

If not already drafted by now, I can already picture the counter argument coming out that this is not a grant that’s available, but part funded by the health insurance package that people pay into.

Fair enough. Detail is everything. I can particularly understand how some of the staff over in Brussels need to have health insurance, especially if they are on the lowest pay grades – not everyone is on the megabucks, believe it or not – and they are working abroad without local health cover. So there’s no bones with a fairly paid-for contributory health scheme (if you’ll excuse the pun).

The problem is that details about schemes like this are kept so suspiciously well-hidden when it comes to the higher end of the pay scale. Just how much is the taxpayer’s matched share of the health insurance bill today when it comes to a European Commissioner, or an MEP, or a senior fonctionnaire, 80 per cent of which certainly used to be covered by the arrangement? Does it run at the market rate? How do the other medical offices based in the EU’s buildings fit into this equation? How much of it is back-funded and hence an ongoing liability to future staff funding, to be further passed on to the general public? Why is it that every time a part of the programme has been rootled out yet more remains submerged – we explored glass eyes back here and gold teeth here but could see no mention of Viagra in any of the documents then accessible?

Until we get the transparency to answer these questions, it’s fair enough to challenge the medical terms on offer. After all, they include;

  • Residence and care in a psychiatric home
  • Pharmaceutical products used for the treatment of nicotine dependency
  • Hair loss treatments
  • Penile implants
  • Breast reduction surgery

Two lists of the main pharmaceutical products that are and are not reimbursable are updated regularly and notified to members. Releasing those lists might restore public confidence, rather than relying on us to read that the Scheme will not reimburse "spectacles with non-corrective lenses" or "Mountain search and rescue, air-sea rescue, etc", but will pay for "Removal of a magnetic foreign body from the back of the eye."

And yes, we did mention psychiatric care being on offer for MEPs. This is apparently graded on a points system based on areas such as

  • DIFFICULTIES IN EXPRESSION

Making self understood through speech and/or signs (always/ occasionally, rarely/ never)

  • VERBAL DISRUPTION

Shouting out for no reason and/or disturbing others by shouting and/or crying

  • LOSS OF SOCIAL INHIBITIONS

Inappropriate behaviour at the table/meal times, taking clothes off at inappropriate times, urinating in inappropriate places, spitting…

  • TEMPORAL ORIENTATION
  • AGITATED BEHAVIOUR

Difficulty with interpersonal relationships, emotional disturbance and/or self-harming and/or psychomotor agitation (deambulation, fugue, etc.)

  • NOCTURNAL BEHAVIOUR

Wandering around, disturbing others, confusing day and night

  • SPATIAL ORIENTATION
  • DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOUR

Violence towards physical surroundings/objects: clothes, furniture, reading material etc., and/or aggressive to others

On the grounds of good taste we refrain from further comment about our elected representatives.

Aug 2010 02

How much does the EU cost Britain every year?

Estimates from a Commissioner once put the figure of the red tape bill across the whole of the EU at a gut-wrenching €600 billion, in which case Britain’s bill would come in at around a ballpark £50 billion once you added in the membership fees. Even that figure has been challenged as optimistic, with some calculations estimating the true cost as up to twice that.

It’s a subject many in Whitehall and Brussels would like to draw a veil over. But thanks to a question by MP Philip Davies, and an honest answer from minister Mark Prisk, we have a clearer idea.

In the course of just this current year, it is calculated by Government itself that the whole new red tape bill for the country will come to between £27.8 billion and £30.3 billion. 31 per cent of that – i.e. between £8.6 billion and £9.4 billion – is assessed to be new Brussels red tape.

This raises two questions. Firstly, what on earth is Whitehall doing absurdly generating £20 billion of red tape for businesses, charities and individuals in its own right? Secondly, given that £9 billion of new red tape is coming from Brussels this one year, does that not confirm the higher estimate of Britain’s EU costs, and the shocking reality that the UK is now paying more in red tape costs to regulate our trade with the EU than the actual value of that trade itself?

Both absurdities are inexcusable. Good luck to Mr Prisk and his boss if they now begin addressing them.

Jul 2010 30

A chance encounter with an obscure clause of a recent directive leads us to a recent recruit to the burgeoning phalanxes of Euro-quangocracy. The European Institutute for Gender Equality has just had its grand opening, “bringing the gender balance to European citizens.”

And I thought those contraptions were only found in nightclubs in Namur.

But it needs your help.

The EIGE’s budget to 2013 runs to €52.5 million, with an immediate target staffing of 30 people. Even so, despite such taxpayer largesse they still need a little magic. They’re after a logo.

This is the one they’ve got so far:

Best three ideas get you to Vilnius. Or you could post in the comments below, within the frontiers of decorum…

Jul 2010 28

A parliamentary question spotted this morning provides us with yet another reminder (not that it is frankly needed) of where so many of our tax powers have increasingly gone.

Asketh the MP of the minister if “he will bring forward proposals to zero-rate motorcycle crash helmet replacement visors for value-added tax,” answer there came in the negative.

Crash helmets are zero rated, but not the visors or accessories supplied separately. Work out the logic for that if you will – beyond this simple explanation: “The agreements with our EU partners under which we are allowed to maintain our existing zero rates preclude us from extending their scope, or extending new ones.” In other words, here we are and here we shall remain.

So to add to the chorus of those seeking to drop VAT on church roofs, or ‘eco-friendly’ electrical goods, or home improvement, or for that matter music CDs, sun cream, smoothies, haircuts, condoms or nicotine patches, we now have the issue of crash helmets. Which is strangely appropriate, as anyone trying to get us back to zero-rated VAT given the politics of European tax harmonisation will be banging their head against a brick wall.

Jul 2010 26

Fisheries ministers are currently debating changes to the CFP. We have explored the costs of this monstrous policy in the past.  Judging from past  experience, these talks will prove little more than more hot air. But the disastrous state of affairs has to change one way or the other – if not through
the EU, then unilaterally.

The reason why is clear from a recent parliamentary question, spelling out figures on discards over 2008 (and 2009 is due out shortly).

In 2008, around 283,000 tonnes of quota stocks were landed by UK vessels. The same vessels had to throw another 49,000 tonnes overboard.

That figure, mark you, is only UK vessels. It excludes everyone else.

Divide even that figure by the passage of time, and it works out by my calculations at about 93kg weight of fish being destroyed fruitlessly every minute of every day of the year.

And yet we do nothing. Governments not only condone it, they authorise it. It becomes illegal to do anything but dump it, like a perverse levy to Neptune.

Yet imagine what would happen if we carried out such a ludicrous policy on land. If you drove down the motorway, and you and all your family threw boxes of fish fingers out of the window at a rate of 5 boxes every second, you’d be pulled over by the law.

You’d also be in the queue for a psychiatrist.If anyone knows a good one, I’ve a number of patients in Whitehall and Brussels I’d like to recommend him to.

Jul 2010 21

The Government have been asking your opinion on what laws need repealing.

There have been a number of proposals suggesting the UK should ditch the Act that took us into the EEC (as was) in the first place. Regardless of the merits of the case, that isn’t going to happen.

But there are alternatives that might be acceptable to ministers. We have a suggestion. It’s still radical and can make a difference. Look here and see if you agree – and if you have a view on it, rate it.

Jul 2010 21

When the European Constitution crashed and burned, the Commission turned to “Plan B” – which turned out to be remarkably similar to the original, just louder. Now it transpires that Brussels is taking the logical next step and turning to the A Team. It seems that no one else could help and that they were able to find them.

Plastered over the side of London’s double decker buses are adverts from the milk marketing people, sporting an EU flag to show EU subsidies, showing in
gargantuan scale the heroes of the sublimely impossible. Their message, Mr T’s mantra – drink milk.

Now, I drink a fair amount of the stuff. I am a tea lunatic and like a pinta of cow juice here and there too. But I can honestly say I have never been persuaded to go wild on semi-skimmed on the back of an advert. It’s a waste of public money, like government-funded instructions to eat potatoes or other foodstuffs. We all have to eat something so at best it’s taking business away from us buying another product, a bit like if Margate and Blackpool councils were both spending government money inviting you to holiday there this year. It’s not like we have foreign powers torpedoing our shipping and our government is trying to convince us of the ersatz merits of loaves made from acorns.

The middle man is the Milk Marketing Forum alongside Dairy UK. So what we have is UK taxpayers’ money going into the EU funding a British cooperative paying a public transport company to advertise food, to the ultimate benefit of Hollywood either in terms of free advertising or even – who knows? – with Hollywood copyright payments involved. The film company is certainly happy enough with the arrangement to hand out some prize tickets for the premier. The total bill for the broader campaign (not just AK-47 related) is reportedly £7.5 million, one third of which comes from the EU grants.

It’s all particularly rich given that it’s the EU in the first place which is forcing us to dump thousands of gallons of British milk down drains in order to import continentally-produced milk.

But then, we are talking about a European superquango dealing with the son of a former British quango, so there is a faint whiff of Whitehall madness in all this. Watch out, there’s a Humphrey about.

Jul 2010 19

Fancy a job
convincing countries to join the EU?

The EU is recruiting
for someone to advise on the Union’s expansion. Not run it, mark you – that’s
the Director-General’s job.

The post is
that of “an Advisor hors classe,” which looks like a polite way of saying a highly
superannuated assistant. Part of his job is to map out how the EU propaganda
works in getting these countries to vote Yes
in any referendum, so it does have some responsibilities attached. He’ll also
do some strategic thinking on grants (is this indeed recognising past Court of Auditors failings and saying the Department is not up to it?)

As Bruno
Waterfield recently observed
, there has been a peculiar invention of late, getting
around the awkwardness of fixed pay grades by inventing new ones. How
superannuated are we talking about? At least we know that this one will be “AD15”
– that is to say, Director-General grade, at a minimum scale surpassing the pay packet of the British Prime Minister. The job may have been invented (and who
knows, perhaps even in reality already filled), but the pay and perks are
neatly settled.

You’ve got
until tomorrow noon (CET) to
get your application in
. Good luck, and don’t mention the War.

Jul 2010 16

The commendable
 EUObserver
website
is flagging up a legal decision whose ripples may wobble a few judicial
boats.

It transpires
that Dutch can now ‘discriminate’ against non-Dutch nationals who want to go to
‘coffee houses’ for a “schmoke and a pancake” (to quote an Austin Powers film
rather than the Advocate-General).

The
principle is one of officials being allowed to stop people from doing things
which they would find illegal in their home country, rather than having to
treat all “EU nationals” the same. You can find the full ruling here.

True, drugs
are tolerated rather than legalised so this is a blind eye issue – but the
blind eye applies discriminately to one set of “EU nationals” more than to
others. It also raises issues of responsibility for foreign citizens that will
likely tempt MEPs down legislative lanes. So there will be a lot to pick over
in how controversial services are viewed differently across borders, perhaps starting
with the provision of abortion on the NHS to Irish citizens.

Page 5 of 22« First...34567...1020...Last »