Straws in the wind:
A change of heart on EU climate policy?
First there was the European parliament’s famous rejection of the Commission’s “back-loading” proposal (don’t ask!).
Then the recent meeting of European Council in which they belatedly decided that EU energy policy was over-emphasising what they call “sustainability” (of course it’s not sustainable — that’s the difficulty) at the expense of competitiveness and security of supply.
Now I hear from a trusted source (I’d better not name the source) that EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger, at a recent meeting in the Berlaymont, agreed that there could be no attempt to bring back the infamous airline tax proposal on flights originating outside the EU, that the EU could not impose its policies on other nations, and it was “arrogant” to try to do so.
And now an extraordinary story from Der Spiegel: Germany has responded to howls of protest from its energy-intensive industries by moving the main burden of renewables costs from large energy users to smaller users and households. But the European Commission is telling Germany that this is distorting the market and could be regarded as “State Aids”, which are out-with the rules.
It all suggests a very welcome rethink on energy priorities. I’ve been banging on for years about the disastrous economic consequences of opting for expensive and intermittent forms of generation. Maybe at last the message is getting through.
It’s not just in Brussels. In the UK, Tim Yeo MP has established himself as a mini-Al-Gore, the leading head-banger for Climate Alarmism in Westminster. Yet he too has teasingly suggested that it might not all be down to CO2 (though later he tried to back-track). He remains convinced of Global Warming, though — despite the Met Office admission that there’s been no increase in mean global temperatures for nearly two decades.
And even better news: Tim Yeo has now relinquished his Chairmanship of the HoC Climate Committee because of the recent Sunday Times “sting” (though naturally he denies any wrong-doing). Of course he should have stood down years ago – how can a man making a big income from the renewables industry chair a Commons Committee on Climate?
And another rethink: the FTT
The EU, or at least eleven member-states, have pressed ahead pig-headedly with their plans for a Financial Transaction Tax (misleadingly described by some as the “Robin Hood Tax”), despite warnings from economists and politicians (including myself) that it would prove to be a disaster. Even the Commission’s own study suggested that it would decimate economic activity and the banking sector, and result in a net reduction in tax revenues, but the cloth-eared enthusiasts refused to listen.
This tax would damage the City of London. Aware at least that the FTT risked driving business out of those €uro states applying it, the €urozone sought to impose “extra-territoriality”. That is, the tax would have had to be paid on any €uro transaction where at least one party was in the eleven. So a deal in London or New York between a German company and a British or American company would have attracted the tax. The UK or the USA would have been obliged to collect the tax — and remit it to the €urozone.
But the concept of extra-territoriality is not consistent with international trade law. The British government is bringing a case against the proposal in the ECJ. The USA and other third countries have said, quite rightly, that they will have nothing to do with it. There are parallels here with the international furore over the proposed airline tax.
Now the French board-member of the ECB, Christian Noyer (and remember that France led the charge for the FTT) has said that the FTT could “destroy banking, cost jobs and damage government finances”.
Don’t expect them to admit they were wrong. But the noises coming out from senior €urozone finance ministers are saying “not an immediate priority/better take time to ensure correct implementation/no rush”. It seems the FTT is headed for the long grass. And an excellent thing too.
The UK: Europe’s biggest trading partner
A new Briefing note from Global Britain, Number 86, looks at the data from 2012 and confirms yet again that when we leave the EU; the UK will be the €urozone’s biggest trading partner, in terms of both imports and exports.
And the €urozone has a very large trade surplus vis-à-vis the UK, at €63 billion.
Often people ask “What will happen to our trade if we leave the EU?”. These figures give the answer. Even if the EU wanted to “punish” us for leaving, WTO rules would prevent them from doing so. But they wouldn’t want to, because we are critical to their trade, and they won’t want to damage it.
Unintended consequences, Syria:
William Hague is proud of his achievement in getting the EU to allow its arms embargo against Syria to lapse. What was that John Major phrase — Game, Set and Match to the UK? By opening the way for new arms shipments to the rebels, Hague hopes to bring peace to a war-torn country. But the Russians have responded by sending the Assad régime their latest S-300 air defence missiles. Talk about pouring oil on troubled waters. Assad must be delighted.
Unintended consequences, China:
The European Commission is proposing to impose “anti-dumping duties” on Chinese solar panels. “Anti-dumping duties” is, of course, an EU euphemism for protectionist tariffs, and like all protectionism it will do more harm than good.
Leave aside the huge damage which renewable energy policies and subsidies are doing. This proposal is self-defeating even in its own terms. First of all, I understand that about 70% of the value-chain in the installation of imported solar panels is within the EU. So to punish the Chinese, the Commission is also punishing British and European installers — who have already been hit by the sudden panicky cuts to out-of-control subsidies. Jobs will be lost, businesses will go bankrupt.
The cost of solar energy, which the Commission wants to promote, will rise, and less will be installed (though I shall weep no tears over that). And lastly, we risk a trade war with the Chinese, which will do neither party any good.
If we wanted in object lesson in why protectionism is always and everywhere a bad thing, this is it. Maybe EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht should read Ricardo.
Did we once have a UK foreign policy?
The BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on May 27th (Bank Holiday) carried a discussion of Foreign Secretary William Hague’s efforts to persuade the EU to lift its arms embargo on Syria, so that Hague could pursue his pet project of arming “moderate” Syrian rebels, to help them overthrow President Assad. And I was struck by a question asked by the interviewer: “Didn’t we (the UK) once have our own foreign policy?” Good question. Yes we did.
We’re frequently assured that within the EU, we retain control over our foreign policy, and indeed we appeared to exercise that right with regard to Libya. But it does appear to be the case that we can’t arm Syrian rebels without first getting permission from Brussels.
There is of course the broader question of whether we should be arming the Syrian rebels at all. In my view, it’s naïve to imagine that we can arm the “good” rebels, and thereby isolate, or at least by-pass, the bad guys from Al Qaeda. We have a confused and chaotic situation on the ground in Syria, and we would have no control over what happened to our equipment when it got into the country. Nor is it clear that we can rely on the good guys to stay good if and when they finally remove Assad.
Our experience of intervening in Middle Eastern countries to remove oppressive dictators has not been entirely positive, and it’s not at all clear that what follows is predictable, or orderly, or democratic, or pro-Western. The verdict is still out on the “Arab Spring”, but the auguries are worrying. It is just not good enough to say “The status quo is so bad that anything that follows must be better”. Often it is not.
The Bible (again — sorry!) has some good advice on the question. “What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14.31). Before we intervene in foreign wars, we should ask “Can we afford it? Do we have the resources? Can we achieve a good outcome and a permanent settlement? And will the benefit we confidently expect to achieve actually be enough to justify our costs in terms of blood and treasure?”
It is debatable whether any of our recent interventions satisfy those tests. But I have one incontrovertible proposition for Defence Secretary Philip Hammond: You can’t keep cutting the defence budget whilst also escalating the demands made of our armed forces. If you want foreign adventures, you must be prepared to pay for them.
Excellent stuff from James Delingpole. Well worth a read.
The ignorance of Vince Cable
On Sunday night, May 27th, I heard Vince Cable on BBC Radio 4 talking about offshore wind farms, and he said something that left me gob-smacked: “Of course offshore wind has a big part to play in our renewable energy plans. Off-shore wind turbines last for ever, and require little maintenance”. Yes, you read that right. He didn’t say “offshore wind turbines last quite a long time”, though even that would have been debatable. He actually said that they last forever.
Oddly enough, he was dealing with the question of green jobs, and seeking to admit that perhaps he wasn’t expecting offshore wind to generate a great many UK jobs (especially as the equipment is largely imported).
He could have supported his case for jobs (and the truth) much better by saying “Off-shore wind turbines notoriously fail to achieve their design-lives. Their output declines markedly over time, and their maintenance requirements are high”.
Here we have our Lib-Dem Business Secretary (or as some of us know him, Anti-Business Secretary), who simply doesn’t understand that off-shore wind turbines operate in a harsh, challenging and corrosive environment, and won’t make anywhere near the 25 years life on which their business plans are based. On government and industry estimates, off-shore wind is eye-wateringly expensive. Factor-in realistic replacement cycles and maintenance needs, and those costs very nearly double.
Would you say that Vince Cable’s ignorance is reprehensible? Or abysmal? Or perhaps abyssal? Take your pick. It’s certainly a major threat to British energy prices and competitiveness.
Quote of the Month
Seen on a T-shirt in Leicester, worn by the sort of man who might have been on leave from the SAS: “Pain is temporary. Victory is forever”. I appreciate that neither of these statements is necessarily or universally true, but nonetheless it’s an inspiring sentiment.
It’s reminiscent of Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem “Say not the struggle naught availeth”, which was a favourite of Sir Winston Churchill.
Bishop: Opposition to gay marriage “like apartheid”
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Holtam, has declared that opposition to same-sex “marriage” is equivalent to approving apartheid, or backing slavery. In other words, if you support the traditional view of marriage, as a union between a man and a woman (a view which is sanctioned and legitimised by history, culture and reproductive biology, and by several of the world’s great religions), you can be classed alongside racists and slave-owners.
This is genuinely shocking — both the idea, and the fact that the Bishop expressed it. In my lifetime, homosexual acts have gone from being a criminal offence, to being reluctantly permitted, to being approved and mainstream. Now, it seems, we are obliged to celebrate homosexuality and give it our unqualified recognition and approval, or we are as bad a racists.
This is not mere rhetoric: we have already seen people losing their jobs or excluded from public office for declining to give their positive support to same-sex marriage. Perhaps not surprising in a country where a person can be excluded from the workplace for wearing a small crucifix, and in a Europe where the ECJ declines to affirm the right of Christians to wear small symbols of their faith.
I have occasionally referred to “the strident homosexual lobby”, and strident it certainly is. But in a movement which claims to be driven by (and demands) tolerance and inclusion, we now see a stark intolerance to anyone who dissents from the new orthodoxy, and deliberate attempts to exclude dissenting views from the public square. The political correctness of the likes of Peter Tatchell and Bishop Holtam is seeking to ride rough-shod over our values of free speech and freedom of thought.
I occasionally quote the Bible, and I have been castigated on my blog by at least one comment for doing so, on the grounds that the contributor “did not believe the Bible”. But you don’t have to believe a book to quote from it. I quote from it now in the naïve expectation that perhaps the good Bishop might believe it, or at least respect it. In Genesis 5:2, I find the verse “Male and female created He them”. I have searched in vain for a verse saying “Gay and straight created He them”.
Drummer Rigby: The Islamic response
We often hear that Islam is a religion of peace, even if repeated acts of terror by Islamists call the proposition into question.
Following the appalling murder of Drummer Rigby, several moderate Muslim organisations condemned the atrocity. They were right to do so, and I salute them for it. Others were concerned at a reported rise in anti-Muslim attacks, though a review of the data by Andrew Gilligan suggested that this had been exaggerated.
But my question is this: are moderate Muslim organisations doing enough to keep tabs on their own community – their mosques and madrassas – to identify young men who are being attracted to extremism. And are they taking action to bring them into line, or to report them to the authorities? If they’re serious about their opposition to extremism, they must recognise that when it comes to prevention, they themselves are the front line.
See my blog here.
On May 27th, I visited the Showcase Cinema in Leicester for a special event — a “cine-cast” of Rossini’s opera La Donna del Lago, live from the Royal Opera House in London. It was simultaneously transmitted to over 900 cinemas in the UK and around the world.
I’d never seen a cine-cast before. Of course nothing beats the buzz of a live show, but the cine-cast offers some advantages — including close-ups of the singers. In that sense you see more than you would see at the real thing.
La Donna del Lago is an historical tale based on Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake”. Scott and Rossini were contemporaries. The American soprano Joyce Didonato was magnificent as Elena, the title role. Wooing her without success was Rodrigo (Colin Lee), a clan war-lord in the Brave-heart mode. But Elena is in love with Malcolm.
This Malcolm was played, confusingly, by a woman, Daniella Barcellona, a mezzo. She is — how can I put this? — a fine figure of a woman, tall and broad, so that visually she was credible as a man, if not handsome. But her splendid mezzo singing voice immediately gave the game away, and made it difficult to maintain the masculine pretence. It also gave a frisson of androgynous ambiguity to an otherwise macho historical romp.
The management of the Royal Opera House invited Tweeted comments, and put some of them up on-screen during the interval. I liked one that said “Magnificent music. But I never met a Scotsman called Rodrigo, or a woman called Malcolm”.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org