STRAIGHT TALKING July 2015
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
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Greece: Astonishing – but predicted
Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, we knew in our heads that it would happen one day, but in our hearts we never expected it quite yet.
For twenty years, those of us on the Euro-Realist side of the debate have said that the Single Currency was a reckless and irresponsible political adventure with absolutely no basis in economics. It has been clear for years now that we were right, but this Greek tragedy – this malign soap-opera that has been on our televisions for ages – seems finally to be reaching its dénouement.
There will be further desperate efforts to keep Greece in the Eurozone – but it can’t go on forever. Any new fudge will simply delay the inevitable.
They’ve given Greece dreadful warnings of the consequences of leaving the Eurozone. But you remember they gave us in Britain awful warnings about the dangers of not joining the €uro. They were wrong. They gave us awful warnings about leaving the Exchange Rate Mechanism (remember that?). But our economic recovery started virtually on the day we left.
When Greece leaves the €uro, there’ll be a period of chaos and real hardship. But I predict that within eighteen months, Greece will be on the road to recovery. It will have priced itself back into world markets. I’ll raise a glass of ouzo to that.
Our UK Referendum
The Bill has not gone through parliament. We don’t know the date (I’m betting on October 2016). But at least it does seem that we’ll get our referendum – despite the view of the European Institutions that referendums are a dangerous sop to populists, and should be avoided at all costs.
Can I once more appeal for a change of mind-set here. In General and Local Elections, we’re in fierce competition with other political parties, and perhaps most sharply opposed to those who are closer to us ideologically – because they’re fishing in our pond. But for the referendum – and just for the referendum – we have to make common cause with all decent people who want to see our country independent.
We may struggle to campaign alongside old foes, but if we’re to get our country back, that’s what we have to do.
New hope for Spanish Homeowners
One of the recurring issues I’ve dealt with during my sixteen years in Brussels is the outrageous treatment of foreign homeowners in Spain, where local lawyers, politicians and developers conspired to displace residents and seize properties. Retired couples who had sold up in Britain and spent their life savings on a dream home on the Costas would wake up to find an eviction notice on the mat, and a bulldozer at the gate. Repeated attempts, including protests directly to Spanish government ministers, failed to achieve any resolution.
But now I’m advised by Paul & Denise Larkin, campaigners on the issue with whom I’ve corresponded for some time, that a new law has been agreed unanimously in the Spanish Senate preventing any more house demolitions unless & until buyers in good faith have been compensated. Of course the devil might be in the detail, but it now makes it much easier for Spanish courts to protect home owners’ interests.
Let’s just hope it works in practice. But on the face of it, it’s good news on a long-running issue.
Defending the Flag
The shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17th, in which nine black worshippers died, was a shocking and horrifying event which will be utterly and rightly condemned by all decent people. Charleston’s Police Chief Greg Mullen said “This tragedy that we’re addressing right now is indescribable”, and he’s right. A white suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, has been arrested by police, and judging from press reports there seems very little doubt that he was responsible. He seems to have been a pathetic fantasist, totally caught up in his own inadequacies and irrational resentments.
I don’t especially want to re-open the argument about capital punishment, but this feckless youth seems to be an ideal candidate.
But I’m not entirely comfortable with one of the responses to the outrage. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has responded by ordering Confederate flags to be removed from the Capitol Building in Montgomery, apparently because the suspect Roof had been photographed with the flag.
Of course the flag is controversial, and some choose to see it as an emblem of slavery, because it was the flag of the Confederacy in the Civil War, and that war was fought (in part) over the issue of slavery. But for many Americans, the flag is (as most flags are) a symbol of identity and heritage, a link with their history and their homeland. Are we to say that any and all such symbols can be rendered toxic because a few fools and extremists and criminals choose to be photographed with them?
We in England faced a similar problem with our Saint George’s flag. It was used – some would say hi-jacked – by the BNP, and the National Front before it, and as a result many people were disinclined – even ashamed – to use it. In some cases taxi drivers were ordered by police to remove it from their cabs. I’m very glad to see that it has been largely rehabilitated, not least (I suspect) because of its use in football. It’s our flag, it belongs to us and to England. We must not allow it to be kidnapped and held to ransom by particular political groups – and least of all by far-right ideologues.
The Nursing Conundrum
We have large numbers of foreign nurses in our NHS – and thank heavens they’re there, or we should be in trouble. Now the government’s new immigration curbs will place a further obstacle in the way of recruitment.
But this raises an interesting question – why do we need such huge numbers of foreign nurses to keep the NHS going? And here’s the killer – a recent report says that two thirds of applicants for UK nursing training are turned down. I find that an extraordinary figure.
We used to have different qualifications for nurses – I think they were called State Registered Nurse and State Enrolled Nurse, and they required different levels of qualification. Now all nurses must have degrees.
Of course there are some nursing tasks, like assisting surgeons in operating theatres, which require a high degree of medical knowledge and competence. But there are also tasks – so often we hear that they’re not always carried out – which primarily require empathy and care and hard work, in looking after bed-ridden patients, but don’t require extensive medical training or academic qualifications. To ask all nurses to have degrees seems to me to rule out many thousands who would do a great job of caring for patients. It’s a bit like saying that on an aeroplane, all the cabin staff should have pilots’ qualifications. (OK, not exactly, but I hope you get my point).
So let me put some more interesting questions. Do we think that all those foreign nurses from Asia or Africa were more suitable candidates, when they entered training in their home country, than those tens of thousands of British girls we’ve rejected? Are we confident that the foreign nurses, as hired, are necessarily better nurses than those rejected applicants would have been after training? And do we think we have the moral right to plunder the health services of poorer countries, poaching the nurses that those countries have trained at great expense?
Green policies, green posturing
The Daily Mail covers a story about Britain’s forests being cut down in vast swathes to support bio-fuels and wood-burning stoves (and mea culpa – I have a log-burner in my home!). But surely there’s a wonderful irony here. Elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels promote plant growth, bio-bass formation and crop yields – helping to feed a hungry planet (and helping the poor, as Pope Francis seems keen to do). Meantime “green” policies and biofuels are decimating our forests here at home.
A letter to Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska
Here is a letter I recently sent to Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska. I believe it to be self-explanatory:
I have just read your letter to ITRE Chairman Jerzy Buzek MEP on the subject of the EU’s industrial competitiveness, and I am sorry to say that it left me profoundly depressed – though not quite so depressed as I daresay the Chief Executives of companies across my East Midlands region would feel, had they been obliged to read your pages of bureaucratic verbiage with little substantive content.
It seems to me that there are two major issues. You mention both, at various points, but you present no significant ideas for serious change.
The first is energy. As former Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani put it, “We are creating an Industrial Massacre in Europe (with energy prices)”. Plants are closing, jobs are lost, investment is being forced out of Europe in a range of energy-intensive businesses, including steel, aluminium, glass, cement, chemicals and petroleum refining. The extent of plant closures and job losses is alarming, and the effect on imports and balance of payments is dire.
This is happening because of our obsessive commitment to unreliable and intermittent renewable technologies, and our failure to rely on proven low-cost technologies like gas. I see nothing in your letter that addresses this issue.
Then there is the issue of deregulation. Our economy and our industries are grossly overregulated. There are various estimates of the costs of excessive regulation but one estimate, not untypical, from a former Industry Commissioner put the figure at around 5.5% of GDP. This is unacceptable. Pious aspirations for “better regulation” will not do the job. We need a major campaign of de-regulation – removing unnecessary and failing regulation, analysing costs and benefits, retiring regulations that are failing to deliver and reducing the scope of those which impact too widely.
Thirdly, we need a sense of urgency. This, again, was something that I felt was missing from the boiler-plate text of your letter, which appeared to have been cut-and-pasted from a thousand similar documents.
Commissioner, in this early stage of your appointment, you have a real opportunity to transform the competitiveness of European industry – not by new or “better” regulation, but by cutting both energy prices and the regulatory burden. As a prominent American commentator put it, “We don’t need to teach the grass to grow – we just have to get the rocks off the lawn”.
TTIP: Getting it in proportion
I have written extensively about TTIP (the proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership), and the rather hysterical fears raised by the prospect of ISDS – the mechanism enabling those affected by non-compliance to seek redress. This is described in lobbying letters as “The right for corporations to sue our government”. Of course corporations can and do sue our government under existing national law. The wind industry is currently threatening to sue the government over subsidy cuts. BAA threatened to sue the government over the third Heathrow runway, and now protesters are threatening to sue as well.
Many of the letters I receive appear to regard ISDS as some devilish new scheme dreamed up by Amazon and Google to ride roughshod over European democracy. But according to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the existing network of 1400 European Bilateral Treaties (BITs) – all of which include ISDS – already provide good protection to many European investors. These include 8 existing BITs between EU Member States and the US. The UK itself has negotiated 94 Bilateral Investment Treaties, the majority of which include ISDS provisions, with no ISDS challenge succeeding against the UK.
In other words, ISDS provisions are a commonplace of international treaties, and have a good track record. Only two cases have ever been brought against the British government under ISDS, and neither succeeded.
As I have written before, any treaty must have some measures to deal with non-compliance – otherwise, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. I think it’s time to get the whole ISDS debate into proportion.
Straws in the wind
Two things recently have encouraged me recently about the prospects for the EU referendum.
First, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Cameron will get little or nothing from his “renegotiation”. With extraordinary poverty of ambition, he seems content to ask for nothing more that small changes to migrants’ welfare benefits, plus the dropping of the meaningless verbiage on “Ever Closer Union”.
The changes in migrants’ welfare would be wholly insufficient (we want control over numbers, and EU Citizens treated pari passu with other would-be immigrants – and much else besides). Yet even his modest requests are being widely rebuffed across Europe.
Many of the voters who say “Yes, I’d vote to stay in a reformed EU” will finally see what we’ve been saying for years – that the EU doesn’t do reform. They’ll look at these pathetic concessions, and be not so much disappointed as angry that we’re expected to accept the crumbs from the table, and be grateful for them. I believe that great numbers of undecided voters will be convinced to vote OUT by the failure of Cameron’s renegotiation.
Then again, Cameron has (rightly) agreed not to hold the referendum on the same day as other elections. That is a correct decision. Otherwise the vital case for independence and self-determination could have been swamped by local issues. But this will accentuate differential voting, which I believe will work in our favour. To misquote Yeats: “The INs lack all conviction, while the OUTs are filled with passionate intensity”.
And to misquote David Steel: “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for freedom”.
Green proposals 1
A hint of common sense here at home
It seems that the government is finally admitting that the costs of wind subsidies are “spiralling out of control”. Compare this news with the claims of the green blob that wind power is now “cheaper than coal”. But it’s encouraging that George Osborne has finally recognised what we in UKIP have been saying for years, and that he is reportedly planning in his up-coming budget to cut back on green subsidies. As Francisco puts it in Hamlet, “For this relief much thanks”.
Green proposals 2:
A set-back for the green blob in Brux
Amid all the excitement of the delayed TTIP vote in Strasbourg last session, one minor success may have been overlooked. The Saudargas Report on an “EU Energy Union” contained some useful ideas on interconnectors and energy conservation, but was primarily about increased reliance on renewables. Unusually, I had my own amendment in it, which had come through committee to the plenary vote, and I was gratified that it was carried in plenary. It was not, however, an earth-changing proposition – it had to do with diversifying sources for nuclear fuel to avoid over-dependence on one source.
I was even more gratified when the whole report was voted down. This can occasionally occur in the parliament: there are significant majorities for various parts of a proposal, but at the same time there are enough elements that are unacceptable to one faction or another to deliver a NO vote on the whole thing.
Of course this will by itself not stop the progress of the green band-wagon, with its appalling legacy of economic damage, competitiveness undermined and countryside littered with monstrous wind turbines as a monument to our collective climate paranoia. But at least it’s a minor set-back for the bad guys. Let’s hope that COP21 in Paris later this year will deliver a greater rebuff to climate alarmism.
On Wednesday June 17th, the Vatican issued Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical.
I am sure that the Pope means well, and has the best interests of the poor and vulnerable close to his heart. But I am equally sure that he’s been got at by lobbyists for the Environmental/Industrial complex, and has bought into their improbable claims. And I am equally sure that he has failed to consider the down-sides of climate policy.
Even if you swallow the IPCC’s whole nine yards (and I don’t), it’s very difficult to argue that our climate and energy policies will have more than a trivial effect on the trajectory of global climate. But it is easy to make the case that these policies are raising energy prices and doing untold damage to households and pensioners. They are driving fuel poverty, and forcing old people to choose between heating and eating. They are also closing plants, cutting investment and costing jobs across Europe – further increasing poverty and want.
An American think-tank has produced a hard-hitting two-minute video pointing out the impacts of climate policy in Europe, and quoting extensively from European newspaper headlines. I strongly comment it:
More news on climate change: Receding Glaciers
THE BRAIDWOOD DISPATCH AND MINING JOURNAL
Except over a small area, it is generally understood, the glaciers of the world are retreating to the mountains. The glacier on Mount Sarmiento in South America, which descended to the sea when Darwin found it in 1836, is now separated from the shore by a vigorous growth of timber.
The Jacobshaven glacier in Greenland has retreated four miles since 1850, and the East glacier in Spitzbergen is more than a mile away from its original terminal moraine. In Scandinavia the snowline is further up the mountains, and the glaciers have withdrawn 3,000 ft. from the lowlands in a century.
The Araphoe glacier in the Rocky Mountains, with characteristic American enterprise, has been melting at a rapid rate for several years. In the Eastern Alps and one or two other small districts the glaciers are growing. In view of these facts we should not be too sceptical when old men assure us that winters nowadays are not to be compared with the winters of their boyhood.
Shocked by this new evidence of Climate Change? You should be. Except that the report was date-lined 1910.
A couple of weeks back I was in Covent Garden in London when I was approached by a young man who asked “Are you Roger Helmer?”. I had to admit that this was the case. He proved to be an American visiting London with his girlfriend, but also thinking of coming to London to study. I was (to be honest) fairly astonished that a passing American on a London Street should recognise me.
It turns out he’s interested in European policy and climate issues, and had followed my speeches on YouTube. He asked for a photograph with me, so naturally I was happy to oblige – and also got one on my phone, which you can now find in the Gallery on my Web-site.
And another American encounter
Over the years I have done what I can to support ASWAR, a group campaigning against wind farms at Churchover, near Rugby (if I’m honest, Churchover is just over the A5, so strictly speaking it’s in West Midlands, not East Midlands, by a few hundred yards – but I figure I have an interest as the wretched turbines would certainly be visible from my side of the border!).
The Chairman of the campaign is Lorne Smith, an indefatigable campaigner, and strongly supported by his German wife Angelika. I have known them simply as campaigners against wind farms, and I only recently discovered their broader engagement with the climate debate. Lorne invited me to dinner at his home in Churchover to meet Tony Heller (who formerly used the non-de-plume Steven Goddard – and is also on the gallery on my web-site), a prominent American blogger (@bogarttony) and campaigner, who has worked with the Heartland Foundation. Tony was in the UK on a visit, with his two sons. Also invited was iconoclastic journalist James Delingpole, who has a way of enlivening proceedings.
We had an excellent dinner (Angelika is a great cook) and some serious debate about climate issues. It’s reminded me – in the past I have attended a number of Heartland Conferences. I should go again. Follow Angelika on Twitter (on climate, not cuisine) at @AngelikaHTCG
What is BREXIT?
I recently received the following from a constituent:
I strongly urge you to spell out exactly what the letters B.R.E.X.I.T. stand for before you go on to write about it in articles. I thought this was standard form but everyone is suddenly going on about BREXIT. I hate buzzwords and trendy jargon. You are putting ordinary people off, already!
Many thanks for writing to me, and I quite understand your annoyance with jargon terms. Here in the European parliament we are bombarded with acronyms all the time, and often I haven’t the faintest idea what they mean. Brexit, however, is not an acronym. It’s merely a contraction of two words, “British Exit”, taken as meaning exit from the EU. This is by analogy with “Grexit”, coined earlier to mean “Greek Exit”. However in the case of Greece, Grexit is understood to mean “Greek exit from the €uro”, whereas “Brexit” involves exit from the EU. I hope this makes it clearer, and I hope you’ll forgive us politicians for abbreviating a term which we use constantly.
That’s it from Strasbourg for this July session. Please remember to visit my web-site, & my blog. And follow me on Twitter: @RogerHelmerMEP
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org