Friday, June 10, 2005

Crap CAP (again)

The comments section of my latest post at The Sharpener (on the British rebate) have been interesting, and the Common Agricultural Policy has once again reared its ugly head. It's rubbish, and on that everyone - except, perhaps, the French - can agree.

Now Robin Grant has spotted a ray of hope. Could Britain's rather unusually strong bargaining position actually be put to good use this time? It's wishful thinking that the CAP could be significantly reformed or abolished, certainly - even that it might be altered to prevent various less developed nations being shat all over by the thing.

But sorting out the CAP is arguably even more important than sorting out the constitution. It's the EU's single biggest problem and single biggest error. Before we go charging off trying to set everything in stone it is vital that it is addressed.

Hell, judging by EU-Serf's comment at The Sharpener - scrap the CAP and lose the rebate and even a eurosceptic like him would be happy (well, less unhappy at least) - this could be precisely the issue the UK needs to tackle to get over our worries about the whole EU. And it would have the added benefit of pissing off France - which, even for a relative Francophile like me, always warms the cockles of the English heart...

Manic's got competition are getting in on the blogging bug and trying, like Bloggerheads' Tim Ireland, to get politicians interested.

As of yet they've got tit all there and what there is is in rather an odd format, but their mission-statement seems OK.

Still, it seems rather like they're offering blogging as a commercial service (much as they do with various cheap MPs with basic website building). Which strikes me as rather odd, to put it mildly. Especially as their layout is hardly conducive to the kind of rapid browsing for which blogs are so handy and which is, for me, their main appeal.

Anyway, may be worth a look.

Britain's rebate - a European view

I did put this up here to start with, but decided it was better off at The Sharpener for some reason I've now forgotten - so go read it there. Go on.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Nosemonkey is a twat

Please note the comments to the previous post. Us bloggers, eh? we're useless. This is where having a sub comes in...

Update: Ha ha ha ha ha! I've only just noticed the typo in the title as well... Remind me not to try and write anything after a liquid lunch in future...

EU says Blair govermnent a bunch of shits

Effectively. And they're right.

Commissioner for human rights Alvaro Gil-Robles has slated Blair and co's insistence on being able to lock us all up as they deem fit (and the rest) in no uncertain terms. There is, he rightly says,

"a tendency increasingly discernible across Europe to consider human rights as excessively restricting the effective administration of justice and the protection of the public interest."
No arguments from me.
"Against a background, by no means limited to the UK, in which human rights are frequently construed as, at best, formal commitments and, at worst, cumbersome obstructions, it is perhaps worth emphasising that human rights are not a pick-and-mix assortment of luxury entitlements but the very foundation of democratic societies.

"As such, their violation affects not just the individual concerned but society as a whole: we exclude one person from their enjoyment at the risk of excluding all of us"
Spot on.

This, of course, comes as that piss-poor bill outlawing "incitement to religious hatred" is published - a wonderful piece of legislation which will enable the rabid religious loons to persecute all those who disagree with them - if not actually in law, then with the effective moral backing of a law in terms of the self-censorship it will produce and the green light it will give to the likes of Christian Voice and their ilk to further hassle anyone who dares to criticise them or their fictional God.

But the most worrying thing is that I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with useless Tory leadership hopeful David Davis...

Heads-up for UK politics buffs

This Sunday get the papers and read the book pages. On Monday, Mark Stuart's authorised biography of the late Labour leader John Smith is published. I've been skimming through a review copy and there is, shall we say, a lot of somewhat pertinent material on the current state of the Labour party leadership in there. Especially Chapter 21. And 25. From what I've read so far this looks like a must-read, and will undoubtedly spark yet another round of debate over the whole Blair/Brown thing.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Why the BBC is great, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool*

(*not really - that's, like, just a matter of opinion, man...)

BBC bashing seems endemic among certain sections of the UK blogosphere - all (mostly) on the right - and is increasingly sneaking into parts of the right-wing press. I won't link to or mention any of them because - much like wasps - if you smack one then hundreds start swarming all round you and it's practically impossible to get rid of the buggers.

In fact, it's even worse in blogland as, thanks to the joys of the likes of Technorati and various visitor counters, they can see where people have come from instantly. And there's little I hate more than pointless arguments with random internet types - hence my generally restrained, largely non-personal tone here. (It occasionally slips, but not too often, and usually only when provoked...)

Anyway, that went off topic a tad. To the main point:

Third Avenue notes that - despite claims from certain sections of the population that the BBC is a rabidly left-wing pro-EU propaganda outfit - they've employed a (moderately) prominent eurosceptic to come up with an alternative to the EU constitution.

To wit, a short "I love the BBC" rant, originally posted as a comment over there:

Just because they employ ONE eurosceptic to do something related to the EU in their reporting doesn't mean that they aren't still Europhiles...*

* standard response #4657

Sadly, until EVERYONE at the BBC is fired and replaced by an approved list of eurosceptic, anti-PC free-marketeers, the complaints won't stop. But then you'd just get a version of Biased BBC set up by a europhile lefty.

Personally I always found it offensive that they employed Kilroy, and always found his tone and views reprehensible. My simple solution? I didn't watch it, and got value for money out of my license fee by listening to the umpteen radio stations, using the stupidly good website, and watching the various genuinely good programmes the corporation produces.

In short - I still can't see what all the fuss is about. Don't like the BBC's news output? Fine - go and watch ITN or something. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of the license fee goes on news (and that's rapidly diminishing anyway) - and the Beeb produces something like 200 hours of programming a day across its various TV and radio stations. You've got more than enough there to get your hundred quid a year's worth.

As for the complaints that no one should be forced to pay for the BBC if they don't watch it - I've not had to visit a doctor or call the police in over a year; I don't have school-age children; I've never had to have an operation (NHS or otherwise). By the same logic I should get a sizable chunk of my tax money back, because the vast majority goes on stuff I never have call to use.

What do I get out of my £100 a month Council Tax? The rubbish taken away. That's about it. For - over the course of a year - twelve times the BBC license fee. Add in Income Tax and National Insurance, God alone knows how little return I get. But that's not the point of taxation, is it?

The anti-license fee thing - for all its high moral claims about monopolies and choice and so on (which I can see the case for, honest) - seems largely to be an objection to the very concept of state-funded anything. If so, fine - let's take it to extremes and scrap universal funding for the BBC, NHS, comprehensive schools, university funding, road maintenance, rubbish collection, street lighting, the national parks, the armed forces etc. etc. and replace them all with pay for usage instead. It'd suit me fine. But the entire country would go to shit through under-funding within six months.

Minor admin thing

I've been really bad at updating my blogroll of late. If you link here, let me know - a few places I've spotted via Technorati etc. I've been meaning to add but lost, and I'm pondering one of those reciprocal link things as well. Plus I'm useless at acting on emails - they tend to get read and forgotten. Sorry about that.

To prevent this from being an utterly pointless post, have some links: first an article on foreign law and the US Constitution which is worth a look, then a TLS review of books on the EU constitution. They've both been around for a bit, but I'd only just spotted them.

Blair, the world, Britain (but not so much of Britain, really...)

What the hell's going on? We're a tiny little island and have been in economic and military decline for over a century. So why the hell is our government charging all over the world trying to sort out everyone else's problems when they can't even get the trains to run on time?

Blair meets Bush in America and tries to sort out the biggest charity hand-out in history. While he's out there, voices emerge from th UK stating that we can do it even without the US - the single richest and most powerful country in the world by a long, long way.

Meanwhile Jack Straw charges off to the Middle East to sort out the Israel/Palestine thing, with a Foreign Office official revealing as he does so that - despite all the bullshit the government always spouts about not negotiating with terrorists - the UK maintains contacts with Hizbollah as well as Hamas.

Elsewhere, in Luxembourg, our Gordon's been telling the other EU finance ministers to get their filthy hands off our rebate.

All the while, they're all trying to stamp Britain's vision on the EU on the continent (despite that vision being the one, most agree, that the French rejected in their referendum), with Blair's late arrival for the crunch meeting on June 16/17th being seen by some as an indication of his (and therefore Britain's) power in this mess.

Others, however, are unconvinced that Britain, Blair, Straw or Brown have got what it takes (well, Brown they aren't so sure of, but still), asking "Can Britain Save Europe?" and concluding, erm... well, no - probably not. (Whether or not "Europe" needs saving at all is another matter. These little spats are healthy, and take place in any good relationship. We all just need a bit of time to kiss and make up.)

Of course, what us poor Brits should be wondering is why the hell the government is so busy pissing about in all parts of the world when they've only just been re-elected to their "historic third term" following an election campaign in which the only foreign issues were a general dislike of Britain's involvement in Iraq and the prevalence of people called Sanjay and Mgobu living down our streets.

In the month since the general election, the only domestic issues which seem to have raised their heads have been teenagers being teenagers, the usual ID cards nonsense and that equally stupid bid to host the 2012 Olympic games. The latter two of which could also be seen as aimed overseas.

Now from my point of view this is great. I can laugh at our pathetic attempts to be a world power (yet still cheer when we succeed) and thanks to having little interest in domestic politics am often far happier rambling on about stuff happening abroad. But when the hell are they going to tackle the Network Rail problems, the school dinners issues, MRSA and NHS efficiency etc. etc. etc.?

Maybe I'm being a tad harsh. They have, after all, announced a public review on having monkeys as pets. But don't get too excited - it looks like they want to ban it. The bastards. I want a monkey, damn it!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Referendum rejected - reform required

Reading through the full text of Jack Straw's speech announcing the (temporary) suspension of Britain's plans for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, its fairly tricky to find anything major to disagree with. And I'm no fan of Jack Straw.

Yep, his summary of what the constitution would have changed is excessively simplistic and other interpretations are easily possible, but the basic points he makes explaining why a referendum is currently a silly idea (pay attention, Ireland) are sound:

"like any other EU treaty, it requires ratification by every one of the EU's member states - now 25 - before it can come into force... until the consequences of France and the Netherlands being unable to ratify the treaty are clarified, it would not in our judgement now be sensible to set a date for second reading [of the European Union bill setting out the proceedures for a referendum]... it is not for the UK alone to decide the future of the treaty... We reserve completely the right to bring back for consideration the bill providing for a UK referendum should circumstances change. But we see no point in doing so at this moment... these referendum results raise profound questions about the future direction of Europe."
Simon Hoggart is on his usual good form with his parliamentary sketch:
"Mr Straw continued in his diffident way, making the greatest crisis in EU history sound like the date of the next choir practice."
Of course, the real crisis is that without the referendum going ahead and giving Blair a convenient point to step down, we're likely to be stuck with the bugger for at least another two years...

Well, that and the impact this period of EU introspection could have on the international scene:
"Europe's future international relations hinge on the outcome of the debate about what to do with the rejected constitution. During the upcoming 16-17 June EU summit, a start will be made tackling the most pressing issues. Should Europe's landscape change from a combined vast geographical area to individually portioned up countries again, this likely will overthow established international relations globally too."
Berlin Sprouts also notes the fears of EU-hopefuls Bulgaria and Romania of the delays to future enlargement the current confusion could bring, while the likes of Turkey and Ukraine are in an even more precarious position which could cause major problems for the drives for reform on their respective domestic scenes.

The EU has been a major force for good in the former Soviet satellite states and other less developed countries to the east. The potential of eventual membership has sped through economic and social reforms which have already started to produce tangible benefits to the various populations.

While our leaders squabble, they should bear this in mind. The point of the EU is basically utilitarian, bringing the greatest benefit to the greatest number. They need to make sure that they don't lose sight of this broader view while focussing on their individual nations' needs.

(By the way, if anyone can come up with a better translation of this Habermas article than Babelfish can manage, I'd be grateful...)

Monday, June 06, 2005

EU Pick 'n' Mix

Switzerland, eh? Never could quite work out their insistence on holding referenda on everything under the sun, but they've got it nicely right this time.

Not only have they demonstrated happily that they're one of the least homophobic countries in the world, but they've opted to join the Schengen group. Now the Swiss can enjoy the benefits of (almost) Europe-wide travel without the bother of passports and such like. (More info on the Schengen Treaty here and here.)

Coming as it does just after the rejection of the EU constitutional treaty by France and Holland, this can surely only be a further indication that a multi-speed Europe is the way forward. Switzerland, like Norway and Iceland, has shown little interest in joining the EU in its current form, but does want some of the benefits. Both Norway and Iceland are now part of the European Economic Area - but not the EU - while Switzerland rejected EEA membership yet has (unlike EU members Britain and Ireland) joined Schengen. Iceland and Norway joined that back in 1996.

The only question now is will the powers that be within the EU start paying attention, and see the benefits of bringing all these various cross-European agreements under a flexible EU umbrella? Not only would that allow the less integrationist current member states to carry on happily, but would enable those that wish it to create a mini "United States of Europe" at the core, surrounded by a larger Eurozone, surrounded by non-Eurozone members, surrounded by affilliate members. All could then be involved purely to the extent they wish, and both federalists and free traders could be kept happy under various parts of the overarching EU framework.

As far as I can see it, this has got to be the most sensible way to progress for all concerned. A regular EU Pick 'n' Mix where the sceptics can keep their distance and be safe in the knowledge they won't be forced into closer integration against their will and the fanatics can happily break down national boundaries - all the while, everyone in the continent trading and talking more than ever before, with none of the resentment towards the organisation that the club mentality of the EU currently seems to breed among its opponents and non-members alike.

(I'm sure I'll shut up about a multi-speed Europe sooner or later... Sorry...)

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