Sunday, 28 December 2008

Defining Propaganda

It can be difficult of course. When does the simple imparting of information cross the line into propaganda?

Then again, at other times there's no real problem with making the distinction.

EU Tube’s attempts to adopt street language have also misfired, with ventures such as a three-minute “euro-rap”, which urges young viewers “you gotta be a part of” a united Europe.

“Get on our team, you know what I mean,” the rapper sings, surrounded by teenagers brandishing the EU flag. “It’s the return of the blue. See I’m going to move across from Germany to Paris, oui. We get united and take a stand in solidarity. I speak in all ’hoods.”

Or this:

a three-minute series of clips of people having sex, ending with the words “Let’s come together”. The video, intended to promote the Brussels film subsidy,


EU Tube is funded out of a €207m (£196m) communication budget from Brussels. So far the channel has attracted 7,391 subscribers. The community has a population of 500m.

I think we'd probably take those examples as being propaganda, wouldn't we?

A spokesman for the European commission in London said: “This is not propaganda, we are simply providing information.”

Ah, yes, that simply confirms it then.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Ode to Joy

As we all know, this is the European Union's anthem

D'ye think we could get them to play this version at official events? About the right level of seriousness don't you think?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Nigel, Sarkozy and Klaus

Interesting times yesterday in the European Parliament. It starts off with this:

The French president sided with federalist Euro-MPs who are engaged in a bitter feud with Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president and a Eurosceptic.

Senior MEPs, including the president of the European Parliament, Hans Gert Poettering, caused a diplomatic incident ten days ago after demanding that Mr Klaus hoist the European flag over his residence during bad tempered talks in Prague.

"It was a wound, it was an outrage to see that flags had been taken down from public buildings," said President Sarkozy, the current holder of the EU's six-month rotating presidency which he hands over to the Czech Republic in January.

Yes, that dreary insistence that the EU flag must be flown everywhere, even where it's not wanted. The response is rather plain and simple:

Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, hit back as the diplomatic war of words between Paris and Prague threatened to overshadow the smooth transfer of the EU presidency.

"There is no law binding the Czech Republic to hang the EU flag over Prague Castle. Prague Castle is a symbol of the Czech state and not the EU," he said.

"It is not up to the head of another state to criticise the Czech president over flags."

Quite. Whatever might be the ambition, the collapse of the nation states into a federal system, it hasn't actually happened yet. People are allowed to fly the 12 stars, but it's not required as yet. And Nigel Farage had something to say on it all:

Nigel Farage, the leader of UK Independence Party, compared the EU flag demand to the behaviour of Nazi or Soviet officials, both dictatorships that had occupied Prague and its Castle in the past.

"The manner in which Cohn-Bendit demanded that President Klaus fly the EU flag over his castle could easily have been done by a German official of over 70 years ago or a Soviet official of 20 years ago," he said.

"No doubt they think that Buckingham Palace should fly the EU flag to show its dominium."

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A note to The Politics Show

The Politics Show is a TV programme coming out of Birmingham.

Just a short note to the people who run it.

An MEP is a Member of the European Parliament.

MEPs do not have the address "House of Commons, London", although thank you for the Christmas card.

No wonder there's a certain confusion amongst the population at large when those speakers of truth to power, the professional media, get such trivially simple things wrong.

Livia Klausova

Oh, very good, very good indeed.

"Well were they wrong when they elected your husband?"

Verse about the EU

They do in fact seem to get verse and verse.

The entire commissioner college,
Is bereft of all relevant knowledge.
Their spirits are stunted,
Their wits are all blunted,
And their brains are like watered-down porridge.

Anyone who can do better please do so in the comments.

More idiotic euro arguments

Perhaps the pound will achieve parity with the euro; perhaps it might even approach parity with the dollar. But so what? The habit of financial writers to call such milestones "psychologically important" just shows that they are in fact economically irrelevant. And the idea that parity with the euro somehow strengthens the case for British membership is asinine: please name one country that has joined it because its old currency was at or close to parity. It is utterly irrelevant.

One worth remembering in the times to come. The arguments in favour and against membership of the euro are nothing at all to do with what rate the exchange rate is. And, as above, from the ex-editor of The Economist, the idea that parity means we should join the euro is simply asinine. Irrelevant even.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

That falling pound

The solution is contained within the problem.

However, it was estimated that half of the visitors to London's West End were savvy continental shoppers who had travelled to Britain hoping to make a saving by cashing in on a weak pound.

Jace Tyrrell from the NWEC said: "Just as we used to head to New York to grab a bargain, we're now seeing foreign visitors, particularly Europeans, flocking to London. The strong euro against the pound means Europeans are flocking to London to grab a bargain - with prices about 25 to 30% down on Paris and Milan.

"This week Fortnum and Mason's cafe was 70% European visitors and our market across the West End is 50% tourists."

The pound falls, our exports become cheaper for foreigners to buy and thus economic activity here is boosted.

This is how floating exchange rates work and are supposed to work, the solution is built into hte very system. Absolutely the last thing we want to do is give up this self-correcting mechanism by joining the euro.

Spot on

The apparatchiks of the European Union establishment have one thing, at least, in common with serial rapists. They cannot accept that no means no. These people all want it really, they say. They’re not victims; they’re gagging for it. And they’ll love it really when we get our way with them. What the EU establishment wants, it gets. It takes, regardless.

Can't really say fairer than that, can you?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A very good point


Can someone explain to me why Gordon Brown wants Ireland to vote twice on the Lisbon Treaty while simultaneously insisting that Britain shouldn't vote at all?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Quite Mr Redwood

I think we all rather knew this first part.

The outrageous decision to make the Irish vote again shows the EU is thoroughly anti democratic.

It's the second part which is a little more complex.

It also appears that there are changes to the Treaty, over the number of Commissioners. This means it should be put again to the people and Parliaments of the EU everywhere.

Complex even if equally true.

For the assurances that the Irish are seeking need, of course, to be legally watertight. A few well meaning expressions of intent won't cover it. But if they are to be legally watertight then they need to be part of the legal document. Meaning that the treaty approved (if it is of course) by the Irish will be different in a legal sense from the one approved by everyone else.

So, therefore, everybody should have to ratify the treaty once again.

Now of course neither I nor anyone else is sufficiently naive to believe that this is what will actually happen. Which means that not only are we a tad short on that democracy thing within the EU, we're also alarmingly short on the rule of law.

Monday, 8 December 2008

No euro, not here.

This is going to be a tad controversial: there are indeed benefits of joining the euro. For there are benefits about doing just about anything. There are also costs to joining the euro, just as there are costs to doing just about anything.

One thing economists like to point out is that there are in fact no solutions. There are only tradeoffs. And what you want to do is work out the value of all of those tradeoffs so that you can make the correct decsion, do this or don't do this?

One of the claimed benefits of joining the euro has been that it will boost trade. Yes, it almost certainly would as the costs (and uncertainties) of using different currencies fall. But what we actually want to know is by how much, so that we can set it off against the undoubted costs of losing our currency and interest rate freedoms.

One of the most important pieces of research used by euro proponents was a paper from Andrew Rose showing that countries which joined currency unions tended to see their trade increase by up to 200pc. However, a paper published by Harvard's Jeffrey Frankel has shown that, in fact, trade within the eurozone increased by just 10-20pc during the first four years of the currency. Moreover, the volume of trade did not rise any further thereafter.

In the paper, published by the National Bureau for Economic Research, Prof Frankel says: "The most surprising finding of this study was the absence of any evidence that the effects of the euro on bilateral trade have continued to rise during the second half of the eight-year history of the euro."

Worth noting that Jeff Frankels is one of those economists we should be listening to. And the benefits are a great deal smaller, one tenth only, of those previously assumed. Further, they come as a one off boost (a "step change" I like to call it) rather than an ever accelerating benefit. This is important because the exchange rate and interest rate flexibility will be something that, retaining the pound, continues to give us extra benefits each year into the future.

So, another nail in the coffin of the idea that the euro is good for us....or anyone else come to that.

A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing

This all sounds very good:

Immigrants will have wait up to 10 years for the right to claim UK benefits and council housing in the toughest crackdown seen for decades, it emerged last night.

All legal migrants will have to serve a five year 'probationary citzienship' before being considered for a passport, immigration minister Phil Woolas said.

Those who work hard, are law-abiding and do voluntary work will be eligible for benefits one or two years afterwards.

But others will have to wait another five years before they can claim any benefits at all, in order to deter migrants who see Britain as a soft touch for benefit claimants.

Mr Woolas said: 'Entitlement to benefits should be for citizens of our country, not other people. If you are a citizen you have earned the right to benefits. People must show they are here to work.'

And then you look at the details. This will not apply to asylum seekers as they are dealt with under UN and EU rules. This won't apply to EU citizens because it is illegal for us to make such distinctions against them. The only group it does apply to is non-EU immigrants (who are not asylum seekers) and there really aren't all that many of them.

It's not that I mind or don't mind the restrictions, it's the way that it's being announced.

Last October Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was forced to make the embarrassing admission that the number of foreign workers entering Britain since 1997 was 1.1 million - a staggering 300,000 more than official figures recorded.

It simply doesn't affect that number of people.

No doesn't mean no

At least, not in the European Union it seems.

On Thursday the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen will confirm that a new vote will be held in 2009.

Diplomats have named October as the most likely date for the vote, while Government sources said April was also being considered

Mr Cowen said he believed that the economic crisis could help persuade some of those who voted against the Treaty to change their minds.

The Government is expected to argue that Ireland would have been in a worse position if it had not signed up to the euro, and that the Treaty will speed up decision-making and help tackle the downturn.

That part of being "worse off" out of the euro is of course insane. With their own currency Eire could have set interest rates to suit their own economy rather than that of Germany. They would thus have been higher and the housing boom and subsequent bust less painful.

A warning on the National Database

No, we really do not want to have these ID cards nor the associated National Database.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The idiocy of the euro

Peter Obourne tells it like it is over the euro. No, of course Britain shouldn't join it, it's a laughable idea.

The truth is that the euro has failed as a currency. Its supporters are talking nonsense when they say it will soon emerge as a major world currency capable of rivalling the dollar. In fact, the single currency is likely to fall apart during the recession.

Back in 1999, the British public was told by Tony Blair and others that we would suffer economically if we stayed out of the euro. As we now know, these warnings were mendacious. Instead, Britain's growth rate has increased by 26 per cent in real terms since 1999. Meanwhile, the eurozone countries have seen a figure of just 21 per cent.

There is a structural reason for this. While the euro has certainly created some benefits for member countries, such as the abolition of currency transactions, these have been outweighed by one fundamental flaw: nations in the eurozone are forced to have the same interest rate regardless of their individual economic circumstances.

Over the past decade, these rates have tended to be too low. This is because they were set in order to help the German economy recover from the recession into which it fell as a result of the massive costs of incorporating East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

While these low rates benefited Germany, they fuelled a disastrous inflationary boom in Spain, Ireland and a number of other countries.

Conversely, the German economy then started to improve - leading to the European Central Bank raising interest rates.

Once again, this policy suited Germany at a time when it needed to hold back inflation. But it has proved disastrous to economies such as those in Ireland, France, Italy and Greece because it suffocated their growth and created a period of prolonged recession from which some will struggle to emerge.

Britain alone, among major European economies, remains outside the euro. This has proved a fantastic piece of good fortune.

Indeed, our economic fate scarcely bears thinking about had we joined the single currency, as all those so- called 'experts' wanted, ten years ago.

With the same, low interest rates as the rest of Europe in the early years, Gordon Brown's credit boom would have been even more reckless. Subsequently, as rates were raised steeply, Britain would have plunged into an even deeper recession because our industry would have found borrowing costs too high.

As it is, sterling has benefited greatly by being outside the eurozone. Having fallen in value by 30 per cent against the single currency during the past 12 months, exporters have seen a growth in business while the cost of imports have soared.

Without the pound being able to find its own natural level outside the euro, unemployment would have been considerably higher.

Those are very much the same arguments that I make myself. Indeed, I would go further: there has to be flexibility in an economy. The world isn't stable, technology isn't stable, markets and relative prices aren't stable. So the economy is a continual balancing act. And to do that balancing we need to have flexibility in the economy. There's a number of different ways we can get that too.

The first and most obvious is that with a floating currency we're able to change the external value of our exports and the internal value of our imports. This is exactly what he decline of sterling in the recent months has done for us. Our exports are now cheaper for the rest of the world to buy, imports are more expensive. This will increase the demand doubly for goods and services produced in Britain and thus boost the economy and employment.

A second source of flexibility is in interest rates. We've the power and ability to set them to suit the needs of our economy.

Neither of those sources of flexibility exist inside the euro. However, there are two more sources of possible flexibility. The first is the number of unemployed. If we can't change interest rates or the exchange rate then we can still change the number in employment. But does anyone really want recessions to be marked by even higher unemployment than we are already going to get?

The second is in prices. The general price level could fall (or real wages as has been happening in Germany) but that's something we call deflation. And that's something we really really don't want as it causes the entire economy to collapse in on itself as happened in the 1930s.

There's a truism from economics, that there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.

Stay out of the euro and control our own interest rates and exchange rate to provide the flexibility the economy requires. Or join and lose those two tools and leave ourselves only with unemployment or deflation as the tools available.

Given that the social effects, the results in terms of human suffering, are much greater from those latter two than the first pair this leads us to the inevitable answer.

Stay out of the euro.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Your help needed

The European Union is asking for your views on what it should do, how Europe could be made a better place.

The website is here.

I think it might be a good idea if we contributed an idea or two, don't you? Perhaps a tad more constructive than my own desired entry of "Bugger Off"?

In fact, why don't we try and rally the clans, get the word out, and see quite how many constructive ideas we might be able to contribute?

As long as they're being honest and publishing all entries we might be able to get some interesting points across.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The return of nationalism

No, not far right idiots goose stepping around, rather that in hard times people look to the nation rather than the ethereal creations of an international elite.

The abandonment by its few remaining supporters of any residual, sentimental loyalty to the idea of the European Union is becoming more likely by the day. The peoples of Europe, under very great stress, are beginning to realise that their pain is being made worse by supranational rules made in Brussels by unelected officials and then rammed through supine national parliaments by political elites. These rules are now working against the interests of the people of Europe.

No-one has been more supportive of the EU project than the Germans, from their windmills to their currency. However, when their country's core industries are shutting down, they will turn to an entity they recognise and resonate with: their nation. Germany.

The same will happen in France, as it always has though it is impolite - not communautaire - to say so out loud. France first. All else is convenience, nostalgic national bombast or smokescreen.

UKIP Elsewhere

A report on a talk give by Tim Congdon:

Professor Tim Congdon was clearly outraged at the behaviour of the Bank of England over Northern Rock. He argued that the Bank of England is meant to be and has long been the lender of last resort. That is how the system has worked. For many years it has saved banks but it has done so in a way that does not damage a free society. What it has done is lend aggressively and expensively to banks that have had need of cash but whose assets have exceeded their liabilities.

He said that in the case of Northern Rock, Lloyds TSB offered to buy Northern Rock but wanted the Bank of England to promise to back it up with cash if need be. Congdon said that normally the Bank would have said yes. He claimed the previous Bank governor, Eddie George, would have said yes. But the current governor, Mervyn King, said no. He is outraged by this and argues that this made our current crisis worse than it need have been. He says the Northern Rock had net assets (assets larger than its liabilities) and that even after the fall in house values, this remains the case. He said, if I recall, that 97 per cent of its mortgages are being paid off in the normal way.

More recently, again the Bank of England has not kept to its usual role of lending aggressively and expensively. Instead the government has only lent on conditions and, I would add, one major condition has been the taking large stakes in several major banks. The freedom, independence and perhaps international competitiveness of banks has been undermined and the crisis has been made worse than it need have been.

Sounds about right to me (althopugh do remember that I'm not a banking economist, only an interested amateur in the subject).

Can we have our country back?

These stories enrage me.

A primary school infuriated parents after cancelling the traditional Christmas nativity play to make way for the Muslim festival of Eid.

Parents at the Nottingham school were told that the planned performance had to be pulled because some of the pupils wanted to celebrate Eid at home with their families.

No, it's not Islam or Islamism that enrages. Anybody and everybody can worship whichever version of the sky pilot they desire as far as I'm concerned. And it's certainly not the reaction of those Muslim parents that enrages.

Sajad Hussain, 35, of who has two children at the school said: 'My children will be off for the two days next week to see their family.

'It's not that complicated; they could have one event on one day and another on another day, they should have both celebrations at the school.

'If you do not have both it becomes a racist thing and that's why you have to be careful if an issue is made out of it it could become nasty.'

An eminently sensible mixture of tolerance, pragmatism and a touch of scheduling. Very British in fact.

No, it's twits like this:

In a letter, sent by the staff at Greenwood Junior School, mothers and fathers were told: 'It is with much regret that we have had to cancel this year's Christmas performances.

'This is due to the Eid celebrations that take place next week and its effect on our performers.'

How did we end up with the education system run by people like this?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

What the Socialists would bring us

Good spot by The Croydonian here. The Socialist Manifesto for the European Elections (and yes, this is the group that our own dear Labour Party belong to).

We must ensure that workers have full rights to information and consultation during all takeovers.

We propose to strengthen workers’ rights to information and consultation. Employee participation at European and global level is a key issue for the future - a vital element of a more social Europe and a precondition for decent work. We will seek to enhance participation in economic decision-making processes at European level. To do this, workers’ rights to information and consultation must be anchored in company law directives using the European Company Statute model and the rights of European Works Councils must be extended. We also want to foster greater social dialogue between unions and employers at European level
and extend it to more sectors.

They'd never get that sort of stuff through the system here domestically so they'll get Brussels to insist that we must do it instead.

Not the Queen's Speech

The end of a very fine piece:

Still, at the end of their day they're my Government, and I don't have to sign any of their poxy laws if I don't want to. The Duke of Edinburgh and I will be going home now. It's racing from Catterick this afternoon, and we don't want to miss it.

Where the money goes.

This is how the European Union spends our money.

The findings? Astronomically high levels of nickel and elevated amounts of lead. Enough for the European Commission to pull the plug on all 20 of the machines - installed in January at a cost of about €5,000, or $6,350, each.

Soon the machines may be removed from the upper floors of the iconic Berlaymont, the building in Brussels where top European Commission officials have their offices.

100,000 on coffee machines? Why can't they just go to Starbucks like everyone else?

The climate change solution!

Amazing this, truly wonderful. Margot Wallstrom goes looking for some answers to the problems of today.

Last Friday I participated in the Interfaith Climate Summit in the beautiful Swedish city of Uppsala. The Archbishop of Uppsala Anders Wejryd, had invited 30 distinguished persons from different faith traditions around the world to discuss climate change and to sign a manifesto with demands to political leaders for the UN negotiations on a new global climate agreement. The manifesto calls, among other things, for rapid and large emission cuts in the rich world, mitigation actions by developing countries and massive transfers and sharing of important technology.

Isn't that lovely?

Next week Margot will be asking the opinions of atmospheric scientists upon the meaning of transubstantiation.

Well, why not? It's as sensible as using the sky pilots to investigate climate science isn't it?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Strange People

There really are some strange people in politics. Take this from Caroline Lucas MEP:

Green Euro-MP Caroline Lucas sent a message of solidarity to West Papua today, as campaigners from the Indonesian-occupied province delivered a petition to Downing Street and launched a Declaration for self-determination (1).

Exiled West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda was joined by UK Parliamentarians and Free West Papua supporters from all over UK for the signing of the West Papua Declaration in Westminster.

Well, at this point I have to agree. West Papua (Irian Jaya as it used to be called) should indeed be able to decide its own future. It's what self-determination is all about.

It's also true that what they're actually asking for is a referendum on how they are governed and who by. I certainly can't argue with that.

But this is what leads me to think that there really are some strange people in politics. Dr. Lucas is perfectly at liberty to call for a referendum in some far flung corner of the world. But why doesn't she call for the same for us here? Why doesn't she call for the same rights for her own constituents?

Is there something about us that means we're not ready for democracy yet?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Barroso, the euro and The Guardian

This is an interesting little piece. Barroso says that Britain is closer than ever to joining the euro. It would appear that at least some people don't agree with him. As reported in The Guardian:

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence party, said: "The ruling elite would love to bounce us into the euro and will grasp at any straw to do so, for it's a step on the way to their dream and our nightmare, a federal superstate.

"We're told that some British politicians have said, 'If we had the euro, we would have been better off.' Whoever these people are we need to hunt them down and explain some simple economics to them. Membership of the euro would have meant lower interest rates in the boom, making the bubble even larger. And it would mean higher interest rates now in the bust, making the recession even deeper. The pound has fallen against both the dollar and the euro thus providing us with that fiscal boost that everyone says is so necessary, a boost which we couldn't have had if we were in the euro."

He said that if Barroso wanted to consult the people who mattered in Britain he should call for a referendum on the euro and the Lisbon treaty "so that the people of Britain can tell him where to go".


This story of how the EU intends to capture Chrismas may not be entirely true in all its details.

Had a lunch meeting with Commissioner Wallström - I'm sure she's part Elf. She wanted me to deliver a copy of the Proposed EU Constitution to every child as part of their communication strategy. “Even if they've been naughty?” “Especially if they've been naughty,” she purred. We manage to find a compromise and they're going to produce it as a colouring book. What sold me on the idea is thinking of the look on Nigel Farage's face on Christmas morning. As I leave, she calls out, asking what I would think of a rebrand. Pardon? Would I consider rebranding myself as EuroSanta, as it would give the EU a friendlier image? I take a huge slug from my hip flask and promise to think it over.