Monday, 30 April 2007

Saving Scotland from Europe

A quote from James McConalogue’s article on the potential fragmentation of the United Kingdom, pending the outcome of the Scottish elections on 3 May: “There is no clearer case of the European Union destroying a sovereign nation than the decade of devolutionary malpractice which the EU has upheld in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – a devolved separatism which may very well lead to the deconstruction of the United Kingdom …” To read on, click here.

EU Attempts Suppression of Free Speech

Why is so little recognition given to the fact that the EU often attempts to suppress basic liberties, such as the freedom of speech and opinion? For example, on 19 April 2007, the Justice and Home Affairs Council reached a general approach on the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia. This Framework Decision has been discussed since 2001, but this was the third such attempt to reach a consensus. The German Presidency has been able to reach an agreement but it could not get agreement on a Holocaust-denial law as well as an EU-wide ban on Nazi symbols.

Under this Framework Decision, all EU Member States will have to punish “public incitement to violence or hatred , even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.” The following intentional conduct will be also punishable in all 27 Member States: “Publicly condone, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin”, and “crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nüremberg directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.” Therefore, the conduct is only criminal if it is likely to incite violence or hatred – otherwise, as the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has argued: “the proposal would make a serious and unnecessary change to the existing law in the UK as it would criminalize the expression of ideas as such.”

Furthermore, “Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.” The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Vernon Coaker, said to the ESC: “in the UK we only criminalise behaviour that is carried out in a threatening, abusive, or insulting manner that constitutes racial hate.” Therefore, this provision will allow the UK to continue adopting its approach.

Moreover, the Decision assures that attacks on religions will be punishable if it amounts to inciting hatred “against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.”

All 27 EU Member States will have to ensure “that these conducts are punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment.” According to the government, the UK will not be obliged to amend its criminal law or to create new criminal offences. Furthermore, according to the Framework Decision: “Member States will not have to modify their constitutional rules and fundamental principles relating to freedom of association, freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.”

Even if this Framework Decision does not affect UK law, even if it will not have an impact on freedom of speech, the UK already has laws against racial hatred, with clauses for free expression, such as the Labour government's equally problematic The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (recall the House of Lords amendments, protecting the freedom of expression). Do we really need further laws on this issue?

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

EU increases regulations on mobile roaming in the Internal Market

On 12 April 2007, the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee approved the Commission's proposal of July 2006 for an EU Regulation on mobile roaming in the Internal Market. The European Commission wants to reduce the charges mobile phone users have to pay for making calls abroad by up to 70%. In general, the Commission, Parliament and Council agree on the objectives of the EU Roaming Regulation, but unsurprisingly mobile operators do not share their enthusiasm.

The debate rests upon the different ways in which the objectives can be attained through the regulation and on the level of the price caps. The European Parliament's Industry committee approved Paul Rubig's report on ‘Roaming on public mobile networks' which establishes a single cap of €0.40 per minute for outgoing roaming calls and a €0.15 cap for incoming calls and €0.23 for wholesalers, plus VAT.

Therefore, in what concerns wholesale charges, the Industry Committee, decided not to follow the commission proposal which distinguishes between calls made within or outside the “visited network.” The Council has proposed a cap of €0.50 for outgoing calls and €0.25 for incoming calls. Furthermore, the Committee voted that “ all existing and new roaming customers shall automatically be accorded a Euro-tariff (‘opt-in' mechanism) .” Customers may opt for another tariff (or ‘opt out-system'). Moreover, the Committee has agreed that customers may switch to and from the Euro-tariff at no charge within 30 days of their request. The so called “ sunset clause ” was also agreed by the Committee's Members meaning that the roaming regulation should expire within three years “ unless the Commission presents, before its expiry, a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council to prolong its duration .” The vote in the European Parliament's plenary is scheduled for May.

If the EU Council of Telecom Ministers agrees with the European Parliament's report during their meeting in June, then the EU Roaming Regulation may be adopted. Otherwise, there may have to be a second reading. It is important to recall that Europe's telecom industry has been lobbying against roaming regulation. The roaming service is estimated to be worth €8.5 billion a year. Telecom companies have seen the cut on retail prices as an unprecedented excessive government intervention in prices.

Monday, 23 April 2007

European Commission issues communication on “enhancing the patent system in Europe”

Emphasising that the current patent system in Europe is significantly more expensive than the US and Japanese systems, the European Commission has pledged a Community patent. The Commission argues that the EU's current system of patent litigation, with the risk of several patent litigation in various countries on the same patent issue carries unnecessary costs for all the parties involved and creates a lack of legal certainty.

The Commission's Communication published on 3 April 2006 is intended to allow the Council to launch deliberations on patent reforms, mainly on the Community patent and jurisdictional arrangements. Member States have different positions on patents – some support the draft European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) in the context of the European Patent Convention while others favour the establishment of a specific Community jurisdiction for patent litigation on European and Community patents based on the EC Treaty. In this context, the Commission believes that compromise can be reached on the basis of an integrated approach combining elements of both EPLA and a Community jurisdiction. According, to the European Commission the solution lies on “ the creation of a unified and specialised patent judiciary, with competence for litigation on European patents and future Community patents .”

So, the Commission is suggesting that the patent jurisdiction should consist of “ first instances chambers in each Member States as well as a fully centralised appeal court which would ensure uniformity of interpretation .” They would have competence for “ infringement and validity actions as well as for related claims such as damages .” Unsurprisingly, the European Court of Justice would be the final arbiter. So much for "enhancing" the patent system in Europe.

“Green Taxes” a “win-win option”

The European Commission has begun a debate on ‘Green Taxes' by assuring that such ‘welfare-positive taxes' can only be a ‘win-win option.' On 28 March 2007, the Commission approved a Green Paper on market-based instruments for environment-related policy purposes. The Commission believes that there should be an increased use of market-based instruments such as trading schemes, taxation measures and subsidies as a cost-effective way of achieving environmental and other policy objectives – not only at Community level but also at national levels.

Its aim is to launch a public debate on advancing the use of economic market-based instruments in the Community. Furthermore, the Green Paper identifies a range of areas where market based instruments can be applied. The Commission has stated “ an environmental tax reform (ETR) shifting the tax burden from welfare-negative taxes, (e.g. on labour), to welfare-positive taxes, (e.g. on environmentally damaging activities, such as resource use or pollution) can be a win-win option to address both environmental and employment issues. At the same time, a long term tax shift will require relatively stable revenues from the environment related tax base .” This is among the key options identified in the Green Paper.

The European Commission will decide on the appropriate follow-up in light of the responses received. Furthermore, the Commission wants to take the reactions on the Green Paper for the future review of the Energy Taxation Directive. Replies to the consultation will be sent by the end of July.

House of Commons' European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) Ignored Again

It is obvious from the conduct of the Home Office in early April that it is often prepared to sideline advice from the ESC on European legislation, regardless of its obligation to the Committee's scrutiny reserve. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee earlier recommended the consideration of a proposal on sentenced persons for debate in the European Standing Committee, since it raised several important issues.

The Committee was duly concerned about “whether there is a need for this proposal given the existence of the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, whether it was right to provide for the compulsory transfer of prisoners and whether the UK should require the safeguard of dual criminality so as to ensure that it does not end up imprisoning its own nationals, on behalf of other EU Member States, when they have been convicted in respect of conduct which is not a crime in the United Kingdom and compulsorily transferred to this country .” The Chairman of the European Foundation and member of the ESC, Bill Cash MP, said “… that is a crucially important question of justice and fairness .”

In the proceedings, the ESC provided three written warnings to Home Office Minister, Joan Ryan, not to override the scrutiny reserve. However, despite all the warnings Ms Ryan ignored the ESC's reserve on the proposal. An initial meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council took place on 15–16 February 2007 and the government then participated in a general approach on the Draft Framework Decision. Joan Ryan subsequently attended an evidence session on 28 March 2007. In this session, the European Scrutiny Committee sought to obtain an explanation from Ms Ryan as to why she participated in a “ general approach ” on this proposal. In sum, the ESC wanted to make clear that the Minister had acted in breach of the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution as she took part in a “ general approach ” before the debate had taken place in the European Standing Committee.

Ms Ryan argued that “ it was necessary to finalise negotiations as soon as possible and only a ‘general approach' had been decided, therefore, Member States have the right to reopen negotiations .” However, this has not convinced the ESC which has argued that “… in the circumstances of this case, it is clear that the general approach marked the end-point of discussions on all substantive issues, including the key issue of prisoner consent .”

Blair’s Opposition to Referendum on EU Treaty is Scandalous and Undemocratic

The pitiful approach taken by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on opposing a referendum on a new EU Treaty – which has been intended as a replacement of the Constitution – is both scandalous and undemocratic. Such an erroneous position towards the EU Treaty Referendum demonstrates only contempt for the British people.

In wake of the French and Dutch referendums of 2005, when electorates voted against a European constitution, and a recent poll in March 2007 showing that only 25 per cent of the Europeans felt that life in their country had improved since it had joined the EU, it is clear that now is the time for the UK to take stock and hold public referendums on all existing treaties.

The Prime Minister’s position in preventing public referendum on the EU Treaty is fundamentally wrong and democratically illegitimate. To make the European Union an institution which is beneficial to Britain and the other Member States, and thereby achieve greater democracy among European nations, it is essential for the UK to hold a public referendum and thereby renegotiate its position on the binding treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. Now is the time for the European Union’s thoroughgoing reform, not more mismanagement at the hands of a Labour government which has officially turned its back on the British electorate.

Tony Blair’s opposition to the referendum on the EU Treaty comes at a time when he has also problematically pledged to Parliament and the public that EU criminal law would not affect UK law and furthermore, that he would leave his position in June.

Bill Cash MP, Chairman of the European Foundation, said:
“By virtue of living in a democracy, a new EU Treaty as well as the existing EU treaties need to be put to referendum in order to support the wishes of the British electorate. As a democratic country, it is essential that we put in place national referendums on the new treaty and all other existing treaties. To not do so is a gross injustice. It is undemocratic and treats the British people with contempt.”

The Berlin Declaration – ‘an exercise in self-delusion’

On 23 March 2007, The European Foundation issued the following statement on the Berlin Declaration:

The Berlin Declaration – ‘an exercise in self-delusion’ says leading Eurorealist think tank

On the eve of the EU’s 50th Anniversary, marked by the signing of the Berlin Declaration, the European Foundation – one of the UK’s oldest and most respected Eurorealist think tanks – argues that now is the time to call for the renegotiation of our existing European Treaties in order to ensure that the European Union is beneficial to all countries and peoples involved.

In opposition to the continued post war European integrationist strategy, formulated by the Franco-German axis under the conditions and aspirations of European parliaments in the 1945-57 reconstruction period, the Foundation assures that those objectives for greater stability have in fact now been met with instability, high unemployment, troubling immigration concerns and the undermining of the legislative supremacy of national parliaments. The European Union is not working.

Although political union was part of the original concept, this has not proved possible. The original European objectives have become obsolete, undemocratic and unaccountable. Although the Declaration itself is not binding among Member States, and remains highly contentious, it will hint at the prospect of a “constitution” – possibly in all but name – which has been further complicated by who, if anyone beyond the three Presidents (Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Council, Jose Manuel Barroso of the Commission, and Hans Gert Poettering of the Parliament) will sign the agreement. On Radio 4, President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, who held a conference with the European Foundation last year, described the current predicament of a failure to brief people on the Declaration as “ridiculous.” What is needed is a comprehensive national referendum in each Member State, so that based on democracy and accountability, the nations of Europe can offer a positive alternative to the failed and continuing integration process.

Only by calling for organized referendum, democracy and accountability can nations begin to offer a positive alternative to continued integration. This was proved in the French and Dutch referendums of 2005, when electorates voted against a European constitution. The alternatives to the federalist project would be based on an association of nation-states premised upon a free trade arrangement.

Bill Cash MP, Chairman of the European Foundation, said:
“The Berlin Declaration is an exercise in self-delusion. Old Europe is undemocratic, unaccountable and obsolete. We need a new European Union of associated nation-states which is democratic, stable and fit for purpose in the twenty-first century and engage in the new world.”

French presidential elections must call halt to Iron Chancellor Merkel's plans

On 16 April 2007, the European Foundation issued the following statement ahead of the French presidential elections:

‘It is time for France in its presidential elections to call a halt to Iron Chancellor Merkel’s pursuit of a German Europe’, says leading Eurorealist think tank

It is clear from recent developments in the German EU Presidency (and from discussions over the past few weeks held by the European Foundation in Berlin, Prague, Brussels and Paris) that Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is attempting to impose a vision of a German Europe. This month’s European Journal includes two German analysts who condemn the bold path of post-war Germany in her forceful pursuit of a Europe-wide Constitution for the European Union Member States. The prospect of such an aggressive pursuit of radical European integration must be met with a democratic response to the German Question.

In this month’s European Journal, Bill Cash, MP and Chairman of the European Foundation, responds to the German Question by suggesting that since Germany’s troubled post-war and post Cold war reunification objectives have been aggressively pursued through an intensive European integration framework, now is the time – with popular consent and beginning with the French elections – to renegotiate the treaties which were originally founded on what is now an anachronistic Franco-German partnership and to pledge democratic national referendums on all existing treaties.

Horst Teubert, Editor of Informationen zur deutschen Aussenpolitik (Information on German Foreign Policy), also warns of a country driven towards political “hegemony and dominance” on the back of its EU vision, given that Berlin’s promise to provide resolution on its EU presidency campaign on ‘Energy, Terror, Migration’ will only offer a strengthened Germano-Russian energy market, a strong European Constitution supporting Berlin’s own continued national rearmament and military strength, a German-US policy in Kosovo propelled against the wishes of other European Member States, and a devastating prospect of the growth of the country’s extreme right nationalists.

Dr. Michael Efler of Mehr Demokratie in Berlin proposes in his article – in similar vein to recent comments made by former German President, Roman Herzog – that the German push for the Constitution has continued to reinforce a largely undemocratic European Union.

The terms of the Franco-German partnership have let down the French economy – with high unemployment, instability, and tensions at dangerous levels – and have now been rendered obsolete. On the eve of the French presidential elections – with French leadership contenders criticising President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, the euro and the entire integration process – it is time for the French electorate to stand on its own feet and re-evaluate the European issue. This can be achieved by going back to Charles de Gaulle’s idea of a ‘Europe of nations’ – better understood as a simpler and freer association of the nation states. By re-evaluating the Franco-German partnership – a now obsolete agreement built upon the prevention of war – the French electorate are in the position to remedy the French problem and open way to a new Europe of associated (not absorbed) nation states.

After all, without radical change, the present evolution of the EU would lead to a German Europe. In response to this predicament, the institutions and treaties reasoned under the terms of the Franco-German partnership ought to be unravelled and renegotiated to support a simpler and freer association of nation states with referendums on all existing treaties. That is the only approach in the best long-term interests of France, Germany, UK and all other EU Member States.

Bill Cash MP, Chairman of the European Foundation, said:
“As other German commentators indicate in this month’s edition of The European Journal, Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is attempting to impose a vision of a German Europe. The treaties initiated by Germany and France in post-1945 Europe, and now Merkel’s pledge for the EU Constitution, are in desperate need of renegotiation in order to support a simpler and freer association of nation states. We need national referendums on all the existing treaties.”

The German Europe

In the April edition of The European Journal, Chairman of the European Foundation, Bill Cash MP, warned of the major developments under the German EU Presidency and tells of how the EU now faces the prospect of a German Europe.

In his essay, ‘The German Question’, he claims: “If the framework of Europe is to be relevant in the 21st Century, to face globalisation and other challenges presented by international affairs, the assumption that Europe has to be built upon the template of the Franco-German partnership must be disentangled. … Without radical change, the evolution of the EU would lead to a German Europe. The institutions and treaties reasoned under the terms of the Franco-German partnership need to be unravelled and renegotiated to support a simpler and freer association of nation states with national referendums on all existing treaties. A democratic answer to the German Question at last.”

To read his essay, Click here.