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Christopher Booker's Notebook
(Filed: 24/10/2004)


EU sneaks in back door of UK police college
Regulation is our biggest 'industry'
No plaice at talks for whistleblower

EU sneaks in back door of UK police college

The raising, some time in the near future, of the European Union's blue-and-gold "ring of stars" flag over Britain's national police college at Bramshill, in Hampshire, will mark a further giant step towards an integrated EU police force.

A document issued by the EC this month, COM (2004) 623, sets out the arrangements for making Bramshill the headquarters of Cepol, the "European police college" that will direct the integration of all the EU's national police into one structure, sharing a common code of training and procedures.

The establishment of Cepol follows from the council decision in Tampere, Finland, in 1999 that the EU should become "a single judicial space". The EU's heads of government, including Tony Blair, agreed measures to harmonise their countries' criminal laws and judicial procedures, under the direction of Eurojust, based in Holland. This is linked to the integration of national forces, following the creation of Europol, the "European Police Office".

COM (2004) 623 lays down how Cepol shall arrange for the training of "senior police officers" from across the EU, draw up "common curricula and methodologies" for all national police training programmes, and inculcate "an awareness of belonging to the European Union". Eventually, all senior police officers will need a Cepol certificate showing that they have received instruction in EU policing methods and "European awareness".

The choice of Bramshill was agreed last December, when Mr Blair and other EU leaders approved the siting of nine other EU agencies, including the Fisheries Protection Agency at Vigo, in Spain; the Human Rights Agency in Vienna; and new bodies, centred in Cologne, Lisbon and Lille, to control the safety of the EU's aviation, shipping and railways.

This is a huge acceleration in the integration process, involving the transfer of a tranche of national powers to these new EU bodies. But none will have more far-reaching implications than the raising of the "ring of stars" over what is now to become the EU's own police college in Hampshire.

Regulation is our biggest 'industry'

David Arculus, the businessman who runs the Government's Better Regulation Task Force, was last week reported as claiming that the cost of regulation to our economy is now more than 100 billion a year, representing more than a tenth of our gross domestic product.

He might have added that this makes regulation easily the largest "industry" in Britain, far outweighing, for instance, tourism (76 billion), financial services (66 billion) or the health service (65 billion).

The reason I have written more about this than any other journalist in recent years is that, 12 years ago, I was made aware that the explosion of regulatory and bureaucratic pressures on almost every sector of the UK economy was blossoming into one of the most serious problems confronting the country.

During those years politicians from John Major to Tony Blair (he was at it again in Birmingham only last week) have repeatedly promised to do something to stem this tidal wave, to no effect whatever. One obvious reason is that much of the most damaging regulation stems from the EU, and producing new regulations is what the EU is for.

A second reason is that few politicians have any idea how our system of lawmaking and government works. The machine that produces all this law is generally regarded as so complex and so boring that neither our politicians nor our media have any way of relating to it, let alone doing anything about it.

A third reason is that, for every single new law, however mad, it is always possible to find some seemingly altruistic justification. Once health and safety, conservation, the environment or fighting discrimination has been invoked, no one seems capable of asking whether the law actually achieves its purposes. Yet in almost every case, these new regulations are so misconceived that they are taking a sledgehammer to miss a nut.

So the tide rolls on, suffocating enterprise, sapping people's pleasure in their work, destroying one sector of our economy after another - until the cost of regulation has become the largest single component in the economic activity of the country. But it is much more interesting to write about Boris Johnson.

No plaice at talks for whistleblower

Owen Paterson MP, the Conservatives' fisheries spokesman, last week pulled off a remarkable coup. In half a page of The Daily Telegraph and two pages of Fishing News, he exposed the ecological catastrophe of the EU's common fisheries policy more vividly than any politician has done before.

Pictures showed a grim-faced Mr Paterson standing on the deck of a trawler in the Irish Sea, next to a net bulging with tiny plaice. Under EU rules, fishermen are forced to catch these fish, then dump them, dying, back in the sea. Hundreds of millions of such immature fish are needlessly destroyed each year in the Irish Sea alone, to the despair of fishermen - all to comply with EU rules designed to "conserve fish stocks".

The skipper of the trawler Kiroan, Philip Dell, demonstrated this unnecessary massacre. First he put down an 80mm mesh trawl, of the type insisted on by Brussels, in the name of "cod recovery". This inevitably snares thousands of baby plaice, which must then be chucked away.

A second trawl with a 110mm mesh - large enough to allow the small fish to escape - came up containing only mature plaice and a few dogfish. Yet if fishermen use the conservation-friendly larger net, they are savagely penalised, losing so many permitted days fishing that it is all but impossible for them to earn a living.

On Thursday, Mr Paterson flew to Aberdeen to address a conference on how the Scottish fishing industry could be made viable within the common fisheries policy. He went at the invitation of the Greenwich Forum, which had been asked to organise the conference by the publicly-funded North East Scotland Economic Forum.

Mr Paterson intended to speak about the horror of his experience on the Kiroan, and of his recent visits to the Faroes, Iceland, Canada and America, where fisheries and fish stocks are thriving - in the absence of such mad rules.

On arrival, however, he was told he would not be permitted to speak. The only speeches would be from CFP supporters. Mr Paterson would merely be permitted to ask a single question, from the floor, of the "experts" on the platform, who know much less about the viability of fisheries than he does.