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Christopher Booker's notebook

By Christopher Booker(Filed: 26/06/2005)

Don't be deceived: dissent will just entrench our European rulers

Tony Blair, in his two pronouncements last week on the future of "Europe", made just enough of the right noises to convince the more gullible sections of the media that he might be about to mastermind some miraculous transformation of the EU. He talked about the need to hear the people of Europe blowing their trumpets outside the city walls. He talked of the need for "leadership", and how the EU needed to be "modernised", its economies deregulated, the Common Agricultural Policy reformed. If all this happened, he might even be prepared to renegotiate the British rebate.

But examine his speeches in Westminster and Brussels more closely and they include not a single proposal as to how any of these wonders might be achieved.

The financial arrangements for the CAP, as President Chirac reminds him, are set in stone for another eight years. And, as a Brussels official was last week quoted as saying, the agriculture which the CAP sustains is viewed as "the very fabric of European civilisation, a rampart against decline, the rural exodus, mushrooming urban sprawl, shanty towns, crime, violence, drugs".

Mr Blair was not so foolish as to suggest that any single power already handed over to Brussels should be returned. The Constitution may be in the deep-freeze, but the "European project" rolls on regardless, including policies which could only legally be implemented if the Constitution were ratified. The only chance the peoples of Europe had to give a verdict on all this was through those referendums which, since the French and the Dutch said No, have been suspended indefinitely. Not least in the UK, people have therefore lost their last chance to express their concerns in a peaceful, democratic fashion.

There is not the slightest indication from Mr Blair or anyone else of how the EU could be reformed so as to turn it into anything other than what it is. The system of government which already produces half our laws is now more unaccountable than ever. We are subjected to a government which we cannot dismiss or replace, so that to a great degree we now in effect live in a one-party state. All that has happened, as a result of the turbulence of the past month, is that we face on a "European" level the equivalent of that one-kilometre zone which Mr Blair has decreed should be set up round the Palace of Westminster, in which no demonstrations are to be allowed ever again. If the people wish to blow their trumpets, they can do so, but only so far from Jericho that they are out of earshot, so that our rulers within the city walls can continue ruling undisturbed.

The French farmer gets a very large spoonful

One reason why the Common Agricultural Policy is so loved by President Chirac was highlighted last week by a decision apparently agreed by all 25 EU Commissioners. This was in response to an excoriatory ruling last summer by the World Trade Organisation on the damage being done to the economies of the developing world by the dumping on the world market of four million tons of subsidised EU-produced sugar every year. According to the WTO, this was costing the economies of Brazil, India, Thailand and South Africa alone 3400 million-a-year.

By far the greatest part of this surplus, the result of EU taxpayers paying 31.5 billion-a-year in subsidies, comes from France, which overproduces by three million tons a year. The Commission's response has been to cut its support price for sugar by 39 per cent. As even the Commission admits, this is going to do enormous damage to sugar producers in EU countries, such as Denmark, Poland and the UK (which imports more than half its sugar from our former West Indian colonies). But the one country which will suffer least from this new deal is that which has been the main culprit: France. Because France contrives to give more generous support to its beet growers than other countries, they will still be able to undercut their EU competitors. So their surplus will now be exported to all those countries such as Britain, where sugar-beet producers fear they will be driven out of business.

It is all very well for Mr Blair to talk airily about reforming the CAP. It was devised in the 1960s by France, with the specific aim of protecting French farmers, so that the rest of Europe could pay for their surpluses twice - first by subsidy, and then as imports. Despite at least three "reforms" of the CAP since, that principle remains sacrosanct. Tony Blair will be long gone before the CAP is abandoned.

Expensive ignorance

Last Monday in the Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch raised an item from this column last week on the various ways in which the EU is already implementing the "Constitution for Europe" without waiting for it to be ratified. He asked the Leader of the House, Baroness Amos, about the setting up of a European space programme, the European Defence Agency, the European Fundamental Rights Agency and an EU diplomatic service, none of which have proper legal authorisation.

The minister's response was astonishing. She made no attempt to answer his question, but lectured him on how he did not understand the ratification process. Next day Lord Pearson, joined by Lord Waddington, a former home secretary, tried again. This time Lady Amos replied: "I am not aware of any formal or informal legislative proposals that rely on the treaty as their base." Despite having been caught out, she had made no effort to do her homework.

Lady Amos receives 98,999 a year from the taxpayers. If she cannot produce serious answers to serious questions, why do we pay such a sum? Written questions have been tabled in an effort to get the baroness to earn her money.

Scrambled egg warning

The Daily Mail was hugely excited last week about a ruling from East Sussex county council that children must no longer bring egg boxes into school to be turned into dinosaurs and Daleks, because they might contract salmonella poisoning. The newspaper not only wheeled on scientific experts to confirm that there was not the slightest risk of such a thing happening, but launched into an editorial on these "health and safety gauleiters running amok". It was time for these "regulation-obsessed zealots" who "want to wrap up the whole of Britain in cotton wool" to "get a life".

In 1988, of course, the attempt by Edwina Currie and others to connect salmonella with eggs whipped up the first of a series of hysterical food scares. Only four years later did a government report confess that the egg scare had been based on a complete misreading of the science. But right at the forefront of that media hysteria, which led to 5,000 small egg producers being driven out of business, was the Daily Mail.