Friday, April 18, 2008

Commission set to propose ban on seal products

Following a lengthy campaign from animal welfare lobbyists, the European Commission has revealed it is planning to propose a ban on seal products within the EU.

EU Observer has reported that Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, plans to propose a ban on fur if a country cannot prove it has been obtained in a humane way.

The proposal should fly through the parliament if the Written Directive calling for a ban on the import, export and sale of seal products is anything to go by. Back in September 2006 it was signed by a record number of MEPs and as such became the position of the parliament.

The article suggests that Dimas has no plans to call for an outright ban but wants to ensure that any seals culled are done so quickly and cleanly. His main intention, it would appear, is to help stop the practice of skinning seals while they are still alive.

Some will be disappointed that the plans do not go further but it is a start and, should it be approved, will help drive up standards and eliminate the very worst aspects of the cull.

It is also an example of how EU citizens can play a part in influencing legislation. The campaign for a ban on seal products came from animal welfare charities and lobbyists and was driven by the sheer weight of mail many MEPs received on the issue. With the European Parliament’s support the case for a ban was strengthened and the European Commission has now responded with these early proposals, which will hopefully improve the welfare of thousands of seals.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The truth about migrants and crime

An interesting if wholly unsurprising report from the Police confirms that migrants to the UK from eastern Europe are not responsible for waves of crime.

As you would expect, levels of crime from eastern European migrants are in line with the rate of crime of the general population.

You can read in more detail about the report on the Guardian and Telegraph websites.

Of course there is one set of people who will be astonished by this news, Daily Mail readers. While researching this blog I couldn’t find a mention of the report on the Daily Mail’s website anywhere, a paper that has previously claimed that eastern European migrants are responsible for one in 10 crimes.

But I wanted to be sure so searched through the Daily Mail's site via Google for mentions of “Immigrants” (you can do it like this). There are thousands upon thousands of hits, none of them mentioning that migrants are in no way responsible for waves of crimes!

Edit on April 17:

It seems the Mail were just a little slow on the uptake. Instead of a screaming front page headline the story is dumped on page 12 of Thursday's paper. Incredibly, and without a hint of irony, James Slack's analysis piece asked, "Who claimed there was a migrant crimewave in the first place?"

And if you think that's astonishing, how about the Express who defied logic and all the evidence to the contrary by plastering Thursday's front page with "IMMIGRANTS BRING MORE CRIME" before going on to quote the report which said, "the evidence does not support theories of a large-scale crime wave generated through migration."

In between the bluster, the blind prejudice and underlying hatred, the Express did find one rise in crime which featured migrants in the report. It was a "huge surge in the exploitation of migrants."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eurosceptics target Ireland

A few months ago UKIP leader Nigel Farage trumpeted on his blog that the Independence and Democracy group (that his UKIP MEPs are the main part of) had decided to "donate a substantial sum of money" to the Irish "No" campaign for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

At one level, it is amusing to see UKIP, which frequently makes shrill accusations about "Brussels meddling with Britain", trying to meddle in a referendum campaign in another country.

However, at another level, this is a serious matter and potentially illegal. The rules governing donations for referendum campaigns in Ireland are very clear. Donations are illegal if they fall into the following categories:

"A donation, of whatever value, from an individual (other than an Irish citizen) who resides outside the island of Ireland" or,

"A donation from a body corporate or unicorporated body of persons which does not keep an office in the island of Ireland from which one or more of its principle activities is directed".

Of course, UKIP knows this and will no doubt try to keep their donations quiet or find an indirect route to channel their money. The well-heeled eurosceptics from across Europe are targeting Ireland. Anyone who gets wind of such donations should inform the Irish Commission on Standards in Public Office, the body charged with making sure that the referendum is fair and that Ireland's rules on spending - which gives equal amounts of public money to both sides - are not subverted.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bushill-Matthews fights a Euromyth

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that a Tory, Philip Bushill-Matthews, MEP has written to the Birmingham Post to rebut a Eurosceptic myth about transport policy. Normally stridently Eurosceptic, Bushill-Matthews rightly points out that a driver whose vehicle is registered in another EU country can evade prosecution for traffic offences in the UK because of the difficulty in verifying his/her home address. Common EU rules could be part of the solution to this problem.

I wonder what Dan Hannan (the Conservatives' chief myth-maker in Europe) thinks of his colleague's efforts!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The trend of grandiose titles

As next year's European election approaches, I am amused to see that some of my colleagues are prone to give themselves grand titles. I see that Edward Mcmillan-Scott refers to himself as "Britain's senior MEP". If he means the longest-serving member, he isn't: Bill Newton Dunn was first elected in 1979 and Stephen Hughes, Caroline Jackson David Martin, Glyn Ford and James Elles have all, like Edward, been in the European Parliament since 1984. If he means that he is an august former leader of the Conservative MEPs, he is one of four still in the Parliament (Kirkhope, Evans, Newton Dunn) as their in-fighting tends to oust their leader every two or three years. If he means he is one of the 14 Vice Presidents, he is not the only one, as Diana Wallis is also a Vice President.

Talking of Diana, she in turn has referred to herself as the "first woman Vice President" which is patently incorrect - there have been dozens. She is not even the first British woman VP as Lady Elles was one back in the 1980s.

Watch out for more imaginative descriptions as the elections approach!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Annotated treaties on my website

For anyone still interested in the differences between the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty, I now have a consolidated version of the treaties on my website, which has been annotated by Peadar รณ Broin at the Irish Institute of International and European Affairs.

The whole text is colour coded so you can identify which parts of the text have been introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which parts are from previous treaties and importantly which parts were in the Constitution but have been dropped from the Lisbon Treaty.

While the consolidated text still weighs in at a hefty 386 pages long, it will certainly be a useful tool for academics and specialists, while just a quick glance at it proves that there are plenty of differences between the Lisbon Treaty and the Constitution.

Click to read.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Record Europe and parliamentry scrutiny

I'm on this week's edition of the BBC's Record Europe with the Chair of the Commons EU Scrutiny commitee, Michael Connarty MP and a Danish MEP, Dan Jorgensen. We were discussing how to improve national parliamentry scrutiny of EU legislation.

You can watch the whole programme on this subject (we come in at the end) online by clicking here of if you have digital it will be on the BBC Parliament channel once a day all this week.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Miliband builds on government's increasingly pro-European stance

Patrick Wintour focused on David Miliband's Mansion House speech in yesterday's Guardian, suggesting the government is entering into a new pro-European era, following the Lisbon Treaty’s smooth path through the Commons.

Miliband is arguing that rather than being a threat to the UK's foreign policy or economy, a strong EU will enhance both as it increases our links with countries within and outside the EU.

Wintour is right to assert that the government is becoming increasingly braver with regards to actually talking about Europe, something it has sometimes been reluctant to do in the past. Wintour mentions Gordon Brown's recent visit to Brussels but at Labour's Spring Conference he also made it clear that it is only within the EU that Britain can achieve its objectives on climate change, development, trade and security – all areas where he noted Europe was leading the way.

As Denis MacShane has said before all this suggests that Europe has once again become a major dividing line between the parties, and crucially it is one that works to Labour’s advantage.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Stubb made Finland's new Foreign Minister

Following on swiftly from Jens Peter Bonde’s announcement that he will step down in 2009, it has now been revealed that Alexander Stubb will resign as an MEP with immediate effect to become Finland’s Foreign Minister.

While Bonde was one of the longest serving MEPs, Stubb, who sits in the EPP group, was only elected in 2004 but swiftly made an impact with his never ending enthusiasm, championing of the EU and his desire to see Britain really engage more with the EU (his wife is from Britain).

Stubb quickly became one of the most recognisable faces around Parliament and his website still gives you some insight into how he doesn’t follow the nerdish stereotype attributed to some of us on the Constitutional Affairs committee.

I’m sure Alex will do an excellent job in his new role and I’m confident he will not make the same mistake as his predecessor who was forced to quit after the Finnish papers discovered he sent 200 texts to a member of the Scandinavian Dolls erotic dance troupe, most of which were apparently quite keen to forge international relations of some sort or another.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lords debate on treaty kicks off today

The House of Lords begins today its debates on the Treaty of Lisbon.

Anyone wanting a good, detailed and dispassionate analysis of the treaty would be rewarded by looking at the Report of the Lords EU Committee (here and here which goes through the treaty in considerable detail making an analysis of what impact it is likely to have.

Eurosceptics won't like it. Their views were given a good hearing by the Lords, who took evidence from Open Europe and several other anti-Europeans, but the Lords don't seem to have been impressed by their arguments.

I too gave evidence to the Lords and am pleased to see over 30 references in the first 80 pages of their report to documents I have written or to the oral hearing they held with me.

I am confident the that there will be at least as clear a majority for the treaty in the Lords as there was in the elected Commons, even if the minority opposing it will get the lion's share of the publicity to the extent that the media covers their debates.

Leon Brittan's article in today's Times is also well worth a read.