A ‘Grexit’ could finally sink the euro – so beware of Greeks bearing threats

THIS is an election year like no other, few can dodge its impact and, whoever wins, most voters will probably feel they’ve lost out.

Because, like a nasty rash, polling fever is erupting almost everywhere and what’s at stake isn’t so much who governs where next, but whether the world plunges into the financial abyss again.

In Britain the only certainty about what will happen in the general election on May 7 is uncertainty, though I have a sneaking suspicion Squire Cameron won’t be handing over the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Why? Because there’ll be what veteran American pollsters wryly recall as the ‘Richard Nixon Gambit’, an event from the annals of politicking gimmickry and the 1960 White House race, squeakily shaded by John F. Kennedy.

Too close to call, the Democrats stooped to a now legendary low in black propaganda by releasing an image of Nixon looking sweaty and shifty behind his grizzled five o’clock shadow, alongside the headline: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK's way

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady-looking Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK’s way

The stunt resonated sufficiently for JFK to win literally by a whisker – 49.7% to 49.6% – after voters carried the scary vision of the then Republican Vice President into the polling booths.

Nine years later, and remembering to shave at least twice a day, Tricky Dicky won the presidency – perhaps proving you can’t keep a good crook down – only to resign in 1974 in the murk of the Watergate Scandal.

So, it would surprise me not one iota to see a montage of Ed Miliband snaps, showing the Labour leader at his geekiest worst, cropping up like Comparethemeerket telly ads.

The tacit caption would be: ‘Would you believe this nerd could lead the nation?’

Though Britain’s hustings might be enthralling to dedicated followers of UK politics, they are a parish-pump sideshow to elections globally – and I don’t mean in Burkina Faso, where President Blaise Compaoré is hotly tipped to get the heave-ho in November.

Nor am I referring to Israel’s March vote, which will predictably end in a cobbled-together Left or Right-wing coalition government, neither of which will bow to Palestinian blackmail and have imposed on them a factionalised, corruption-riddled Arab statelet that adamantly refuses to recognise its neighbour’s right to exist.

And forget the polls in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, which sully the name of democracy. Ditto Estonia, Finland and Poland, where properly constituted elections should hardly cause a ripple on the Richter scale of political earthquakes.

No, the fun – if that’s not too sardonic a description – is in the European Union’s Club Med nations, beginning next Sunday in Greece, the so-called ‘sick man of Europe’ (well, considerably more bilious compared to the ailing rest).

CAN’T PAY, WON’T PAY: Alex Tsipras (left), head of Greece’s Syriza bloc, demands debt relief to relieve his nation’s plight…or else

Because if a bunch of rebel populists called Syriza, who make the Chinese Communist politbureau look like Young Conservatives, the flaking euro is in for a further buffeting, one which – this time – could actually prelude the first exit of a member state from the Eurozone.

A bloc of far-Left hardliners led by neo-Marxist Che Guevara fan, Alexis Tsipras, the thrust of Syriza’s manifesto is simple: ‘Stop austerity – or we’ll stop paying our debts’, beginning with the instalment of €6.7-billion due to the European Central Bank (ECB) in July.

Unless you’re an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bean-counter, it’s a difficult to gauge just how much Greece owes creditors and what interest it’s cranking up. But terms like ‘colossal’ and ‘humungous’ are understatements and, as one economist noted, ‘At the current rate of pay-down, it’ll 130 years before they return to where they were in 2008.’

How a nation that produced arithmetical geniuses such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Euclid got itself into such a mega-mess – or managed to flannel its way into the Eurozone in the first place – is no longer the issue.

With unemployment rocketing, the prospect of triple-dip deflation and Greece’s economy screwed to the floor by the ‘Troika’ – that’s the IMF, ECB and European Union, otherwise known as Greater Deutschland – Tsipras is demanding a 50% write-off its debts, just as the international community let Germany get away with in 1953.

For the record, deflation is a mixed blessing. In the UK, where inflation has fallen to 0.5%, courtesy of falling oil, food and commodity prices, consumer spending power is boosted. In contrast, what it means for the Eurozone is rising joblessness, stagnant wages, weak consumption and an inexorable slide into deflation.

POKER FACE: Germany's Merkel fears that a 'Grexit' would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

POKER FACE: But Germany’s Merkel fears that a ‘Grexit’ would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

Meanwhile, despite lame messages from Chancellor Angela Merkel about wanting to keep Greece in the club – which chimes with what Syriza claims it wants – behind the scenes an ultra-high-stakes game of diplomatic poker is being played, with many German politicians refusing to blink first.

‘We are past the days when we still have to rescue Greece,’ insists Michael Fuchs, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “The situation has completely changed from three years ago. Greece is no longer systemically relevant for the euro.’

In fact, it was recently revealed that in 2011 Germany offered Greece a ‘friendly’ return to the drachma, the so-called ‘Grexit’ option. However, Merkel had an attack of the jitters when it became clear Spain and Italy would be mired by contagion from it.

Notwithstanding great strides the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, the Italians have made in putting their houses into better financial shape, with both nations also facing elections in 2015, many voters are looking to see what happens in Athens before they decided which way to jump.

The storm clouds are certainly gathering in Spain, where the Left-wing upstarts of Podemos (‘We Can’), who are allies of Syriza, are currently leading the polls on an anti-corruption, anti-austerity ticket.

Which is why Merkel fears a domino effect across the Club Med if Greece defaults on its IOUs, starts afresh with a new drachma and its economy shows signs of revival.

Because, however tentatively it finds its newly-liberated feet, the Greeks will offer an example to others stretched on the German-imposed financial rack to do likewise.

And the lure of a born-again peseta or lira – plus the freedom of nations to structure their own destiny – might be too strong to resist.

So watch this space…2015 could be the year that reshapes the future of the Eurozone.

 

Forget out-UKIPing UKIP – play up the plus side of immigration instead

ACCORDING to my doctor, there are two sorts of cholesterol: the goody variety, HDL, which makes us purr like a Rolls-Royce, and naughty LDL, which clogs up the blood vessels of those with a lusty appetite for animal fats.

Likewise, there are two, principle types of immigration: talented, educated incomers, who help make the host nation richer, and those at the fag-end of the earning scale, who do the low-skilled, heavy-lifting.

Like it or not, every post-modern economy need a dollop of each, from degree-burnished graduates to oil the gears of industry, the professions and City, to those who’ll serve minimum-wage hard time in jobs beneath the dignity of work-shy locals, like the 100 Hungarians to be employed by sandwich-maker Greencore in Northampton.

But how much of each commodity is tolerable is the question driving politicians across the industrialised West to distraction.

In the USA a debate rages about President Obama’s call to decriminalise ‘wetback’ illegals – ‘wetbacks’ because they crossed the Rio Grande to reach their promised land – while Europe wrestles with porous borders inflicted by the Schengen Agreement.

Meanwhile, Calais’s mayor chides Britain for having a benefit system so generous that’s it turned the drab Channel port into a magnet for stateless Asians and Africans, looking to hitch an illicit ride to Dover.

Hardly surprising, then, immigration has become the most emotive of buzzwords and a dark spectre haunting the UK’s 2015 general election.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Party boss Nigel Farage (left) congratulates Mark Reckless on his return to parliament - as UKIP's second MP

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Party boss Nigel Farage (left) congratulates Mark Reckless on his comeback to parliament – as UKIP’s second MP

Predictably, it once again played into the UK Independence Party’s clutches in Thursday’s Rochester by-election, when Tory defector, Mark Reckless, reclaimed his old seat to become the archly anti-EU party’s second MP, after Douglas Carswell held Clacton.

Whether Nigel Farage’s purple bandwagon gathers further momentum by next May 7 is a matter of intense debate.

What’s clear, though, is UKIP’s anti-politics populism strikes a chord with a section of the electorate heartily disaffected with the snotty Westminster elite’s belief it rules by divine right.

Meanwhile, as Clacton and now Rochester has proven, even rabid Tory Euro sceptics are realising it’s a waste of hustings time trying to outstrip UKIP’s Little Englander agenda.

And Labour’s latest wheeze, newly unveiled by shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, is one of the feeblest attempts yet at playing to the gallery’s fears about Johnny Foreigner.

After months of inertia and leader Ed Miliband’s ratings plummeting like a thermometer outside an igloo, the party that opened the floodgates to unfettered immigration is now calling for Britain’s border police to be boosted by 1,000 extra personnel.

This, says Cooper, can be funded by charging a £10 ‘entrance fee’ to incomers. Except – as the Home Office was delighted to enlighten her – thanks to the European Union’s visa-waiver scheme, the moolah raised will hire just 59 immigration cops.

MENTAL ARITHMETIC: Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discovers Labour's immigration sums don't add up

MENTAL ARITHMETIC: Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discovers Labour’s immigration sums don’t add up

Similarly inane is Labour’s plan to stop migrants claiming benefits until they’ve been in Britain for two years, not the current ceiling of three months.

This, of course, would require an EU treaty change, by which time piglets will take off from Heathrow’s tenth runway, alongside the usual procession of Jumbos.

What gets forgotten, overlooked and ignored, however, is that the great immigration debate in Britain is several centuries old and every wave – from Farage’s French Huguenot, lace-making ancestors to Irish navvy canal-builders, Jewish tailors and West Indian NHS recruits – met with vehement hostility before they melted into the fabric of British society.

Even Enoch Powell, UKIP’s spiritual godfather and best remembered for his notorious, 1968 anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech, once played a leading role in wooing Commonwealth citizens to settle in the UK to fill staff shortages in the health and public transport sectors.

Today, UKIP is banging Powell’s drum and giving a disingenuous, one-dimensional picture of greedy, grasping, benefit-scrounging foreigners – of which there are undoubtedly an untold number – for whom Britain is a land of give and take…the nation gives and they take.

And this demi-truth is resonating, especially in deprived areas where immigration has had a detrimental impact on housing, schooling and jobs, because successive governments have serially failed for decades to heed the warning signs.

Only now has their folly been rumbled and the three major parties – that’s if the Lib-Dems still qualify as one – are playing catch-up, though they don’t stand a snowball in Hades’ chance of out-UKIPing UKIP.

However, obscured by Farage’s scare tactics is a multi-faceted image of immigration, one in which business cries out for talent that can only be sources from abroad and industries, like farming, which needs minimum-wage labour to bring in crops that defy automated harvesting.

The recent report from University College London (UCL), then, makes uneasy reading for the anti-EU, anti-immigration lobby, because rather than draining Britain’s exchequer, European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to it between 2000 and 2011.

UKIP GODFATHER: The late Enoch Powell - famed for his notorious 'rivers of blood' speech - was responsible for a wave of immigration into Britain

UKIP GODFATHER: The late Enoch Powell – famed for his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech – was responsible for a wave of immigration into Britain

If there is a downside, don’t blame the Czech nannies, Spanish nurses or Polish plumbers drawn to the UK because of high unemployment in their own states, but non-EU migrants who, according to UCL, cost Britain £120bn in 1995-2011.

Even this huge sum, though, should be put into context, because it’s dwarfed by UK nationals, who cost the country £591bn over the same time frame.

So, at the risk of sounding neo-liberal, I suggest that much of what Farage peddles is selective twaddle as he and his mavericks ride a wave of xenophobia on a balloon of hot air.

That in no way diminish the glaring fact that the putrid edifice of the EU – not its peoples – is in drastic need of reform and there should be no further empire-building by an unelected commission and its clique of Europrats, who mainly serve no useful purpose but their own.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to renegotiate Britain’s terms of EU membership and put them to a referendum in 2017 should he be re-elected next spring.

If Europe’s leaders ignore his rational arguments Britain will quit, UKIP will be cock-a-hoop and parties beyond the EU’s fringe – especially France’s far-Right National Front – will be further embolden to copycat Farage.

So UKIP’s second by-election win on the spin spells trouble not just for the UK’s political elite, but for all those at the helm of every nation in Europe.

Brussels take note…and beware.

For the sake of progress, the EU must junk Juncker’s presidential bid

SCANNING the likely runners in the forthcoming European Union presidential stakes, I was suddenly distracted by the question: which animal would best symbolise the EU.

After all, America’s political parties long ago adopted creatures as quirky symbols – the Democratic donkey seen as smart and brave, the Republican elephant strong and dignified.

Many countries also have beasts they regard as emblematic…Britain the bulldog, France a cockerel and Russia a bear.  So I set my mind to choosing one that captured the essence of the EU and initially seized on the camel.

After much deliberation, though, I sacked it on the grounds it would give Europhiles the hump, despite my belief a camel encapsulated typical EU ‘group think’: a horse designed by committee.

The idea of a hippo briefly appealed, since it spends most of its time wallowing in muddy self-gratification or underwater, oblivious to criticism.

Then – voila! – the rhino raised its monstrous head. Thick-skinned, brutish and easily nettled, it’s also short-sighted but blessed with an acute sense of smell to alert it to threats.

Besides, the comparison between the lumbering ungulate and today’s newly-elected EU assembly seemed apt, since MEPs are behaving in rather rhino-ish ways in their hostility to the heads of Europe’s 28 member states, each of whom appoints a commissioner to Brussels.

The rumpus concerns who replaces José Manuel Barroso as President in November, but, more significantly, who has the right to appoint a successor.

FACE FROM THE PAST: UK Premier, David Cameron, doesn't want Juncker as the next EU Commission leader

FACE FROM THE PAST: UK Premier, David Cameron, doesn’t want Juncker as the next EU Commission leader

All eleven, previous bosses owed their jobs to accommodations struck between national leaders.

Now, however, the largest party grouping of MEPs claims it is entitled it to decide who rules the EU roost, even if the 2008 Lisbon Treaty simply say its views should be ‘taken into account’.

Certainly, giving power to elected representatives would be a step in a democratic direction for an institution not famed as egalitarian.

But therein lies the rub. The main clique is the European Peoples’ Party (EEP) – an amalgam of centre-Right democrats, which David Cameron’s Conservatives quit in protest at its archly federalist tendencies – and their preferred candidate is Jean-Claude Juncker.

The problem is the former Luxemburg Prime Minister is something of a Marmite Man, admired and abhorred in equal measure.

It is not simply his messianic belief in the EU morphing into a United States of Europe that riles detractors; it’s rather that he’s the diplomatic equivalent of a Sherman tank, crushing dissenting voices and taking no prisoners.

And the nation at which Juncker targets most of his spleen is the UK, as his vitriolic speech to the 2005 EU parliament demonstrated.

In it, he singled out ‘Anglo-Saxon villainy’, asserting that any country standing in the way of ‘the future superstate’ was inspired by petty, squalid and immoral interests, while being ‘deaf to historic destiny’.

It was a reckless tirade, all the more stupid since it ignored every member state leader’s declared priority to pursue their ‘national interest.’

But Juncker has a reputation for loose-tongue faux pas – especially when primed by alcohol – never more tellingly than with his remark, ‘When the going gets tough, you have to lie.’

This notorious one-liner came in the wake of his forced resignation as Luxemburg’s premier, after an inquiry concluded that he turned a blind eye to rogue elements of the Grand Duchy’s security service spying on whoever they liked.

CHEERS TO JUNCKER: German's Merkel wants the Luxemburger to lead the new Commission

CHEERS TO JUNCKER: German’s Merkel wants the Luxemburger to lead the new Commission

Meanwhile, there’s also the taint of hypocrisy in Juncker being the first ‘chosen one’ – spitzenkandidat – from the floor of the EU parliament, since his take on democracy can verge on Stalinist.

When the French and Dutch famously voted against a European constitution, Juncker led calls for them to vote and vote again, until they bowed to his will. As it transpired, the Lisbon Treaty put paid to rebellion, since no member state bothered to hold it to a referendum, apart from Ireland, which was pressured into overturning an initial ‘No’ vote at the second time of asking.

Dubbed ‘a face from the past’ by Cameron, the wave of popularity that promised to sweep Juncker to the throne of Europe is now being undermined by many powerful voices, though Germany’s Angela Merkel remains a fervent fan.

However, that the largest bloc in the EU parliament lauds him is further testimony to its crass disregarded for the welling discontent fomenting across Europe.

In last month’s MEP elections, huge swathes of electors delivered a resounding message to the Brussels elite that they are riled to the point of revolt by the incompetence of EU decision-makers and, particularly, the impact of ill-conceived austerity.

As they voted far-Right and extreme Left in droves, Juncker’s vision of force-feeding more of the same, putrid medicine down their throats underlines the widening disconnect between the rulers and the ruled.

Cameron is clear he needs the Luxemburger like he yearns for a root canal filling minus anaesthetic. Others – particularly the reformist Dutch and Swedes – are similarly persuaded a Juncker presidency would be an unmitigated disaster and drive the electorate to further extremes.

The best-case scenario is that a compromise candidate is agreed between the national leaders and the EEP, so the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s moderate, centre-Left prime minister and Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law, is being loudly touted.

Whether common sense ever prevails where the EU is concerned is entirely another matter.

The peasants are revolting and only a ‘Euro-lite’ can douse the fire next time

BIZARRELY, everyone saw it coming, not least of all the usual suspects at the helm of Britain’s ship of state, Messrs Cameron, Miliband and Clegg.

It was as if they were standing on a platform at Waterloo Station knowing full well the Eurostar was about to plough through the buffers. And yet they stood there impotent, mutely counting down to the train wreck and their inevitable derailment by the UKIP express.

So, to call the last week’s local government and MEP elections result an ‘earthquake’, as Nigel Farage and chastened Europhile mouthpieces across Europe did, is a misnomer.

Usually, such seismic shifting of tectonic plates come without warning. So, no. That the electorate were going to stick two fingers up to centrist parties and punt for a charismatic nationalist was signalled far in advance by pollsters, even if the outcome was a major tremor measured in political terms.

Amazingly, apart from Nick Clegg, the other two stooges hardly waved red lanterns to slow down the UKIP bandwagon.

Squire Cameron parroted his pledge for an in/out referendum on Europe, come 2017. Alas, it fell on deaf ears, because he couldn’t risk offering a hint of how he’d renegotiate Britain’s membership, should he still be inhabiting 10 Downing Street in 11 months’ time.

Meanwhile, the lingering vision of Labour’s Ed Miliband, the putative Premier-in-waiting, was his failure to negotiate his way through a bacon sarnie, giving those who dubbed him ‘weird’ even more ammunition and amusement.

THE REAL DEAL? Time will tell whether Farage's UKIP is just a protest party or has the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics

THE REAL DEAL? Time will tell whether Farage’s UKIP is just a protest party or has the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics

At least Clegg twice hectored Farage in TV debates, only for the viewing public to kick him up the backside. The last thing they wanted to hear were further outpouring of messianic zeal for the bounteous EU, which resonates in double digits on their Richter Scale of loathing.

The Deputy PM’s gamble was as foolhardy as it was brave. Now, trounced in both elections, Clegg needs all the acumen he can muster to halt his touchy-feely Lib-Dems hitting the self-destruct button, after a shambolic leadership coup and the messy resignation of maverick pollster, Lord Oakeshott.

Meanwhile, lesser mortals of the cossetted Westminster elite had been delegated to throw the political sink at Farage – a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ leading a xenophobic ‘one-policy pony’ – but missed their mark by the width of Big Ben. He, in turn, chucked it back with knobs on, and squarely hit the clock-face.

Nonetheless, only time will tell whether ‘the man with the pint and fag’, whose congenial frankness and lack of Establishment baggage has so entranced large swathes of a disgruntled electorate, turns out to be a false messiah or his UKIP isn’t just a transient protest party, without the legs to survive as a fourth option in British politics.

History is littered with such characters…from Wat Tyler and his calamitous, 14th Century Peasants Revolt, to Nazi sycophant, Oswald Mosely, and his Blackshirts oafs trashed in the ‘30s, to David Owen abjectly failing to ‘realign’ UK politics, after splitting the Labour Party in 1981, before his Social Democrats disappeared into Lib-Dem oblivion.

Farage, though, is canny enough to be the exception, because what is remarkable about the explosion of support for his Peasants’ Revolt Mark II is that, of all Euroland’s economies, Britain is clawing its way out of recession faster than anywhere else, bar Germany.

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince he is the UK's Prime Minister-in-waiting

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince the public that he’s Prime Minister material – and even screwed up on the challenge of eating a bacon sarnie

So, drawing a thread between events of last week in the UK and ructions across the EU may be misguided, even if the stock of politicos almost everywhere has plummeted to new lows.

France has a long, inglorious history of flirting with the extremism and however elegantly Marine Le Pen has remodelled her fascist father, Jean Marie’s National Front, its stench of race-hatred and anti-Semitism can’t be wafted away.

But, after years of austerity and decades of corruption, nepotism and electoral stitch-ups, it’s unsurprising the French veered far-Right in protest at a lame-duck, Left-wing presidency and a wheezing economy.

Denmark, too, delivered a populist backlash to the ruling Social Democrats by empowering the People’s Party, another anti-Europe, anti-immigration clique in the Le Pen mould.

In Greece, however, where the thuggish EU has virtually mugged any imminent hope of recovery, the electorate sought refuge in the radical socialists of Syriza.

Other than nations where GDP is growing – notably the Baltic States plus the powerhouse that is Germany – few EU countries escaped a mauling from the fringe.

And the spleen of the great disillusioned was targeted squarely at the Brussels bogeymen, whose default setting in hard times is screwing down the worst afflicted states still more.

DANGER WOMAN: Marine Le Pen might have popularised France's National Front, but it's still a racist party

RIGHT TURN: Marine Le Pen might have remodelled France’s far-Right National Front, but it’s a party that still smacks of race-hatred and anti-Semitism

But whether the crisis meeting of Europe’s leaders last week fully addressed the message that – as Bill Clinton reminded George H. W. Bush in the 1992 US Presidential race – ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ is debatable.

Based on its track record of consummate arrogance and creeping federalism, the Europratocracy is just as inclined to take the view that, with 70% of MEPs representing mainstream parties, why worry about a rump of wildcats.

If the outcome, then, is ‘business as usual’, such crass short-termism will be nothing short of hara-kiri, because the election bushfire of 2014 threatens to prelude a Continent-wide conflagration in five years’ time.

Only an EU-lite – with less regulation, more democratic transparency and a repatriation of powers to member states – will assuage the swelling protest movement, whose appeal will widen further if Europe’s decision-makers don’t heed the call of their citizens.

As for the beleaguered Eurozone, European Central Bank policy must reflect such a fundamental shift and pump-prime flagging economies, especially the Club Med states, emulating the successes of America’s Federal Reserve and Britain’s Bank of England.

The alternative strategy is for more failed Europe, not less, with complete fiscal and political integration, not the halfway house status quo.

My guess, though, is that trying to weld 28 disparate entities into a United States of Europe would be the EU’s most disastrous gambit yet. It would not only require members to forego individual national sovereignty, but, inevitably, dominion by the strongest power, Germany – and not even Angela Merkel hankers for that.

Frankly, the very thought of such a scenario gives me the shivers, because the peasants are revolting – and Europrats ignore them at their peril.

 

 

Euro court’s crazy Google gag is a ‘right to be rotten’, not a ‘charter to be forgotten’

BY the time you read this, it’ll be history. Or, as we were fond of saying in the good, old days of hot metal and cold print, today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish-and-chips’ wrapping.

Sardony aside, this piece is now on the internet, so in years to come perhaps some student wordsmith will read it and think, ‘Wow, that bloke could write’ or conversely, ‘What a load of b******t’.

In a free society, everyone has the privilege of a view, so those of us who live by the pen can also perish by it in the court of public opinion or, indeed, in a court of law if we cross the threshold of libel.

Which is why – whether you’re bewitched, bothered or bewildered by my utterings – you can be guaranteed that whatever I air here is based on unsullied truths, often treble checked for veracity, even if my conclusions don’t necessarily chime with yours.

As a adolescent newcomer to this surreal trade, one of the first tenets I learned was that laid down by The Guardian’s legendary editor, C.P. Scott, who, in 1921, wrote, ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred.’

So the gleaning of accurate info is vital to my cause, my job and my service to you, the reader.

Last week, however, the ground rules shifted dramatically and I can no longer vouch that what I state is the whole truth, but something short of it.

Because that august body, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), have slammed the door on my – and your – legitimate liberty to enquire.

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must bow to EU citizens' demands to rewrite their histories

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must now bow to EU citizens’ demands to block their historic embarrassments

They did so by ordering Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine and the planet’s most valuable brand, to bow to an individual’s demand to hide embarrassing details of their past online, even if such data remains elsewhere in cyberspace and others, beyond the remit of Europe, continue to access it.

In principal, it enshrines in law the Brussels doctrine of the ‘right to be forgotten’, which says people should not be victims of their historic mistakes or misdemeanours.

So, any citizen of the European Union will be able to require Google – and other search engines – to block any reference to their life they personally deem unpalatable…even if, in the ECJ’s own contradictory admission, it was ‘true, accurate and lawfully published’.

The bizarre ruling was handed down after 59-year-old Spaniard, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, complained that an auction notice in a Barcelona newspaper, regarding his home being repossessed to repay social security debts in 1998, still appeared in Google searches, thus infringing his privacy.

Senor Gonzalez said the matter had been ‘fully resolved for a number of years’. And the ECJ’s 13-strong panel of judges agreed that, under a 1995 EU data protection directive, his rights ‘override, as a general rule, the interest of internet users’.

The test case is relatively small beer – not worth even a can of San Miguel lager in the great scheme of things (except, of course, to Senor Gonzalez, whose action won him a tsunami of unwanted headlines that now litter the Web).

However, its ramifications are scary, not say a full frontal attack on liberty.

EU Commissioner, Viviane Reding, believes it’s ‘a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans’.

In contrast, Emma Carr, of Big Brother Watch, points out, ‘The principle that you have a right to be forgotten is a laudable one, but it was never intended to be a way for people to rewrite history.’

Her fears are understandably echoed by Google, who report over a thousand people have already demanded links to unfavourable stories about them be blocked.

They include an unnamed British ex-MP, fuming that his expenses claims paint a less than glowing portrait of his integrity, a tax scammer, 20 convicted criminals – including a paedophile – plus a surgeon, whose handiwork received negative reviews from patients.

The US-based search engine now faces a logistical nightmare in how to deal with the predicted flood of demands and says it will need a multi-lingual ‘army of removal experts’ in each of the 28 EU member states.

Even that, though, may prove a mission impossible, because the idiot ECJ’s criteria of what is ‘no longer relevant’ to the public interest is hopelessly blurred, since it fails to define what is or isn’t ‘historic’.

Nonetheless, by its clunking fist, the court has granted itself editorial powers it has no right to wield, given the internet is a global resource and this ruling infringes the American constitution’s First Amendment, the freedom of expression.

And, to further complicate the farce, the ECJ decision doesn’t apply to Facebook comments or Twitter posts.

So, in essences, the learned jurists have not only made an ass of the law – and themselves – but cooked up a crooks’ charter, whereby every miscreant from the west of Ireland to the Black Sea is empowered to act as their own cyberspace censor.

Conmen, rogue traders and motley scumbags must think the verdict is better than a ‘get out of jail free’ card, because they can rewrite their histories with complete alacrity.

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ's internet ban ruling is glad tiding for those who want to hide the truth

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ’s internet ban ruling does liberty no favours – but favours the notion that censorship rules in the EU

Ditto the rich and famous, who want their private lives – however seedy and corrupt – out of the public eye. Some already do this by employing expensive PR firms to sanitise their Wikipedia references to appear like insipid autobiographies.

But anyone, other than the certifiably stupid, knows the internet is a mixed bag of knowledge and nonsense, parts of it vital to the passage of information, science and learning; other, darker zones inflammatory, distorted and gratuitously pornographic

However, attempts to police it in the heavy-handed way the ECJ have done are nothing short of Stalinesque – or Maoesque, in the case of China, where what Beijing users can browse is a fraction of that available to New Yorkers and, until last week, Europeans.

Meanwhile, by erring on the side of those who want their pasts hidden, the ECJ judges have added yet another layer of control and restraint to liberty that’s become synonymous with the increasingly autocratic European Union.

 

Paranoid Putin wants a Ukraine poodle – and the Kremlin bullyboy won’t stop there

FRENCH cynics have a phrase for progress. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, they sneer, which roughly translates into, ‘The more it changes, the more the same old claptrap.’

So, for those who imagined the collapse of Soviet repression was an overture to genuine democracy in Russia, the straightjacket and funny farm awaits.

Granted, there was a brief flush of hope in the early 1990s, when, for all his boozy buffoonery, Boris Yeltsin wrested power from the fading, old Red Guard and promised liberal reforms.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve, 1999, when a 47-year-old ex-KGB officer and political rookie called Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin suddenly emerged as Russia’s new boss and the truth dawned on realists that progress, Kremlin-style, was a transient mirage…the leopard merely reshuffling its spots.

In the decade-and-a-half since, even the last pipe-dreamer can no longer doubt Putin’s take on democracy is whatever he says it is and Siberia welcomes dissenters.

Because, after centuries of unrelenting brainwashing, like Pavlov’s dogs, Russia’s masses are conditioned to respecting a strongman, who fans their raging national pride, not to say endemic paranoia.

Western statesmen appear to have overlooked this glaring trait. Or, in the case of that most malleable of US President, Barack Obama, they’ve lulled themselves into the misguided belief Russians are just as much residents of the global village as everyone else, therefore abide by the same norms.

They don’t. And the code Putin applies – recently slammed as ‘19th Century rules’ by American Secretary of State, John Kerry – is little changed from the policies of Ivan the Terrible, Lenin and Stalin.

In a nutshell Moscow believes might is right and actions speak louder than words.

WINK LINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

WATCH MY WINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

So, following his diplomatic coups in mesmerising Obama into imagining Iran’s devious mullahs were peace-seeking pussycats and Syrian butcher, Bashar Assad, was really a much- maligned nice guy, poker-faced Putin has scooped the ultimate jackpot over Ukraine.

Of course, it could have been mere coincidence weeks ago that goons, in green uniforms minus military flashes and brandishing hardware far more lethal than anything the local militia toted, suddenly turned up, en masse, and land-grabbed the Crimean peninsula.

And, just perhaps, the insurrection by Ukraine’s 17% ethnic Russians in the east was simply a spontaneous poke in the eye to the interim Kiev regime that had booted out pro-Moscow brigand, Viktor Yanukovych.

But when Putin branded the upstarts a ‘fascist junta’ eager to cosy up to the European Union, the mantra fell on willing ears, since it rang with poignant echoes of WW2, when too many western Ukrainians queued up to join Hitler’s SS.

Which is why the West-backed presidential election in a week’s time will be a waste of polling paper. However transparent, Russia has already trashed the outcome by blessing last Sunday’s ‘plebiscite’ in Donetsk, where a massive 89% voted to split from Kiev and demand self-rule.

And if that result doesn’t deter Western adventurism into what Russia sees as its backyard, Putin’s banker bet is that NATO won’t mix it – just as it failed to do in Georgia in 2008 – if he orders phalanxes of T-95 tanks and Spetsnaz Special Forces to pour over the border and annex eastern Ukraine, as a postscript to Crimea.

Meantime, if this is the prelude to a new, Cold War world order, the big money’s on Putin saying, ‘Bring it on – see if I care.’

So no amount of Obama sanctions against his henchmen – which, tepid as they are, have rattled EU states reliant on Russia energy – will deter the expansionist, Russian bullyboy.

Notably, last week Germany signalled its mounting fears by warning its nationals in eastern Ukraine to beat a hasty retreat, foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warning that the country is only a ‘few steps’ away from ‘military confrontation’.

The chief twerps in creating this stand-off are the EU. As America’s diplomatic eminence gris, Henry Kissinger wrote – during what I guess was an severe attack of verbal diarrhoea – ‘The European Union must recognise that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning negotiation into a crisis.’

That might sound utter gobbledygook, but the master tactician of realpolitik is stating the blindingly obvious: the EU was too slow, too stupid and too arrogant in imagining it could prise free a cornerstone of Putin’s defensive rampart.

And the procession of Western big wigs, who rushed to Kiev to congratulate the rebels for bravely ousting Yanukovych – including Britain’s silly Billy Hague – made a colossal misjudgement in thinking they could de-claw the Russian bear.

Putin was not only expecting EU meddling, Kremlin-watchers reckon he long ago hatched a cunning plan to spark, then check it, by skyrocketing the price of Russian gas to Ukraine in anticipation of the West charging in like Custer’s Seventh Cavalry (and no reminders about what happened to them!).

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

Now, no amount of diplomatic embroidery will patch up the beleaguered country, even if some dodgy fudge is fashioned, whereby the eastern provinces are granted autonomy – under Moscow’s protective wing, naturally.

All this runs counter to the 1994 deal hammered out in Budapest, whereby Russia, the EU and US guaranteed to respect Ukraine’s borders.

However, since this was five years before his Kremlin putsch, Putin isn’t inclined to honour it; besides, Vlad The Invader has invented the perfect excuse for intervention: defending ethnic Russian minorities.

That same logic applies to Estonia and Latvia, where some 25% of their populations are descended from detested Russian incomers, transplanted during the communist era to slap down local aggro.

Unlike Ukraine, though, both states are NATO members, which is why the West is growing increasingly edgy over the future of its Baltic flank.

Though in no mood for military confrontation, Obama and friends must know if they don’t face down Russian thuggery there, they might as well shut up for good.

Because, while the Kremlin’s bully has changed faces from Soviet times, he still spouts the same old claptrap.

‘Plus ça change, etc…’ as the French say.

 

 

Why I want a democratic Europe, minus the EU dictators and the Euro ‘gravy train’

THE other night I was asked to debate the pluses and minuses of Europe with former European Parliamentarian (MEP), Francisca Bennassar, in front of an audience of international expats here in Mallorca, members of an organisation called Europeos por Espana. Several people have contacted me since and asked for details of my speech – so here’s an abridged version (and apologies for its length)…

THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar

THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar – Photo: LAURA STADLER

CONTRARY to popular myth, I am not the UK Independence Party’s Man in Mallorca, a swivel-eyed loon or a Little Englander, whose attitude to Europe was probably best summed up by a famous headline in The Times, from the 1930s, that read: ‘Fog in Channel, Continent cut off.’

Indeed, I feel extremely fortunate to live in the sun-kissed Balearic Isles, so I’m not a turkey which votes for Christmas and I don’t want to see an end of the European dream.

And I can tell you: if Britain ever left the European Union, my wife and I would be devastated. Being declared persona non grata here and forced to return to Britain is a dark prospect with zero appeal, especially if – like us – you hail from Manchester.

Not that I’m not immensely proud of being British and my home city. Because, in spite of the EU’s attempts to homogenise us all into being Europeans, first and foremost, we are still entitled to take pride in our nationalities, cultures and history.

Still, in 1973, I was more than happy for my country to join what was then the European Economic Community, or the EEC in short, perhaps more affectionately known as the COMMON MARKET. And, two years later, I voted a resounding ‘Yes’ for continued membership in the only referendum Britain has held on being part of Europe.

This was not just because it would further irritate the French – General De Gaulle, you might remember, worked tirelessly to keep us Anglo-Saxons out of what he regarded as his club…a French invention, funded by Germany, as my German neighbours insist it still is.

No, this was because I strongly believed in the merits of neighbouring nations banding together to form a trading bloc, with free movement of GOODS, SERVICES, CAPITAL AND PEOPLE.

However, the cuddly, old Common Market – which appeared to be working very nicely, gracias – somehow sneakily grew into what we have now…the European Union.

In doing so, the original concept has morph into an UNDEMOCRATIC, BUREAUCRATIC, POWER-GRABBING BIG BROTHER – A LAME ATTEMPT AT THE SUPER-STATE SOME YEARN TO SEE, BUT ONE I SINCERELY HOPE NEVER HAPPENS, BECAUSE IT WOULD BE AN EVEN BIGGER DISASTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE NOW.

Condemned by its own arrogance, the EU is a smug gaggle of unelected appointees, unanswerable to its citizens, backed by a mollycoddled, egotistic bureaucracyalso unaccountable to the electorate – and 766 MEPs, who at least are voted in by us hoi poloi every five years, even if they apparently haven’t the power to pop a paper bag.

To me, this smacks too much of George Orwell’s nightmarish 1984, with totally centralised control bossed by an unchallengeable BIG BROTHER CABAL. Even words they use to sugar-coat policy sound like ‘News-speak’.

What’s more, it’s also a grasping, unapologetic GRAVY TRAIN, where money – that’s OUR cash – is no object when it comes to frittering it away on far too many worthless, needless so-called ‘initiatives’ and ‘projects’.

And, thanks to its arcane treaties, it meddles with and too often overrides the will and laws of sovereign nations– and their peoples – insisting on something called SUBSIDIARITY, which basically means: ‘Europe know best, so do as you’re damned well told’.

Naturally, as you can tell, I’m being hyper-diplomatic here in the interests of pan-European unity…and we haven’t even discussed that most shambolic symbol of EU financial alchemy, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro.

So now you’re thinking this man is Nigel Farage in disguise after all and his weasel words of being pro-European are a sham.

I can assure you they aren’t. Because what I dearly want to see is a Europe that actually works for all the its peoples…one that’s transparently democratic from top to bottom, where APPOINTEE DICTATORS don’t rule the roost and faceless bureaucrats – or EUROPRATS, as many call them– are held accountable for their excesses, however bananas they are at times…and believe me bananas, as we’ll see, is a very apt description.

I don’t know who watched either or both of the two, televised debates between UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s No.1 apologist for the EU.

But, apart from Farage winning both by a country mile – sorry, kilometre– what struck me most was how hostile the public have become to Establishment politicians of all stripes, because voters feel the likes of Clegg live in a political bubble utterly divorced from their reality.

NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage's UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion

NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage’s UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion

So UKIP is not the cause of this frustration, merely a glaring symptom of that disconnect…a disillusionment that’s echoing throughout Europe.

Just look at the gains Marine Le Pen’s National Front made in France’s recent mayoral elections and the manifest dangers other neo-fascist, headbangers – like Jobbick in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece – pose to democracy.

It heavily emphasises that a perilous rejection of mainstream politics is happening and politicians have only themselves to blame, thanks to their litany of broken promises, wishy-washy policies and the growth of a pasty political elite, few of whom have ever done proper jobs or got their hands dirty.

And it can’t be denied that one of the prime targets for this swelling tide of rage – a cri de Coeur you might say – is the clunking fist of the EU and its inability to deal with six years of crippling, financial crisis, except to pile on more misery and austerity.

It even had the effrontery to sack democratically-elected leaders in Greece and Italy and impose its own technocrats to take charge.

As an aside, look what happened in 2008 when the peoples of France, the Netherlands and Ireland voted ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty. The all-knowing, all-seeing EU simply said ‘Vote, vote and vote again – until you get the ‘Yes’ result we demand.’

So much for democracy – as we used to know it – in today’s Europe.

It’s no surprise, then, people want to wrest back control of their own countries not have more and more power hijacked by Brussels. Because if, as the records show, over 50% of laws originate from the EU, what’s the point in a state holding a general election?

But, briefly returning to the Farage-Clegg debates, the scariest words I heard came afterwards from the Lib-Dem leader. When asked how he saw Europe 10 years on and he glibly replied, ‘Much the same as it is now.’

‘****!’ (or words to that effect),’ I thought: ‘If this is as good as it gets, heaven help us all!’

Because even a purblind Europhile like Clegg must ask why, for instance, the EU needs TWO centres of government, Strasbourg as well as Brussels.

Not that he’ll admit, but the reason is the French demanded it.

So every so often the whole EU bandwagon – Commissioners, MEPs, Europrats, advisers, translators, lobbyists, hangers-on, plus assorted odds and sods – up sticks and buzz off 432 kilometres down the road to its other HQ, sets up camp there and gets to work.

No wonder the EU Commission budget for 2014 is mind-boggling €142.64-billion – and it’s only that low because Britain, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Austria and the Czech Republic balked at the Commissions’ demand for an inflation-exploding, near-7% rise, which was slashed down to below 3%…still at least a percentage point higher than inflation (or stagflation) afflicting most struggling member states.

Personally, I think it was a gross impertinence of the EU’s great and good to demand to let their belts out several notches just when nearly every citizen – especially in crisis-stricken Club Med states, like Spain – was dramatically tightening theirs.

You might be interested to know, by the way, that ever since 1994, when it first started producing annual reports into Europe’s finances, the EU’s own accountants, the Court of Auditors, has failed to sign off the Union’s accounts because of gross profligacy and widespread irregularities.

One audit found over €100-billion of spending was ‘affected by material error’– a polite term for fraud and mismanagement.

Indeed, so critically searing were the auditors, last year the Commissioners ordered them gagged, for fear of what else they might uncover.

But it’s not all just about money, even if an MEP sitting in the EU assembly costs £1.79 million a year (2012 figure) – three times what a British MP costs in Westminster – and the European Parliament’s 766 members cost us taxpayers a staggering £1.3 billion annually. And that doesn’t include pensions most folk could only dream of.

This takes me onto another point about duplication, because just like it has two HQs, the EU has TWO PRESIDENTS. Lucky us, I hear you say – even America’s only got one (and there’s even some doubt about him).

CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling...they're in charge of Europe

CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling…they’re in charge of Europe

First, there’s Herman Van Rumpoy, who as President of the European Council, is effectively Europe’s Prime Minister and, to be fair, has some experience in that role, since he was once Belgium’s premier.

Second, there’s Jose Manuel Barrosa, President of the Commission, the EU’s executive branch and Biggest of the Brethren.

As President, the former Prime Minister of Portugal doles out jobs to the 28 members of the Commission the EU’s cabinet, each being an appointee from their member state.

The President also determines EU policy, having the final say about all the laws, because the EU’s inner circle is the only body that can propose legislation. MEPs, as I said earlier, can’t pass or change whatever lands on them from above, but – rather like Britain’s House of Lords – can merely rubber-stamp it or ask the Commission for a review.

Now, you maybe be unfamiliar with Messrs. Barroso and Van Rumpoy – even if Farage once described him as ‘having the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk’ (and was fined €2,400 for the insult). But you might – just might – be aware of the UK’s grandee at the EU top table.

She is no less than the Gilbert & Sullivan-sounding High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – in other words Foreign Minister – and none other than Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, near Wigan, which, I can tell you, is better known for its meat pies than its diplomats.

Vice-President of the Commission, too, no less, Cathy has never been voted into public office anywhere at any level, not even a parish council or a junior school PTA. In fact, all her jobs – from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament administrator to Leader of the House of Lords – have been by appointment only.

What’s more, many member state foreign ministers believe the Baroness has been hit by a huge ego-rush and considerably overreaches her brief – and expertise – by insisting she speaks on the world stage for all 28 nations of the EU, something Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, describes as ‘competence creep’ (though maybe ‘incompetence creep’ is, perhaps, more accurate).

Hardly considered a colossus in diplomatic circles, Cathy apparently owe her status to the patronage of her great friend, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown…so perhaps enough said.

UPDATE – RE: THE BARONESS: The artless EU’s foreign policy chief is the only international diplomat to have welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s new unity deal with it arch enemies, the Islamic crazies of Hamas, who hijacked Gaza in a mini-civil with the PLO in 2007 and are designated a ‘terrorist’ entity by the EU.

The move also signals the final nail in the coffin for US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s bid to forge a two-state solution and end the Israel-Palestinian impasse.

‘Daft as a brush’ is an expression popular in Wigan. Perhaps someone should suggest she’s an apt recipient of that ‘accolade’ on her next visit to planet Earth.

EU’S LOONIER RULES

THE Union gets itself a bad name because not only is it constantly meddling in member states’ domestic affairs, but some of its rules and diktats are beyond absurd. Just for your edification and amusement, let’s look at a few…  

BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU

BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU

● Until 2008, when the daft law was repealed – pardon the pun – for 13 years the EU deemed this banana illegal…because it wasn’t straight enough. It cost growers millions and a similar law applied to bent cucumbers.

The only positive I can recall from this bananas idea was when I came home from work one night with one and my wife said to me, ‘Is that an EU banana in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’

WATER WON'T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn't re-hydrate - so it can't be advertised as being able to do so

WATER WON’T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn’t re-hydrate – so it can’t be advertised as being able to do so

● You might know our bodies are composed of nearly 60% of water and we need it to survive – so no wonder marathon runners take on so much when plodding 26 miles. But, despite overwhelming medical evidence, in its addled arrogance, the EU ruled that drinking water DIDN’T STOP DEHYDRATION and manufacturers of bottles like this were stopped from claiming it did.

PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren't laxatives

PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren’t laxatives, so can’t be marketed as a means to make you go (you know where)

● These are, as you’ve guessed, prunes and, again, there’s overwhelming medical evidence they aid…well, you know what. But an EU diktat declared prunes were not laxatives, so they couldn’t be marketed as an aid that helps…well, you know what. That farcical pronouncement prompted one MEP to suggest a prune-eating contest to see what happened. Unsurprisingly, there were no takers.

CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury's chocolate - because they didn't consider it was 'chocky' enough

CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury’s chocolate – because they didn’t consider it was ‘chocky’ enough

● Most Brits will have been brought up on Cadbury’s chocolate, yet for 27 years is was effectively banned by the EU, because it contained up to 5% of vegetable fats and up to 20% of milk.

There was also considerable argy-bargy about British chocolate in general not being chocolate at all, since it didn’t contain at least 60% of cocoa bean, but cocoa butter instead.

And ditto a proposed ban on smoky-bacon flavoured crisps…because they didn’t contain smoky bacon. Of course not! The clue was in the word ‘flavoured’, silly.

Thank heavens Brussels didn’t get around to examining cheese & onion crisps, with no cheese or onion in them, or BBQ-flavoured nibbles that didn’t have a BBQ in the bag.

And, by the way – just in case the Europrats ever decide to look into it – I can I assure them there aren’t any monsters in Monster Munch.

However, one victory for EU ‘group think’ was to re-name carrots as fruit, not veg, because the Portuguese make jam out of them.

The point is not that these laws, pronouncements, diktats and directives are utter twaddle from the EU’s Ministry of Silly Talks, to misquote Monty Python.

It’s more about: what is an organisation like the EU doing wasting valuable time, money and resources by poking its nose into things that don’t concern it and are of absolutely no consequence to the betterment of Europe’s people.    

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS  

LOOK, I don’t want to keep rattling on like a machine-gun with a tirade against the EU, though I could do at least until midnight.

I could cite the lunacy of the profligate Common Agricultural Policy, CAP – designed by the French for the French, which pays farmers obscene amounts of money to produce nothing and how CAP’s stupidity resulted in useless Wine Lakes and Butter Mountains.

I could ask why the EU needs 13,000 Europrats, who are paid salaries way above any civil service norm, along with generous pensions and perks that include EU-designated shops, where they can buy products tax-free.

I could also cite the EU’s at least 56 quangos and so many committees, even the Commissioners have lost count of them, which all require truly obscene amounts of funding.

But I won’t.

Last week I spent two days researching the EU and on Wikipedia its entry is so garbled with Euro-babble, it must have been written by a committee of the most nerdish Europrats Brussels could assemble.

What I did discover, though, were the three qualifying rules of entry to the Union as set out in simple, unambiguous language for once. So any nation seeking accession must agree to: be financially solvent (like Greece, for instance?), democratic and uphold the rule of law.

That’s seems more than reasonable, I hear you say.

Except it presupposes a nation’s justice system has enough checks and balances not to require further (shall we say) ‘refinement’ by more EU interference.

But, not only does the Union have its own judges in the Courts of Justice, it requires member states to kow-tow to the European Court of Human Rights, the too often ridiculous ECHR.

Technically the ECHR isn’t part of the EU. But it is, because EU rules demand that every member nation joins the Council of Europe, thus every member must automatically accept the European Charter of Human Rights, which means every member is answerable to the judicial quirks of the ECHR.

To be fair, this court was set up in the late 1950s with the best of intentions – as is the road to Hades.

So, more than half a century on, the fitness for purpose of the ECHR as a court of last resort is quite rightly being questioned, thanks to some of its – how can I explain them politely – more bonkers judgements.

Britain, whose judicial code dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215, is but one of many of the 47 nations answerable to the ECHR that raises extremely valid issues about the decisions handed down, often by judges who are junior legal academics with absolutely no courtroom experience anywhere.

DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America

DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America

Yet the Court remains free to ride roughshod over national judicial systems, as it’s done with the UK’s, blocking, for instance the legitimate deportation of hook-handed hate preacher, Abu Hamza, to face terrorism charges in the US and with the equally-odious Abu Qatada, wanted by Jordan on similarly offences.

And only the other day it agreed to process the appeals of two Real IRA scumbags, seeking to overturn a UK civil court verdict holding them responsible for the heinous, Omagh bombing in 1988, in which 29 people were murdered and 220 maimed.

Meanwhile, for years the ECHR has accused Britain of ‘human rights abuse’ by refusing criminals serving prison sentences the right to vote in elections. To me – and I’d hope to most sane folk – it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those convicted of crimes should not share the same privileges as law-abiding folk, including the right to vote.

So, like the Big Brother that’s the EU, the ECHR is in dire need of having some common-sense knocked into it.

CURSED CURRENCY: The 'one-size-fits-all' Euro doesn't allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue

CURSED CURRENCY: The ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro doesn’t allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue

THE EURO

FINALLY, I can’t but help mention the Euro and say simply this: No currency union in history has ever worked long term – and there have been several…but, just like the Euro, they were wishful and egotistical political thinking winning over the realities of economic nous.

And this ‘one-size-fits-all’ pipedream had the makings of one of the most monumental currency blunders right from its introduction in 1999.

How many remember how, here in Spain, 166 pesetas were converted to one Euro – and a 150-peseta cup of coffee suddenly cost €1.50 (249 pesetas) or even €2 (332 pesetas) overnight? If that wasn’t a financial health warning for things to come, I don’t know what was.

A strong currency might meet the needs of manufacturing super-states, like Germany, relatively untouched by the financial tsunami of 2008 that hit the world. But the same doesn’t apply to the weaker, agriculture and tourism-dependent economies of southern Europe.

So, sadly, it’s no surprise to see the growing poverty, civil unrest, joblessness and despair. Just look at Spain, where kids, often highly educated, have to seek work overseas, because over half of under-25 – the cream of the nation’s future – can’t find employment at home.

And the tragedy is compounded by the abject lack of imagination of the European Central Bank, the ECB, which hasn’t a clue about how to combat the drift into stagflation.

The fact that Britain, Sweden and Denmark had the good sense to keep out of the Euro – and are now recovering fastest from the crisis – should be an object lesson in how vital it is for nations to keep control of their own currencies.   

So my plea is ‘Si, VIVA EUROPE’…but let’s have a helluva lot less of it!’

Welcome to the weird world of Pallywood, where truth is pulped into fiction

ON Monday Jewish people the world over celebrate Passover, commemorating how Moses led the enslaved Israelites out of Egyptian bondage towards the Promised Land.

The crisp, flat slabs of unleavened bread, matzo, they’ll eat during the festival meal is symbolic of that exodus. So, too, are the bitter herbs that recall the cruelty, humiliations and injustices meted out by Pharaoh’s taskmasters.

Jesus and his disciples were partaking of exactly this ancient ritual in what Christians recall as the Last Supper.

Except it didn’t happen, because the bible is bunkum, according to one popular, Arab narrative. And Jews have no more right to claim Israel as a homeland than Native American Mohicans, Australian Aborigines or Bushmen of the Kalahari.

Conversely, if you don’t buy that hogwash, there’s the contradictory, ‘We-were-first’ porkie, as propounded by Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian’s chief negotiator, who says he’s ‘the proud son Canaanites’, around when Joshua brought Jericho’s walls tumbling down.

Except he isn’t. Nor, for that matter, are the vast majority of Palestinians.

For the record, genealogists show Erekat belongs to a Bedouin tribe, which originated in pre-Saudi Arabia. A branch began to settle about 200 years ago in the Ottoman province that became the post-WW1 British Mandate of Palestine, so his roots in the biblical soil hardly scratch the surface.

In fact, most Palestinians are descendants of late-19th/early-20th Century immigrants from Sudan, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan, lured by the opportunity to trade with Zionist settlers, who made the desert bloom in territory Mark Twain described as ‘desolate and unlovely’, when he toured the Holy Land in 1867.

Even Yasser Arafat was no son of ancient Palestine, not simply because no such nation existed, but he was born an Egyptian, in Cairo, on August 24, 1929.

There’s no disputing, however, Arafat was the wellspring of the litany of so many great Palestinian myths, tall tales his Palestinian Authority (PA) successor, Mahmoud Abbas, continues to peddle to those gullible enough to listen – principally the West-hating neo-Left, whose boycott, divestment and sanction movement (BDS) is a handy means for many to cloak their anti-Semitic bile under the veil of trendy anti-Zionism.

SON OF CANAANITES: Except Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat's family history hardly scratches Holy Land soil

SON OF CANAANITES? Except Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat’s family history hardly scratches Holy Land soil

So, the ‘revisionist’ history of the Middle East’s most intractable problem is an amnesiac’s dream, neatly forgetting the host of treaties that created a Jewish state, three unprovoked wars Israel won against seemingly insuperable odds and the land-for-peace deals it concluded with Egypt and Jordan.

Selective memory also overlooks the 19-year timeframe, after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, when the West Bank and East Jerusalem was grabbed by Jordan and Egypt annexed Gaza.

Despite appalling abuse by their Arab brethren, during that interim there was hardly a peep about Palestine statehood, largely because the Jordanians and Egyptian suppressed it, never recognised Palestinians as a people, didn’t assimilate them, but merely pilfered the land.

Only after the Israel’s 1967 Six Day War victory did the Arabs wake up to the potential of Arafat’s invention of Palestinian nationalism, though his stock tactics of terror attacks and airline hijacks initially won few admirers and little influence.

But, in 1968, Soviet KGB spinmeisters turned truth into fiction and created Pallywood, in which Arafat was transformed into the Middle East’s Che Guevara.

And, instead of a plucky, little Jewish state defying the might of a genocidal Arab world, the conflict was ‘re-spun’ to present it as the struggle of a powerless, indigenous people – the ‘Palestinians’ – to free themselves from imperialist US lackeys, the despised Israelis.

Thus, Arafat became a master of deceit, waving the olive branch at the West and the AK47 at his followers. Feted on the world stage, he was regularly offered the chance of a state on a plate by Israeli leaders, but his customary reply was to crank up more terrorism and bloody intifadas.

With the venal warlord dead – and the secret of a missing $1.3-billion of US and European Union taxpayers’ largess buried with him – Abbas continues his old boss’s ploy of negotiate, obfuscate and infuriate, always scuppering talks and pinning failure on Israel.

Last week he succeeded again, forcing John Kerry, America’s latest peace-broker, back to Washington, smarting at being taken for a sucker after nearly nine months of intense, shuttle diplomacy, in which the PA played him like a yo-yo.

Angry his place in history was ebbing away, the US Secretary of State’s knee-jerk reaction was to fault Israel – just as Abbas intended – only to embarrassingly backtrack by laying blame on both sides.

Meanwhile, most sane folk yearn for a two-state solution and wonder why the Palestinians have spurned the offer more times than Mickey Rooney, who died last week, aged 93, had wives – eight at the final count.

But, as the late Abba Eban, Israel’s eloquent Foreign Minister, noted, apropos Arafat, ‘He never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’

Ditto Abbas, who’s done zilch to advance the peace process and who threw a grenade into the works by breaking off face-to-face talks and scorned Kerry’s plea to extend the pow-wow beyond its over-optimistic April 29 deadline.

PALLYWOOD HERO: The KGB transformed Yasser Arafat into a Middle East Che Guevara

PALLYWOOD HERO: The KGB spinmeisters  transformed Yasser Arafat into a Middle East Che Guevara

Furthermore, he incensed Israel by announcing he’d sign 15 UN treaties – it’s reckoned the PA is already in breach of 11 of them – thus reneging on his vow to seek statehood only via bilateral negotiations and tearing to shreds the 1993 Oslo Accords.

With the goalposts suddenly moved, Israel premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, retaliated by shelving the release of the fourth tranche of 104 hard-core terrorist prisoners, some of them Israeli-Arabs – a new PA condition never in the script – who’d murdered and maimed thousands.

Much to Kerry’s chagrin, Netanyahu also approved housing tenders for a Jerusalem suburb, already earmarked as part of a land-swap deal.

But, in reality, Abbas was simply indulging in more Pallywood petty-fogging , before being caught with a deal-busting, smoking gun by outing his true aims at a recent Arab League summit in Kuwait.

With rare candour, he stated: ‘No’ to recognition of a Jewish state; ‘No’ to renouncing Palestinians’ right of return to their ‘ancient’ homeland; and ‘No’ to Israel extending its territory beyond the 1948 truce borders (a.k.a. the ‘Auschwitz Lines’)

Those words have virtually dealt Kerry’s mission a killer blow.

Because if the US envoy didn’t know it before, he knows now that Abbas will only accept a Palestinian state if it includes all of Israel, too.

 

 

 

‘Nightmare’ Nige’s UKIP mavericks could signal another mish-mash UK government

IF I were a betting man – and it’s odds-on I’m not – I’d wager that whatever constitutes the next United Kingdom government, post the General Election of May 7, 2015, it will be another hastily-cobbled coalition.

Labour may currently be a gnat’s nose ahead of the Conservatives, but they’re not dead certs to lead the field a year from now, especially after Finance Minister Osborne’s crafty budget unlocked pension funds and unashamedly played to Lamborghini-lusting wrinklies.

Meanwhile, showtime has kicked off with the warm-up acts slugging it out to determine which also-ran might be a junior partner, should the great British electorate again decide to inflict a plague on both houses of the major parties.

So, last Wednesday, Nick ‘Nicey’ Clegg, champion of the sagging Liberal Democrats, went head-to-head in a TV joust with the United Kingdom Independence Party’s Nigel ‘The Nightmare’ Farage for the second time in a week, keeping the chatterati so abuzz, a 1,000-volt charge could have been thrust up their bleached posteriors.

The BBC debate was fiercer, more cuttingly personal than the previous, LBC/Sky TV  clash, but each produced only one winner – and it wasn’t the crestfallen Deputy Prime Minister.

Many, yours truly included, wondered why a Coalition Goliath like Clegg had thrown down the gauntlet to Farage, a self-styled David and, proudly by his own account, a ‘non-professional’ politico.

So, if it was intended as an exercise in rubbing the underdog’s nose in the doo-doo, it backfired monumentally.

Because hubris did for Clegg as he totally misjudged Farage’s gift of the gab and in both debates the second most powerful man in Britain reeled under a welter of verbal blows, the most withering being the accusation of ‘wilfully lying to the British people.’

The debates’ outcome have further signalled a radical shift in the UK’s political sands.

Even the ‘hung’ parliament of 2010, which gave the Lib-Dems their first a whiff of influence in decades, could be eclipsed by the bonfire of political vanities that threatens.

The cardinal errors the big battalions – Labour as much as Conservative, let alone Clegg’s political harlots – made were a) Trivialising UKIP as swivel-eyed, Little Englander loons [true, some are]; and b) Utterly underestimating Farage’s connect with non-metropolitan have-nots.

NO CONTEST: Nick Clegg (right) and UKIP's Nigel Farage locked in verbal fisticuffs - with 'Nightmare' Nige winning both times

NO CONTEST: Nick Clegg (right) and UKIP’s Nigel Farage locked in verbal fisticuffs – with ‘Nightmare’ Nige winning both times

This emphasises how divorced from reality the elite truly are, with rare exception all too comfy in their Westminster bubble, inured from life in the Siberia of the provinces.

Interestingly, a similar arrogance afflicts the commentariat, as a horde of talking heads demonstrated, disparaging Farage as ‘looking sweaty’ and praising Clegg for appearing ‘ministerial’ in the first face-off.

The YouGuv poll of real people saw it differently: feisty Nige licked lacklustre Nick 57% to 36% first time out, then bested him 68% to 27% in the re-match.

No wonder that snotty scribbler, Yasmin Alibhia Brown, of the fast-fading Independent, demanded furiously the media should be ‘controlled’ in giving coverage to Farage.

If Ms YAB’s remark didn’t smack of neo-Lefty fascism and a curb on free speech more redolent of serfdom than democracy, I don’t know what does.

What her witless ravings echo is how much fear the smiley man with the pint has instilled in the smug mugs, who believe they reign over Britain and Europe by divine right.

As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Farage is a first-hand witness to the impotence of colleagues and the power wielded by a faceless, ruthless Europratocracy.

He’s utterly dismissive, too, of the unelected cabal of non-entities that rule the European Union (EU) roost, reserving special scorn for Herman Van Rumpoy (anonymous President of the European Council), Manuel Barroso (ineffectual President of the European Commission) and Baroness Ashton (vacuous Foreign Minister), all of whom he dismisses as political pigmies on the world stage.

Irrespective of an artificial currency strangling the Club Med countries, Farage has exposed the EU faultlines and the dire need to restructure the project around its original, core principles of a free-trade Common Market.

BAN NIGE: That's the opinion of neo-Left scribbler and talking head, Yasmin Alabhai Brown

CONTROL FREAK: Neo-Lefty scribbler and talking head, Yasmin Alabhai Brown demands the media should stop publicising the UKIP leader

In Eurosceptic Britain, his damning verdict will undoubtedly translate into votes in next month’s EU polls and UKIP’s nine MEPs are tipped to see their number swell dramatically.

Not that all who’ll vote for the party buy into their message of cutting loose from Europe or to Farage lauding the tyrant Putin for defying the West over Ukraine.

But there’s no denying, after the economy, immigration – and loathed Brussels diktats on the issue – is the most festering sore in British electorate thinking. The reality, though, is the UK opened its door too wide too long ago and the floodtide of Rumanian and Bulgarian incomers Farage predicted hasn’t materialised.

Nevertheless – for now, at least – the country’s voters admire Nige’s chutzpah in putting the frighteners on the vested interests, whose paucity of ideas and personalities is woeful.

The EU polls, then, will be the first chance since 2010 for the people to bash the Westminster clique and they’re practically salivating to register their disgruntlement with the mish-mash Coalition government and Labour’s lamentable opposition

However, General Elections tend to concentrate voters’ minds, so it remains to be seen how much of an X Factor UKIP will pose in a year’s time.

My prediction is they’ll pick up a few House of Commons seats for the first time, come the big day, and those could buy them some say in who holds power.

A greater spectre than Farage’s mavericks, though, looms with September’s vote on Scotland’s independence. And, should Westminster’s worst fears come true, Labour will lose its 41 Scottish MPs, the Lib-Dems their 11, but the Tories only one.

Still, if I were the gambling man I’m not, I’d place a wee wager on the ‘No/Stay Together’ campaign shading it, despite Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, Alex Salmond’s brazen ballot-rigging that allows 16 year-olds to vote, yet bans ex-pat Caledonians south of the border from participating.

Assuming I’m right – that Britain remains a united kingdom and Nige nets a clutch of MPs, plus potential Tory defectors – a successive, ruling Coalition is certainly on the cards.

And I would bet on Squire Cameron and Red Ed Miliband sounding out the UKIP upstart over a pint of Tetley’s best British bitter to see which way his once swivel-eyed loons will jump.

Q: So, where’s NATO when you actually need it? A: Not At The Office (note new name)

WAY back in the 1960s, there was a telly ad running on TV, guaranteeing that should any disaster befall your life, home, health, jewels or car, fear not…restitution was at hand.

‘Get the full strength of the insurance companies around you,’ was hardly a snappy slogan. However, even if it didn’t exactly catch the mood – like: ‘Don’t forget the fruit gums, Mum’ or ‘Go to work on an egg’ – it was an implied reminder of the perils that can afflict the uncovered (and I’m not referring to nudists).

In the then icy bite of the Cold War, insurance on an international scale was needed to safeguard the West’s wellbeing against the threat of Soviet expansion, so the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (a.k.a. NATO) was born.

The Russians countered with the Warsaw Pact and, for over three decades, a military stalemate existed, predicated on the tacit understanding that mutual nuclear annihilation was assured if ever World War III was sparked.

Though the Pact is dead, following the implosion of Soviet communism, NATO still exists, with some ex-Pact members even joining the now 28-nation alliance.

You’d imagine, then, that the small print in our insurance policy with the world’s premier military muscle would be vigilantly scrutinised right now, after Vladimir Putin’s Spetsnaz stormtroops invaded Ukraine and land-grabbed Crimea.

It isn’t. And the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, whereby the West and Russia agreed to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, isn’t worth the paper it’s scrawled on.

And, as regards the numerous NATO projects designed to forge closer ties with Kiev, aimed at beefing up Ukraine’s military capabilities in the event of attack, they don’t apparently to matter an iota, either.

NO FROM NATO: Designed to protect the West, the 28-member organisation has no contingency plan for Ukraine

NO FROM NATO: Designed to protect the West, the 28-member organisation has no contingency plan for Ukraine

This was made abundantly clear by US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who dismissed suggestions the alliance should do something – anything, even a slight rattle of its sabre – in response to Putin’s outrageous and unprovoked act of belligerence.

Nope, blithely stated the five-star general, his tailored ‘blues’ so overladen with ribbon it’s a wonder he can stand up straight. NATO has no contingency plan to deal with Russian thuggery. And even if there was one gathering dust somewhere in the organisation’s opulent Brussels HQ, it wouldn’t be adopted. Full point, as the Yanks would say.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to ask: what exactly does NATO stand for today…Not At The Office, perhaps? Because it sure seems to have passed the buck, as the Yanks would also say.

No-one is proposing the West and the rest actual go to war over Ukraine. But some true grit show of defiance – a tad more potent than the tut-tutting response that’s been the order of the day so far from the European Union – might just send a signal to Vlad The Invader enough is enough.

Small wonder former communist bloc countries, like Poland and the Baltic states which joined NATO for the protection it promised, are aghast at how supine the West’s military tiger is.

All this procrastination and lack of resolve must be music to Putin’s ears and grist to his mill of reconstituting the old Russian empire.

And, if anyone believes his incursion into Ukraine and annexing of Crimea are Vlad’s last territorial calculation, then welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land and have a nice day.

FORWARD HO: Russian troops advance into Crimea, before the Ukraine province in annexed by Vladimir Putin

FORWARD HO: Russian troops advance into Crimea, before the Ukraine province in annexed by Vladimir Putin

Hence, his forces continue their intimidating war games along Ukraine’s border, while casting covetous glances at Moldova’s quirky, Russian-speaking enclave of Trans-Dniester, notorious for its chicken-smuggling industry (no, I kid you not; that’s its chief source of revenue).

But wait a mo’, you say. We are taking stern steps to punish Russia and curb any notions Putin has of further aggression.

And they’ve started…by freezing the assets of a half-dozen Kremlin apparatchiks you’ve never heard of, while expat oligarchs – like Roman Abramovitch – might be forced to hand back their Tesco loyalty cards.

We’ve even expelled Putin from the exclusive G8 club, which is as stinging a sanction as being blackballed by the Grand Order of Freemasons.

The only problem is the wannabe tsar isn’t quaking in his Timberland boots and billions of roubles mysteriously fled Moscow – to destinations unknown, but probably London – days before the infamous Crimea referendum saw the accommodating citizenry vote, almost unanimously, to re-join Mother Russia.

But diplomacy not NATO will rein in rapacious Putin, insists Barack Obama.

For once, however, in a passionate speech to the now G7 in Brussels last week, he sounded robustly presidential, shelving the ‘peacenik’ image embedded in his core, like Blackpool or Coney Island runs through a stick of rock candy.

After lambasting Russia, tellingly Obama tongue-lashed the EU’s timid stance against Putin and rapped Europe’s lamentable attitude to defence – particularly that of Germany – demanding a review of military spending ‘to examine whether everybody is chipping in.’

Whether or not NATO does what it says on the tin, the US now picks up 73 percent of its tab, so it’s not unreasonable for the President to ask (Angela Merkel in particular), ‘Show me the money.’

Obama even displayed some business acumen, suggesting a solution to economically moribund Europe’s reliance on Russian energy…by selling it America’s surplus of gas and petroleum it’s eked out from fracking.

Obliging, he’s even willing to lay on a fleet of colossal tankers to transport the fuel, rather like the WW2 Atlantic convoys.

After all, what are friends for, maybe the President added.

For his part, poker-faced Putin isn’t blinking an eyelid, but spending $400-billion on refurbishing his rust-bucket navy and quarter-mastering his armed forces with the latest lethal gizmos, which begs the question: Why?

He must be betting, too, he’ll continue running rings round Obama in diverse arenas of conflict like the Middle East, where he’s just signed a contract with Egypt to supply $2-billion of ordnance, after the US refused – on ethical grounds – to replenish the country’s military stock.

As for NATO, in Russia’s evaluation, it’s a paper tiger or whatever is the equivalent of a busted flush in the Cyrillic alphabet.