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Sunday 26 October 2014

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When the news broke of the "shock" demand that Britain should pay €2.2bn (£1.7bn) into the EU coffers by the end of next month, the media was all at sea as to the reasons. The likes of the Guardian had it that it was: "because the UK economy is doing better relative to other European economies". Yet this is not closer to the truth than many of the other theories that have since sprung up.

According to the Guardian, British and European Commission officials confirmed that the Treasury had been told last week that budget contribution calculations based on gross national income (GNI) adjustments carried out by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, had "exposed a huge discrepancy between what Britain had been asked to contribute and what it should be paying, because of the UK's recovery".

The "bombshell", apparently first reported by the Financial Times, was dropped into the middle of a European Council meeting in Brussels where Cameron and 27 other leaders were "mired in tough negotiations over climate-change policy and attempts to agree big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030".

In response, or so the story went, a Downing Street source said: "It's not acceptable to just change the fees for previous years and demand them back at a moment's notice. The European Commission was not expecting this money and does not need this money and we will work with other countries similarly affected to do all we can to challenge this".

Such was the apparent suddenness of this demand, though, that Kirkup in the Telegraph was speculating that the "colleagues" were perhaps EU trying to push Britain towards leaving. Even the noble Guardian - lover of all things "European" - remained nonplussed, telling us that the "infuriating" reason for this sudden hike is "because Eurostat has reviewed the figures and believes the UK economy has performed better in recent years than was previously believed".

The following day had the Independent tell us that George Osborne had "left David Cameron in the dark" about the EU's "unexpected" demand. The Chancellor, we were told, had known about the bill since the beginning of the week, yet the prime minister had only been told on Thursday, just as he had been on his way to Brussels for the European Council.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is said to have known about the bill before Mr Cameron was informed, which has left the prime minister venting his anger from a podium in the press suite in the Brussels Council building, declaring: "This is completely unacceptable. It is an unacceptable way for this organisation to work – to suddenly present a bill like this for such a vast sum of money with so little time to pay it".

Thus, days after Mr Cameron's supposed "ambush", the collected political/media establishment are still having trouble coming to terms with what precisely has happened, and why. So lacking is the comprehension that the Daily Telegraph leader yesterday was accusing the Commission of acting on a "whim", while another pundit was arguing that the timing was politically motivated.

Shining like a beacon through the morass, however, are the comments from Angela Merkel during the European Council. According to the Telegraph, she told David Cameron that: "This did not come out of the blue", adding that she could "understand" that it was difficult to come up with money but "this should have been expected".

Remarkably, diplomats are recorded as described Merkel's intervention as "cold-blooded and ruthless" but this is hardly the case. The German Chancellor was only stating the obvious – and very far removed from the Telegraph's earlier idea that some anonymous official in the EU's statistical department woke up one day and decided – presumably just for the fun of it – to review all the GNI figures. It should have been expected.

In fact the process which has delivered this result starts, not with Eurostat but with the United Nations and its System of National Accounts, a process of producing standardised accounts for every nation in the world, which has been in place since 1953. Far from coming out of the blue, the timeline for the events of last week start in 1993, when the last standard was published, a process which automatically triggers a review which inexorably leads to the next published standard.

If this seems complicated, it isn't really – it is a process of continuous review, carried out by many international and national organisations, the bureaucratic equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge. As soon as you have finished, you start all over again.

In this case, the review triggered by the 1993 standard was carried out under the responsibility of five organisations: the UN as the lead organisation, plus the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Bank and … the European Union. It took 15 years, numerous meetings and many consultation sessions, before the work complete.

Thus, it was not until 2008 that the United Nations was able to issue its revised standard, setting out the new international rules for how nations should calculate their gross national products (and their GNIs). This represented - as the introduction to the standard declared - "an update, mandated by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2003, of the System of National Accounts 1993".

The new standard was formally published in 2009, which then put the EU out of line with the global system. So, in December 2010, the Commission issued a legislative proposals (COM(2010) 774 final) aimed at bringing its own system - the European System of Accounts (ESA), last amended in 1995 - back into line.

The proposed regulation took over two years going through the process, but was agreed by William Hague at the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg on 22 April 2013, following a single reading by the European Parliament on 13 March. It became Regulation (EU) No 549/2013 of 21 May 2013 on "the European system of national and regional accounts in the European Union". A mere 727 pages long, its short title was the "ESA 2010 regulation".

For those who cared to read the European Parliament position document, it clearly warned that: "The Commission uses: "aggregates of national and regional accounts for Union administrative purposes and, in particular, budgetary calculations". Thus, anyone paid to watch such things (such as Treasury officials) should have known that there was a potential for impacting on UK contributions to the EU.

Then, in January 2014, Eurostat pitched in with a press briefing, explaining the impact of the changes - pointing out that the US - which had introduced the international standard a year earlier - had experienced  a 3.5 percent "boost" in its GNP - entirely due to the new method of accounting.

Making things abundantly clear, the press release also noted: which should have made things clear. National accounts, it said, "have a deeper role. They are at the source of many of the indicators that constitute the quantitative backbone of European economic governance. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), more precisely Gross National Income, is at the heart of the calculation of the EU budget".

The European Union, we were also told, "will fully move to ESA 2010 in September 2014, when the data transmission programme included in ESA 2010 Regulation enters into application". It warned: "The national accounts data will then be compiled all around Europe based on the new methodology".

That most certainly should have rung alarm bells. Every year on 1 December, the Commission revises its estimates of member state liabilities for their annual contributions to the EU budget. And what was coming through was that the UK would be showing a rise in GNI higher than the European average.

Interestingly, the change to the criteria was flagged up by the Financial Times, but not until 23 April 2014 – nearly a year after the EU regulation had come into force. It did not reveal the UN source though. In our post, a few days later, though, we did track down the origin, noting that the FT was remarking that the picture on the UK economy (then improving) was to get even better in September when the UK "adopts the new international standards for national income accounting".

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Then, just to add to the picture, the change was also flagged up by the UK's ONS in May 2014, and also by the Economist magazine in the August. This time, the UK's relative position was shown, with an increment of about 4.5 percent in its GNP. As other EU member states were not increasing by the same amount, it should then have been obvious to Treasury officials that the UK's contributions to Brussels were going to increase by a substantial amount.

If there had been any doubt, Eurostat – now with a legislative mandate to produce a new system – had in any case come up with a 655-page document in July 2013, describing the full methodology on the ESA 2010 standard. And it was this methodology that was to be applied by ONS, which calculated the figures and passed them to Brussels.

Currently, with the September 2014 implementation deadline passed, Eurostat has checked and approved the revised GNI figures prepared by the EU member states, and passed them on to Brussels. And it is on these figures that latest EU contributions have been based for the 1 December review - one of which Mrs Merkel was apparently aware, but was apparently unknown to Mr Cameron.

The irony now is almost too much to bear. When the UK joined the EEC in 1973, it was felt it that it was paying an excessive budgetary contribution – excessive because the UK was undergoing financial crises and its GNP was depressed.

It was then proposed that the contributions should be linked to GDP – which latterly became GNI – but this was not implemented until 1988 as the Own Resources Decision (ORD) 1988. But that was putting into effect the 1984 agreement with Margaret Thatcher at Fountainebleau, after she had settled Britain's rebate. At the heart of Mr Cameron's travails, therefore, is Mrs Thatcher's famous "handbag" victory, reducing Britain's contributions. Perhaps it should have come with a heath warning: "what goes down can go up".

With Britain's annual contribution to the EU now linked to GNI as a result of Mrs Thatcher's endeavours, this made it inevitable that, with the GNI increasing under the new, UN-mandated system of accounting, Britain's contribution was going to increase.

It is thus all very well for Mr Cameron to huff and puff about refusing to pay a "completely unacceptable" bill, but he has no grounds to do so. The original system was agreed by Margaret Thatcher. Amendments were approved by Tony Blair's government and Gordon Brown in 2007, making them equally responsible, and the new system of accounting was agreed by Mr Cameron's own government last year.

Thus, Mrs Merkel was absolutely right. Mr Cameron should not have been in the least surprised by the £1.7bn additional bill. This is nothing to do with the improvement in the British economy - it simply reflects a change in the accounting procedure, which has been on the stocks for two decades, the effects of which were predictable five years ago.

Although one is concerned for the poor benighted taxpayer, therefore, there can be no sympathy for Mr Cameron. This is the man who is in favour of continued membership of the EU: all he had to do was read the 727-page regulations which his government approved, or the 655-page explanatory document produced by Eurostat. He would then have known exactly where the UK stood.

With his government having agreed the new regulation, bringing in the changes to the way the GNI was calculated - and the consequences of those changes having been flagged up - Mr Cameron has no excuses.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the German MEP who has been speaking to the BBC is absolutely right: "everybody has to pay their dues". Whether we like it or not, his government is legally obliged to pay the bill, as it conforms with the system he personally endorses and which his government has approved.

But the biggest irony of all is that no-one ever set out to increase the UK's bill. This is simply an unintended consequence of the routine processes of globalisation that are going on all the time - unseen and largely unrecognised. But once the UN had changed the system, the EU had no choice but to conform - leading to the current situation.

Presumably, Mr Farage is now going to demand that we leave the UN - one of the many villains of the story. But at the heart of Mr Cameron's discomfort, it seems to me, is a failure of communication.  He should have been told well in advance what was going to happen.

And there lies a final irony - he was in Brussels trying to convince the "colleagues" to buy into his climate change fantasy, which is set to cost the UK £1.3 trillion by 2050. Against that, a mere £1.7bn seems small change.


Richard North 26/10/2014 link

Saturday 25 October 2014

My version of the Cameron "budget" story is on hold, pending a decision by The Sunday Telegraph on whether to use it. I'll keep you appraised. Meanwhile, it looks as if the media don't know what is happening and are really struggling. The illustrated text (below) is from the Telegraph editorial: 

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Whatever else, and no matter what one might think of the Commission, it doesn't act on a whim - or without consultation. This simply doesn't happen. But the Commission isn't being very helpful. I don't think Barroso really knows what is going on either.

Mr Barroso tells us that the information he has received from the Commission's services, from his legal experts, is that the budget ramp, "was a decision taken in full independence by the statistical entities". Any person "that has to look with objectivity and honesty to the rules that were approved by the Member States has to accept that sometimes these decisions happen", he says.

This one, I think, is going to run and run.


Richard North 25/10/2014 link

Friday 24 October 2014

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Suddenly in the news again is Afghanistan, with the BBC trailing its programme, "The Lion's Last Roar", to be shown on BBC 2 on 26 October.

Then, it seems, we are supposed to go through the charade of watching the dismal breed of men that have been taking money under false pretences as Army generals, admitting to their mistakes in Afghanistan. And that is more than five years after they had become obvious to anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together.

It was, for instance, on Monday 17 August 2009 that we wrote on our sister blog, the Defence of the Realm:
… As we have watched the train wreck that masquerades as strategy in this benighted country, we have become more and more convinced that it is wrong – totally, completely, fundamentally wrong.

It cannot succeed. It will not succeed and the inevitable outcome is that, after the expenditure of much more of our treasure – which we can ill-afford – and the death of many more fine men (and, probably, some women), we will be forced into a humiliating retreat, dressed up as victory, leaving the country in no better a condition than when we found it – if not worse.
And now, those five years later, we have the BBC telling us that: "Military leaders failed to calculate the magnitude of the conflict in Afghanistan", with Gen. Wall admitting they "got it wrong". "We had put forward a plan saying that for the limited objectives that we had set ourselves, this was a reasonable force. And I freely admit now, that calculus was wrong", Wall says.

Yet Dannatt, CGS from 2006 to 2009 – and possibly the worst head of the Army we've had in living memory (and the man the Conservatives wanted to use as a military advisor) – is still more interested in covering his back.

Having completely misread the tactical position in both Iraq – where he thought the military effort could be scaled down at the height of the insurgency – and in Afghanistan, where he thought he could Hoover up the Taliban with fast-moving squads of men in eight-wheeler mine-trap APCs – now has the gall to tell us:
Looking back we probably should have realised, maybe I should realised, that the circumstances in Iraq were such that the assumption that we would get down to just 1,000 or 1,500 soldiers by summer 2006 was flawed - it was running at many thousands.

We called it the perfect storm, because we knew that we were heading for two considerable size operations and we really only had the organisation and manpower for one.

And therefore perhaps we should have revisited the decision that we the UK would lead an enlarged mission in southern Afghanistan in 2006. Perhaps we should have done that. We didn't do that.
Then we have the commander of the British forces in Helmand in 2006, Brig Ed Butler, saying: "We were underprepared, we were under-resourced, and most importantly, we didn't have a clear and achievable strategy to deliver success".

It is all very well having these ex post facto confessionals, but the point is – as we argued again and again on Defence of the Realm - it was obvious at the time that the campaign was failing and was doomed to failure. So obvious was it that, in July 2008, we wrote a 12-part analysis called "Winning the War", setting out why we thought things were going wrong.

Now for these highly-paid fools to be admitting that they got things wrong, when they were paid to get it right – and amply rewarded with rank, baubles and privileges for so doing – is simply not good enough.

But the worst of it is that nothing will change. It has only taken the Army five years as a corporate body to convince itself that it scored a stunning victory in Iraq, despite the evidence I record in Ministry of Defeat. By the time the whitewash machine has completed its work, the Army will emerge unblemished from Afghanistan as well.

And nor do I buy the Oborne line that this was a case of "Lions led by donkeys". For sure, amongst the very small fraction of troops in theatre who actually saw combat, there were some amazingly brave people. But there were crass, ill-informed decisions made at all levels, and by all arms.

In terms of the bigger picture, in every theatre in recent times, the Army has been badly led, badly generalled and has under-performed. One warms to the idea of slashing the Armed Forces to the bare minimum. At least then our politicians will no longer be tempted to deploy them. We simply cannot afford any more of these corporate "victories" that the Army insists on delivering.


Richard North 24/10/2014 link

Thursday 23 October 2014

Peter Troy, the Publicist Ltd, together with Anthony Scholefield and the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB) have funded the production of a film of the Dawlish Flexcit talk. Collectively, they have managed the impossible, turning a sow's ear into a silk purse. This makes the production surprisingly watchable, and extremely informative.

We hope that this film will have a long shelf-life, and it's very useful for me, in helping me tighten and refine my own presentation. In due course, I hope we can train a number of people up to give this presentation, so that we can increase the rate at which we expose people to the message. 

As part of The Harrogate Agenda programme, though, we are happy to offer this presentation to anyone who is prepared to host it - replicating the successful Rotherham workshop, organised last week by John Wilkinson, where a version of this talk was delivered.

Meanwhile, we see from the Telegraph that Iain Martin has written this:
Those of us who are moderate sceptics, who could be persuaded to vote for out in a referendum for an optimistic and outward-looking alternative, want answers, not shouting. Say this to many Ukippers and they will instantly start shouting at you about treason. It as though they are incapable of grasping that to win a referendum they are going to have to calmly persuade their fellow citizens of all races, creeds and convictions.
This is what Flexcit is all about, and if he was not so ignorant, and close-minded, Martin would already be familiar with it. But, like so many journalists, Martin is driven by "prestige", so he will wait for endorsement by one of the great and the good before he deigns to recognise its existence - and then will only report a fraction of what he is told.

For myself, I am quite happy to stay under the media radar. There are few journalists who have the wit and patience to understand what we are saying, and even a 31-minute video is beyond the attention span of most of them. And, at this stage, we can do without the sort of half-baked misrepresentation that the media will offer.  

Hence, the strategy – and it is quite a deliberate strategy – is to stay under the radar, building our own constituency of knowledgeable people, before we break into the popular consciousness. In other words, we want to build on firm foundations and are not interested in the quick hit, only then to be forgotten. 

For those who want more detail, there is then the Flexcit book online. When that is finished, it will be published in hard copy, and then we will produce shortened versions in pamphlet (and even leaflet) form. We also hope to make a video, along the lines of the Norway Option - a video which is still a good primer.

In this, as you will see, we are playing the long game. If a referendum comes in 2017, we will be ready, even though we would prefer longer. Thus, unlike 1975, we will be able to go into a campaign with a fully-researched exit plan, one that is being field tested and can provide most of the answers.

And that is why I am confident that we have a winning strategy in the making.


Richard North 23/10/2014 link

Thursday 23 October 2014

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No doubt motivated by a surge of bitterness, the Mail is headlining that: "Support for staying IN the European Union surges to a 23-year high... all thanks to the rise of Ukip".

This is data from an Ipsos MORI report which show the majority of Britons would vote to stay in the European Union in a referendum.

Some 56 percent would vote to stay in the EU, compared with 36 percent who would vote to get out; eight percent answer that they do not know how they would vote. This translates to 61 percent support for Britain's EU membership and 39 percent opposing after excluding "don't knows".

This is the highest support since December 1991, before the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, when 60 percent said they would vote to stay in the European Community and 29 percent wanted to get out.

What is especially significant about the poll though is that it shows how Ukip's growing popularity has coincided with increasing support for Britain's membership of the EU. In November 2012, Ukip was on just three percent in the polls and 48 percent backed leaving the EU. Only 44 percent favoured staying in.

Now, with Ukip now on 16 percent, the polls indicate that we are further away than ever from leaving the EU. While Ukip has risen 13 points in the polls, the number wishing to leave the EU has fallen by 12 points over the same period.

Worryingly, this is not an isolated poll result. Sentiment has been turning since earlier this year, so much so that it is being called the "Farage Paradox". Numerous voices are now joining in the throng to aver that Farage is damaging the eurosceptic cause.

That, to us, is the issue. Much as UKIP supporters would like to personalise it, the criticism from this blog is directed at a party leader who seems more interested in electoral success than in developing and supporting the anti-EU cause.

Furthermore, we believe that the sequence of "pro-EU" polls is good evidence that the movement is failing. And, with Farage setting himself up as the spokesman for the anti-EU movement, he cannot walk away from responsibility for this.

For those of us who have spent decades opposing the EU (and the constructs that went before it), this is unacceptable – completely unacceptable. And this is where our critics either unwittingly or deliberately misrepresent us. Farage is entitled to pursue his personal ambitions, but not at the expense of the cause.

Our best judgement is that Farage is damaging the cause and, if we think so, we are entitled to say so. Furthermore, we are entitled to take what action we feel necessary (and able) to take, in order to reduce the damage. What we can do is limited, but if Farage is entitled to do his stuff, so are we. It ain't personal. This is bigger than all of us.


Richard North 23/10/2014 link

Wednesday 22 October 2014

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There I was, quietly working on a technical post about the latest developments in the WTO and up pops Dan Hodges outing UKIP as "the cult of Farage".

Interestingly, the Telegraph hasn't opened up the piece to comments and, for once, I don't blame the paper in the slightest. We're all sick to the hind teeth of the tedious, repetitive UKIP claque which drowns out the sensible voices in the party.

It is good to see the phrasing coming out into the open again, though, even if Compleat Bastard got there earlier, and the Telegraph beat us all by a country mile.

Despite my supposed "bitterness", EURef was relatively late into the fray with this description, coming to it only in June of this year. That piece, however, was especially to the point, as every time this blog writes critically of Farage, we can almost guarantee that some Muppet will crawl out of the woodwork with the "bitter" meme, straight off the UKIP playlist.

Hodge's outing, however, has been a long time coming. In general terms, we were writing about the cult of personality and UKIP in June 2013, cross-referring to this.

Gradually, though, the message has spread, not least after the spectacular u-turn by Suzanne Evans, one of Farage's more recent sock-puppets – although the loathsome New Statesman was banging the drum in April. Yesterday, Compleat Bastard was noting how Left and Right were now combining (at last) to focus on UKIP, but again they are late to the party.

This morning I was writing a private e-mail, telling my correspondent that I saw in UKIP (as fashioned by Farage) something very similar to the 1930s British Union of Fascists (BUF). Both parties had somewhat similar aims - take out "immigrants" from Farage's speeches, and substitute "Jews" and there isn't so much difference.

It is as well to note that Mosley had the full support of the Daily Mail and the much of the rest of the British media, and at its height, the BUF had a larger membership than does UKIP at present.  But, like UKIP will, the BUF disappeared without trace, to leave only a footnote in history.

The essential problem for UKIP is that it is a party without policies – almost a contradiction in terms. The very life-blood of politics is policies, which means that UKIP is fundamentally empty. That leaves it wide open to the demagogue, which Farage has become, turning the organisation into a cult – so rightly diagnosed by Hodges.

This, of course, will have no effect whatsoever on the cultists. So besotted are they with The Dear Leader, that he can do no wrong. Anything he says or does is alright by them, and anyone who has the temerity to criticise Him is beyond the pale.

Sadly – for the cultists – it cannot last. The empty vessel may make the loudest noise, but in the crucible of British politics, its very emptiness will be the undoing of the Farage cult. Whether UKIP will survive the experience is anyone's guess, but if it doesn't, a lot of good people will have been betrayed.


Richard North 22/10/2014 link

Wednesday 22 October 2014

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It is interesting seeing the world form the enemy's point of view – i.e., the New Statesman. Compared with that, the EU is a mere pussy.

Thus we are told that David Cameron will later this week meet fellow European leaders to try and conclude fraught negotiations over EU strategy on energy and climate change. In the shadow of the crisis in Ukraine, the focus will be firmly on what the new measures mean for Europe's energy security, but reaching an international emissions agreement at next year's UN summit is firmly on the agenda.

On this question, the New Statesman thinks Ed Davey has been something of the unsung hero of the negotiations. He has assembled a pan-European coalition of ministers to champion more ambition on cutting "carbon pollution" and he "commendably" remains the primary advocate for leaving the door open to upping Europe's effort on emissions.

In other words, if things weren't bad enough, we have a minister who wants even more of it. Jim Skea, British representative on the IPCC tells us the target currently under consideration by the EU is a 40 percent cut in "carbon pollution" on 1990 levels by 2030.

This, we are led to believe is "too little, too late", so Ed Davey "is right to press" for the cuts to be increased to 50 percent. This Davey believes, would be better for the European economy as a whole.

Back in 2007, the last time leaders met to agree a comprehensive European climate and energy plan, Tony Blair and Angela Merkel signed off on a deal to cute CO2 output of by 20 percent, improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent, meet 20 percent of energy demand from renewables – the so-called 20-20-20 target.

While package was seen as "mightily ambitious" at the time, a combination of economic downturn, deindustrialisation of many of the central and eastern European economies and elsewhere, and increased use of gas, the emissions target was met seven years ahead of schedule.

The mad thing, though, is that the UK is set to miss the renewables target, alongside 13 other member states, while the progress in energy efficiency has been "extremely modest" to say the least. Between 1990 and 2010, final energy consumption in the EU27 grew by seven percent. In the household sector the increase was 12 percent.

However, none of this seems to deter the New Statesman, or indeed Mr Davey. Despite not reaching the crucial targets – and only meeting the emissions target by accident – they want to see us racking up future targets even more.

With that, we are also to see some heavy breathing on the emissions trading scheme, from which the French expect "solid results".

The one thing we are not going to get from Mr Cameron, therefore, is any row-back from the climate change lunacy which has been infecting the coalition administration ever since he took office.

But, despite the UK enthusiasm, the outcome of the European Council is very far from assured. The question being asked is whether "Europe" is any longer capable of making the big decisions any more. For all our sakes, we hope not.


Richard North 22/10/2014 link

Wednesday 22 October 2014

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That Mr Farage has sought the support of an MEP from a party that Marine Le Pen has rejected as being "too extreme" has to tell you something about the crazy world of European Parliament politics.

More telling is the almost total inability of the media to report accurately what is going on, with Iain Martin huffing and puffing about Farage's "despicable new EU alliance", as if it actually meant anything, other than a quite open attempt by UKIP to get their hands on EU money and parliamentary privileges.

The point about the political groups in the European Parliament is that they are marriages of convenience, for the express purpose of getting the dosh.  Officially, they are intended to be proto-pan-European political parties and, so keen are the "colleagues" that they should happen that the rules on them are extraordinarily relaxed.

According to the rules of procedure (Rule 32), MEPs "may form themselves into groups according to their political affinities", but the rules then say that, "Parliament need not normally evaluate the political affinity of members of a group".

Bizarrely, they then go on, "In forming a group together under this Rule, the Members concerned accept by definition that they have political affinity. Only when this is denied by the Members concerned is it necessary for Parliament to evaluate whether the group has been constituted in accordance with the Rules".

This is rather like the former US military "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays. Putative group members apply to form a group, on which basis it is assumed that there is a "political affinity". But the Parliament does not ask and, unless the group members actually come out in the open and say there is none, the assumption stands.

However, there is plenty of wriggle-room. The rules say that Parliament need not "normally" evaluate the political affinity of the members of the group – but that does not prohibit president Schultz from carrying out an evaluation. He could then, in theory at any rate, decide that there is no "affinity" between the national groups and thus refuse to allow a group to be formed.

And it is here that the media are getting it wrong – aided and abetted by Farage – in their talk of the EFDD being "reformed" or saved, by the last-minute intervention of their Polish friend. The thing is that there is no EFDD. Within hours of the group losing its Latvian member, the offices were being stripped, locked up and keys withdrawn. There is no group. Le groupe est mort.

Thus, Farage is in the throes of setting up an entirely new group – and it cannot necessarily be assumed that the members of his previous group will all join him. There will be a frantic bidding war, to try and prevent that from happening.

But then, even if Farage does manage to surmount that hurdle, as Euractiv accurately points out, it must then have the approval of the parliament's president, Mr Schultz, who positively loathes Mr Farage.

One can assume that, even now, Mr Schultz is poring over the rules, and consulting lawyers, to see if there is any way he can keep Farage separate from his millions, and the chauffeur-driven car.

Eventually, there is even an outside chance that this could go to the ECJ. That would be a real irony: Farage appealing to the EU's court, to give him access to the EU's millions. But then, this is the crazy world of European Parliament politics. Anything, or even nothing, can happen.


Richard North 22/10/2014 link

Tuesday 21 October 2014

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We were quick off the mark on the MH17 tragedy and now, three months after the event, German Intelligence, via der Spiegel is taking the view that the downing was caused by pro-Russian separatists, using a BUK missile.

While the Mail was telling its readers that a BUK was something you could pack in a golf bag and the Sun was blaming it on Putin, I think we called it right, from the very first. And that was despite the "paper of record" getting it totally wrong.

What we are looking at here is that Gerhard Schindler, president of the BND, told a secret [German] parliamentary committee on security affairs earlier this month that it had intelligence indicating that pro-Russian separatists had captured a BUK air defence missile system from a Ukrainian military base and had fired a missile on 17 July that had exploded in direct proximity to the Malaysian aircraft.

Schindler says his agency has come up with unambiguous findings. One is that Ukrainian photos have been manipulated and that there are details indicating this. He also told the parliamentary committee that Russian claims the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to the passenger jet were false. "It was pro-Russian separatists", Schindler said.

I think the point must be made here. If you accept the careful, sober analysis of the German Intelligence Service (BND), we got it right while the legacy media was floundering around and getting it wrong. Furthermore, we did with far more technical detail and analysis, and far quicker than most of the media sources.

Even now, when actually reporting on the BND report, the Mail is still revisiting its own errors, with the video of a BUK radar system which it calls a missile launcher. That's the other thing about the legacy media – they rarely correct their own errors.

At least though the Mail did report the BND findings, which is more than can be said of the rest of the British media. Noticeably absent are the Times and the Sun which were quick to blame Putin – and are now equally slow to issue a corrective.

And, of course, we have Booker who not only got it right, but also asked questions that have yet to be answered. An alert media would have picked them up – and the failure to do so tells its own story.

The fact that we are so ill-served by our media should not pass without comment. Time and time again, we are told that a free media is an essential part of a functioning democracy, on which basis the media claims its rights and privileges.

But, of course, the effect depends of the media doing its job diligently. And, as the MH17 saga indicates – there is very little evidence of that happening.


Richard North 21/10/2014 link

Tuesday 21 October 2014

000a Didcot-020 Fire.jpg

There is already a lot of excited chatter about the effect the fire at Didcot B power station will have on our electricity supply over the winter. But since this has only affected four out of 31 cooling cells, and has left the generating plant untouched, it is unlikely that there will be any long-term affect.

However, the very fact that the power station had to be shut down at very short notice adds stress to an already stressed system. However, even had we lost the 1.3GW supply, there would have been no immediate risk of the lights going out. Although it would have put posted capacity very close to peak winter demand, there is still a "hidden reserve" of 10GW in the system, the same as three Hinkley C nuclear power plants.

Nevertheless, the fire does show how fragile the system has become, and how vulnerable it is to disruption. Didcot is the third major fire in a non-nuclear power plant this year (Ferrybridge and Ironbridge) and with two major nuclear plants out of order (Heysham and Hartlepool), there is no flexibility left in the system.

Furthermore, we should not just be looking at the UK. If the Ukraine situation bubbles over, and Mr Putin reacts even more than he had already doen, the whole of Europe could be short of gas over the winter, and competing with us for supplies.

Also France is due to close a major nuclear plant shortly, and disruptions to Belgium nuclear plants - connected in with the French system - means that there is 3GW offline there. France may, as a result, find it difficult to supply the 2GW it sends us through the interconnector.

Given these additional stresses, a prolonged cold winter could bring us to the edge, where another major incident such as Didcot could be the tipping point, with a serious risk of blackouts and even grid collapse. In the latter event, some major areas of England could be without power for 2-3 weeks.

But what is not realised is that, had the last government stuck to its original plans for electricity supply, we would be at no risk of collapse, and the national system would be much more resilient, because we should have been furnished with another 10GW from combined heat and power (CHP). But, because of successive failures in government energy policy, that safety margin does not exist. 

To trace the failures to their roots we can go as far back as 1982 when the House of Commons select committee on energy visited Denmark to examine schemes there, coming back with the view that the successful application indicated that CHP in the UK, "would be an insurance policy with a low premium against a future of possibly insecure and expensive energy supplies".

Despite this prescience, it was not until the 1990 White Paper on the Environment that we saw a formal government target for CHP. This was set at a mere 4MWe of installed capacity for the year 2000 – doubling the then existing capacity. As early progress was encouraging (from a very low base) in 1993, the government announced an increase in the target to 5GWe as part of the UK Climate Change Programme.

In March 1996, a report for the Department of the Environment followed in the footsteps of the MPs in 1982 and reported that Denmark had implemented a national plan to utilise the heat energy more effectively.

Local authorities had cooperated with utility companies to install commercial and domestic heating systems based on the use of the hot water or low pressure steam from the power plants. In 1987, for example, 46 percent of their heating had already been based on CHP or district heating schemes and had been forecast to reach 56 percent by the turn of the century.

This move has already led to the conversion of an average 37 percent electrical efficiency across the country to about 55 percent thermal efficiency. One of the utility companies made the point that if the current Danish efficiency could be applied at a stroke in China, it would save more coal than the whole of Europe currently burns. Consequently, in terms of CO2 and air pollutants, the report concluded, the key is to improve efficiency.

Only three months later, the first Government CHP Strategy was published, dated June 1996. It identified barriers to further progress in expanding the uptake of CHP and opportunities for the future. At last, the Government was taking CHP seriously, but it was not to last.

In June 2000 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP)'s report: Energy – The Changing Climate, was published. It was this that set us on the path to a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which was all too soon to become an 80 percent emission reduction target – a move which was to spell the demise of CHP.

Two years later, though, in 2002, we saw the launch of the a draft strategy on CHP, updating previous work. Environment Minister Michael Meacher declared that the government was still committed to the future of CHP and was making changes to the Climate Change Levy worth £15m per year, increasing to £25m, to make the technology more viable.

In December of the same year, Mr Meacher was telling MPs that his department was developing the draft CHP Strategy, which would set out the measures needed to achieve a target of at least 10GW of "good quality" CHP by 2010.

This was followed in short order by the 2003 Energy White Paper entitled: "Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy". Published in the February, it had a foreword by Tony Blair in which he reinforced the linkage between energy and climate change - "largely caused by burning fossil fuels".

The white paper, Blair said, gave "a new direction for energy policy", showing leadership by putting the UK on a path to a 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

It should be noted that the target had remained at 60 percent reduction – not 80 percent as it was later to be. And to achieve this, combined heat and power (CHP) fitted into the "wider picture". The white paper also noted that the UK had reached around 5GW of CHP installed capacity.

A year later, in 2004, came the Government's full CHP strategy for 2010, which had Margaret Beckett continuing to aim at our target of 10GWe of "good quality" CHP capacity in the UK by 2010.

By then, the Government was at last beginning to understand the huge potential offered by CHP. It was citing a 1997 report which had given a range for 2010 of between 10 and 17GWe, the latter being close to the capacity of the nuclear sector. Additional work suggested a further potential of 2GWe in community heating, bringing the total to 19GWe.

It only took three years more for another energy white paper, this one in May 2007, Notable was the way CHP was still very much on the agenda, with eighty references to the technology in the text.

From there we finally saw an official government evaluation of technology, carried out on the behest of the European Commission and its CHP Directive. Entitled, "Analysis of the UK potential for Combined Heat and Power", it modelled capacity reaching 16GW by 2015 – nearly a quarter of Britain's peak demand – with a further potential for 21.5GW of district heating.

This was not expressed as a target, but a potential. And it was one which was never to be realised. A year later we were see the Climate Change Act which between the second and third reading upped the ante from 60 percent emission cut to 80 and made it a statutory requirement.

And there lay the death sentence for CHP. In future plans, it effectively disappears off the map at 2030. While low-carbon CHP could have contributed to the 60 percent target, the 80 percent target rendered it obsolete. Only low-carbon renewables, nuclear and CCS-abated coal and gas were allowed. CPH didn't fit the profile.

Organisations such as Greenpeace which were extolling the virtues of CHP in 2007 were voluble in mid-2008, telling us in a commissioned report that there could be up to 16GW more industrial CHP, the equivalent of 8 nuclear power stations.

There was the occasional flutter as government support was reduced but, by and large, support has been muted since the 80 percent emissions target became law. With small-scale, gas-fired CHP, the target cannot be reached.

As a result, what could easily have become 16GWe of installed CHP capacity by the end of next year is set to be missed by a clear 10GW. Installed capacity of "good quality" CHP is stuck at 6GW, only one GW more than it had been 12 years previously in 2003. Thus we have a missing 10GW, an extra capacity which, if it was available, would have added a comfortable margin to what is going to be a tense situation.

However, readers can be assured that our masters will not be troubled by blackouts arising from their neglect. Despite depriving the nation of the undoubted benefits of CHP, No.10 Downing Street and 22 other buildings in Whitehall, including the DECC offices, the Treasury and the Civil Service Club, are supplied with heat and power from a private power station in the bowels of the main MoD building, the heat distributed via 12km of insulated piping to the departments.

Contracts were awarded in December 1995, in the dog days of the Major government, and at a cost of £7.82 million, a 4.9MWe Altstrom gas turbine was installed, capable of delivering 8MW of heat. It was fully commissioned in October 2005, just as Mr Blair was working up to his energy policy that was going to turn the lights out all over the UK.

This ensures that, when the blackouts come, Mr Cameron will be as warm as toast, and basking in taxpayer-funded light. And, as is their due, his mandarins can continue to sip their G&Ts in the comfort of the Civil Service Club, without having to resort to anything so vulgar as torches and candles.


Richard North 21/10/2014 link