Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Islands give Finland EU treaty problem

The Aland Islands - an autonomous territory of Finland - have joined Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland as a further thorn in the EU's side over ratification of the discredited Lisbon Treaty.

According to EUobserver, the government of the Islands is demanding certain concessions from Helsinki in return for ratifying the treaty, on which the 30-member strong Aland parliament is expected to vote this Autumn.

Although Finland has been able to ratify the EU treaty without the consent of the Aland parliament, Finland's minister responsible for the islands - the former MEP Astrid Thors - has said that the Alands' refusal would lead to an "unclear situation."

Finland would be put in the awkward situation of not being able to guarantee the implementation of the treaty throughout the whole of its territory.

The Islands' four demands include direct access to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), a seat in the European Parliament and participation in the work of the Council of Ministers with some control over the (sham) principle of 'subsidiarity'.

But Helsinki is only offering the possibility of Aland being given some sort of speaking rights within the EU, together with the drawing up of
"Aland document" that would commit the Finnish government to "listen to Aland's point of view."

Vice-President of the Aland parliament, Susanne Eriksson, also told EurActiv that the Islands' answer on ratification "will depend on what happens to the Treaty overall".

The Islands rejected the original EU Constitution because it was politically dead and Ms Eriksson noted that, following the Irish 'no', they could also consider the Lisbon Treaty to be dead already and decide to reject it for that reason.

The clash stems from upset on the Islands caused recently by the European Commission's demand that the sale of 'snuss', a traditional form of chewing tobacco, be banned.

When the Islanders refused on the grounds that health in the Alands is not controlled by Finnish laws but the Islands' own, the Commission took Finland to the ECJ and imposed a €2 million (£1.6m) fine.

The Aland parliament is expected to hold expert hearings on the treaty into early September.

Friday, 8 August 2008

The confused Norman Baker

The Daily Mail today shouts from its front page that the Lib Dem MP for Lewes, Norman Baker, is spearheading a campaign for MPs to ditch their traditional oath of allegiance.

Supporting the campaign purportedly on the grounds that their 'principal duty' should be allegiance to the people who voted for them rather than the Queen are 22 MPs from all three main parties, but reportedly including only a single Conservative.

A full list of these supporting MPs isn't given. Yet what's the betting that most of these sudden adherents to representing their constituents and 'swearing allegiance to the nation' both didn't keep their manifesto promises to support a referendum on the EU Constitution and voted to approve that transfer of more decision-making powers to the EU?

At that time, countless polls showed that a large majority of people wanted a say on the treaty and opposed the transfer of more decision-making to the EU. How many of these MPs were so interested in representing their constituents then?

Norman "it's a matter of democracy" Baker himself certainly wasn't. In line with the instructions of his party leader, Nick Clegg, he didn't bother to vote in support of a referendum on the EU Constitution's "substantially equivalent" successor, the Lisbon Treaty, but he did vote to approve the treaty.

Wouldn't MPs keeping clear promises on which they were elected and taking their own manifestos seriously be a far greater contribution to improving democracy than gimmicky campaigns to tinker with oaths?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Record year for inward investment

The government's trade and investment body - UK Trade and Investment - has revealed that 2007-8 was another highly successful year for Britain in attracting investment from overseas companies.

A record 1,573 investment projects were won in what marks a fifth consecutive year of growth.

According to the figures, 45,051 new jobs were created and a further 58,488 safeguarded as a result of this continuing success.

The results are in stark contrast to the scare-mongering some years ago by the government and pro-euro figures that investment would dry up if we didn't scrap the pound and hand over greater control of the economy to the EU.

Car industry success

During the euro debate, particular focus was placed on whether car manufacturers like Nissan, Honda and Toyota would maintain their operations in Britain if we didn't join the euro.

Not only have they stayed, but they have been increasing their investment in manufacturing operations here.

Back in May 2007, Nissan announced a £4.5m / 4,000 job investment in a new logistics centre at their factory in Sunderland - Europe's most productive car plant. More recently, 800 new jobs were created to support a third shift at the site.

Last year Toyota also announced an £88 million investment (pdf, page 4) to build a new petrol engine at its site in Deeside, North Wales, with production due to start in 2009.

And in March this year, Honda announced an £80 million investment in its manufacturing site in Swindon, where the company makes its Civic and CR-V models.

Vauxhall was another example being touted by the euro lobby of manufacturing at risk. But in 2007 the company announced that the new Astra model (pdf, page 4) would be built at their Ellesmere Port plant.

Since the euro membership debate died, big investments have also been made by German car giant BMW to build the new Mini in Oxford and the new Rolls Royce in Goodwood, and by Ford in their engine plants in Dagenham and Bridgend.

'Ringing endorsement'

Without a hint of self-consciousness about earlier claims, Business and Enterprise Secretary John Hutton said the results were "a ringing endorsement of the UK as an international investment destination, demonstrating that our compelling mix of a business friendly environment, political and economic stability, world-class talent, and a strong research and development base, is a powerful magnet for overseas companies."

Exactly all the points in Britain's favour that pro-pound groups were making, to argue that inward investment decisions depended far more on factors other than whether we joined the euro.

Lessons learnt?

It's obviously too much to expect for the government to have learnt lessons from such previous debates about the quality of their judgement in relation to the implications for Britain of refusing to hand further powers to the EU.

Having been utterly wrong about Britain's fate if we didn't join the euro, what big steps in EU power centralisation could they be similarly wrong about today?