Roger Helmer MEP

Roger Helmer MEP writes: Vaclav Klaus is President of the Czech Republic. And by virtue of the EU’s rotating Presidency, the Czech Republic holds the Presidency of the EU (Jan/June 2009). So today (Feb 19th) President Klaus came to speak to the assembled Plenary session of the parliament, in Brussels.

I should say here that Klaus is one of my heroes. He is committed to conservative values — liberty, free markets, a small state. So clearly the kind of EU we have today is anathema to him. He is also a climate sceptic. And (let me brag for a moment), in his wonderful book “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” he was kind enough to cite my work. In a footnote on page 34.

Now the European parliament is unaccustomed to hear dissent about the European project from visiting dignitaries in its plenary sessions, so there was great interest and a certain tension ahead of Klaus’s visit. And he didn’t let us down. After the obligatory remarks confirming the Czech Republic’s historic place in Europe, he started with a forensic dissection of the EU’s centralising tendency. He called on the parliament, each time we voted (and he was speaking during a break in a voting session) to pause and consider whether the decisions we were taking could be better left to national parliaments.

He spoke at length about the “democratic deficit”, the gap between MEPs and citizens, insisting that ordinary voters felt closer to their national MPs and their national governments than they did to remote EU institutions. More power, more centralised decision-making, such as that envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty, would increase the alienation from the political process already felt by citizens, who were caught up in a process which the did not own and could not control.

More power for the European parliament, he argued, far from increasing democratic accountability in the EU, would drive a deeper wedge between the people and the institutions.

A problem for sceptic MEPs in the parliament is that it is much easier to express support for a speaker, by clapping and cheering, than to express dissent (I and a few others have been fined by the parliament for expressing dissent too vigorously). So it was a delight to hear a sceptic speaker, and to find that the advantage of easy assent lay with us, and not with the bad guys. The fifty or so sceptics, myself included, applauded repeatedly throughout the speech, and though we were a minority, I think we provided considerable encouragement to the speaker over the intense but less audible waves of dissent from the federalists.

But at the suggestion that more powers for the European parliament would be anti-democratic, quite a number of the federalists rose to their feet and walked out (a disgraceful affront to the Head of a member-state). A diminished audience, albeit with the applauding sceptics intact, remained for the rest of the speech. Klaus went on to hint in pretty clear terms that he saw close parallels between the centralisation and over-regulation of the EU, and the authoritarian régime which the Czech people suffered for forty years under the Communists.

It is customary for the President of the parliament, currently German EPP MEP Hans-Gert Poettering, to reply to the speaker. Hans-Gert has the ability to express barbed disagreement and disdain in the most obsequiously courteous terms. But it was clear that he was angry. He petulantly rejected any parallel with Communism. But he also let slip something often claimed by sceptics, but frequently denied by euro-philes: that the EU generates 75% of the new laws affecting EU citizens. Now we have that explicitly confirmed straight from the horse’s mouth — or at least from Hans-Gert’s mouth.

And he concluded with a ringing assertion that “fortunately, in a democracy, it’s the majority that counts”. So let’s conclude with a challenge to Hans-Gert. If you believe that the majority counts, Hans-Gert, let’s have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Roger Helmer writes: So far, the Conservative Party has done half a job on the credit crunch. We've rightly blamed Gordon Brown. While Britain faces global problems, Brown has left our country in a poor position to cope with the global weather. We have spoken of "failing to fix the roof while the sun was shining", and that message seems to be getting through in the public consciousness.

Brown himself has described the recent extended boom as "The Age of Irresponsibility", apparently failing to notice that he himself presided over the irresponsibility, first as Chancellor, then as PM. He has bored us to death by repeatedly proclaiming "the end of Tory boom and bust", before ushering in the biggest bust anyone can remember. These are words that have come back to bite his ankle.

Now he, and Alistair Darling, speak of a Keynesian solution. They will borrow even more, and spend on great infrastructure projects for the future. Surely Keynes must be turning in his grave to hear his name associated with such an extraordinarily ill-advised and profligate proposal. True, Keynes favoured counter-cyclical spending policies, so that governments would pay down debt in the good times, and be prepared to support spending through a recession. Indeed governments have to be prepared to borrow in a recession as tax revenues drop, while welfare and unemployment commitments increase. But Keynes never proposed that governments should build up debt in the boom times, and then throw good money after bad in a recession.

Brown should listen to a previous Labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, who rightly said that "You can't spend your way out of recession". Or he should ponder the recent letter from a group of distinguished economists, including Ruth Lea, who have warned of the dangers of further indebtedness, and rightly pointed out that the real effect of major infrastructure projects would kick-in too late to help (assuming that this recession is shorter-lived than the last one in Japan).

Although we have pinned the blame on Brown, nonetheless he has contrived to look Prime Ministerial -- he seems to relish a financial crisis -- and he has achieved some recovery in the polls. This half-bounce will dissipate, however, as the bankruptcies, the job losses and the home repossessions start to bite.

Now we Conservatives have to do the other half of our job, which is to present the British public with a better solution. And a credible solution is not hard to find. I was pleased to see that George Osborne has called for one key element -- lower interest rates -- today. But we must also have the courage to call for serious spending cuts. We must face down the inevitable Labour spin about "Tory Cuts". The public know that families and businesses are having to cut back, and they will understand why in these hard times the government has to cut back as well. The Gershon Report identified considerable areas for savings, but we must go further. We must take a chain-saw to the proliferation of Quangoes and agencies that are growing like Japanese knot-weed over the body politic, and choking the life out of it. Too many superannuated politicians are enjoying sinecures at the tax-payer's expense. This has to stop. We must dismantle Labour's expensive, unnecessary and ineffective regional structures. (We could also save up to £100 billion a year by leaving the EU -- which there are excellent political and economic reasons to do anyway).

So two elements of the solution are lower interest rates and lower government spending. The third is lower taxes. (If it were prudent to borrow more, the borrowing should be used for immediate tax cuts -- but sadly it is not prudent to do so). I do not believe that in today's circumstances we can credibly offer immediate tax cuts. But we must do so as soon as the storm shows signs of abating. We must make clear that we will cut taxes as so as we can prudently do so, and that lower taxes will be a primary objective of Conservative policy. Not to reward the rich, but to promote economic growth.

A three-pronged policy. Lower interest rates. Lower spending. And as soon as we can, lower taxes. Not perhaps the most attractive policy -- restraint and retrenchment never are attractive, but then given the choice, we wouldn't be starting from here. But a lot more attractive than Labour's debt-driven descent into the abyss.

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The conventional wisdom is that the current financial crisis marks the failure of markets, possibly the end of capitalism. We have had Will Hutton doing the rounds of the media studios pouring scorn on anyone who has a good word for free markets. Even the very sound Roger Bootle of Capital Economics has been saying that perhaps banks are rather like public utilities, and need more government involvement.

So are we looking at market failure? Of course some institutions have behaved rashly. Of course the remuneration structures for bankers have encouraged short-termism. Of course (here comes the cliché!) lessons must be learned.

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Roger Helmer MEP writes: In the Freedom Zone at Party Conference, on Monday Sept 29th, I chaired a debate on the 2009 euro-manifesto, with a range of euro-candidates, plus major Party donor Stuart Wheeler. The Candidates were John ("Give Europe some Flack") Flack from Eastern England; Jean-Paul Floru from London (how cool would it be to send a Belgian euro-sceptic to Brussels to represent London?); Therese Coffey from the South East; Zehra Zaidi from the South West, and our own Rupert Matthews from the East Midlands.

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