How long before Russia seeks a Cyprus naval base?

Posted on March 18, 2013

The EU’s latest step to “solve” the Eurozone crisis is the pillaging of the savings stored in Cypriot banks. It’s not hard to see the various harmful implications – a collapse of confidence in bank saving in Cyprus itself, a blow to the already miniscule levels of confidence in banking elsewhere in the EU, further reductions in bank capitalisation as savers realise the mattress is the safest place for the cash and so on.

One aspect of the affair that has yet to be widely considered, though, is the opportunities this offers to Russian foreign policy. Russians are the largest group of foreign savers in Cyprus (some legitimately, others less so), and the Russian government has loaned billions to keep the faltering Cypriot state and banking sector afloat.

Now, with Cyprus plunged into a new crisis, Putin’s Kremlin is reportedly “considering” the generous step of extending the existing loans and possibly offering more. The question this raises is simple: what will the Russians want in return for their kind helping hand?

The answer is disturbingly self-evident. Only this morning, the Russian navy announced it was to establish a new, permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean – the first since the post-Soviet retreat of the early 1990s.

At the moment, the Russians have a naval facility in Tartus, a port in Syria. Their shameful solidarity with Bashar al-Assad has been motivated at least in part by the desire to keep a foothold in the Med, but their ally’s position of power is now in doubt. At any time the Syrian regime could fall, and be replaced by a government of rebels who are unlikely to look kindly on hosting a naval base for the chums of the dictator they have just unseated.

So the Russian Mediterranean Naval presence needs a new home. Cyprus seems the natural place – it’s at the Eastern end of the sea, close to allies in Syria and potential enemies in Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran. Most compellingly of all, Cyprus is broke – and evidently ready to do just about anything for cash.

When the Eurozone’s fans say the single currency protects our security, I’m not sure a new Russian naval base on our doorstep was what they had in mind.

EU Budget: How did British MEPs vote?

Posted on March 15, 2013

The EU Budget negotiations have not run as smoothly as in previous years. In the past, the process was simple: everyone sits down, agrees to pay more cash to Brussels then off for champagne and canapes.

Then David Cameron shook things up a bit, pressing for an EU budget cut given the austerity member states are implementing. He secured an agreement with the other national leaders – which should have gone further, but was still an improvement on what went before.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted against the proposal. It wasn’t the final vote, but it was intended as a blocking measure to force the collected national governments to rethink their decision. The fact that various federalists in the Parliament tried to make the ballot secret – a scandalous attempt to avoid public scrutiny – shows that they know how unpopular that step is.

You would be hard-pressed in Britain to find anyone who thinks that while we are trying to save money at home, we should be paying even more to wasteful, undemocratic EU institutions. So how did British MEPs vote in our name?

Voted for the budget cut

Conservatives: Marta Andreasen, Richard Ashworth, Robert Atkins, Philip Bradbourn, Martin Callanan, Giles Chichester, Nirj Deva, Vicky Ford, Jacqueline Foster, Ashley Fox, Julie Girling, Daniel Hannan, Malcolm Harbour, Syed Kamall, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin, Anthea McIntyre, Jim Nicholson, Struan Stevenson, Robert Sturdy, Kay Swinburne, Charles Tannock, Geoffrey van Orden and Marina Yannakoudakis.

Labour: Michael Cashman, Mary Honeyball, David Martin, Linda McAvan, Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson, Catherine Stihler, and Glenis Wilmott

DUP: Diane Dodds

Ex-BNP: Andrew Brons

Voted against the budget cut

Liberal Democrats: Catherine Bearder, Philip Bennion, Chris Davies, Andrew Duff, Fiona Hall, Sarah Ludford, Edward McMillan-Scott, Rebecca Taylor and Graham Watson

UKIP: Stuart Agnew, Gerard Batten, Godfrey Bloom, Derek Clark, Nigel Farage, Roger Helmer and Mike Nattrass

Labour: Claude Moraes, Peter Skinner

Greens: Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor

Plaid Cymru: Jill Evans

BNP: Nick Griffin

So there we have it. I imagine that the Lib Dems are going to have some explaining to do, voting against the deal that their own party supported in Westminster.

As for UKIP, they are trying to rationalise away voting against a measure to save British taxpayers’ money by explaining that they want there to be no EU budget at all. That’s fine, but it isn’t a justification for voting for a bigger, more expensive Brussels right now.

As a Tory source points out, if UKIP vote this way in the final budget ballot then they may well be lining up with federalists to deliver an EU budget that grows every year…probably not the story they want to tell back home.

Is Berlusconi set to confound the pollsters?

Posted on February 25, 2013

The polls for today’s Italian General Election have been clear for quite some time. Mario Monti, the EU’s pet technocrat, was going to get a welcome kicking in a popular rejection of unaccountable, top-down government from Brussels. Silvio Berlusconi, clambering from the grave like a permatanned Dracula, was going to be roundly beaten in both Houses of Parliament by the Leftist “Common Good” coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani.

Well, it seems the pollsters shouldn’t have been so certain. Early voter samples by TV station RAI in the key battleground of Lombardy suggest that while Bersani is leading in the Lower House, Berlusconi may be on track to be the biggest political player in the Senate – meaning he will have the power to gridlock the Left’s plans. Cue all sorts of impacts on the stability of the Euro and its so-called recovery…

If RAI’s numbers are correct, and Berlusconi really is going to hold the Left to an effective draw of one house each, what has happened to make the polls so far off?

The UK General Election in 1992 holds some of the answers. The polls predicted a big win for Kinnock and the Labour Party, but on the day the Tories won out (not, arguably, to the long-term benefit of the centre right in Britain, but that’s for another day).

The explanation was simple: people lied to the pollsters.

It turned out that the human element still persists in polling – plenty of voters either wanted the Tories to win or feared the consequences of a Labour victory (or both), but were too embarrassed to tell a stranger from a polling company “I’m voting Conservative.”

The same may have happened in Italy – quite plausibly, given the very public pillorying Berlusconi came in for after his disastrous handling of Italy’s sovereign debt. Bizarrely, that would mean that the Italian equivalent of John Major in 1992 might be Silvio Berlusconi today – not a comparison anyone ever expected to be drawn.

It seems that supporting Silvio, perhaps the world’s most consistently brash political extrovert, has become a very private matter. If his supporters have gone to the ballot box to put him back in the limelight, I doubt he’ll care about how proud or public they might be.

Bunga Bunga…

Video: The EU receives the Nobel “Peace” Prize

Posted on December 11, 2012

When the ludicrous news that the EU had won the Nobel Peace Prize was first announced back in October, I compiled a “Nomination in Pictures” exploring the supposed peace that Brussels has brought to the streets of Portugal, Spain and Greece.

Herman van Rompuy, Martin Schulz and José Manuel Barroso collected the award yesterday in Norway – a country which is outside the EU, and therefore presumably riven with civil war and cross-border aggression. A reader has produced the following video tribute to the most absurd Nobel award to date:

EU propaganda videos get racist – again

Posted on November 19, 2012

Six months ago, the EU was forced to withdraw a racist video using stereotyped foreigners to portray international trading partners as a violent threat to Europe’s safety. Today, in a video highlighted by the Telegraph’s Bruno Waterfield, they’ve repeated their mistake in a clear sign that Brussels hasn’t learned a thing.

This time the topic is the energy markets, and your friends in the European Union are claiming credit for the, ahem, innovation that you can change supplier. Having had to apologise for protecting you from kung-fu fighting Chinese people and sword wielding Indians back in March, now they are the only thing that stands betwen you and greedy, fez-wearing Arabs.

How long will it be before Brussels apologises for this new racist piece of propaganda?

The Tory voting for an EU budget increase

Posted on October 31, 2012

Today the Government faces at least two votes on the future of the EU budget. It is an encouraging sign of the times that the debate is now between whether to freeze or cut the amount swallowed by Brussels.

Only a few years ago the battle was about whether to give up our rebate or simply to agree to a slightly lower rise. (Needless to say, Tony Blair went for the more costly option and sacrificed part of the hard-won rebate). Nowadays there is hardly anyone to be found in the political world who will argue, publicly at least, for more cash to go to the EU.

But there is one exception.

No-one really noticed at the time, but last week the European Parliament voted on the proposed EU budget, which proposes a 6.8% increase in the amount wasted spent by the European institutions.

This was the point at which David Cameron rightly stated his opposition to the plans, telling his MPs that

We’ve not put in place tough settlements in Britain in order to go to Brussels and sign up to big increases in European spending

The vast majority of his backbenches, his party members and the electorate at large unquestionably agree with him or want to go further.

At this point, let me introduce Malcolm Harbour, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands. Faced with an opportunity to vote to save taxpayers’ money, be loyal to his party leader and win the appreciation of his constituents all at the same time, Malcolm did the oppositehe voted for the EU budget to increase above inflation.

The latest press release on his website is titled “Danger for an iconic brand”. It refers to the future of the London Black Cab, whose manufacturer is in trouble, but may as well be talking about Harbour’s own impact on the reputation of the Conservative Party.

These are the last convulsions of the now almost extinct Conservatus Pro-Brusselsaurus. Malcolm Harbour is a disgrace, but looking at the composition of the Commons today we have good reason to hope he may be one of the last of his plodding, bizarre species.

–UPDATE–

Malcolm Harbour’s office have been in touch to report that he has since corrected his vote to register against the Budget – they assure me that it was a “genuine slip of the finger” in the Parliament’s electronic voting system. Maybe the pro-EU Conservatives are in fact already completely extinct?

EU Nobel Peace Prize nomination in pictures

Posted on October 12, 2012

When Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, comedy songrwiter Tom Lehrer declared that satire had become obsolete. Today we learn that the Peace Prize has been given to the European Union -  accordingly, satire has now been dragged out of her retirement home and beaten by riot police.

In case you were wondering why the EU could possibly be given the Nobel Peace Prize, here is a short, pictorial summary of the peace Brussels has brought to Greece and Spain in the last 18 months:

Mehdi Hasan airbrushes the Stasi from history

Posted on June 21, 2012

To say the new edition of the New Statesman gives Angela Merkel both barrels would be an understatement. At the hands of Mehdi Hasan, the outgoing Political Editor, the German Chancellor gets the full Rasputin treatment – poisoned, shot, beaten and then thrown into a freezing river to ensure the job is done.

The cover splash describes her as “Europe’s most dangerous leader”, while inside the magazine Hasan’s article is headlined with the claim that her “mania for austerity is destroying Europe”. The piece itself takes the verbal assault even further, arguing that Merkel’s refusal to support a Keynesian solution to the sovereign debt and Eurozone crisis “has brought the continent, and perhaps the world, to the edge of a second Great Depression”.

Strong stuff, but not necessarily a surprise – I doubt I will ever be surprised to learn that Mehdi and I don’t always agree on economics.

(The one element of their coverage that I sympathise with is their portrayal of her as the Terminator – though while this is intended to imply she’s destroying everything, I prefer to interpret it as saying she has been sent by the children of the future to stop 2012’s politicians running up crippling debts that they will have to pay off.)

But he then goes further, shifting from hyperbole to the downright ridiculous.

“Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hitler.”

Yes, let’s read that again: The. Most. Dangerous. German. Leader. Since. Hitler.

To Hasan’s credit, he does acknowledge the risk of fulfilling Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”) up front.

But that’s not what bothers me – it’s the historical ignorance, wilful or otherwise, involved in making such a claim.

Let’s consider the proposition: who were the other German leaders since Hitler?

To be charitable, we’ll start by assuming he really meant “The most dangerous German leader since the Nazis”, given that Hitler’s two immediate successors were Josef Goebbels and Admiral Donitz, who even Mehdi must surely recognise were pretty dangerous. I guess “since Hitler” simply sounds catchier.

And after Donitz? Well, there were the Chancellors of West Germany – Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Brandt and Schmidt – all a rather inoffensive bunch overall.

Then there was Helmut Kohl, who oversaw the reunification of East and West Germany.

He was followed by Gerhard Schröder, not a dangerous man per se (though if the New Statesman thinks Merkel is dangerous for her attempts to solve the Euro crisis, surely some blame should be allotted to the man who led Germany into the Euro in the first place?).

If we accept Mehdi’s core belief that austerity in the face of a sovereign debt crisis is dangerous, then perhaps Merkel is indeed the most radical of that list. But that list is only half the story.

Somewhere along the way he seems to have forgotten (or ignored, or absolved?) the leaders of the entire other half of Germany between 1949 and 1990. That is to say, the GDR, commonly known as East Germany.

Those men – Erich Honecker, Walter Ulbricht, Egon Krenz and plenty of others in the confused hierarchy of single-party East Germany – were truly dangerous.

Under their authoritarian regime, the Stasi spied on East Germans on a scale and with a rigour that even the Gestapo never reached, with some estimating that they gathered over 1 billion pages of information on a population of 16 million people. Thousands were tortured, murdered, kidnapped, beaten and even allegedly irradiated to induce cancer for the simple “crime” of not supporting the regime.

They attempted to run a prison state, constructing the Berlin Wall and killing those who tried to flee to freedom.

If domestic terror and oppression isn’t enough to qualify them as more “dangerous” than Angela Merkel, perhaps the run-down of their international activity might bolster the case. Among their crimes abroad you can count: setting up Idi Amin’s secret police, funding neo-Nazis in West Germany, providing supplies and a safe haven to Carlos the Jackal, and sponsoring the murder and bombing campaign of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. There are plenty more crimes where those came from, too.

So it seems Mehdi’s charge against Merkel is just plain wrong.

This isn’t a flippant point, it matters that these crimes are remembered, rather than brushed aside for the convenience of bringing a shocking-sounding charge against someone the New Statesman disagrees with on economic policy.

Votes for Prisoners: Two can play at Strasbourg’s game

Posted on May 24, 2012

So the European Court of Human Rights has once more trampled over our sovereign right to set our own laws – this time ruling to outlaw the extremely popular ban on convicts being able to vote.

Technically, the ECHR has not said that we must allow all criminals to vote, though there are certainly some who think that they should. What the Court ruled is that a blanket ban is supposedly illegal.

Plenty of people would be delighted if the British Government simply ignored the ruling, and refused to pay any fines it might levy as a result. However, if the Government is really keen to ensure we obey the rule of law – even absurd Strasbourg law – then there is another solution.

Why not do as the ECHR asks, and abolish our blanket ban by allowing some prisoners to vote – but only those convicted of one very specific and very obscure crime which is unlikely to be committed and even more unlikely to be prosecuted?

A good example would be the offence of “Impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner” – a historic crime for which no-one is currently in jail. We would technically be ticking the box for Strasbourg, while in reality thumbing our nose at them.

If they can act ridiculously to thwart our intentions, then surely we can do the same in return.

The Mirror’s bogus account of UKIP night out

Posted on March 06, 2012

The Mirror was doing its best to discredit UKIP yesterday after a weekend of pretty good publicity (even from the Guardian, which must have shocked a few out of their blazers).

The paper claims:

25 UK Independence Party members were handing out fliers when some apparently went crazy after being asked to leave a quiet boozer.

They allegedly began threatening bar staff and police had to be called.

I’m told, though, that what really happened in Skegness was rather different than the Mirror’s account.

Rather than “handing out fliers” at the Wetherspoon’s pub The Red Lion, the group had ordered drinks and food, sat down and started chatting to staff when they asked permission to put UKIP “save the pub” beermats on the bar. The manager understandably said it wasn’t his call and agreed to call his Area Manager to check.

In the meantime the group’s food was delivered – hardly something a pub would do for customers who were “going crazy” on a “night of shame”.

When the manager returned a few minutes later, he apologised and said he’d not only been told by his superior that the beermats couldn’t be handed out, but that the group couldn’t touch their food, would be given a full refund and would have to leave immediately.

All this suggests a wrong call by an overzealous manager in a regional office, a far cry from the Mirror’s portrayal of something just short of an EDL riot.

I can’t imagine Wetherspoon’s would stand by such an overreaction against UKIP members, either, for two reasons.

First, the company has a long and honourable history of euroscepticism – see here for a recent article by their Chairman Tim Martin about the “economic folly” of the Euro and the “incredibly stupid” “load of baloney” of the current Fiscal Union proposals. Wetherspoon’s isn’t a UKIP-supporting company, but it has a sensible eurosceptic head on its shoulders (unlike, it would seem, the Skegness Area Manager).

Second, Wetherspoon’s are in touch with their drinkers. They know perfectly well the fact that your average pub-goer is no great fan of the EU, and are therefore unlikely to have some kind of UKIP ban. As evidence, just look at the ale being served at the time of the incident by the Red Lion, the pub in Skegness at the heart of this non-story:

Rather says it all, doesn’t it?