Weekend press watch, 5-6 July 2014


July 7, 2014
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Rating: 4.7/5 (15 votes cast)

This is a new occasional feature on our blog, given that weekends tend to be a peak time for – to say the least – contentious coverage of EU-related matters

Non-existent EC proposal alarms motorists

The Sun on Sunday on 6 July ran a prominent story headlined “No tanks: EU in 3p a litre hike”.

It is true that the UK Petroleum Industry Association (PIA) had some time ago expressed opposition to an earlier proposal to label oil products according to the environmental impact of extracting them.

The PIAs view that this would raise pump prices was contentious at the time.

More importantly, as both the Commission (EC) and the UK Department for Transport (DFT) made clear to the Sun on Sunday, the proposal the PIA was referring to has been withdrawn after Member States did not agree on it.

Both the EC and DoT also told the paper that the completely new proposal expected in due course would not put up pump prices.

So the Sun’s editorial asking “Is there anyone in Brussels with a basic idea of reality?” seems rather ironic given that the entire angle of its report was based on a proposal that no longer exists.

What is more its reference to “green crap” seems to suggest a rejection of all policies designed to protect the environment and tackle climate change, despite the fact that most scientists say that if we don’t cut greenhouse gases, there will be more pollution, more floods, huge clean up costs and parts of the world could become uninhabitable, creating millions of refugees.

Voluntary UK opt-in becomes “EU power grab” in the Telegraph

This weekend, the UK’s proposal to opt back-in to certain EU justice measures, following its decision earlier this year to opt out en masse, has been in the news.

Obviously this is a subject of interest to the media and it is unsurprising that it has made some front pages.

But it is bizarre to describe the UK debating whether to choose to opt-in to some EU arrangements as an “EU power grab” as the Daily Telegraph headline did on Saturday 5 July.

The Telegraph goes on to describe the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as “allowing foreign judges to extradite Britons for misdemeanours committed on holiday”, making it sound rather as if the EAW focuses mostly on non-payment of parking fines in Magaluf. In reality, it applies only to offences for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison

In fact – as the Telegraph does concede further down – the EAW has seen terrorists extradited back to the UK to face justice. It also allowed the return of the schoolteacher who, in 2012, abducted a 15 year-old girl to France and has helped put paid to the “Costa del Crime” phenomenon whereby the UK’s most notorious gangsters could retreat safely to southern Spain, among other places in Europe.

“Handing policing powers to Brussels” or cooperation to tackle crime?

The Times saw the UK opt-in proposals as “handing policing powers to Brussels”. Of course, this is all about a legal framework for cooperation to tackle criminals, to make sure justice works across borders and to guarantee the right of victims and defendants. This is not “transferring policing powers to Europe” or conversely “clawing back powers from Brussels” in the words of the Daily Mail.

In the Mail on Sunday, meanwhile, two star columnists took rather different views of the EAW. On p27 Peter Hitchens (1) calls it “an outrageous EU intrusion into our legal system” a rather odd view given that it has only ever applied because the UK and other Member States wanted it and will only apply in the UK now if the government opts in to it.

On P35, James Forsyth redresses the balance by saying “if Britain has not been allowed back into the Arrest Warrant by the end of this year, this country will struggle to extradite alleged criminals and terror suspects from other EU Member States. This could cause major security problems and is particularly alarming given the current warnings about terrorism in Europe.”

Finally, it is also interesting to note that some journalists who periodically cite the EAW as an infringement of civil liberties – though there are multiple safeguards, considerably reinforced over the last few years – regularly clamour for the removal of “foreign” criminals from the UK and for tackling misuse of free movement, which are things the EAW often helps achieve.

(1) Our original text referred mistakenly to the late Christopher Hitchens – we have corrected this and apologised

The Sunday Telegraph’s apparent conversion to the virtues of sugar quotas

Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph – not a noted supporter of Common Agricultural Policy quotas in the past – ran a story based on an NGO view that the EU agreement to lift sugar quotas in September 2017 was “perverse”, as it might make sugar cheaper, cut prices and increase consumption, leading to public health fears.

Unusual for such a free market supporting, “nanny state” opposing newspaper to take a critical view of a measure – or rather the removal of one – because it might make supermarket prices cheaper. Unusual too for a UK newspaper to imply support for the French position – which had been to maintain quotas longer – against the UK government’s view which had favoured lifting the quotas two years earlier in 2015.

Perhaps the opportunity to bash the EU for doing exactly what much of the UK press had long clamoured for – reforming the CAP, with full UK support, to scrap market distorting measures that can hand excessive profits to some producers while hurting other businesses – was just too good to miss.

Of course, quotas were not introduced in the first place for public health reasons but to maintain price levels for EU sugar beet producers. It is highly debatable whether their removal will increase consumption.

Various policy options for discouraging excessive sugar consumption are available: for example, taxes (applied in France to fizzy drinks), pressure on manufacturers to act voluntarily and/or public information campaigns.

Inalienable right to landfill?

Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph, asserts that we should continue to bury waste in holes in the ground, despite evidence that this can corrupt the water table and lead to noxious gases being released.

Mr Booker says: “But now our real government, in Brussels, has decided we must step up our recycling targets, to the point where, by 2030, we can ‘virtually eliminate landfill’”

Quite apart from the strange suggestion that the UK’s real government is in Brussels (more on related assertions here), the European Commission has indeed proposed more ambitious recycling targets.

But as ever, it is elected national Ministers and the European Parliament that will decide whether to adopt those targets and if they do, for each Member State individually to decide how it will meet them.

Mr Booker also says that “for the purpose of meeting our EU targets, waste is defined as being “recycled” at the point where it is collected. What happens next is that much is not recycled at all. It may be shipped abroad to places like China, while millions of tons are still just quietly buried.”

This is not true.

The existing Waste Framework Directive (Articles 10 and 11) is clear that the existing targets refer not to the separation of materials at collection but to “preparation for recovery, re-use or recycling”.

Article 34 of the Waste Shipment Directive forbids the export of waste for disposal to non-EU/EFTA countries such as China

The EC President is not all powerful

Last week (29 June) the Sunday Times Columnist Dominic Lawson stated that “the president of the commission has the sole right to promulgate EU-wide legislation.” This is, of course, inaccurate, so the newspaper agreed to print this week our short letter below:

Dominic Lawson referred last week to the European Commission President having the sole right to “promulgate EU-wide legislation”. In fact the European Commission only proposes EU laws – elected Ministers and MEPs decide – and the President cannot make a proposal alone, he or she needs the majority backing of Commissioners.

 

 

Weekend press watch, 5-6 July 2014, 4.7 out of 5 based on 15 ratings

9 Responses to “Weekend press watch, 5-6 July 2014”

  1. peterhitchens says:

    On ‘Handing Police Powers to Brussels’, my brother, the late Christopher Hitchens, died in December 2011 and as a result was unable to contribute to the Mail on Sunday on 6th July this year, even had he wanted to do so, or even had he not been (as he was) a keen enthusiast for European integration. I think you must be referring to me. I most certainly did call it “an outrageous EU intrusion into our legal system”. Nor is this ‘a rather odd view given that it has only ever applied because the UK and other Member States wanted it’. As I recall it arose from an EU conference, not from any popular desire for it in Britain. It was also originally presented as a narrow anti-terror measure, rather than the general criminal power it has since become. There was, at the time of its adoption here, considerable opposition both in Parliament and in the media. The opinion of the British government on such issues is not necessarily representative of the opinion of the British people, though I suppose it’s hard for a top-down body such as the Commission to grasp this distinction. As for being an intrusion, the Warrant in practice clearly violates Magna Carta . It is true that the Warrant’ will only apply in the UK now if the government opts in to it’ . But that is because of an anomaly allowing us to opt out. One again, there is considerable opposition to this opt-in, which will be expressed in the House of Commons on Thursday. .

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  2. markenglish says:

    We apologise profusely for the error, which has now been corrected.

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    • peterhitchens says:

      Indeed, as well you might given the lofty tone of this blog towards the errors of others, some of which are in any case not errors but differences of interpretation. Personally I think that rather than simply correcting it,so that new readers won’t immediately know what you’ve done, and the archives won’t show it, you should append a note explaining that you originally attributed an article actually written by a reasonably well-known live British conservative to a very well-known deceased American Marxist. As errors go, this is pretty big.

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    • markenglish says:

      We made an unfortunate and unintentional error – which we have corrected and for which we take responsibility. We have apologised and do so again here. Your comments will remain on the site. We reserve the right both to respond through this blog to inaccurate media stories and to put our own “interpretations” across. This is a right you also – quite rightly – claim on the platforms available to you.

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  3. markenglish says:

    One democratically elected UK government decided on UK participation in the EAW and another has decided to opt back into it, on the basis that it – along with most senior police officers – sees the EAW as making an important contribution to protecting the British public from crime, including terrorism. There may indeed be opposition in the House of Commons to this opt-in but there is also considerable support for it, which will no doubt also be expressed in this week’s debate.

    The European Commission, far from being a “top down” body can only propose EU law – which in many of the most important cases it does at the collective invitation of Heads of State and government meeting in the European Council. The Commission does not decide on whether it will be adopted or in what form.

    In the specific case of the EAW, it is Member States and not the EC or “Brussels” who agreed it (unanimity was required and the UK was a strong advocate) and who are responsible for implementing it. The Commission has taken the lead in seeking to prevent abuses*. Furthermore, the Commission also successfully proposed strengthening the rights of both victims** and suspects*** including those subject to the EAW, across the EU – so that all citizens (not least UK citizens abroad) have access to high standards of justice also outside their own countries.
    * http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-11-454_en.htm
    ** http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1066_en.htm
    *** http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-264_en.htm

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  4. peterhitchens says:

    I don’t believe either of these governments actually made any kind of manifesto commitment to the EAW or have ever promised or defended any such action to the British electorate. So the fact that they were democratically-elected has little bearing on the issue. It did not originate from any domestic demand, but from the 1999 Tampere European Council, which sought to move to ever-closer union on crime and justice. Given the profound differences between English( and Scottish) law and the laws of the continental EU members, this convergence causes special problems for the UK. The power to propose legislation is a very great one, and it is silly to pretend that it isn’t. Most proposals from the Commission end up being placed before national parliaments for acceptance, dressed up as domestic legislation. Their fundamental provisions cannot in practice be substantially amended by those parliaments.

    The agreement of the British executive with the Brussels executive despite considerable popular and parliamentary opposition, betokens nothing except the readiness of the powerful to collaborate with each other regardless of protest or objection. I have yet to meet a police officer who did not want more powers for himself. Free countries seek to limit the powers of the state, against such pressures. It is because of such entrenched limits (Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, independent juries ensuring the actual rather than theoretical presumption of innocence, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights/Claim of Right) that the Anglosphere countries still retain a great deal more individual freedom than most continental EU member nations.

    The opt-out, with option to opt back in, is anomalous and rare if not unique. It is almost unknown for any part of the Acquis Communautaire to be relinquished, and in this case the behaviour of the UK government will ensure that no significant part of it *is* relinquished. It would be perfectly possible for the UK to conclude its own individual extradition arrangements with member countries, as other countries do with EU nations, and as Britain does with non-EU countries. Extradition, unlike a common warrant, specifically preserves the sovereignty of the nations involved. I do hope the Commission is not suggesting that it is any less willing to co-operate against criminals and terrorists with non-members of the EU than it is to do so with members?

    You do not respond to my point about the broadening of the Warrant from an anti-terrorist measure (as it was promoted after 11th September 2001) to a general provision ( as it actually turned out to be)

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    • markenglish says:

      The opt-out is not anomalous, it was in a treaty because the UK wanted it and got it. The UK has now decided – as its choice, it is not for the EC to opine on whether the way the UK took that decision was satisfactory in democratic terms – that it wants to keep parts of the justice measures and stay out of others. Nobody said the power to propose legislation was not important, just that the EC has no power to impose it.Proposals are nearly always significantly amended by both national governments and the EP – some national governments for major issues seek explicit parliamentary approval for the positions they will take in the Council and there is nothing to stop the UK doing the same.The EAW provides speed, efficiency and comprehensive coverage and enforcement, so situations where criminals knew they could in practice take refuge in certain places, as they used to on the Costas, are avoided. Especially after recent changes – no-one denies that there were serious issues that needed addressing – it also provides stronger safeguards, notably against its abuse for minor offences. It is difficult to see how hundreds of bilateral agreements between 28 Member States could be more consistent, effective or equitable. The EC is certainly willing to cooperate with non-Member States but extradition treaties with them are a national matter: the UK extradition treaty with the US has of course come in for strong criticism in the British media, for supposedly being inequitable and not protecting British defendants’ rights adequately. The EAW was never proposed as only an anti-terrorist measure, though that is indeed an important aspect: there is a list in the original decision of offences it was explicitly intended to cover EU-wide. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32002F0584:en:HTML

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  5. peterhitchens says:

    You have altered and obscured the truth, by deleting your own serious error from a blog which attacks other people for making alleged errors. Future readers will not necessarily read the comments. They should not have to do so, to know that you made this mistake. See for comparison the practice – for example – at Slate.Com which makes it quite clear when it has corrected errors of this kind, and acknowledges having made them in the first place.

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    • markenglish says:

      We have no objection at all to adding a reference in the text and have done so. We do make mistakes and when that happens we acknowledge them, apologise and correct them immediately.

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