Euro-Regions complete by 2005?
'NEW LABOUR, NO BRITAIN ???'
In his first major speech since [his second] resignation, Peter Mandelson admitted "somewhat of a conversion" in his strong support for regional government. "Time had come" for the North East to "take its destiny in its own hands".Strangely for a Government spin doctor, Mandy added: "We cannot achieve economic revitalisation in the North East without modernising the means of delivering our economic policies, and this means renewing the region's political institutions,"
The front men pushing for this extra layer of regional government are the Campaign for English Regions (CFER). For some reason the latter are shy about revealing the hand of the EU, which has a very negative effect on many of our industries.
Recently formed, CFER are backed by the little-known Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the union, UNISON. However, regional studies promoter, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, reported: "The UK has a weak base of regional structures and strategies... European programmes have put pressure on the UK to improve this situation"
They made it clear that European requirements dominated local ones on the EU programmes - so much for 'boosting local democracy'. (They also claimed national requirements did too, but since 1999 New Labour has put the 'EU dimension' into policy-making at all levels -- which will include nationwide "modernisation of government".)
The hype is unbelievable. "Where there is demand" the Government will introduce elected regional assemblies to match the Regional Development Agencies it set up in 1997. An article (Financial Times, 31.5.01) quotes Derek Bateman, chairman of the appointed North West regional assembly: "People are tired of being governed by unelected officials".
It is always worth remembering the old trick of governments - "If you want to have a "solution", first create a "problem"." Set up something unwanted and undemocratic - and then push people into thinking it can become democratic. The Government spent £3 million of taxpayers' money in selling devolution to a sceptical 1.5 million people in Northern Ireland in 1998. Although achieving a 71% vote in the referendum, its popularity has since plummeted.
London has already the first English regional assembly; after a referendum in which only 30% voted and 22% of Londoners supported the idea. (Such low figures for "demand" would not be acceptable for 'cross community support' in Northern Ireland). The London Assembly and Mayor have already been criticised for the focus on political correctness, spending over £1m on a recent advertising campaign and producing higher council tax bills all round.
Although John Prescott has implied that the regional assembly role is limited (e.g. economic development, transport, planning), Michael Davey, chairman of the North East regional assembly claimed: "We are talking about bringing national government down to a regional level"
Tory spokesman on Regions, Archie Norman claimed that the LibDems wanted up to 3p extra on 'local income tax' to fund regional assemblies. Also that they want to "abolish" county councils, however the official LibDem manifesto still claims a role for county councils, which are their power base.
Abolishing local councils has not taken place in London and would not be needed to meet EU requirements. This is because not all EU members have 'regions'; reviewing the EU talking shop known as the "Committee of the Regions" (COR), Alex Warleigh of North London University notes that the EU is quite happy to involve local government representatives.
Warleigh's book (Committee of the Regions, Kogan Page, 1999, ISBN 0 7494 29941) is worth reading. In spite of being a talking shop, the European Commission supports COR as a potential ally; one of its key roles is to promote the EU to the people.
The European Parliament has long supported COR as it represents part of the move towards a federal Europe, but also to give the EU the image of greater democratic legitimacy. (This is hollow as the local representatives are appointed, have no real accountability and need not hold elected office).
COR was set up after pressure from the German Länder (regions); they seem to want to "pursue power and influence through all available channels". The Commission wants a long term role for it, and it will be interesting to see proposals for it in the imminent 'EU Constitution'. But for now it would be wrong to take COR too seriously, even though it squanders £10m a year.
One of the main pushers in the UK for constitutional change are Charter 88, They have printed a speech from Neal Ascherson (a member of the Federal Trust Round Table like Charles Kennedy, Mandelson, BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr; and Eleanor Sharpston, who achieved the conviction of "Metric Martyr" Thoburn)
Some quotes just stick in your throat:
"the British doctrine of sovereignty is wrong"
"the fact is that the unreformed British State... is incompatible with European norms... Britain requires the sort of change which only revolutions carried out in the old days"
"...the British doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty, which I have already suggested to be obsolete and pernicious..."
"...increasing unity at the European surface and increasing diversity at regional level are in fact parts of a single development, the weakening of the nation-state.... that is why Maastricht not only designed fresh steps towards supranational unity, but also instituted the COR".
(Charter 88 Sovereignty lecture, 25.2.94, Local Government and the Myth of Sovereignty)
"Modernising Government" is also an excuse for 'Europeanising' - e.g the then Department of Environment, Transport & the Regions (DETR) says that 3 EU programmes will now influence local & regional planning, ending our "outdated isolation". (DETR website 24.2.98). The Cabinet Office has been leading "modernisation" with a private firm, English Partnerships, who trumpet the praises of EU funding and recruit 'promoters' at £50,000+ a year.
The Government is enthusiastically reorganising its own departments to focus on a regional agenda; although central government departments will continue, "regional government would be dominant." Its proposals are "not just consistent with the transition to regional government, but desirable for it". It does stress that regionalism will be a long term programme.
The Cabinet Office has a group, the Performance & Innovation Unit (PIU) which reported in February 2000 on "modernisation".
Its Reaching Out report, not exactly household reading, was honest that "EU funding" arrangements (i.e. the return of some of our own money) were complicated. It criticised "poor value for money" and admitted that they could either divert UK funds into lower priority areas or even produce conflict with our own initiatives. Its solution, however, seemed to be greater "harmonisation" at the expense of national arrangements.
The Regional Co-ordination Unit (RCU) wants "stronger connections with EU policies and stronger regional presentation of policies". Don't expect the Government, already UK No 1 in terms of advertising spend, to let up.
The Government Office for the East Midlands offers full guidance on how to promote the EU's "generosity" - such as the display of prominent signs that distort the truth.
Other bodies are in on the act too. Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) produce regular propaganda sheets for local authority staff, with claims like: "Schools win eurofunds" and "Oodles of Euros for Oxon"
OCC's European Strategy is full of hype, claiming that it should maximise Oxfordshire's "influence in Europe" and explore partnerships with Central & East European states to obtain funding. That local people's money is needed to co-finance such essentially political activities is played down.
Some RDAs have catchy names like "Yorkshire Forward", "Advantage West Midlands". That they offer local funds will guarantee attention.
REGIONAL AGENCIES SLAMMED
On 5.6.01 London's Evening Standard (a far-from-Eurosceptic paper) criticised Regional Development Agencies for taking £1.25 Bn of taxpayers' money then basically becoming talking shops - their no 1 activity: debating what they are supposed to do! It asked what had happened to the £150m given by then Trade & Industry Secretary Stephen Byers 8 months ago to tackle the North-South divide.
It also criticised RDAs for lack of progress - not even producing application forms - for the £24m aid towards Foot & Mouth-hit firms in Cumbria & Devon, granted 4 weeks ago.
Apart from the Government, the main thrust in selling regionalism will come from CFER, who are already pushing for grandiosely-named "Constitutional Conventions" in five regions. The BBC is on the bandwagon too, publishing polls that claim support in the three North of England regions.
EU AGENDA EXPOSED AT EXETER
The 'Constitutional Convention' at Exeter University on May 19th was an early attempt to sell regionalism.
Over 50 opponents got into this ticket-only meeting; protesting that this was an EU inspired effort to regionalise our country. This was vehemently denied by the platform speakers, who denigrated them as "xenophobic... paranoid... conspiracy theorists", etc.
However Stephan De Rynck from the "Governance team in the European Commission, working on the White Paper on European Governance" completely blew the cover by confirming that governance of the regions was exactly following his team's requirements.!!!!
"ENGLISH IDENTITY OR EU SURRENDER?"
Many people have wondered if an English parliament would offer a safeguard against Euro-Regions? Teresa Gorman favours one, and Sir Richard Body has called for "England for the English" in his book. We looked at the Policy Statement from Campaign for an English Parliament (CEP).
CEP claims not to be linked to any political organisation, but its line is very suspect. How would it "benefit the people of England?" - by "giving England a voice in the EU for the first time"!
It adds: "the CEP is not opposed to regionalism.... devolution for England should start with an English Parliament..... the case for regions needs to be considered as part of a package of constitutional reform in England... a direct voice for England in EU policy formulation could also improve the availability of grants for the English regions...".
An "English Executive... will be able to negotiate with the European Commission on matters concerning European Structural Funds, which are important sources of finance for economic agricultural, social and environmental regeneration".
Get the picture? CEP states that it is broad-based, some of its members are pro-EU, others want something in place should the EU collapse. Grasp of reality is not their strong point as they talk of the "independence of Scotland within the EU".
However, CEP is unhappy with the stealthy way that Euro-regions are being imposed on England: "There is little evidence of public support for, or identification with, the nine proposed regions. Local identity and loyalty remain with counties and cities." (Press Release, 29.06.99)
CEP also admits that "EU regional grants" will dry up as resources are switched to Eastern Europe and the regions will be forced to compete with each other for inward investment.
RIGHT PROBLEM & SOLUTION ?
Devolution is a sore point for many. The bandwagon for constitutional change, not least soon for an "EU Constitution" will keep it an issue. This article does not set out to recommend "perfect institutions" for a free UK, rather to highlight the EU agenda.
A future patriotic government will have to look at how power over people's lives can be given back to the people themselves and not to extra layers of bureaucracy or corrupt politicians.
Not all local government should be seen as harmful or a step towards the break-up of the UK. However it should represent the people rather than the EU and its toadies and hangers-on. The hankering for devolution may be in part a reaction against bad and unresponsive central government (which took local powers away and passed some decisions to the EU). To some extent the tensions have been manufactured; to some, New Labour is playing divide and rule by treating Scots & Welsh MPs differently to English MPs. Jack Straw's racial abuse against the English in 1999 would not have been made against any minority or foreign government.
Even some parliamentarians (e.g. Derek Wyatt MP) are becoming worried at the solutions being proposed.
This article will be read by people who think for themselves; there will no doubt be as many "right answers" as readers. The least we can do is to air the issues and contribute information sources, for a fair debate can only be based on the facts.