'[By the Maastricht Treaty] Europe decided to become a political union... This also included that regional & local authorities, as the institutional levels closest to the citizens were to become political players at European level... Today [devolution] is a widely acknowledged element of the European integration process.
'London's future is in the EU'
The first wave of EU regional government hits England
Since being elected as London Mayor in 2000, Ken Livingstone has followed his own political agenda.
"I've always been pro-Europe. I want to see the end of the nation state, and a United States of Europe" - (reportedly: Livingstone Conquers Europe, Judith Barton's online article for Local Government International Bureau (LGIB), October 2000)
He launched the 'London In Europe' campaign - part of 'Britain in Europe' - on 20.11.00, and has since been its Chair.
He had said he would argue long and hard for British entry to the Single Currency and that part of the Mayor's role would be to persuade voters of the benefits of the Euro (Times, 14.3.00).
Immediately after being elected, he was promoting regional government: "I hope that Tony Blair does for the rest of the country what he has done for London" (Evening Standard, 5.5.00).
Beneath regional government in the EU scheme of things is 'sub-regional government'. A check on the EU's map ('NUTS3') reveals it is already divided into 5 "sub-regions"! Coincidentally, Livingstone wants London's 32 existing boroughs merged into 5.
His colleague Len Duval (Chair of London Labour & London In Europe Council member) pushed for a GLA-(i.e. taxpayer-) paid study into the structure of local government, and on 15.10.03, a majority on the Greater London Assembly voted for it.
PROMOTING LONDON OR 'EUROPE' ??
His 'EU Urban Conference' (9.7.03) backed a 'Declaration for an ambitious EU Regional policy'. He praises London's soon-to-go 'EU funding' of £90m a year, but never compares it to London's estimated £1bn a year share of payments to the EU. As Livingstone has written for The Londoner (Nov 2003) and appeared on television, whingeing about how much the capital subsidises other parts of the UK through taxes, this is a bit of a double standard).
London House, the GLA office in Brussels costs Londoners over £500,000 a year. He defends it as "promoting London in Europe", but can't explain why he didn't use the existing British Embassies (to promote exports, e.g.) when asked at his public questions session (Brent Town Hall, 14.10.03).
The office is regularly used to trumpet GLA policies (such as congestion charging, 'cultural strategy' & 'waste management') to Europe. It also supports 'Committee of the Regions' Open Days. (Livingstone had said that he'd consider being nominated for the EU Committee of Regions as "It fits in with my instincts towards a federal Europe". (LGIB press release, 18.10.00)).
As part of London's 'international policy', his proposal for a common EU asylum policy urged that the return of illegal immigrants (failed asylum seekers) be only 'voluntary'. (Londonline Europe, Summer 2003)
The propaganda continues on his GLA website, ('London Issues', www.london.gov.uk). "London can & will contribute much to the development of Europe. London's European Office will be the key mechanism to achieving this goal".
In April 2003, Londoners felt a 29% increase in their council tax levy paid to the GLA. In October 2002, an Audit Commission inspection found less GLA commitment to basics like value for money for Londoners or even paying its suppliers on time!
WELCOMING THE EU CONSTITUTION
His glossy bulletins hype the EU - for instance Londonline Europe, which in Spring 2004 describes the EU as:
"the most democratically accountable international institution in the world". (Even though its key institutions are unelected and can over-rule democratically-elected governments. Furthermore auditors have rejected its leaky accounts year after year).
On the proposed EU Constitution, he adds:"Much of what it contains so far should be welcomed by Londoners". (NB The draft explicitly gives the EU powers to take away people's rights). Although it has been criticised for its complexity and lack of clarity, Livingstone also claims it will make the EU easier to understand!
Although health is already a NHS responsibility, a GLA 'Health In Europe' supplement is published! The 'London NHS-GLA partnership' focuses upon ensuring that EU developments are integral to regional strategic thinking, planning, training and development and building 'inter-regional' relationships.
Staff from other London services such as the Fire Brigade are used by 'London European Forum' (LEF), which now seeks to raise public awareness of EU "benefits" (Mayor's 'Report to London Assembly', 17.12.03). In November 2002, LEF also made a submission to the Convention developing plans for an EU Constitution.
THE RUSH FOR 'KENGESTION' CHARGING
On 20.10.00, Livingstone received a grilling from a GLA committee over congestion charging proposals.
We had to delve a bit for the review minutes but they showed:
• an almost indecent haste to get charging in by 2002
• doubts over risks and practicalities
• doubts over payback against costs
• doubts about proper consultation and public acceptability
• Livingstone's coyness over having a testing public enquiry - preferring to fall back on opinion polls.
• His transport body, Transport for London (TfL), had failed to reply to some of the committee's questions.
TfL seemingly had as its priorities: get it in by end 2002, then make sure it works properly, then keep costs under control !!!
(The scheme duly went live on 17.2.03. NB After the formal order was announced in February 2002, TfL published results of the final consultation showing that the scheme had been opposed by roughly 44%:36% overall).
Tellingly, Livingstone admitted that the money-spinning potential was secondary, and that he would have acted anyway.
However the committee did not hear that congestion charging is part of a much wider EU initiative. (At the subsequent opening of London House, 28.11.01, Livingstone said that politicians should be honest about the full agenda towards total European Union integration).
FOOTNOTE: THE EU BACKGROUND
Since 1993, the EU has been looking to extend its powers in transport & environment. Much research was done under the EU 4th framework R&D/ COST/ CORDIS programmes in the 1990s. Over the years at least 80 million Euros (c. £50m) were spent on driving control projects:
• Edinburgh, VERA - "increasingly harmonised enforcement in the EU".
• Bristol - CONCERT - "to overcome barriers to harmonised tolling systems".
• CAMPARIE - influencing image and attractiveness of policy. However in Bristol the road payment trial gave so much hostility that it was only accepted if other vehicle taxes went down. (Spin was put on the publicly quoted results).
• The TRENEN project concluded that private transport costs should be increased between 90-200% to achieve 'politically necessary' traffic reductions!
Under the IST programme, the EU wanted all new vehicles to have greater 'in-car intelligence & communications' after 2005 - including electronic vehicle identification! Over 400m Euros (£200m+) are being spent on related work such as vehicle surveillance. Mobile phone and satellite technology has been used for tracking cars.
Although the EU claims road user and congestion charging are necessary to get more people onto public transport, both options are to be subjected to smart cards for payments - a pre-paid electronic purse.
FOOTNOTE: LIVE EXPERIENCE
We couldn't find any document that guaranteed the use of cash - indeed, the GLA Transport Strategy proposal out on 31.10.00 only talked of smart cards for congestion charging payment! (For now a number of methods to pay the congestion charge are accepted, but it has been admitted that the charge has been designed to be difficult to pay!).
In 2003, TfL introduced a smart card (Oyster). This was soon made mandatory for all but the shortest season tickets, and prepayment was made compulsory on buses in Central London.
Apart from transport, key areas for introducing smart cards will include healthcare and public services. This is to get critical numbers using them, and the UK Government signed up for the 'E-Europe' programme at Lisbon in April 2000.
Watch this space for further developments.