CREATING EU-TOPIA?

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Many people are looking ahead towards a new millennium. We decided to look at how the "Europe of the future" might develop, and compare recent developments (some with little publicity).

Quite a challenging topic, at times complex and technical, documents often clouded by the language of bureaucrats. But we have tried at all times to be objective, rather than make the facts fit.

There may be vital implications for: environment/conservation energy economic development and jobs transport local planning

 

"SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT"

Sustainable Development is now a mandatory part of Britain's school syllabus. The EU has gone mad over the word "sustainable" - sustainable development, business, jobs, mobility, cities, even "sustainable Europe"!

The Amsterdam Treaty setting up the current EU says that environmental requirements and 'sustainable development' must effectively be part of all EU activities [Art. 6] But it doesn't define it.

The European Commission recently published a "briefing for policy makers". Called "The New Economics of Sustainable Development" (1999, European Commission/Kogan Page), its main author was former Macmillan aide James Robertson. He now works for EU President Prodi's little-known think tank1. Although not [yet?] to be taken as EU policy, its messages are quite revealing.

Described rather vaguely as development to meet current and future needs, "Sustainable Development" contains some ideas that might belong to any political party e.g. developing natural sources of power, controlling pollution, cutting out waste. Others are more controversial.

 

HOT AIR ON GLOBAL WARMING?

Since Maastricht, the EU has stepped up a gear on the environment - yet another chance to pass regulations.

"The Greenhouse industry is a splendid gravy train providing luxurious jobs for bureaucrats" - Dr Matt Ridley, Sunday Telegraph.

In the past, the EU/EC has been very inconsistent - eg letting some member states increase pollutions when others were supposed to be cutting back.

The main international think-tank, IISD2 remarked that it has taken the pressure of climate change to move energy and transport policy.

A key plank of EU policies has been to insist on cuts in 'greenhouse gases' identified with global warming. The EU boasts about being the mover behind the 1997 UN conference in Kyoto which set legally binding targets for reducing CO2 levels.

But many scientists are not convinced - nearly 1,000 from 20 countries petitioned world leaders at Kyoto not to take action without proper evidence. Joyce Penner, the UN's adviser, now quotes newer research divorcing global warming from human causes3 . Even the politically-correct BBC's website has articles questioning the "mainstream" view.

The independent ESEF5 warns of one-sided evidence from the wider lobby predicting global warming, while conflicting evidence is being suppressed. It links climate change to cycles of solar activity, and notes that even if CO2 could be proven a factor,

But many scientists are not convinced - nearly 1,000 from 20 countries petitioned world leaders at Kyoto not to take action without proper evidence. Joyce Penner, the UN's adviser, now quotes newer research divorcing global warming from human causes3 . Even the politically-correct BBC's website has articles questioning the "mainstream" view.

The independent ESEF5 warns of one-sided evidence from the wider lobby predicting global warming, while conflicting evidence is being suppressed. It links climate change to cycles of solar activity, and notes that even if CO2 could be proven a factor, the problem could be fixed in 5 years without "emission" controls.

The Green Party now support Britain's EU membership again4, even if they disagree with the idea of a superstate and many of its policies. Presumably because EU legislators will give them what they want - they certainly agree with "sustainable development" and a "Europe of Regions".

For now, they are prepared to back a "social and environmental" based Economic & Monetary Union, even if they don't want a single currency

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUSTAINABLE CITIES & MOBILITY

New Alliance has covered the British Government's EU-inspired plans for taxing many motorists off the road, closely linked with the "need" to cut 'greenhouse emissions'.

A rather jargon-ridden EU report aimed at local authorities was published in 19966 It is so badly written that its comments must be abridged. "Sustainable development will only come if it is planned.... people must accept limitations on their freedom... Local authorities must manage change through publishing technical information".

The EU also asks all levels of government to develop transport policies that minimise not just energy consumption, but "the social impact of motorised travel" 6. There is plenty of talk of "equity", "equality" and "social cohesion". However the range of car charges proposed in a follow up by the EU and the Blair Government by will affect the poorest 15% British of motorists hardest.

(The Commission's James Robertson goes further by claiming that motor transport is "socially divisive" as it means the loss of "opportunity, liberty and quality of life" for people without cars, especially children, women and elderly people. You might as well claim that having natural beauty spots is "divisive" and should be scrapped because blind people cannot appreciate them.

There is not a thought for how motor transport allows the "liberating" opportunities for travel, an active life and protection from both unsafe areas and the elements.

Nor that cars and motor-cycles can be shared or hired by the poorer members of society. The reaction is born of the politics of envy.

Robertson similarly objects to tourism as "often damaging the quality of life for poorer people... while providing benefits for richer people (eg tourists)". Apart from a few well-branded hooligan resorts, this one-sided comment does not match reality as I know it. Tourism is both a source of pride and livelihood for many (poorer) people, and unwinding tourists respect the local attractions. The authorities are usually quick to crack down on those who abuse facilities.

Maybe what he objects to is really that tourism means that people travel, which is A Bad Thing, as it uses up energy. Opposition to travel, and keeping lifestyles "local" or "regional" is a recurring theme, as it is in Green Party programmes.

He also calls for a shift from individual to collective transport (He prefers to avoid calling privatised transport "public"). However, if this were to happen, the EU's proposed VAT on public transport fares would have to be matched by making fuel for cars and motorcycles even more expensive.

In 1999, Deputy Prime Minister (and Transport Minister) Prescott was made to look foolish after introducing a bus lane on the M4 that made travel worse for the vast majority of road users. After Tony Blair suffered this experiment in "promoting collective transport", he allegedly ordered it to be scrapped (although no action seems to have resulted).

Britain has in fact been following an EU transport blueprint that dates back to 19917 Several cities have joined the EU-financed 'Car Free Cities' network including Leeds, which stopped motorists without passengers from using lanes restricted to car sharers.

There are three ways to change behaviour: to educate, to legislate and to tax. Charging for the use of roads and parking spaces (even outside cities where they are scarce) is part of Robertson's concept that use of all 'common goods' should be taxed to discourage use. The EU recommends "reductions in parking space in city centres and other dissuasive measures", "reduced parking at offices", "high fees in town centres" 6

Some of (Robertson's and the EUs) remaining recommendations otherwise do not seem too controversial if they can be achieved without taxation or compulsion. These include:

encouraging a move from road & air to rail & waterways transport,

promoting teleworking (which usually means working from home for at least part of the week).

greater "accessibility" - effectively means siting shops and offices where people can readily get to them by public transport, walking or cycling.

 

In spite of the EU's glowing claims that "decision making should move closer to the people", the European Commission has been marking a role for itself as a town planning authority since 1991. In fact, its ambitions extend to small towns, "urban regions" and the workings of local government! 8

In 1992, the EC/EU committed to Agenda 21, "a global action plan" involving local Governments.The EU's work programme started in 1993 and and will be revisited in 2000. The UK Government has asked all local authorities to have "Local Agenda 21" (LA21) programmes in place by then.

Therefore what our local authorities have been doing in recent years will have a firm EU flavour to it. (This will not come as a surprise to those who have been studying EU transport policies)

In fairness, even if it is accepted that cars are becoming cleaner and that global warming can be taken out of the debate, local authorities will still have to respond to the rise in road transport. But it would be wrong to tie their hands through EU policies.


"Should a lack of sound scientific evidence stand in the way of action?"

- former EU Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, in a speech9

 

CONSUMER / ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION RACKET ?

Researcher Bill Durodie of LSE has pointed out that growing resistance to bureaucratic regulation has resulted in more self-regulation - but subject to official monitoring. (Basically the same result. The EU recently accused Spain of charging too little for fuel and threatened to up petrol taxes if other charges were not introduced - BM). Durodie has also highlighted the effect of organised environmental lobbyists on the European Commission.

The Countryside Agency10 [a UK Government agency] goes overboard on the same "sustainable" Euro-jargon and warns of the "need to reduce travel....".

 

"NO EVIDENCE NEEDED"

It justifies this using the (EU's) precautionary principle" (which might be known in everyday English as scaremongering; remember the ban on British beef exports in spite of the evidence, including it being safe enough to eat at home?). Durodie solidly points out that this principle "departs from scientific rationale" [i.e. use of evidence] in that it reverses the burden of proof.10

Attitudes between Britain and Europe have differed in that we tend to permit what is not ruled illegal and harmful; for the continentals, privileges often do not exist but have to be granted.

The Agency also says that the key issue in planning permission will have to change from

"Is it bad enough to refuse?" to

"Is it good enough to approve?"

It talks of the need to replace planning obligations with their "heavy overtones of a burden imposed on developers". However, a householder will have to go through a whole rigmarole of assessments ("environmental capital" and even "social capital", whatever they may be?).

Hardly surprising for New Labour, the costs arising from these wonderful new proposals are not laid out. Maybe this is because the method for calculating the "development obligation" does not yet exist!


LOCAL DEVELOPMENT or DIVIDE AND RULE?

"the first step towards Regional Government for England". - South East regional development agency11

The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) makes it quite clear that the brief of the new unelected Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) is "sustainable development". 12

Although the "business-led" RDAs have the brief to tackle "inequality" and "social exclusion", there will inevitably be complaints about them being "undemocratic", which will be used as leverage to push for directly elected "English Regional Parliaments" - which the Government encourages "where there is demand". 13 Regional Chambers are being set up as "interim bodies" by local Government.

South-East agency SEEDA talks about "developing a European dimension to economic development" and a "stronger regional dimension to this region's relationship with Europe". Having agreed an office in Brussels, SEEDA intends to "maximise financial support from European institutions". As for the RDAs generally, DETR sees their approach as "delivering European programmes that may influence Government policy".

Under-publicised Government policy may have been exposed in the April 1999 issue of VAN Update - a voluntary arts newsletter. This warned "If you are a UK body, you may need to reinvent yourself along regional lines so that ... you have a distinct regional identity to present to funders".

To accelerate this, Chris Smith's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has set up new funds for those that operate or wish to operate at Regional level (e.g. New Opportunities Fund, Adult & Community Learning Fund).

DETR gives assurances that regional development is not about being at the expense of other regions, and makes noises about "inequality" and "comparisons between regions"13. However, VAN Update reveals (obviously from some briefing sheet) "National governments are no longer able to deliver equal economic development to all parts of their nations. These areas themselves must now take responsibility for their own economic and social destiny".

 

"JOB CREATION" or "JOBS FOR THE BOYS"?

Is the EU committed to "sustainable economics", or is it worried about getting the blame for an increasingly uncompetitive and jobless future? Some people wonder whether the EU is trying to change the goal posts by creating a move towards 'EUtopia', which will still have plenty of opportunities for regulators and bureaucrats?

The EU claims links between environmental initiatives and job creation14. If the economy is working at full capacity, a shift of employment is likely rather than more jobs. But in depressed economies too, job creation depends on competitiveness, having skilled people, well targeted measures and the need for continuing spend (i.e. not one-offs). It warned that if the technology needs to be imported, the jobs will be created abroad!

Although agreeing that 'Green' jobs will materialise, Robertson states that a feature of the shift* to sustainable development will be to reduce the demand for goods and services and 'conventional economic growth'. This will be resisted by "the majority" whose livelihoods and careers depend on supplying them.

He claims that the "discrimination" towards the "formal" economy against the "informal" should end. In that, he claims that taxpayers' money is used to 'subsidise' government-provided services (e.g. care) against services carried out unpaid by citizens.

As we shift to "sustainable development", public spending and taxes can drop - as people are better able to look after themselves. Yet his solution includes a "Citizens' Income", a handout paid instead of current state benefits to all citizens (including children, although the elderly would get more). These payments will also be regardless of wealth. There is no detailed discussion on the size of this handout, or how it would be spent, or the effects on prices, enterprise or crime. Robertson says that the Citizens' Income has nearly joined environmental taxes as part of mainstream thinking!

There is no direct evidence that the EU is moving towards financing a "welfare economy", and it is known to be strapped for cash. However the EU treaties spoke of "a high level of social protection". EU governments recently decided on common social security payments to asylum seekers. As they also committed towards their equality with their own countries' nationals, this might imply some kind of 'Euro-dole' harmonisation?

The EU and the British Government have also asked for a range of "sustainable" measurements to be made, and it this will probably be done on a regional basis.

The EU has already set up the European Environment Agency to look at information gathering & measurement and keep the public informed; curiously its director, Domingo Jimenez Beltran also sees his role as to "orchestrate" information15 . It may have lost something in translation, but it could imply both a co-ordinating role and some sort of lobbying or "selling".


Common ownership is key to Robertson's thinking, he would tax the use of all 'common goods'; it would imply being charged for the use of everything that is currently free, like access to public parks and beaches.

The EU already takes import duties and VAT from us. It calls Britain's fish a "common EU resource" - and its Common Fisheries' Policy that was supposed to be a conservation measure, has resulted in massive damage to both local economies and fish stocks!

Shifting to a more localised economy would affect the UK more than the continentals, as most of our trade is with the wider world?

 

FINAL NOTES & PREDICTIONS:

* Robertson wants controls on a world scale for "stability", with some sort of World Government to administer it. There would be steep resistance, as Congress has made it illegal for the USA to participate in any global taxes.16

* The Commission has already had to shelve energy tax plans. Our government17 wants an energy intensive business tax from 2001.

* After motorists' protests, our Government will probably pass the "votes risk" for taking unpopular action to local authorities and RDAs. No rises on domestic fuel.

* Much will depend on lobbyists eg The Green Party already claims 435 MPs support road traffic cuts.

* London is likely to be an early "testing ground"

 

References (with websites)

1 The European Commission's Forward Studies Unit (europa.eu.int/comm/cdp/index_en.htm)

2 "The Maastricht Treaty and the Winnipeg Principles", International Institute of Sustainable Development (iisd.ca)

3 Quoted Wall Street Journal Europe, 17.3.98. by ESEF5

4 Green Party (England & Wales) Manifesto, (EU2, Autumn 98) (www.greenparty.org.uk)

5 European Science and Environment Forum (an independent, non-EU body) (www.esef.org)

6 Commission document XI/519/96 - Sustainable Cities Report for Local Authorities, Targeted Summary, also7

7 Executive Summary, Commission document COM(97)592. The Expert Group on Urban Environment came into being in 1991, the year the "EU" sought to "consolidate actions for environment protection"

8 Document COM(97)592, Executive Summary.

9 Bill Durodie, in Poisonous Dummies, publ: ESEF5, 1999. (Bjerregaard speech on chemicals quoted, 24.2.99)

10 "Planning for quality of life in rural England", Countryside Agency, 1999 (www.countryside.gov.uk) - Precautionary principle covered in 9.

11 SEEDA website, seen on 7.11.99 (www.seeda.co.uk)

12 DETR "Supplementary Guidance to RDAs, Sustainable Development", 14.4.99 (www.detr.gov.uk)

13 DETR "Annual Report, 1999, Chapter 11", 1.4.99

14 OECD, 1997 (quoted in COM (97)592), Communication from the Commission on environment and employment (Building a Sustainable Europe)

15 European Environment Agency website seen on 12.11.99 (org.eea.eu.int)

16 Developing Ideas Digest, Sept 98 (International Institute of Sustainable Development, Canada)

17 Daily Telegraph, 27 Oct 1999

 

First compiled: November 1999.
Date this page was updated: 5 March 2000

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