Archive | November, 2012

The EU budget summit explained

26 Nov

Photo by rockcohen, via Flickr

By Chris Hansell

There will be no new EU budget until at least next year after this week’ s summit in Brussels ended without agreement. This will add more substance to the questions circulating in Britain about a possible exit from the EU.

For anyone who missed this the Summit was intended to make a budget for 2014 to 2020.

The Daily Mail billed this as Prime Minister David Cameron crusading into Brussels to fight the ‘£120 a bottle’ wine drinking bureaucracy. The supply of expensive wine to negotiations does seem like an extremely clumsy way of managing a meeting about budgeting.

But Britain was not alone, as The Guardian tells us, in wanting to slash the EU budget. Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands all sided with Mr Cameron. It wasn’t hard to see what the connection was. The clue came when the Guardian said the deadlock ‘highlighted deep splits between rich “contributor” nations and poor “recipient” nations.’

Data from the EU budget office

French President François Hollande stood firmly behind a budget increase, probably motivated by his nation’s reliance on the Common Agricultural Policy.

Despite the apparent alliance of convenience between Britain and its ‘contributor’ friends The Independent pointed to a level of frustration from some EU officials. In his article Andrew Grice said Britain was now considered ‘self-centred’ and was told ‘chances of Britain securing big wins like opting out of the social chapter of workers’ rights’ were seen as virtually impossible.

Mr Cameron has long been behind withdrawing from the social chapter, since before even becoming Prime Minister. This is where the possibility of a referendum on EU membership emerges. The Prime Minister is under pressure from Tory MPs to win back powers from Europe. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said his party will not support this, and described the prime minister’s pledge to do so as a ‘false promise.’

It is worth remembering some of the things the EU does with the money and powers we cede to it. The social chapter, for instance, exists for ‘the promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, proper social protection’ and other objectives like ‘lasting high employment’; hardly a terrible thing.

The European Regional Development Fund has provided €201 billion since 2007 to develop poorer and less developed areas of Europe, including parts of the UK.

These are just two examples of EU programmes that could be seen as beneficial. This is not to say everything about the EU is positive; its democratic deficit is something that needs to change. We just need to remember that the EU is not a bogeyman.

It is also worth remembering that of EU members the UK contributes the smallest percentage of it’s GDP to the EU budget.

Data from the EU Budget office

A referendum on EU membership is now a real possibility after the next election in 2015. The problem is that a referendum would not be motivated by sincerity but, as anti-Europe conservative MP Mark Pritchard admits, by ‘political advantage’.

Most newspapers believe anti-European sentiment would lead to a clear referendum result for leaving the EU, and they’re probably right. I just hope voters properly inform themselves about what the EU actually does first.


Coaliton tangle on wind farms

20 Nov

Photo by Juliet Phillips and Chris Hansell

By Chris Hansell

A hidden camera video is the latest twist in the coalition’s long internal battle on wind farms.

Last week Greenpeace released a video of Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris at the conservative party conference last month. On their website Greenpeace claim that ‘Heaton-Harris had encouraged a rival candidate to stand against the conservative party’ in the recent Corby by-election.

This may or may not be true, since the candidate they refer to, James Delingpole, withdrew from the Corby by-election weeks before polling day.

So what does all this have to do with wind farms?

James Delingpole, a blogger for the Telegraph, has written extensively about climate change and the follies of onshore wind farms. Earlier this year Chris Heaton-Harris organised a letter, which was signed by more than 100 Tory MPs, saying onshore wind farm subsidies should stop.

While we’re talking about renewable energy it’s worth mentioning John Haynes, Minister of State fo Energy, who attracted headlines earlier this month when he told the Daily Mail that ‘enough is enough’ for onshore wind farms. Back on the Greenpeace video Haynes was name dropped by Heaton-Harris.

The Daily Mail went out of their way getting a surprising amount of political figures to comment on the Hayes interview. Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint was quoted as well as a campaigner from Greenpeace. Lord Lawson told them ‘an additional problem is that wind power is one of the most expensive forms of generating electricity there is.’

The 2010 study by global engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff does suggest that electricity production for offshore wind farms tends toward a higher range of costs than most other electricity. Onshore wind farms however aren’t especially expensive in comparison to more traditional energy like coal or gas turbine.

The Daily Mail is not wrong to say there are a lot of onshore wind farms springing up across the UK. But surely the creation of renewable energy sources is not about how much it costs to make them. We might be meeting agreed European Union targets but the likes of Spain and Germany are still far ahead of us.

Statistics from European Wind Energy Association

EU Wind power capacity in Megawatts

Heaton-Harris and his hundred MPs singled out the subsidy for onshore wind farms, which the treasury placed a future 10% cut on over the summer. Onshore wind is of course not the only form of energy that gets support from the government though. Back in February the OECD published a report on fossil fuel subsidies. According to the Guardian, who highlighted the report, fossil fuels are subsidised more than double that of renewable energy.

Chris Heaton-Harris is set for a ‘dressing down’ this coming week, says the Telegraph, and has already had a meeting with Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps. You may remember Mr Shapps from this recent carry on.

Government energy policy looks a little unclear from where I’m standing. When David Cameron said in 2006 he wanted to make his premiership the ‘greenest government ever’ this was not what I expected.

EU Wind power capacity in Megawatts

EU Wind power capacity in Megawatts

Why we should be wary of police commissioners

12 Nov
Photo by CodyR, via Flickr

Photo by CodyR, via Flickr

By Chris Hansell

On 15thof November voters across England and Wales will go to the polls and vote for new Police and Crime Commissioners for the first time. Or maybe we won’t.

According to the BBC some projections have the turnout for the vote as low as 15%. This is low, even for Britain, but it’s not clear if this is an accurate number. It’s true that votes considered less important tend to get lower voter numbers though.

So what is the whole Police commissioner thing and why is it so important? I must admit that when I heard the election was taking place my first thought was Gary Oldman in The Dark Knight. Our police forces would be run by modern day Jim Gordons, but without a crazy batman running around.

I don’t think Jim Gordon was the real inspiration the government were going for though. The new police commissioners and their staff will replace the soon-to-be-defunct Police Authorities. One major factor for this decision seems to have been to make policing more accountable.

Police Minister Damian Green told the Birmingham Mail ‘The PCC will make sure priorities are the priorities of local people because they can hold the PCC to account.’

In theory this might work. The website for Lancashire PCC describes how the PCC holds Chief constables to account while the public holds the PCC to account. That seems simple enough. It also says ‘PCCs will be able to set the priorities for the police within their force area.’

But the PCC setup seems to have one major flaw. Along with the election of PCCs local Police Authorities will be replaced by a Police and Crime Panel. Is there a risk of overlap?

Talking to the Guardian former PCC candidate Simon Weston said ‘Police Authorities were getting too comfortable with Chief constables’ and ‘an awful lot of people who have been on Police Authorities were looking at standing as PCCs’.

The Police and Crime Panel also seems to be built in largely the same way as Police Authorities. Going back to Lancashire, the old Police Authority website says it is ‘made up of 17 members, 9 of whom are elected by their local communities’. This largely means local councillors.

On the other hand the new PCP will be ‘made up of councillor members from each local authority, and a number of independent members’.  What’s to stop members of an old Police Authority becoming members of a new PCP?

In the Guardian article I mentioned earlier Labour PCC candidate Vera Baird said what a PCC will do is in ‘a very raw and fresh stage now’. It remains to be seen whether PCCs will be a success or failure. But the government’s reforms may already be flawed given the potential overlap.

In any case Jim Gordon would probably not get elected on the 15th. He might get on the PCP though.

Hello world!

3 Nov

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