Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category.

Crawling out of the woodwork

Australia’s crusade to make their country more attractive to smugglers whilst trying to stop people using the product of the tobacco plant continues with the news that, as of now, people entering the country will only be allowed to bring in two packs of smokes under duty-free rules. Bring in anything more and you have a choice (ha!) between having your cigarettes stolen or your wallet looted.

Moving (physically although not spiritually) away from the convicts, it appears that the recent antics of the tobacco control fools in Tasmania has led to their real goal becoming more and more transparent – not that it was well disguised to the more realistic members of the proletariat.

Whilst it is perhaps no surprise that the government of Singapore* is considering a similar legislation to Tasmania, it seems that the Finns are also thinking about it as well. To someone who hasn’t kept as close eye as some on the tobacco control lobby this was more surprising but some googling reveals that Finland is something of an early adopter when it comes to controlling tobacco.

Lest however you think that this mania is just something Johnny Foreigner is getting himself worked up about, news emerges of something closer to home:

GUERNSEY is set to demonstrate ‘similarly bold measures’ to a potential ban on cigarette sales to anyone born after the year 2000, the Guernsey Adolescent Smokefree Project chairman has said.

GASP (how original!) is, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear, at least partly funded by the Guernsey taxpayer

This silliness though isn’t just confined to a group of islands too close to France for their own good.

Senior doctors and anti-smoking campaigners have told Sky News they are working towards making the UK a no smoking nation within the next 20 years.

Leading specialist Professor John Britton has called on the Government to back the goal, describing it as entirely realistic.

“Andrew Lansley could make himself a legacy greater than that of almost any other Health Secretary in history,” Professor Britton, who chairs the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group, said.

Yes folks, things have come so far in recent times that the ultimate goal of the tobacco control lobby is now openly admitted to after so many years of pretending otherwise whilst they incrementally shifted the goal posts just that little bit closer to their destination with the passing of each piece of dictatorial legislation.

I would say that alcohol will be next but that campaign, along with the one against the wrong types of food, has been underway for a while.

Forget the various bastardisations of the Pastor Niemoller quote, they have (unless you are a non-smoking, teetotaller who has never eaten anything unhealthy in your life) already come for you. Do you fight as they drag you off for re-education or do you meekly surrender and become the drone that they want you to be?

* Pretty much a dictatorship in all but name.

Roulez, roulez, vous obtenez un emploi ici…*

It appears that the French, having thrown out Sarkozy in May, are rapidly losing faith in his replacement as well. This in and of itself is hardly newsworthy but what caught my attention was this:

The French government announced a €2.3bn programme to create jobs for 150,000 young people without skills […]

By my maths that makes works out at about 15,333 (plus shrapnel) EUR per job. Which, given that the dead hand of government is involved, seems far too cheap. I assume, therefore, that that figure is what will be paid to the recipients of the non-jobs which they intend to create in an attempt to massage their unemployment figures and that the administration costs haven’t been taken into account.

Translating this into a slightly less worthless fiat currency, it works out at approximately 12,140 GBP or fractionally under the our minimum wage (assuming a 40hr week).

Although labelled “jobs for the future”, critics dismissed the scheme as an old-fashioned “make-work” programme. The state will pay 75 per cent of wages for youngsters hired by councils or voluntary organisations to take part in environmental, social, cultural or sports projects.

[Labour Minister Michel] Sapin said the scheme – which will create 100,000 jobs in the public sector and 50,000 in the private sector by 2014 […].

And the critics would be right. 150,000 people taking more money from the French taxpayer than they would be if they were on benefits is not really the way to run a railroad.

Still, if Hollande wants to wreck his economy by being foolish, who am I to argue? If only it weren’t also happening over here

* Roll-up, roll-up, get yourself a job here…

A quick thought on illness, employment and holiday

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) have, in their infinite wisdom, ruled that employees who are sick whilst on annual leave can reclaim from their employers the holiday affected.

As this is an ECJ judgement, the UK is obliged to do something about it and the government has said that it will implement the change from October.

The obvious next step therefore is for someone to start trying to claim for days off because of illnesses which occur during weekends (or whenever their weekly rest days are). Ill on Sunday? Take Monday off…

Cynicism aside, I am happy to accept this on one condition: if employees fall ill during non-holiday time, their employer should have the right to reclaim the equivalent amount of holiday time from them in order to make up for this.

Fair’s fair after all…

Patsy Pasty

Of all the tax changes in the budget which the politicians, press and public could have got themselves worked up about – cutting the top rate, freezing grannies allowance, the ongoing process of pulling people into high rates, the marginal rates levied on those earning between £50k and £60k with children, the ever increasing duties on petrol, alcohol and tobacco – it is changing of what is charged VAT with respect of hot, take-away food which seems to causing the government the most trouble.

The ludricous lengths that that our elected wastals and the copy-and-paste artists in the MSM have gone to over the whole matter is laughable in the extreme. Thanks to them we have had to put up with, amongst other things, iDave and various cabinet ministers attemting to remember if, where and when they last ate a pasty (and the MSN chasing these recollections up); Millipede Jr (with his likely Brutus in tow) going to Greggs for lunch as part of a staged photoshoot; and supposed ‘quality’ newspaper The Telegraph resorting to live blogging the entire fiasco.

Fankly, if the whole business means anything, it is as

  1. yet another reminder how pathetically out of touch the inhabitants of the Westminster village really are,
  2. showing how woefully ignorant and stupid the so-called reporters who are paid to fill up the output of the media really, and
  3. a demonstration of how utterly stupid VAT is.

As I’m certain my readers are aware, VAT is an EU tax and thus subject to the whims of Brussels and the rent-seekers to be found in that city. It is therefore no surprise to learn that the reason for impsition of the ‘pasty tax’ is somewhat more than the bland statement Osborne made to parliament during his speech:

We will also address some of the loopholes and anomalies in our VAT system.

[…]

Hot takeaway food on high streets has been charged VAT for more than twenty years; but some new hot takeaway products in supermarkets are not.

A fuller account of the reasons why the children supposedly running the country are in the mess that they are in comes from Richard North of EU Referendum:

Enter Manfred Bog who, back in 1994 was running three mobile snack bars. After a series of disputes with the German tax authorities, Bog in 2006 fixed upon one particular issue, that 70 percent of his sales were being assessed for standard rate of VAT, while the remainder only attracted the lower rate of five percent.

The German authorities here were arguing that the larger proportion of the food sold was consumed “on the premises” (i.e., under a shelter provided by Bog) and, therefore, the trade was a “service” rather than the supply of goods – thus attracting the higher rate of VAT.

We should not detain ourselves with the finding of the German financial court, the Bundesfinanzhof. Down that path lies madness. Suffice to say that the case was joined by others, including a firm called CinemaxX, arguing the toss about popcorn sales. Again, the service/supply of goods argument was in the cooking pot. And then there was Mr Lohmeyer, with his snack stalls and a swinging grill, plus – of course – Fleischerei Nier. Don’t even go there.

Cutting to the chase on this bundle of cases, the judgement on 10 March last year ruled that the supply of food or meals freshly prepared for immediate consumption from snack stalls or mobile snack bars or in cinema foyers is a supply of goods rather than service – as long as the supply of services preceding and accompanying the supply of the food were not predominant.

Ostensibly, this did not apply to the UK – or so HMRC said at the time. Yet the Fish Fryers Federation and others disagreed, because the essence of the ECJ judgement was that they were supplying goods (as in foodstuffs), not services. And as the UK zero rates food, they were thus salivating at the prospect of a mega-refund.

“Ahah!”, said HMRC batting away such insolence. The fish fryers are caught either way. Their tax category – devised uniquely by the UK – includes “hot take-away food” and well as catering services. It matters not whether it is food or service, VAT still applies, regardless of Bog.

And there gripped the cold, mindless jaws of the VAT Sixth Directive, of which the ECJ had so cruelly reminded us. To their horror, HMRC have confronted their worst nightmare. If the fish fryers are selling hot food rather than services, and have to charge VAT on it, so does everybody else who sells hot food.

That’s right, Osborne had no choice in the matter.

Can we leave yet?

Those French Elections

I haven’t, I confess, been taking much interest in the reshuffling of the presidential deck chair that is the forthcoming French General Election but it seems as if Sarkozy is currently expected to finish no higher than the first loser’s spot.

And it looks like Sarkozy is worried as well, if his threat to quit politics if he loses is to be taken with anything more than a pinch of salt.

After his election rally on Sunday however when he lurched sharply towards a position of anti-immigration and economic protectionism I think I can put a handle on his election campaign:

  1. Avoid doing a Lionel Jospin in the first round.
  2. Court those who are likely to vote for the French National candidate, Marine Le Pen in the first round in the hope they will win him the second round.

How depressingly negative.

Street Theatre

There has been some reportage, and blog coverage, recently of remarks made by Public Health Minister Anne Milton.

As said Minister was last seen on this blog looking longingly at your organs I thought I’d investigate and see how she’d managed to put her foot into it this time.

The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is that she didn’t. At least not to any great extent. Her remarks came in a Westminster Hall debate on May 3rd on the subject of Childhood Obesity at which she, as Minister responsible, was present to respond. Towards the end of her response she talked about her recent junket to the World Health Organisation sponsored ‘First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Noncommunicable Diseases’ held in Moscow on the 28th and 29th April.

Passing over such questions as how noncommunicable diseases and healthy lifestyles are in any way related and why politicians feel the need to have an international conference on the subject (further documentation is available online for those who are interested) the comments in question are these:

…the Minister of Health for Columbia talked about a scheme they have there. On Sundays they close certain streets so that everybody can play in them. That is an outstanding idea. Before constituents e-mail to complain about their streets closing, I should say that I accept it would not work everywhere. It could, however, work in some places.

And that was it. A silly, unenforceable and completely impractical idea to be sure but hardly a proposal or anything binding. Certainly nothing worth getting overly excited about.

No, the real revelation, although it seemed to pass unnoticed by hacks who either don’t care or can’t be bothered to report anything beyond trivia, came earlier on in her remarks when she said, on the subject of food labelling:

The regulations surrounding front-of-pack labelling are an EU competence.

A government minster for once admitting that an issue is out of their hands? We can applaud, for once, some honesty by a politician in admitting that, as a result of the actions of all governments and Prime Ministers since 1972, they have surrendered their ability to set policy in at least one area to their masters in Brussels. Now all they have to do is admit everything else that they and their predecessors have given up.

Even if they do, what are the chances of the MSM reporting it rather than some piece of trivia?

I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

Rejoice!

It may have escape the notice of some (or even all) of you but today, May 9th, is Europe Day (EU version), not be be confused with Europe Day (Council of Europe version) which was last Thursday (May 5th).

WTF, I hear you say, is Europe Day?

The EU themselves are all to happy to provide the answer:

On the 9th of May 1950, Robert Schuman presented his proposal on the creation of an organised Europe, indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.

This proposal, known as the “Schuman declaration”, is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union.

Today, the 9th of May has become a European symbol (Europe Day) which, along with the flag, the anthem, the motto and the single currency (the euro), identifies the political entity of the European Union. Europe Day is the occasion for activities and festivities that bring Europe closer to its citizens and peoples of the Union closer to one another.

That’s right, it is the anniversary of the day that the political project, of which the UK is now just an a regional subdivision, began.

So be a proper EU citizen and wave the blue flag with the yellow stars on it whilst reciting Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (set to the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th) and remembering that you are ‘United in Diversity’.

You’ve done all that? Well done! Now, how does it feel to be a good little Soviet?

Politicking whilst Libya burns

Less than a day into enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya and cracks are apparently appearing in the 2011 edition of the coalition of the willing with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, reported to have said the following:

“What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians.”

Western governments have been quick to respond, knowing that without Arab backing they could find themselves in yet another quagmire. A spokesman for Barack Obama told Reuters:

“The resolution endorsed by Arabs and the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) included ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians, which we made very clear includes, but goes beyond, a no-fly zone.”

The difficulty of course stems from the fact that for the coalition to be able to operate a no-fly zone safely, air defences have to be destroyed. Easy enough to do without collatoral damage if they are sitting in the middle of nowhere but as Gaddafi has been taking a leaf from the book written by the Palestinians and embedding them into civilian areas, the chances of non-combatants being killed in suppression raids become almost a near certainty.

Precision guided weapons are designed to be accurate but they are also full of explosive. The warhead on a Tomahawk missile contains 1,000lb of muntions whilst each bomb dropped from aircraft can be double this. All of which adds up to a very large explosion come detonation time. Why make bombs that large? Because when accuracy is measured in meters rather than millimeters, a large explosion makes up for not quite pin-point perfect accuracy.

However I am getting off topic. Back, therefore, to Amr Moussa.

Moussa is an Egyptian and before he became SG of the Arab League he was, from 1991 to 2002, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Mubarak government. He is also, if opinion polls are to be believed, the current front runner to become the next President of Egypt and, although reports of his candidacy are not confirmed at this time, he has not ruled out standing.

Given that Qatar and the UAE have sent aircraft to support the no-fly zone it would seem at this time that Amr Moussa is guilty of gross politicking. But if so, he isn’t the only one. I’m looking at you, David Cameron, and you, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Who Rules?

On Thursday the House of Commons partook of a discussion and division on the issue of voting by convicted prisoners. The result of this vote is not binding on the government being as it was simply a backbench motion allowing members to express an opinion on a matter that has yet to be formally presented to the house by the government. In the free vote that followed the debate the motion was passed by 234 to 22. A roll of honour/list of shame* is available. Those on the government payroll and the Labour front bench abstained.

That the matter was under discussion is the ‘work’ of John Hirst, a thug convicted of the manslaughter** of his landlady with an axe, who sued the UK under the Human Rights Act because he was not allowed to vote whilst he was detained at Her Majesty’s (dis-)pleasure. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in his favour and asked the UK government to look again at the issue.

Predictably there has been a lot of outrage at the thought of the likes of Hirst being allowed to play a part in democratic elections whilst in gaol with one opinion poll putting support for the idea at only 9%. David Cameron has been widely quoted as saying that the idea makes him ‘physically sick’.

The whole issue however is somewhat of a red herring, a trifling concern. According to the most recent breakdown of figures that I could find (2010-08) there are 31,630 convicted people in prison serving 4 years or less (excluding under 18’s and fine defaulters but including the unsentenced). By the same criteria there are only 11,433 serving less than 12 months. Those numbers aren’t enough to form a constituency of their own. Split evenly across the 600 constituencies (come the 2015 election) that equates to 53 or 19 each (assuming an even split). Those sort of numbers aren’t going to affect the outcome of a general election.

Rather the issue here is one of sovereignty: is Parliament – elected by the population of the UK – supreme or does an external institution take precedence? MPs like to maintain that they are still in charge – and today’s vote has no doubt resulted in lots of back slapping amongst the Eurosceptic wings of the big parties – but they aren’t and haven’t been so for some time.

Unless Cast Iron Dave uses the result to find himself a spine and finally gives the public the in or out referendum*** that all of the big three political parties have offered at one time or another then it is meaningless. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has already said that the UK would ‘do the minimum necessary in order to comply’ with the ruling and something tells me that said stance will not have been altered by what went on today.

It would be nice to hope that this is the straw that finally broke the back of the proverbial camel but I doubt it. Our elected representatives are, generally, too wedded to the idea of further political and economic integration no matter what the cost. Indeed I doubt that many of them realise that the PR exercise which is the Referendum Lock promised by the collation government will have no affect on the ongoing transfer of sovereignty to European bodies.

* Delete according to your belief.

** During the debate various MPs referred to him in other terms but unlike them this blog is not protected by parliamentary privilege and therefore cannot be so blunt.

*** Yes, I am well aware that the ECHR is a Council of Europe body, not a European Union one but given the amount of overlap that exists between the two and being aware that provisions exist on both sides for integration, withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights would (hopefully) mean expulsion from both entities as membership of each requires the the Convention to be ratified.

On Max Mosley, Sex and Privacy

The FT on Friday carried an interview with the former head of the FIA, Max Mosley, ostensibly to discuss his case in the European Court of Human Rights regarding the right to privacy – a follow up to his victory in the High Court against News Group Newspapers Limited.

As I’m sure most of us remember the case made headlines thanks to the ‘unconventional’ nature of the sexual acts that were going on and the Nazi imagery which the News of the World falsely claimed was present – imagery which of course had added spice given who Mosley’s father was.

Although I personally couldn’t care less what Mosley – or anyone else for that matter – does for pleasure so long as all of the parties involved are willing participants it would seem that I am in the minority. The old adage that ‘sex sells’ is still a true one as, for a country with a supposedly liberal attitude to sex, there is indeed a good deal of school yard tittering that goes on whenever someone is revealed to have tastes that extend beyond the missionary position with the curtains closed and the lights out. The only weird thing to me is the prurient fascination with what other human beings do for pleasure – though I suppose it can probably be considered second- or third-hand voyeurism.

Our interviewer here seems to be of the majority persuasion however as she candidly admits that one of the questions she wanted to ask was ‘Why was MM drawn to S&M?’ Is the question even relevant given the matter at hand? No but it doesn’t stop her asking it or indeed trying to draw a link between his BDSM activities and his slightly odd childhood. Kudos to Mosley though for managing to respond to the attempts to define his activities as strange in a matter of fact way

I think it’s like being homosexual. It’s a quirk in your character. People have to be adult and simply say, well it’s sex and sex is very strange. Even ordinary sex is either very funny or disgusting, or both. That’s how it is, we’re animals in the end.

even though he says later on that

It’s embarrassing to talk about. I feel that sex should always be private. If people hear that so-and-so does such and such, the reaction shouldn’t be: Oooooh! It should be: Oh, for God’s sake that’s sex, don’t even discuss it.

Although not agreeing with Mosley that sex should be a taboo subject I am, as I have said, in agreement with him when it comes to not being interested in what strangers do for fun. The only time it is relevant is when they are guilt of hypocrisy by saying one thing and doing the opposite.

Not though content with letting sleeping dogs lie Mosley has filed an application with the ECHR claiming that his rights where violated because the News of the Screws did not have a legal duty “to notify him in advance in order to allow him the opportunity to seek an interim injunction and thus prevent publication”.

This is where I have a problem.

I can see why, given the media in the UK, people would want a strong privacy law. But does the problem entirely lie with the media? There is apparently no shortage of prominent or ‘famous’ people who are willing to invite the press into almost every aspect of their lives (often in return for money) because they want the resulting publicity that it brings. Can we therefore fault journalists for taking the logic step of digging into the lives those in similar positions who aren’t media hungry because they believe – rightly it seems – that such stories are wanted by the section of the populous what care X, Y or Z get up to in their private lives?

Does then an individual have a right to privacy, to not have salacious details of their lives that they did not themselves reveal spread across various newspapers and magazines? No, I do not think that they do. A privacy law means that state force is being used to suppress information – however irrelevant it may be – and that goes against Libertarianism as I see it.

If a publication however prints false or malicious allegations then the subject of their hatchet job has every right to sue. The only shame is that it is can be expensive and time consuming to do so as a recent piece over on Anna’s and some of the comments it generated showed.

In the long run the only way I see things changing is when people finally grow up and stop encouraging such behaviour by not purchasing the papers and magazines involved.

Given the falling circulation figures for the dead tree press it seems we are, perhaps, heading in the right direction.