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Christopher Booker's Notebook
(Filed: 01/06/2003)

Downing Street ignores a Mayday from the 'Cod Crusaders'
Another aviation fiasco in the offing
Europe's 50-year plan
A new strain of motorway madness

Downing Street ignores a Mayday from the 'Cod Crusaders'

Since November, three fishermen's wives from the village of Fraserburgh have been trying to highlight the extraordinary drama unfolding in north-east Scotland as the industry on which tens of thousands of people depend for their livelihood is deliberately squeezed into extinction by a grand plan for the future of the "European Union fishing industry".

Apart from gathering 50,000 signatures to a petition, the three "Cod Crusaders", led by Carol MacDonald, Morag Ritchie and Caroline Bruce, have repeatedly written to Tony Blair pleading for a meeting. They want to ask him for aid for the families of several thousand Scottish fisherman suffering under the fishing restrictions imposed by the EU "cod ban", which makes it almost impossible for them to earn a living.

Although 200 boat owners have, in desperation, applied for a share of the £40 million of "decommissioning" money to be given to fishermen who agree to give up fishing altogether, what most fishermen want is temporary help that could enable them to stay in business through the crisis. The Scottish Executive has asked Brussels for permission to pay out a modest £10 million in "interim aid", but has had no reply. Similarly, there has been no reply from Mr Blair to the letters from the Cod Crusaders. For English and Welsh fishermen, our stony-faced fisheries minister, Elliott Morley, insists, there can be no money whatever.

The reason for this heartless indifference is that the whole purpose of the restrictions, which have plunged Britain's fishermen into their worst-ever crisis, is to remove as many of them as possible. This will make room for the Spanish fishing fleet which, under the terms of Spain's accession treaty in 1985, was to be allowed "equal access" to UK and other northern European waters by January 1, 2003.

Despite all Brussels' efforts in the 1990s to impose savage cuts on Britain's fishing fleet, the loss of 4,000 boats was still not enough. Hence the welter of recent new restrictions, including the "cod ban", the reasons for which have nothing to do with conservation but are entirely political. This is clear from the fact that the restrictions are targeted disproportionately at British boats, while the destructive Danish "industrial" fishing fleet, which catches more cod each year than the entire UK quota, is exempted altogether.

This crisis is mirrored in Ireland, where a mighty row is blowing up over the European Commission's plan to allow greater access for Spanish boats to the "Irish Box", an area to which the Irish fishing fleet has until now enjoyed privileged access. Fishermen's leaders such as Lorcan O Cinneide protest that giving Spain access to "a hugely valuable Irish natural resource worth billions of euros" would "wipe out European fish stocks and Irish coastal communities wholesale".

In Brussels last week, Ireland's Minister for Communications and the Marine, Dermot Ahern, warned that the proposals could lead to a "violent confrontation at sea between Irish and Spanish fishermen". But the Spanish point out that, under EU law, they are entitled to full access to the Irish Box, just as they are to enter UK waters which are the main fishing ground of the Scottish fleet.

As for that £10 million "interim aid" asked for by the Scottish Executive, George McRae of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association warned that unless Brussels gave permission for it to be paid by May 31 there would be "hell on earth". Yesterday the deadline arrived with still no word. What the Scottish fishermen have to accept is that "hell on earth" is precisely where Brussels wants them to be.

Another aviation fiasco in the offing

There was media excitement last week over news that British troops are to serve in the Congo under French command, as part of a "European Union force". Remarkably little attention was paid to the signing of contracts for a huge, £14 billion EU aircraft project, to provide "heavy lift" capacity for the EU's armed forces, including its Rapid Reaction force. The A400M, to be built by the several countries, including Britain, which make up the Airbus consortium, threatens a repeat of the Eurofighter farce.

Michael Heseltine signed up to that project in 1985, shortly after it had been agreed that "Europe" should integrate its defence industries and cease being dependent on America.The Eurofighter, now known as the Typhoon, was designed for a Cold War role to take on Soviet MiGs. Nigel Lawson, then Chancellor, was one of those who argued that it would be much cheaper and more effective to buy US fighters off-the-shelf. Events have borne out their fears. The Eurofighter is still not in service and, as the cost of the project soars towards £20 billion, Britain will be paying out £65 million each, for an aircraft which no longer has any useful role.

The A400 is similar in that it falls halfway in size between the Hercules and the US C-17 transporter, which carries twice the weight of its proposed EU rival. It has been compared to the camel, "a horse designed by a committee"; and if ever it comes into service, its costs - put at £120 million each - may well have doubled. Meanwhile, so much of our defence budget is taken up by these dinosaur monuments to European integration that it was last week revealed that reservists in the Gulf have had to ask for help with their mortgage payments.

Europe's 50-year plan

The Times last week re-published its edition for Coronation Day, June 2, 1953. On the centre pages, beneath a picture of Everest, there was an item headlined "Concern Over Treaties: European Integration". It reported that Germany's Chancellor Adenauer would join ministers of the European Coal and Steel Community in Rome "to consider the draft of a constitution for the political community" of what was described on another page as "Little Europe".

This may seem far back in history, but it is impossible to understand the current moves to impose a "constitution" on the EU without grasping that this was always the long-term plan of Jean Monnet, the creator of the Coal and Steel Community, which he described as "the first government of Europe". The failure of his 1953 effort merely showed that he had tried to launch his "European Political Community" too soon. Throughout the past 50 years, his followers have aimed to inch forward in their drive to integration, treaty by treaty, directive by directive, until the moment would come when, by revealing a "constitution for Europe", their project to create a new state would be complete.

An understanding of Monnet's ideology also explains, for instance, why Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, was so withering last week in claiming that the draft constitution proposed by Valery Giscard d'Estaing's convention "does not go far enough". What Monnet wanted was a "supranational" body with the power to overrule individual nation states. What terrified him, as it does his faithful disciple Prodi, was the prospect of "intergovernmentalism", whereby nation states would insist that they must continue to run the show.

This is why Prodi is so hostile to the Giscard constitution: he sees the "intergovernmentalists" still wanting to hold on to too much power, not because they don't want full integration, but because they want it on their own terms, with themselves, Europe's political elite, firmly in charge. That is the issue at the centre of the battle over the "constitution". That is also why growing numbers of the British people rightly want none of it.

A new strain of motorway madness

A notice about the M6 motorway inserted in Manchester's local papers by Peter Mitchell, who describes himself as "an official of the Highways Agency", includes a paragraph stating that "a mandatory 40 mph speed restriction will also be in force and vehicles wider than 6ft 6in will be prohibited from the outside lanes of the northbound and southbound carriageways from a point one kilometre south of Rosehill Interchange south bridge, Junction 43, to 300 metres north of Millbrooke Bridge, a distance of approximately 4.4 kilometres".

If there were a competition for this kind of thing, Mr Mitchell would clearly win by miles, kilometres, metres, feet or just about anything he likes. Actually, he is only obeying EU law, for reasons I haven't got space to explain.