EU policy: “just add water”

By Richard North – EUReferendum Blog

Last night, I had a very long talk with an elected member of one of Somerset’s drainage boards, a man with a farm close to the centre of the floods, who has been serving on the drainage board for over 20 years, and who has intimate knowledge of local conditions.

One reason for talking was to clear up the confusion as to whether dredging was stopped on the Somerset Levels when the Environment Agency took over, to which the answer is “yes” and “no”.

Responsibility for dredging on the Levels is split between the Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) and the EA, the former clearing the “ordinary watercourses” while the EA does the “main rivers” – those designated as such by Defra.

According to my source, when Barbara Young took over as chief executive of the Agency in 2000, she stopped the routine dredging of the main rivers, although the IDBs continued their dredging programmes. Thus, some dredging was carried out right up until the current floods.

What seems to have happened is that the deterioration was initially slow to manifest itself. But, once it set in, as the silt burden increases, flow is hampered slowing down the flow and increasing the silting, setting up a spiral of decline.

Why Young was so keen to see this happen is illustrated by a piece in the Guardian in 1 February 2008, devoted to the celebration of wetlands.

Wetlands have a problem, the piece said. Because they are usually in low-lying areas, and easily accessible, they are prime targets for development. By draining a wetland, and building homes, roads and factories, a nation may boost its economic performance; but this is almost always at the expense of biodiversity.

Yet, we were told, it’s not all bad news. Uniquely, wetlands can be created – or recreated – much more quickly and easily than other vital habitats such as ancient woodlands, hedgerows or rainforest. Then came the “money quote” from Young, still chief executive of the Environment Agency. “Just add water!”, she said.

Undisclosed, of course, was that Young was by then seeking to meet the requirements of the Habitats Directive, and the targets set under the EU’s Natura 2000 programme, as well as the requirements of the Floods Directive, which required the “restoration of floodplains”.

In effect, allowing the Somerset Levels to flood was one of the quickest and cheapest (for the Environment Agency) ways of creating new “habitat” to satisfy EU demands.

The naivety of the politicians on this, though, is wondrous to behold. Only a few days ago, we had John Redwood observe of the BBC Today programme:

They should first have explored the issue of whether it is a deliberate policy of the Agency to allow large parts of the country to be flooded, as they seem to wish to restore old landscape prior to the draining of the land to create homes and farms for people. It appears from various EA statements that they do hanker after more wetlands and fewer farms and homes in certain areas.

That, of course, is the case. The flooding is the result of deliberate policy, mandated by EU law. These are “designer floods”, made to order.

To justify them in its own terms, though, the EA has undergone some elaborate financial manipulation to demonstrate that reverting to “nature” is cost effective. To do so, it artificially inflates the cost of flood prevention maintenance, while downplaying the costs incurred through flooding.

An example was given by my Drainage Board source. To dredge a 1.2-mile section of the Parrett, they got a quote of £7,500. For five miles dredging of the same river, the Environment Agency claims it will cost £4 million. By then assessing the economic cost of flooding agricultural land as zero, it is then very easy to show that flood prevention is not “cost effective”.

Not least of the problems is the disposal of the dredged spoil. Under EU rules, it can be placed on the bank side but if it is double-handled – i.e., moved again – it becomes controlled waste and must be removed to landfill at a cost of £140 per cubic metre.

To overcome this problem, the drainage board is very keen on using a suction dredger. Cutter-suction machines such as the one illustrated – with smaller versions available – are the perfect answer, as the spoil can be pumped some distance from the dredging site without falling foul of EU rules.

From the EA’s own studies, we can now see that dredging would have been highly effective in reducing the extent and duration of the floods, despite the previous assertions that it could not be justified on financial grounds.

The trouble is that, until the water subsides, it is very difficult to get a dredger in to do the work. For Barbara Young to “just add water” was all too easy. Getting it back out again is another matter.

EU policy: deliberately flooding the Somerset Levels

By Richard North – EUReferendum Blog

It is all very well for Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, to prattle on about “difficult choices”, and to tell us that “more must be done to protect the Somerset Levels”. But the flooding crisis over which he is presiding is one which he, at the behest of the EU, has deliberately allowed to happen.

Allowing the flooding of the Levels was a matter of EU policy, introduced by a 2007 Directive and consciously adopted by the Environment Agency in 2008, which then sought to increase the frequency of flooding in the area.

What then makes it impossible for the people on the spot, like Owen Paterson, is that they are having to deal with those decisions, which were made  years ago. Only now are the consequences becoming evident, while the people (or agencies) who contributed to the disaster are entirely invisible.In the “invisible” class is that classic elephant in the room, the European Union, which was behind the last great change in British strategy, heralded by a Defra consultation document in July 2004 called “making space for water”. It introduced “a new Government strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management in England”.The clue as to its provenance came on page 23, under the heading “European Dimension”, which told us that flood risk management was being discussed at the EU level, and the themes under discussion were “all consistent with this consultation and the current approach in England”.

The outline of the EU approach had in fact been published in a COM final, (2004)472, the very same month as the Defra document, signalling the “European” interest and warning of further activity to come.

At the time, Charles Clover, writing in the Telegraph, was very far from being impressed. He complained that, while Defra calls it “Making Space for Water”, others called it “flooding”. And, in those few words, the future government policy was revealed. Flood defence was to give way to “management”. In EU terms, that meant more flooding.

Government consultation continued into 2005, making it very clear that a “new strategic direction” was involved, one which involved changing the emphasis from flood protection to allowing certain areas to flood. For Somerset, this had already been spelled out in an EU-funded conference in Warsaw in 2003, outlining the results of the Ecoflood projects at a cost of €350,000, finalised in 2005.

Flood defence for farm land, along with high levels of subsidies, had been for many years an important element of Britain’s production-orientated agricultural policy, wrote the authors. Many floodplain areas benefited from publicly-funded flood defence and land drainage schemes which reduced crop damage and facilitated a change to more intensive farming systems.

Recently, however, they continued, policy emphasis has been placed on environmental enhancement, on greater diversity of economic activity as a basis for sustainable rural livelihoods, and on public enjoyment of the countryside. Funds previously committed to support farm output are increasingly diverted to encourage land managers to deliver environmental benefits.

In this context, we were told, there is reduced justification for high standards of flood defence for agriculture. Indeed, there may be substantial benefits if some floodplain land is returned to its previous unprotected, un-drained condition.

Therein lay the death knell for the Somerset Levels, as a new term was to dominate policy: “Washland”. This was an area of the floodplain that was to be allowed to flood or was deliberately flooded by a watercourse for flood management purposes.

Unacknowledged by either government, the media or even Chris Smith in his current diatribe, this policy was given legislative force, not by the Westminster parliament but by an EU directive 2007/60/EC of 23 October 2007 on the assessment and management of flood risks, the so-called “Floods Directive”.In recital 14, we saw spelled out the requirement that flood risk management plans should focus on prevention, protection and preparedness. But, “with a view to giving rivers more space, they should consider where possible the maintenance and/or restoration of floodplains, as well as measures to prevent and reduce damage to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity”.Implemented as the Flood Risk Regulations 2009, there, writ large, was Defra’s “making space for water” policy. It was all that was needed, by way of legislative authority, for an already Green-dominated Environment Agency to abandon the Somerset Levels and to allow them to flood.

To reinforce the change, Defra commissioned a research project costing £105,032, carried out by Nottingham University, which noted that “EU legislation is really driving change”. The authors promoted an “ecosystem approach”, an idea at the core of EUpolicy, driving the move away from traditional flood control into the “sustainability” camp.

The shift in policy can be seen with brutal clarity on the Commission website which gives priority to the “environment”, citing a raft of EU measures, including the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. The Floods Directive is part of the package and this, we are sternly warned, has to be implemented by 2015.

Just so that there should be no doubts as to where the policy thrust lay, DG Environment in 2011 issued a note, stressing that flood risk management “should work with nature, rather than against it”, building up the “green infrastructure” and thus offering a “triple-win” which included restoration (i.e., flooding) of the floodplain.

By then, the Environment Agency needed no encouragement. In its March 2008 plan it had decided that, “providing a robust economic case for maintenance works on the Somerset Levels and Moors remains a challenge” (p.131).

We believe, the Agency said, that “it is appropriate to look again at the benefits derived from our work, particularly focusing more on the infrastructure and the environmental benefits, which previous studies have probably underestimated”.

We have, they added, “international obligations to maintain and enhance the habitats and species in the Somerset Levels and Moors, and it is within this context that all decisions have to be made”.

And, with that, they were “doubtful that all the pumping stations on the Somerset Levels and Moors are required for flood risk management purposes. Many pumping stations are relatively old and in some cases difficult to maintain. It is necessary to decide which ones are necessary particularly in the context of redistributing water”.Of six policy options, the Agency thus adopted the sixth, to: “Take action to increase the frequency of flooding to deliver benefits locally or elsewhere, which may constitute an overall flood risk reduction”. This policy option, they said, “involves a strategic increase in flooding in allocated areas” (p.142). The Levels were to be allowed to flood, as a matter of deliberate policy.Thus, when the BBC reported that the government had been “slow to act”, it could not have been more wrong.  Our true government, the EU, had been there years before, planning to make the disaster that has overtaken the people of that part of Somerset a routine occurrence. The flooding was not so much man-made as made by government.

By the time Owen Peterson arrived to try to deal with the situation, he was years too late. Between the EU, the previous Labour government and the Environment Agency, the damage had already been done.

“What is the point in having a British Government” says Peer as EU threatens to block state aid for Hinckley Point

The independent Labour peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has questioned the point in having a British Government, when it no longer has the power to decide which industries it wishes to subsidise through state aid.  His comments follow the Government’s confirmation in a written response to Lord Stoddart that it needs the permission of the European Commission (30.12.13) for such funding and the Commission’s subsequent announcement in a 70 page critique (31.01.14) that the funding may not be ‘compatible’ and could be ruled illegal state aid.
Lord Stoddart said:  “This announcement from Commission Vice-President Alumnia appears to be a prelude to the European Commission refusing to allow the Government to provide state aid for the construction of a nuclear power plant at Hinckley Point, undermining a project that is so vital to our energy supply.  If true, you have to ask the question, what is the point in having a British Government, when it can no longer decide which industries it wishes to subsidise, in the interests of the British people?
“The unelected European Commission may well be going to over-rule our elected Government and effectively stop the development of our nuclear programme in its tracks, as investor confidence melts away.  All of which leads to another fundamental question: what is the point in voting, when the people you elect are so utterly powerless?”
The full text of Lord Stoddart’s question and the Government’s answer is as follows:
State Aid for Hinckley Point
Written reply: 30.12.13
Lord Stoddart of Swindon – To ask Her Majesty’s Government how long they expect the European Commission’s inquiry into the state aid being provided to support the building of a new nuclear plant at Hinckley Point to take; whether the investigation is likely to delay the start of the project or affect its cost; and whether the United Kingdom will be required to take account of that report’s conclusions. HL4193.
Baroness Verma
The European Commission announced its decision to open an investigation into the State aid case for the proposed Hinckley Point C investment contract on 18th December.  We welcome the investigation.  The Commission’s decision represents another important step forward in progression of the State aid case for Hinckley and is a standard part of the process.  We have expected an investigation for some time and have built this into our planning.
The Commission has sole competence to determine our notification for State aid approval.  We are working closely with them and would look to secure a decision as soon as practicable.  The UK Government will need to abide by the final decision once it is made by the Commission following the investigation.

A letter from Dr Anthony Coughlan to Edward Spalton

 Dear Edward,

Thank you very much for sending me those interesting documents on the  Christian Churches and particularly on the Church of England.  I have printed them out and they contain some illuminating stuff.  I remember Jens-Peter Bonde introducing me to an EU-critical Lutheran clergyman in Denmark some time in the early 1990s, who described how  the  EU Commission and the European Movement at the time were making a  particular effort  to co-opt the Christian Churches into supporting the EU  project.

They seemingly set this objective as a key  political  goal  following the  Danish and Irish Maastricht Treaty referendums  in the early 1990s, when  the Lutheran clergy in Denmark, for instance, tended to be  on the No  side.

Traditionally, it seems,  the Lutheran Churches of Scandinavia, which are  all State churches as you know,  tended to be EU-critical, as they stood  by the sovereignty of their respective Crowns/Monarchs, representing their  national State sovereignty.

As regards the Church  of England, you have heard the old wisecrack, I am  sure, that the Church of England is the Tory Party at prayer!   So I  expect that the evolution of opinion   in the C. of E.  over the years has  mirrored that within Conservative circles as a whole.

I do not know how successful  the  EU’s cooption exercise has proved with  regard to the  Lutheran Churches, but it has certainly been hugely  successful as regards the Roman Catholic Church, which is my own  background, especially in the 1990s/early 2000s… I expect that the  post-2008 financial crisis has brought new issues into play  –  the growth  of poverty, unemployment etc. –  which perhaps reduces the Europhilia of various  Church hierarchies, as they have to pay attention to such  developments and deplore them from a Christian perspective.

 The Catholic Church in Ireland, influential though it was,  did not involve itself officially in any way in the 1972 EEC Accession referendum  or in our 1987 Single European Act,  1992 Maastrihct Treaty  and 1998 Amsterdam Treaty  referendums.

However in the 2001 Nice Treaty referendum, the newly formed European  and International Affairs Committee  of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy caused  consternation among the many Catholic traditonalists on the No-side by  coming out with a statement shortly   before the referendum which implicitly pointed towards the desirability of Catholics voting Yes.

Frantic efforts by some of the Catholic No-side people persuaded two of  the Bishops to say  or imply that they supported the No side, but a lot of  damage was done. Similar interventions occurred in subsequent Irish referendums –  in the  aborted one on the proposed EU Constitution  in 2005, and the 2008 and  2009  Lisbon Treaty referendums.

Sometime in the 1990s the Committee of Catholic Hierarchies of the  European Community/Union was established – known by its French intitials  as COMICE.   It had a full-time office in Brussels, whose full-time  secretary was  for years  Monsignor Noel Traynor, who was promoted to the  Bishopric of  Down and Connor – i.e. Belfast – a few years ago. The  current  Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, is also a strong Europhile.

One can “google” COMICE on the internet and find various  further items of relevant information there.  Traditionally in the RC Church each Bishop was, as the old saying  put it,  Pope in his own diocese.   Each one did his own thing, so to speak. But in  recent decades Bishops speak on political issues through committees of  their respective  national Hierarchies.   So that when it comes to an EU  issue, they ask themselves: what does our European or International  Affairs Committee  or sub-committee think.   These sub-committees of half  a dozen or so people are usually strongly Europhile, having been wined and  dined for years in Brussels and gone  to symposiums on such matters as  “Christian ethics and the EU” etc.  in castles in Germany and so on.

These sub-committees  sometimes include lay people who are Eurofanatics.  For example the European Affairs sub-committee which advised the Irish  Catholic Hierarchy on its 2001 statement on the  Nice Treaty included  among its members a former Irish EU Commissioner (Richard Burke), plus a  woman  (by name Kahn-Carroll) who worked full-time in the EU Office in  Dublin.

A  relevant consideration for the Catholic Church may be that the German  Hierarchy, where citizens as you know pay an annual Church tax, is one of  the principal funders  the Vatican and through the Vatican of the RC Church as a whole.

The last but one Pope, John Paul( the Pole  Karol Wojytala),   was very anti-communist  and had some kind of vision of the EU replicating the  Europe of the Middle Ages, when  the Roman Catholic Church had such influence, which made him strongly Europhile.

The last Pope, Benedict, was a German, which may also be relevant.  The  Roman Catholic  Church, being a world-wide body with over a thousand  million members,  does  not have a uniform view on  any non-religious  matter of course. Even Catholic religious orders will have different  traditions.  My own impression  is that the Jesuits, for instance – an  order of which the present Pope is a member – is traditionally very  Europhile,whereas Opus Dei,  another  influential religious order, is said  to be EU-critical…  But within each order there will of course be  diverse  views held by their individual members.

The CIB  conference is clearly important and I hope that it goes well. It reminds us EU-critics here in the Republic of  Ireland  that we should pay  more attention to the  current state of play regarding the Catholic Church  and the EU.

I am not going to the TEAM meeting  either, but  it was nice to meet you again at the TEAM  meeting in Riga last September.

I trust that your political work  and that of your colleagues goes well in  the  months ahead.

All the best for now

As ever,


Anthony Coughlan

ECJ rules against the UK in landmark short-selling case

Cour de Justice

The ECJ this morning rejected all the UK’s claims against the EU’s short selling regulation. The result was surprising given that the Court’s Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen issued an opinion supporting the UK’s position last September – court rulings often, but not always, follow these opinions. The nub of the UK’s complaint was that the new regulation transferred too much discretionary power to ESMA (the European Securities and Markets Authority) to ban short-selling over the heads of national regulators. And that the legal base for doing so in the EU treaties was unsatisfactory. The case could therefore set an important precedent.

The UK’s complaint as described by the court:

The United Kingdom contends, inter alia, that ESMA has been given a very large measure of discretion of a political nature which is at odds with EU principles relating to the delegation of powers. The United Kingdom also submits that Article 114 TFEU is not the correct legal basis for the adoption of the rules laid down in Article 28 of the regulation.

Here is what Jääskinen had to say about the complaint in September:

“The outcome is not harmonisation but the replacement of national decision-making with EU level decision-making. This goes beyond the limits of Article 114.”
While he didn’t side with the UK on all issues, he did recommend changing the legal base of the regulation to Article 352, which would have given the UK a veto.

However, the ECJ took a very different line arguing that the regulation is in line with the treaties since ESMA already has a role to play in this area and because the powers are limited to times when financial market stability is in question – of course when this is, remains to be defined by ESMA itself. The court also suggests that, contrary to the Advocate General’s view, the new rules do provide for harmonisation.

As we noted before, this ruling has the potential to be very important for the UK and could set the tone/precedent for future rulings. The court’s decision to reject the UK’s claim could have some important implications:
• Firstly, it potentially sets a precedent for the transfer of powers to an EU agency under the single market article (114). This is decided under qualified majority vote (QMV) meaning the UK does not have a veto. Not only that, but the scope of the powers remains vague and widespread, allowing ESMA quite a significant amount of leeway in deciding where to act in what the UK Government would argue are political decisions.
• More generally, there will be a concern that it could allow the use of Article 114 to be stretched – a question which is raised in some of the UK’s other on-going court challenges against EU financial regulation.
• This will raise concerns in the UK over two issues – financial services regulation and the split between euro and non-euro countries. The first is obvious given that the UK may feel its ability to legally protect itself against burdensome regulation is now diminished. The second stems from the potential abuse of the single market article to further the needs of the eurozone – the short-selling ban was largely conceived following the eurozone/financial crisis to combat ‘speculators’.
• One saving grace may be that the ruling is quite specific in terms of financial market oversight, a role which the agency in question (ESMA) already has a part in. However, only time and future legal challenges will tell far-reching the implications of this ruling will be.
What happens now?

Given that the ECJ rejected all aspects of the UK’s claim, it is dismissed entirely. There is little more the UK can do from a legal aspect, unless it decides to challenge other parts of the regulation but that seems unlikely. The UK can continue to work behind the scenes to limit the practical power of ESMA and define strict criteria for when it can act on this issue. Of course, if any decision to limit short-selling by ESMA does happen, it could always challenge that specific move. Nevertheless, this is clearly a political blow to the UK.

First appeared in Open Europe

Merkel blasted in German Parliament

Angela Merkel has clearly more to fear than the recently formed ‘Alternative for Germany’ party which polls indicated could be supported by about a quarter of German voters. On 27 June the SPD candidate for the German Chancellorship in the September 2013 Federal election, Peer Steinbrück, launched a heated attack on her in the Bundestag. 

Ridiculing a speech in which she promised to tackle the problem of the extremely high unemployment in the Eurozone countries, Steinbrück described her commitment of 6 billion Euro as a drop in the ocean compared with a real requirement of at least 20 billion over the next two years.

He also derided her domestic financial policies and accused her of having created debts of 100 billion Euro within Germany itself. To laughter and roars of approval he continued: “The youth unemployment and general unemployment about which you are talking, Frau Bundeskanzler, is a direct result of the completely one-sided policies that you have instigated in Europe. […] The point is simply this: You do not know how to deal with money. If you ruled in the desert, sand would be in short supply.”

At one point Steinbrück shouted: “You are living off the gains that we have made”; at another he interjected: “All you have done is to offer us empty bags. When you look into them there is nothing but pure air.” The German press widely described the angry exchanges as a verbal duel won by Steinbrück. “Advantage Steinbrück”, wrote Stern. The video (in German) can be viewed online: merkel-2030893.html

Translation by Professor Arthur Noble