The nominee for EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has taken the brave step of opposing carbon tariffs, called for by many European politicians (including, notably, French President Nicolas Sarkozy).
In the first day of his confirmation hearings, Mr. de Gucht expressed concern that carbon tariffs were a possible first step in a "trade war" and implied that they were in any event inconsistent with current trade law. (I agree.) He also called for abolishing tariffs on goods beneficial to the environment as a trade-friendly way to reduce greenhouse gases, and expressed support for the Doha round of multilateral trade talks. (More here.) While the Trade Commissioner's influence over actual trade policy in the EU is arguably limited, it is good to have someone in the post who is instinctively suspicious of green protectionism and friendly towards the WTO.
The European Parliament is due to vote on the European Commission nominees (en masse) on January 26.
While American politicians are experts when it comes to squandering money, they may not be the world’s most profligate group of lawmakers. To be sure, American politicians sometimes give big piles of other people’s money to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the politicians at the European Commission in Brussels engage in similar forms of corporate welfare with their Emissions Trading Scheme.
The overall burden of government is heavier in Europe, so that certainly suggests that there are greater opportunities to waste money, but what makes the European Commission special is that it is insulated from democratic accountability and there is no system of checks and balances. So even though the actual amount of money spent by Brussels is small compared to what is wasted by national governments in Europe, the outcomes are especially obscene. Here’s a story from the UK‐based Daily Mail, reporting on a program (no joke) to fund activities such as basket weaving and siestas:
British taxpayers are helping to fund basket‐weaving and slapstick acting workshops for young people across Europe. The projects, which include meetings about folk dancing and even a scheme to promote afternoon siestas, are part of an £800million EU programme to help people aged 13 – 30 ‘feel European’. …Another venture in Finland received thousands to support a coffee house which offered ‘everyone the chance to have a sleep for free’. It aimed to encourage afternoon naps to reduce stress. ‘Youth exchange participants’ also flocked to Macedonia last year for a meeting entitled Stories And Legends, receiving £18,000 to explore storytelling. …An EC spokesman said the projects were about exposing young people to other cultures and increasing their participation in society. He added: ‘I don’t see anything wrong with basket‐weaving or music‐making if it encourages young people to meet other Europeans and learn a new skill from another part of Europe.’
Readers may be thinking this is no big deal. After all, American politicians fund pork projects all the time. But here’s the clincher. The UK’s Daily Telegraph reports that the European Commission is subsidizing a ski trip for…drum roll, please… the children of European politicians, and that the subsidies even go to households with income equivalent to about $175,000:
Taxpayers will heavily subsidise a skiing holiday in the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and European Parliament officials in February. …The eight‐day skiing trip for 80 children aged between eight and 17 is timed to begin over the weekend of St Valentine’s Day, providing some romantic time off from parenting for officials. Costs, the holiday is priced at 920 euros (£822), are generously subsidised by the parliament’s budget. Households receive different levels of subsidy depending on their monthly income but even those on a income of over £108,000 get a discount. There is reduction of up to 52 per cent for officials earning £69,620 a year and an MEP, earning £86,000, is eligible for a subsidy of 45 per cent. …The children will enjoy full board in a three‐star hotel in the beautiful village of Spiazzi. The trip includes “workshops” in a “multilingual environment” on the themes of “the mountain, its snow, its nature”. …The parliament’s spokesman declined to comment on the holiday.
Perhaps I’m not paying close enough attention, but I can’t think of anything the crowd in Washington has done that rivals this odious example of self‐serving by lawmakers. Can anybody come up with an example that tops this?
- European Union to install its first president.
- It always starts with “good intentions:” How urban planners destroyed the small‐town atmosphere in Portland, Oregon and made congestion even worse.
- Lots of talk but little action from the Obama administration on education.
- Podcast: If the Obama administration was serious about job creation in the stimulus plan, why weren’t dollars targeted at states with higher unemployment?
In this new video, Eline van den Broek of the Netherlands needs only about four minutes to explain why government‐run healthcare in Europe is a mistake and why the problems in the U.S. healthcare system are the result of too much government, not too little.
The only thing I don’t like about this video is that I fear people may no longer want to watch the ones I narrate.
Bastien François, a professor of political science at the Sorbonne, writes that “The French political system is incomprehensible to the rest of the world… In France we call it a republican monarchy. That phrase says it all.”
Indeed, according to the press, a £250,000 ($413,000) shower with air conditioning and radio surround sound that was “built to the exact specifications of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy” was paid for by the EU taxpayer during the French Presidency of the European Union in July 2008.
It was “disposed of soon afterwards, unused, together with most of the equipment bought for the £16million ($26 million) conference.” The press also reported “other expenses included £1million ($1.65 million) spent on the opening dinner alone — more than £23,000 ($38,000) for each of the 43 heads of state.”
A handful of guilt‐ridden wealthy Germans are asking to pay more tax according to a BBC report. They could just give their money to the state, of course, but they want to impose their self‐loathing policies on all successful Germans. The amusing part of the story is that these dilettantes were puzzled that so few people showed up to their protest. Maybe next time they could do some real redistribution and announce that they will be tossing real banknotes in the air:
A group of rich Germans has launched a petition calling for the government to make wealthy people pay higher taxes. The group say they have more money than they need, and the extra revenue could fund economic and social programmes…
Simply donating money to deal with the problems is not enough, they want a change in the whole approach.
…The man behind the petition, Dieter Lehmkuhl, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel that there were 2.2 million people in Germany with a fortune of more than 500,000 euros. If they all paid the tax for two years, Germany could raise 100bn euros to fund ecological programmes, education and social projects, said the retired doctor and heir to a brewery. Signatory Peter Vollmer told AFP news agency he was supporting the proposal because he had inherited “a lot of money I do not need”. He said the tax would be “a viable and socially acceptable way out of the flagrant budget crisis”. The group held a demonstration in Berlin on Wednesday to draw attention to their plans, throwing fake banknotes into the air. Mr Vollmer said it was “really strange that so few people came”.
But not all tormented rich people live in Germany. A few months ago, I had a chance to debate an American version of this strange subspecies.
The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago. A hideous symbol of the suppression of liberty, it should remind us of the ever‐present threat to our freedoms. Even two decades later the legacy of repression continues to afflict many people in Eastern Europe. For instance, those in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain still struggle with the knowledge that their friends and neighbors routinely spied on them.
Reports the Associated Press:
Stelian Tanase found out when he asked to see the thick file that Romania’s communist‐era secret police had kept on him. The revelation nearly knocked the wind out of him: His closest pal was an informer who regularly told agents what Tanase was up to.
“In a way, I haven’t even recovered today,” said Tanase, a novelist who was placed under surveillance and had his home bugged during the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime.
“He was the one person on Earth I had the most faith in,” he said. “And I never, ever suspected him.”
Twenty years ago this autumn, communism collapsed across Eastern Europe. But its dark legacy endures in the unanswered question of the files — whether letting the victims read them cleanses old wounds or rips open new ones.
Things have never been so bad here, obviously, but that gives us even more reason to jealously guard our liberties. Defend America we must, but we must never forget that it is a republic which we are defending.