Taxing Cigarettes and alcohol

November 23, 2006

The EU’s Court of Justice is likely to rule today that it is legal for people in the UK to circumvent the tax system by ordering cigarettes and alcohol by mail order from another EU country.

The ruling would reverse a previous decision that stopped Death Cigarettes running exactly this kind of scam a few years back.

It’s a worrying development of the very worst sort of “competence creep” as the Euro-wonks call it. That’s the notion that the EU gradually expands the areas in which its powerful non-elected institutions (the Court of Justice, the Commission and the Council) have power over the democratically elected governments of its member states.

Last year, a ruling on Marks & Spencer’s disastrous foray into France, Germany and other EU countries gave the company the right to write-off millions of pounds of tax revenue.

The latest decision would probably see a rise in smoking and drinking as prices come down. It would also see a huge rise in the black market for booze and fags, as it becomes even easier to get them from abroad legally and then sell them on. It just seems that public health and the use of tax funds to pay public services are not the important thing facing the European Court of Justice. Their only consideration in this will presumably be pushing the single market forward.

Now, The Daily likes the idea of a social Europe as much as the next blog. We like trips to Paris, gap years in Spain, the working time directive and purple passports. However, we have to face the fact that the main focus of the EU, certainly over the last decade or two, has been pushing the free market on member states at the expense of “market barriers” like tax revenue and contracted public services.

Update****

Probably fair to say it wasn’t The Daily’s finest moment when we posted this story about ten minutes before the European Court of Justice ruled against the liberalisation of booze and fags across Europe. In our/my defence, it is very rare for the Court to rule against a preliminary ruling.

Anyway, it’s always a pleasure to see an outbreak of good sense in the ECJ, even if it means eating a little humble pie in The Daily’s dingy basement office.

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Hoon do you think you are?

November 1, 2006

The Times has one of the most amusing stories The Daily has ever seen.  Apparently, Geoff Hoon got a right royal ticking off from Margeret Beckett at the FCO pre-meeting for Question Time on Monday.  Beckett is said to have told Hoon he would not be answering any questions on Europe.  After arguing about the fairness or otherwise of that, he was told “I am the Foreign Secretary and that’s it”. He then replied, “Margaret, you can’t stop me from coming to Foreign Office Questions.” She is said to have replied: “Well, I can’t physically stop you.” 

The Daily isn’t a big fan of boxing, but Margeret – we think you could physically stop him.

As an aside, an impeccable source informs us that Hoon, still smarting at his demotion from Secretary of State grade, insisted on the name plate of his new ministerial door saying, “Geoff Hoon, Minister for Europe (entitled to attend Cabinet)”.  Amazing.


The fall of a moral superpower

October 6, 2006

Over the last few decades Sweden has attempted to project itself onto the world stage by being a “moral superpower” – in the words, I think, of Olaf Palme.  By its own image and example, Sweden could present a social democratic alternative to the dictatorship and rampant capitalism of both blocs.

Now Sweden has a new cabinet, and who should front Sweden’s example to the world?  Step forward Carl Bildt.  As a member of the board of Lundin Oil, Bildt will have seen first hand what it means for the world to fail in its moral responsibilities.  During his time as a board member of that company, Lundin employed child soldiers to guard its depots, supported the Sudanese government in their abuse of human rights, and was accused of complicity in the slave trade.

Well done Sweden – the country of the New Caring Sharing Moderate Tories – you are an example to us all.


EU chief: parliament critics “didn’t suffer enough in war”

October 5, 2006

Amazing scenes this week as the European Parliament’s president, Spanish socialist Josep Borrell, hit back at the one million European voters who signed a petition demanding an end to the monthly farce that is Strasbourg sittings.  The practise of shifting all MEPs, staff and papers from Brussels to the French city every few weeks and then straight back again costs European taxpayers €200million per year.  Unsurprisingly, even euro-fanatics want this silliness ended.

Borrell however wants it to continue.  At the signing ceremony to mark the purchase of the Parliament from the city, Borrell hit out at the Swedish MEP behind the idea for the petition.  Alluding to Sweden’s neutrality during the war, he said, “this historic dimension cannot be perceived in the same way in ‘some Nordic country’ which did not participate in WWII”. 

Suggesting that the Swedes can’t criticise the EU’s waste of money on having two parliamentary seats because they didn’t fight in the Second World War is obviously a bit strange – not very pro-European of Borrell.  Understandably, the Swedes have gotten a little stroppy.  An editorial in Dagens Nyheter said, “Borrell doesn’t say how much suffering is required for a person’s vote to count”, while a columnist in Svenska Dagbladet wrote, “Borrell didn’t fight in the war himself – he was born in 1947”.  They seem pretty moody about it.

On top of Borrell’s strange criteria for who can and cannot give their views on EU reform, the biggest group of people on the petition are Dutch.  They had a bit of a rough time in the 40s, so even if Borrell is right, the petition still stands.


Sweden votes: final results

September 18, 2006

Final results of the Swedish general election. Percentage vote on the left, Riksdag seats on the right, change in brackets.

Left Party 5.8% (-2.5%) 22 (-8)
Social Democrats 35.2% (-4.8%) 130 (-14)
Greens 5.2% (+0.6%) 19 (+2)

Total left bloc 46.2% (-6.7%)  171 (-20)

Centre Party 7.9% (+1.7%) 29 (+7)
Liberal Party 7.5% (-5.9%) 28 (-20)
Christian Democrats 6.6% (-2.5%) 24 (-9)
Moderate Party 26.1% (+10.9%) 97 (+42)

Total bourgeois bloc 48.1% (+4.2%) 178 (+20)

Others 5.7% (+2.6%) 0 (-)

This gives the right-wing Alliance a majority of seven in the Riksdag, which is small but workable given the high level of voting discipline in Swedish parliamentary parties.

Commiserations to our Swedish comrades.


Sweden votes: and votes the wrong way

September 17, 2006

The main exit poll has now been published in Sweden and it is bad news.  The poll – which has a margin of error of three points – puts the right-wing Alliance two points ahead.  So it could be close – in fact the left could really be one point ahead.  But really, it also means the right could be five points up.  The Alliance are put at 48.6%, with the left bloc on 46.7%.

The breakdowns for those really interested in Swedish politics are: for the Alliance, the Centre Party 8% (up 2), the Christian Democrats 8% (down 1), the Liberals 7% (down 6), and the Moderates 27% (up 12).  For the left bloc, the Social Democrats 34% (down 5), the Greens 6% (up 1) and the Left Party 6% (down 3).

If these figures are right, it would result in a new Riksdag group of 182 seats for the right, with the left on 167 seats.  In Swedish terms, with firm parliamentary group discipline, this is a strong majority that would in all likelihood last for a full four year term.

However, as ever with exit polls, there is the health warning that these are not actual results.  The counting of real votes has gotten underway, with the first results coming out in around one hour.  A majority of votes will have been counted by 9pm our time with all counting due before midnight. 


Rösta Sosse!

September 16, 2006

 

Sweden votes tomorrow, with the polls still neck and neck after a hard fought campaign. 18% of voters remain undecided and the expected level of turnout – of crucial importance to the left – is very unclear.

Tomorrow will see traditional voting day campaigning – handing out the ballot papers that voters place inside their unique ballot envelope in the booth, with everyone on tenterhooks.  It didn’t have to be this way, but the poor campaign of the left, and the much more effective campaign from the right has led to a situation where one of the most successful governments in the world risks losing power.

Firstly, the Swedish right has run an excellent campaign.  They have tacked to the centre so aggressively, the International Herald Tribune jokingly said “The conservative/liberal opposition this time has decided it can’t overthrow Swedish socialism – it can just say it will make it run better”.  They have picked some superb policies to push (maternity leave, tax breaks for the poor), and have maintained real discipline between the four pretty divergent members of the coalition.

Secondly, the left ran a poor campaign.  Instead of continuing to attack the problems in society and saying “lots done, lots left to do”, the Social Democrats allowed themselves to get into a row over how high Swedish unemployment is.  Like getting into a debate with the police over how many hard drugs its okay to take, this debate has not been massively helpful.  Another factor in the poor campaign has been the Swedish PM Goran Persson.  Persson is in a similar position to Blair in 2005 – he is unpopular, untrusted and unliked.  However, unlike 2005, the social democrats do not have a Gordon Brown to rescue them.

While the right has successfully sold itself as a new labour party (literally- “nya arbetarpartiet”), with talk of increasing equality, helping the elderly and getting people into work, it is actually a classic neo-liberal party – aiming to cut taxes and cut spending on public services, force people to take low paid jobs regardless of their health, and to scrap an enviromental policy aimed at making Sweden break its oil dependency.

As Neil Kinnock may well say: “If Fredrik Reinfeldt wins on tomorrow – I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, I warn you not to get old.”

It’s all down to the 18% undecided.  If they vote, we will win.  If they stay on the sofa, Sweden will be in for a rough ride.

The Daily has a reporter stationed in a pub in Stockholm with a mobile to phone early exit polls in tomorrow – first rough estimated results posted around 7.30 UK time.