Archive for category Europe

UKIP spaces out

EU IS ON ANOTHER PLANET - Daily Express front page

No... pretty sure Europe's on Earth

The Daily Express has an EXCLUSIVE today: the EU is spending money on things! Well, when they say “Exclusive”, what they actually mean is that they just downloaded the draft EU budget for 2011 and searched for “space” and “films”.

As millions of Britons faced swingeing cuts, the draft EU budget reveals an extra £23million will be spent on space research next year, taking the annual total to £204million.

Taxpayers’ cash is also being funnelled into a £670million subsidy of pro-European documentaries and art-house films revelling in scenes of sex and violence.

All EU funded films do of course have to have at least one ultra-violent orgy scene, hence why sick depraved films like Tamara Drewe received a subsidy. Still, it’s the Express‘s stance on space travel that intrigues me, and by the Express‘s stance, I mean UKIP’s stance, since that’s where this story seems to have come from:

Nigel Farage, frontrunner to lead the UK Independence Party, last night described the draft budget as proof that Brussels had lost touch with reality. He said: “The idea of sending eurocrats into orbit has its charms but £23million extra for space research is bizarre.

“Will the first EU space rocket have gold-plated taps and marble flooring? It seems our eurocrats have finally got off the Brussels gravy train and boarded Starship Excess.”

The first European space rocket? That would be the Ariane 1, built back in the 1970s.* Not a gold tap or marble floor in sight.

So, is £204 million an outrageous sum to spend on space? By comparison, the UK spends £268 million per year on the UK Space Agency – probably frozen at the moment, but last year, that figure rose by £29 million – and contributes hundreds of millions more to ESA. Per person, the UK spent far more on space than the EU. Besides, if the EU withdrew support for ESA, all that would happen would be that member states would have to take the slack – the total British expenditure for space would not change significantly.

*The European Space Agency is not technically EU, but it is funded by them, and somehow I doubt the EU is going to start its own rocket program in parallel with Ariane.

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Isn’t the TPA railing against “pointless non-jobs” rather hypocritical?

The papers aren’t even trying any more. Once upon a time, they might at least pretend they weren’t simply churning out TaxPayers’ Alliance press releases; today’s articles “Council EU jobs cost £41m” (Express) and “Councils spend £41million a year on non-jobs” (Telegraph) however are utterly shameless about it.

First things first: the TaxPayers’ Alliance report (eurgh, I guess I should link to it) found the cost of all “unnecessary” jobs – in other words, any job Richard Littlejohn might disapprove of – was £41 million. That’s not just European Officers, but Diversity Officers, Political Advisers and Climate Change Officers* too.

The report contradicts itself several times: the TPA point to the fact that different councils employ different numbers of staff as an indication of waste – “the disparities across councils are evidence that the hiring of specific staff is not necessary” – only to later state “As proponents of localism, the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that local authorities should be granted as much freedom as possible to make decisions that benefit local taxpayers. This will inevitably mean that councils will pursue different policy objectives“. So councils should have as much freedom as they like as long as they only use that freedom to do exactly what the TPA wants?

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TaxPayers’ Alliance or The Sun editorial team – who’s worse?

Two sets of lies and disortions on the same story from The Sun and The Daily Express. Let’s tackle The Sun‘s first, in today’s “The Sun Says” editorial:*

THE Government can’t move fast enough to carry out disability benefit medical checks.

Almost one million workless households are getting large handouts by claiming that every member over 16 is sick, injured or disabled.

That would make us the sickest and most accident-prone country in Europe – which we aren’t.

Really? Let’s have a look at the Europe-wide disability benefits statistics (PDF). The data are a little bit old (2005), but it’s the most recent I could find, and according to DWP statistics (PDF), the number of people on incapacity benefits has dropped slightly between 2005 to 2010 (from 1.83 million to 1.78 million (table 1.2 of the DWP data, p. 11)), so if anything, this data will be an overestimate.

Graph 1.1 of the European data (p. 17) conveniently shows the proportion of the UK population on incapacity benefits compared to all other EU countries. In fact, we’re 8th out of 25 in terms of the proportion of our population on long term disability benefits. True, we’re above (as The Sun would put it, “sicker and more accident-prone than”) Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Estonia, France, Germany and Slovenia, but we’re below Portugal, Latvia, Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Luxembourg, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Lithuania, Sweden and Hungary.

So the entire point of The Sun‘s editorial – that clearly there must be disability benefit fraud going on, since more people are on benefit than in any other European country – is nothing but a lie.

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Population dense

Yet again, the Daily Mail runs a story about an increase in immigration rates. Yet again, they bring up the fact that England has a high population density. (Edit: The part about population has been split into its own article now.)

I’ll leave it to other, more talented bloggers to comment on how accurate the immigration figures are (Edit: Hooray Exclarotive and Five Chinese Crackers!). I just want to say something about this population density canard.

Their statistics were released on the day it was revealed that England is now the most overcrowded country of the 27 in the European Union.

It has more people per square mile than the Low Countries, which has long been the most densely populated region of the continent, MPs have been told.

Only tiny Malta, an island city state with a population no bigger than that of Bristol, has greater population pressure in Europe.

(Edit AGAIN: Five Chinese Crackers points out that the Dutch population density is much, much higher than England’s if you adjust for inland seas and lakes.)

Firstly of course, England is not one of the 27 EU countries, the UK is. The population density of the UK as a whole, according to the Guardian currently 256.3 people per square kilometre, is still lower than that of Belgium or the Netherlands, and since farms, reservoirs and power stations in Wales and Scotland (and to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland) provide to consumers in England as well, quoting the figures just for England and claiming that number is unsustainable is a bit misleading. One might as well look at the population density figures for North and South Holland – provinces of the Netherlands – which have 976 and 1,227 people per square kilometre respectively, over double that of England’s 402.1 people per square kilometre. Île-de-France région has 973.5 people per square kilometre. Canton of Geneva, a Swiss republic, has a 1,607 people per kilometre.* Clearly if you just give figures for part of an economy, cutting out the areas that include the bulk of the farmland or wilderness, you’ll get answers that don’t necessarily reflect a region’s ability to support itself.

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EU does something involving motorists, Daily Express explodes

Perhaps I should just rename this blog “Lies the Daily Express tells every damn day about the EU” and be done with it.

Now EU plans to make our roads pay as you go” they tell us today, which is a shame because you get unlimited internet access and 500 free minutes on contract.

MOTORISTS could be squeezed for millions in crippling toll charges if EU chiefs seize control of Britain’s roads and motorways.

European Commission bureaucrats are plotting to merge the UK’s main traffic routes with those on the Continent to form a transport network under their control.

The EC has already agreed to launch the European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) on all current the stretch of M4 over the Severn Bridge.

Sounds like a bad prequel to some dystopian postcyberpunk epic.

In actual fact, of course, the EU does not plan to become the Darth Vaders of the road network. All they want to do is upgrade the computer systems on the Severn Bridge so they’re compatible with toll collection systems across the EU, making things slightly easier for haulage firms who carry things across the Channel.

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Express EU scare story is bullshit shocker

NOW the Express warns readers “Now Brussels wants MOTs every two years“.

ANNUAL MOTs for cars could be scrapped under Brussels-led proposals to harmonise safety checks across Europe.

Bureaucrats want Britain to adopt a system in which MOTs are done only every two years.

That doesn’t make sense – the EU is bringing in these regulations to make roads safer, so why would they stop anyone from having a more regular MOT?

Well, let’s have a look at what the EU actually said (PDF, p. 14).

Member States may: (a) bring forward the date for the first compulsory roadworthiness test and, where appropriate, require the vehicle to be submitted for testing prior to registration; (b) shorten the interval between two successive compulsory tests;

In other words, the four years – two years thing is the bare minimum. We’re still allowed to have our annual MOTs, and in fact, we’re probably making Brussels rather happy by doing so.

So the Express story was nothing but a complete lie. Oh wow, what a surprise.

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This EU scare story smells off

There’s something I kind of love about how certain newspapers always start their headlines with “NOW”. The word is always completely pointless grammatically and logically – after all, anything you see in a newspaper can reasonably be assumed to have happened “NOW”, rather than at any other time – but it always conjures up a vision of someone watching this great vista of petty human misery pan past on a conveyor belt, à la The Generation Game. “NOW even PATIOS will need planning permission! And NOW Eurocrats tell drivers to keep car lights on all day! And NOW sparrowhawks stop people from smoking! And NOW Muslims demand full Sharia law! And NOW GPs will be paid to encourage girls to have sex! And NOW they want dads to learn how to breastfeed! And NOW a cuddly toy!”

Of course, the great benefit of the word is that even if the story itself turns out to be utter bollocks – the story about GPs being paid to tell girls to have sex is actually about GPs being paid to promote long-term contraceptives over other less reliable types, for instance – you imagine there must have been some great build up of things that were almost as bad happening in the past. Of course not all Muslims actually are demanding Sharia law, and the few that are have been demanding it for years (though without the same media visibility that the topic has had lately), but if you say NOW Muslims are demanding Sharia, it sounds like this is the latest in a long line of unspecified impossible demands from British Muslims.

Anyway, NOW the Express has the headline “NOW the EU wants to stop us labelling our milk fresh“.

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