Thursday, 30 June 2011

Energy Dependency - As Big A Threat As Terrorism?

Yesterday was as hectic as they get. Sadly, a planned meeting with Prof Igor Jurgen's, advisor to President Medvedev, was delayed due to his being stuck in our wonderful Brussels traffic. I had another meeting to go to, and so I was unable to meet the man who famously declared that modernisation of Russia is “impossible under the supremacy of the Putin elite”’. I suspect we would have seen eye-to-eye on that one!

And so to the European Wind Energy Association in the company of the CEO of engineering giant 'Sarens', and a leading academic from the European Geopolitical Forum. The wind sector in the Ukraine is outgrowing its own infrastructure, and there is a need to develop the ability to export surplus wind generated energy. It was an interesting meeting. The Ukraine needs to end its dependency on Russia as much as we do.

Reliance on Russian energy is as big a threat to our security as is terrorism, I would argue. In August 2008 Russia demonstrated its willingness to use 'hard power' to enforce its supremecy in this area.

72 hours before the invasion of Georgia, a pumping staion in eastern Turkey was taken out by the PKK, a Moscow sponsored terrorist group. This was not widely reported in the west. Russian aircraft also bombed perilously close to Georgian  pipelines outside of the disputed areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Was this a dry run for an attack on western energy infrastructure?

Russia is also investing heavily in western nuclear programmes, in some cases, such as in Bulgaria, taking a controlling interest.

The much vaunted BTC pipeline is supposed to give the EU a certain amount of security of supply. The EU, however, quietly pretends not to notice the Russian naval bases at Tartus and Latakia, which face the receiving end of BTC...

Renewable energy is not just an environmental issue . it is about security of supply. Something we do not have at the moment.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The mouse that roared.

"Belgium is dying. Behind the bland facade lies a failing state - a dying country which has never effectively functioned, and has finally become ungovernable. It's time to look forward to a world without Belgium".

So say the authors of the book 'After Belgium'. They are calling for independence for Flanders, with the French speaking Walloons being free to form their own republic. The Walloons are unlikely to want to go down this road, as their impoverished region is reliant on the industrious Flemings. Sadly, the French don't particularly want the Walloonies either.

I would love to see Belgium split, mainly because I live here, and it would be fascinating to watch it happen. An independent Flanders would probably be a great success, and there is a precedent in the successful split-up of Czechoslovakia. So let us watch and wait.....

Monday, 20 June 2011


I just finished reading Max Arthur's "Dambusters". Based on first hand accounts of the crews, and others at RAF Scampton, as well as German civilians who experienced the deluge, this is an easy but superb read. It is impossible to imagine ourselves in the situation these men were in, but they help us understand how they were able to function, and to maintain a semblance of normality, with the threat of death hanging over them every day. I strongly recommend this book.

As a young air cadet I spent time at Scampton back in 1977. 617 squadron were flying Vulcans there in those days, and what magnificent aircraft they were. I subsequently worked mainly around Phantoms, but I was lucky enough to catch the tail-end of a previous generation of aircraft. I once fitted a gunsite camera into a Lightning - this aircraft was essentially a metal tube wrapped around two huge engines, with wings and a couple of redtop missiles bolted on. It could take-off at astonishing speed, and then climb vertically like a rocket. It was a seriously impressive piece of kit. I also saw Buccaneers, Victors, and once got to sit in the cockpit of an F-104 Starfighter. By the time I left the service, Tornadoes were taking over from the Phantom, and it was the end of an era.

ps, Guy Gibson's dog is buried outside one of the hangars at Scampton, and yes - he was called 'Nigger"!

Timo Soini to run for president?

I think I actually admire Timo Soini. He is the Finnish MEP who resigned when his party, the True Finns, acheived a significant share of the vote in the country's recent general election. He had a reasonable expectation of entering government, probably at a high level. However, he refused to compromise his principles and allow his party to drop its opposition to EU bail-outs. “It would have been nice to be part of the government but you cannot betray yourself,” he said.

Compare that to the behaviour of UKIP.

Soini is essentially a nice chap, but I never realised he would be so principled. I have misgivings about allegations of racism, and his party contains some pretty eccentric types, but I now wish I had taken time to know him better when he was in Brussels. I still can't quite work out how a Finnish politician came to be a Millwall supporter, but hey, we need all the support we can get, so that's fine by us.

He has been re-elected as party leader, and it has just been announced that he is almost certain to run for president. It will be interesting to see how the electorate rewards him for his principled stand.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Daylight Robbery!

Another one of those marvellous Belgian moments.....

I called into the pharmacy today to pick something up for my daughter. They had what I needed.

"It will cost 4 euros more today because it is Sunday" the lady told me.

"How much is it?" I asked.

"11 euros and 10 cents" she replied. I agreed to buy the product.

"11 euros 10 plus 4 euros, that will be 16 euros 35 cents" she stated.

"How can 11,10 + 4 be 16,35?" I asked.

Without any shame at all, she looked me in the eye and replied "It is extra tax!"

As I produced my credit card, she said (quietly so that her colleagues could not hear, maybe) "I can only take cash today."

Having seen the customer before me pay with a card, I questioned her about this. She shrugged and suggested I go to the cashpoint across the road and get her some readies.

Needless to say, at this point I decided that I had had enough of this rather unsophisticated attempt at theft, and left the shop empty handed.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Strauss-Kahn's Manifesto for an EU Utopia.

Tempus Fugit is not just Dan Dare's spaceship! It's real, and it seems to be happening too fast.

The controversy surrounding Dominique Strauss-Khan made me think of his 'Building A Political Europe', published in 2004 at the very end of the Prodi Commission. It seems such a long time ago now, and so much has happened since the paper's publication. The face of the EU is barely recognisable from what it was in 2004. Strauss-Khan speculated on what was then the proposed constitution, and how it would enable future incumbents to create a "Utopia" (his word) for Europeans. It also lays down the challenge "We have built Europe: now let us build Europeans", which sounds a bit like something Pol Pot might have come out with if he had been born in France, and not one of it's protectorates.

The document was a eurosceptic's dream when it was published, and I recall being asked to write a précis by the MEP Jeffrey Titford. Sadly, this particular sitting target was never even noticed.

The paper is still worth reading, and it would be churlish to deny the insight and superb understanding of European politics that Strauss-Khan demonstrates. It does, however, read like an extremist manifesto. It also introduced into mainstream debate issues such as a European Tax, and the concept of super-constituencies, and their attendant Pan-European parties (which have actually been with us since 1992)..

The EU tax is still on the table - although it does already exist in a small way in the form of VAT - the Constitution is with us, under another name, and the super-constituencies are being debated at this very moment.

I enjoyed reading the paper again after all these years, but a word of warning - this has nothing to do with democracy as we in Great Britain know it!