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Just weeks into taking power, the new Polish government is making itself felt in making small but heavily symbolic changes to the daily order of business. Having already torn up the previous government’s commitment to take thousands of migrants from the European Union (EU) as part of the continent-wide resettlement programme, Poland is now making tentative steps to remove visible signs of EU influence from public life.
Under the last government, flags displayed at government events including press conferences were equally split between the Polish national, and the European Union. It was all change at Tuesday’s press conference with new Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who appeared at her podium with Polish flags only.
Asked about the change, Mrs. Szydlo said she was happy with Poland remaining inside the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but national matters called for the national flag.
In future government press briefings “will be held only with the most beautiful red and white Polish flags”, said Mrs. Szydlo.
The move has been called a ‘snub’ by Britain’s Financial Times and even prompted former Belgian prime minister and senior European Union parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt to tweet “So you do not wish EU flags, but still want EU money?”.
Mrs. Szydlo’s Law and Justice party won a majority in last month’s general election, the first time any party has been able to govern without coalition partners since the end of communism.
The new foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski has quickly become one of the most vocal elected politicians in Europe on the matter of mass migration in the few days he has held his post. Speaking to the BBC, he slammed migrants for masquerading as refugees while in Europe, which he said they were not and in doing so were violating international law.
Mr. Waszczykowski also stood by the comments of a party colleague who said migrants brought diseases and parasites into Europe, when pressed by the BBC to condemn them. Citing his experience with Arab countries, Mr. Waszczykowski said: “Such a large, uncontrolled migration may cause problems for the life of Europe”.
“I spent years living in foreign countries, living in the Middle East. I was the ambassador to Iran.
“I know this region, I know the culture, I know what might happen with uncontrolled migration from regions where war has been going on for years”.
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West Midlands Combined Authority And Effects.
I give my take on the attached document “West Midlands Combined Authority – Copy of the Confidential Draft Agreement on Devolution Powers from Whitehall” downloaded from this news report http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/revealed-leaked-document-shows-full-10132487 which I have cleaned up and text recognised for convenience.
It portends massive and unsustainable WMCA borrowing, a ramp up in numbers of migrant job seekers, increased council tax and business rates. More speeding fines and city centre congestion charging.
Direct access is provided for the unelected European Commission to impose EU policy via the strings attached to loan funding including full audit, reporting and enforcement procedures.
This draft of the “First stage” of the process is clearly not the end of the beginning but it may be the beginning of the end!
Contentious issues such as the inception of the metro mayor and the devolution of (and cuts to) the regional NHS are postponed to later stages when the process will already have become irreversible.
Superficially there is much to be welcomed in the document, regarding creation of skills, training and jobs for local people. Also cleaning up brownfield sites to relieve housing pressures (or at least to slow the worsening housing problem). There appear to be steps forward regarding mental health and criminality. Also I think we can give limited support for a joined-up transport policy.
It is unclear as to how savings in “public service reform and efficiency” will be divided between cuts in services and genuine efficiencies.
Although the word “Europe” only appears once in the whole document (other than in the many abbreviations such as ESIF) the European Commission’s “Europe 2020” strategy for governance of the regions pervades much of the document.
To better understand this, the document is best read alongside the “Handbook on Europe 2020 …” which can be downloaded from this pagehttp://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/who-does-what/regional-and-local-authorities/index_en.htm
You find the tick-boxes of the five EU “headline targets” of employment, innovation, climate change, education and reducing poverty and exclusion are all ticked as the document progresses.
The “Midlands (Power House) Engine” will be a partnership of the East and the West Midlands Combined Authorities
The WMCA will be made up of the “constituent members” being the metropolitan boroughs who will “benefit” from a metropolitan mayor and devolved powers and the “non-constituent members” being the county, district and borough councils who are not able to “benefit” directly by devolution. They will have representation on a Joint Committee with WMCA.
Amendments to law “to provide for even stronger solutions” are proposed.
TAX RISES AND EU FUNDING
The WMCA is to have unlimited power to raise a council tax precept and supplemental business rate. Some local authorities to be granted “greater flexibility over council tax”.
Such money and “gain share” additional VAT revenue on increased tourism etc. will be leveraged at a rate of thirteen times to obtain borrowing. Thus for every £100m p.a. tax increase, £1.3bn can borrowed.
(Note: Interest payable on EU and Treasury loans is index linked so it would not take much of a rise in interest rates to make this borrowing unsustainable).
The West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund is raided for borrowing; meaning that civil servant pensions are at risk from this insanity.
In addition some of the UK’s £20bn a year UK membership subscription to the EU is borrowed back with strings attached.
- Finance Birmingham is a portal for EU loan funding including AMSCI https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/regional-innovation-monitor/support-measure/merseyside/advanced-manufacturing-supply-chain-initiative-fund
- Other LEP and EZ funding programs from EU http://distinctlybirmingham.com/partner-search/eu-programmes/
- “limited IB (Intermediate Body) status for EU funding” provides direct access to European Structural and Regional Development funds (ESIF) including being subject to full audit, reporting and enforcement procedures http://ec.europa.eu/esf/main.jsp?catId=33
- UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) provide access to European Investment Bank funding outside the EU via the Export Trade Services and Aid-Funded Business Service Team (AFBS)
- Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is yet another portal to EU funding
- “Innovate UK” https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk is the government’s quango to implement the European Enterprise Network http://een.ec.europa.eu/
Investment will be made in expensive “green” rail and bus services. Road investment is limited to feed-in routes for HS2.
WMCA will pay £15m p.a. to remove point of use tolls on the M6 Toll. (This is the only conflict that I have noted with EU policy which is in favour of road tolls. It could therefore be blocked in negotiation or even tolls extended to the M6 and other routes in the years to come)
The WMCA is to receive moving traffic enforcement fines (expect an increase in cameras). City congestion charging will be implemented.
Midlands Connect partnership http://www.wmita.org.uk/ have currently £1.6 bn unfunded plans for HS2 road connectivity. The one thing that we do know is that it will all be borrowed money.
EMPLOYMENT AND SKILLS
Otherwise welcome initiatives should be read in the context of the EURES scheme https://ec.europa.eu/eures/public/en/homepage where jobs are advertised across Europe and relocation expenses are paid to job seekers.
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