Richard North, 03/01/2006  

Although the Guardian and Telegraph Brussels correspondents pitched in to trash the Today programme poll on Barroso, the stridently Europhile Independent was strangely muted on the subject, publishing only a dead-bat report which confined itself strictly to the facts.

On the other hand, when Nick Robinson put up his blog, the first comment came from Richard Lamming, director of the Federal Union, who also visits the subject on his own blog (everyone’s got one these days). This in turn prompted one comment, an utterly mad rant, which asked – amongst other things – "How can anyone seriously believe that Mr Barroso runs Britain? Can they point to a single thing, one single aspect of British life that Mr Barroso has even influenced?"

Well, Stephen Castle of the Independent certainly could, which perhaps explains the paper's discretion. Just prior to the Today poll result, he was reporting a story under the headline, "EU May Prosecute Over Recycling Failure".

Britain, he retails, could be taken to the ECJ as early as this month over delays to plans to recycle millions of electronic goods from mobile phones to mowers. This is the infamous WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) Directive, which should have come into force by August 2004 and by this summer collection systems ought to have been in place.

By the end of December 2006, roughly 7lb of household electrical waste per head of population should be collected, including 80 percent of some items, such as fridges and microwaves. But, writes Castle, "Whitehall" has failed to make preparations for a change in recycling legislation, so there is no prospect of the UK getting its act together in time.

This must be specially aggravating for Defra Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett – an enthusiastic Europhile – and more so as the commission has just launched a long-term EU waste strategy designed to make Europe "a recycling society".

The strategy was actually launched on 21 December, not that anyone actually noticed apart from the Independent and a few specialist journals, which is why, presumably, Lamming's commentator was able to pose his utterly fatuous question.

In respect of WEEE, already, the commission has given Britain two official warnings, the first of which was issued in July last year, with the government due to provide an explanation last month as to how it will implement the law. Instead, however, energy minister, Malcolm Wicks announced a Whitehall review which "will be followed by a full consultation exercise in the spring before we proceed to transpose the main provisions of the directive into UK law".

Effectively, this is a snub to the commission which, says Castle, makes it almost inevitable that the UK will be taken to the ECJ. He cites Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for the commission, said: "It is not acceptable. We need to abide by the law. We have waited a long time and it is time for the directive to be transposed. If not the UK will have to face the court."

There we have it, naked in tooth and claw – the power of the commission over the supposedly sovereign United Kingdom. Here, we have a particularly troublesome piece of law, from the same stable that brought you the fridge mountain, to say nothing of the green bottle mountain and much else besides.

And, if there was any "one single aspect of British life that Mr Barroso has even influenced" – Barroso being taken as the representative of the commission – the EU’s disastrous environment policy would be as good an example as any. Not that Barroso will ever drag Blair to the phone to discuss it – things are done differently in the EU, but the effect is the same. When the EU says jump, Blair's only allowable response is "how high?"


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