Richard North, 10/06/2004  

Joining in on what has become a traditional sport for continental farmers, around 200 Greek Cypriot animal breeders with their sheep and goats yesterday demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Nicosia.

Predictably, given the niggardly accession settlement, they were demanding more subsidies, arguing their livelihoods have suffered since Cyprus joined the EU. The farmers have given the government a 30-day deadline to act.

Their woes would strike a chord with British farmers, centred as they are on higher fuel and animal feed prices, both of which have increased since Cypriot accession. In this case, the Cypriots blame the EU, which has banned the subsidies previously paid by the state.

But what also strikes an eerie chord is the response of the Cypriot government. "The government can only move within the specifications laid out by the accession agreement with the EU," agricultural minister Timmis Efthymiou complained. The government would try to negotiate a deal with the EU but could not take immediate action because its "hands were tied" by EU rules.

Some years ago, while attempting to deal with the problems facing small slaughterhouse operators crippled by EU rules, on one day I met separately several senior civil servants and a junior minister. But, as the hapless Cypriot agriculture minister is now doing, they all expressed their sympathy and apologised for their inaction, explaining that their "hands were tied".

Walking down Whitehall afterwards, I formed a mental image of thousands of civil servants and politicians, all sitting at their desks with their hands tied. I thus concluded that the only meaningful activity in government allowed by the EU was group bondage - which now seems to be becoming a European phenomenon.

This might explain why Czech porn queen Nora Baumberger (screen name Dolly Buster) is rushing to get herself elected to the European Parliament. One wonders, incidentally, whether Mz Buster will be bringing her daughter "Filly".

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