Today’s ruling at the Appeal Court in Milan quashed Berlusconi’s conviction for underage prostitution and abuse of office.
The lower court had convicted Berlusconi to seven years of house arrest and a lifetime ban from public office for this double offence. In Italy, prostitution is illegal if the prostitute is under 18. It seems that the appeal court cleared him of the underage prostitution offence because he convinced the court that the prostitute had lied about her age and that he genuinely believed she was over 18. To a UK audience this seems incredible, since the excuse of believing that a minor was over 16 or over 18 in a sex case has never been permissible.
As for the abuse of office case, the very same underage prostitute committed a minor theft from a third party some weeks later and was arrested. From inside the police station, she called the then Prime Minister on her mobile phone. Afraid that she would spill the beans to the police, Berlusconi (as Prime Minister) telephoned the Police Chief and asked him to release the young woman because she was the grand-daughter of the President of Egypt and that her arrest would cause a diplomatic incident. (For the record, the woman in question is not related to any ruling families in the Arab World.) This was not denied at the Appeal. However, on a legal technicality he was just cleared because that charge of abuse of office only applies if the recipient of the request (the police chief) gained something from the request such as promotion or another favour in kind:
It therefore seems that the underage prostitution occurred as did the abuse of public office despite Berlusconi being cleared on legal grounds by the Court. For now, it is not totally finished, since the prosecution has the right to lodge a counter-appeal in front of Italy’s Court of Cassation. However, the case would have more time to run if the Court of Cassation found against Berlusconi because it has the power only to uphold the decision of the Appeal Court or to order a re-trial in a lower court, which would mean returning to square 1.
To form a parliamentary group in the European Parliament, an assortment of at least 25 MEPs from at least seven member states must come together. Group formation allows allocated speaking time in debates, committee membership, financial resources and the provision of research and advice to MEPs working on policy in their committees. In other words, to form a group is essential if you want to get things done. Unlike the Italian Parliament, the European Parliament has no "mixed group". MEPs without an affiliation have to sit on their own at the back of the chamber and without resources.
Beppe Grillo's Five-Stars-Movement may wish to avoid links to the far-right or to anyone who is corrupted. It could ally with independents or with new protest parties born from the economic crisis. The Grillo movement already has 17 MEPs and therefore needs a minimum of eight more from at least six other countries. Not including UKIP, here is a menu to choose from:
Alternative for Germany – 7 MEPs. The AfD would prefer an alliance with the British Conservatives. However, if Cameron refuses them in order not to offend Angela Merkel, the AfD could prefer Grillo over UKIP given that AfD shares the Five-Stars-Movement's opposition to the euro but not the EU. Grillo would have to tone down his anti-German rhetoric in this case. If the AfD is not available, there is the comic Die Partei (1 MEP) from Germany, which could converge in policy with Grillo and/or the German Tierschutzpartei (1 MEP), which is an ecological party that broke away from the official Greens in Germany.
Possibly Podemos, a new left-wing protest movement born from the indignados with 5 MEPs. Podemos might not get into the European United Left Group led by Alexis Tsipras, because Spain already has another party in that group. If refused by the Tsipras bloc, Podemos could ally with Grillo unless Grillo's links with Farage have already undermined any chance for his Movement to ally with small left-wing parties. Also from Spain and mutually exclusive from Podemos is the centrist, anti-decentralisation, UPyD with 4 MEPs. It can’t get into the ALDE (Liberal) Group because its views conflict with those of the Catalan and Basque nationalists already resident there. Grillo could provide it with the only home available.
The new anti-censorship protest party BBT has 2 MEPs and no realistic hope of getting into a centrist group in the EP unless it can reach a deal with Grillo. BBT arose in the recent street protests in Bulgaria against corruption and media control. Its root is therefore quite similar to that of the Five-Stars-Movement and Podemos in Spain.
The Slovak Liberals SAS (1 MEP) are centrist and liberal but anti-euro. They have indicated that they don’t want to be part of the ALDE Liberal Group but could prefer the Conservatives. The problem is that the European Conservatives led by the British Tories already host a different Slovak party. If SAS wants to leave ALDE and can’t get into the ECR, Grillo would be the obvious destination.
Luke “Ming” Flanagan was elected as an independent on an anti-austerity, anti-euro, pro-drugs liberalisation ticket. He could join the Green Group but why not join Grillo given the discredit in which the Green Party of Ireland stands and his opposition to EMU if not the EU, an approach he shares with Grillo and the AfD. One prize that Grillo could offer Flanagan is membership of whichever EP committee Flanagan chooses. Given Flanagan's past record, either Citizens' Rights and Freedoms or the Economics Committee come to mind.
Mircea Diacanu is an independent MEP and ex-Liberal. If the ALDE group won’t have him back, Grillo is the obvious choice. However, there are rumours that the Romanian National Liberals intend to defect from the ALDE to the EPP. If this happens, then ALDE would welcome Diacanu as an independent. Grillo just has to bid higher.
New left-wing protest party Varjemen (1 MEP) might ally with Grillo unless it can get into the Green or European Left groups.
Like the German Tierschutzpartei, the animal rights’ party (PVDD – 1 MEP) might be available if it can’t get into the Green Group. A Grillo group could offer the PVDD greater flexibility than the Greens if the structure of a Grillo group is loose and about resource provision for independents. One asset that Grillo could offer to both the Tierschutzpartei and the PVDD that the Greens may not be able to match is guaranteed membership of the Environment or Agriculture Committees.
Some of the parties listed above may find homes elsewhere or be mutually incompatible. Members from at least seven countries: Italy, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ireland, Romania could be recruited. What makes this less likely is that Grillo may have put potential future allies in a difficult position by so visibly embracing Nigel Farage. It is difficult to see how he could reach agreement with Romanian, Bulgarian or Spanish leftist Podemos MEPs given his endorsement of Farage as a non-racist.
If the Five-Stars-Movement/UKIP Group goes ahead, Grillo faces a further difficulty. From which five other parties will such a group draw its minimum number of members? The Danish People's Party, Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party (TB/LNNK), True Finns, and Sweden Democrats are still planning to be in a group with UKIP. Does the Five-Stars-Movement really want to share space with them?
Against charges of extremism, I had previously defended Alexis Tsipras. His party emerged from Synapsismos, which represents the Euro-Communist tradition in Greece. Historically, this reformed Communist tradition in the 1980s was led by the Italian Communists and found also in the Spanish United Left and the Swedish Left Party, whereas the Greek KKE and the French and Portuguese Communists remained resoundingly Stalinist. Coming from that reformed Euro-Communist tradition, I had assumed that Tsipras was ok, but seeing him on Thursday evening’s televised debate with Juncker, Schulz, Verhofstadt and Keller showed that I was mistaken.
In response to questions on how to deal with the economic crisis or European unemployment, he was able to mouth only generalities such as increased public spending and came across as badly briefed. A Communist worth his salt should have been able to say rather more. Although avoiding the problem of public debt, Ska Keller of the Greens was able to come up with policy solutions around investing in new (green) industries, renewables, the digital agenda and so. Guy Verhofstadt offered something new beyond traditional neo-liberalism by promising a real single market in finance, the digital economy (allowing European googles and twitters in the future), and a single energy market, allowing for new jobs and consumer choice. Martin Schulz of the Socialists offered much of the same though combined with investment and an equalities agenda. The EPP’s Jean-Claude Juncker failed to inspire, offering investment subject to sound finance. They all did ok except Tsipras for lack of substance and Juncker for lack of communication skills.
Last year I wrote a blog on the UK’s net contribution to the CAP for 2011. The newest figures are now for 2012, so what do they show?
In 2012, the UK contributed 13,461 million euro to the entire EU budget. Britain got back spending of 6,934 million euro, so that the British net contribution was 6,527 million euro. Looking at the whole budget, the UK received 6,934 out of 126,349 million (or 5.5% of total spending).
CAP spending in the UK in 2012 was 3,341 million euro. In the whole of the EU, CAP spending was 43,592 million euro, so the UK took 7.7% of the share of CAP spending, which is proportionately higher than other areas of EU spending within the UK (7.7% for CAP compared to 5.6% of overall spending).
How much does the UK put in and how much does it get back? In 2012, the CAP was 43,592 million out of 126,349 million and represented 34.8% of EU spending. 34.8% of the UK gross contribution is 4,684 million euro. CAP spending in the UK (as mentioned above) was 3,341 million euro. So what we have is this:
EU budget 2012
UK contribution to CAP: 4,684 million euro
UK receives from CAP: 3,341 million euro
UK net contribution to CAP: 1,343 million euro
If we divide the above figures by 62 million we have the average amount per person in the UK: approximately € 75 per person in terms of gross contribution to the CAP and just over € 20 per person in terms of net contribution.
It looks like the UK is a big net contributor to the CAP but compared to other policy areas the net contribution is relatively modest. Whereas 34.5% of total EU expenditure was devoted to agriculture in 2012, 48.2% of EU expenditure in the UK fell under the CAP. Under the old multiannual budget of 2007-2013, if there was going to be an EU budget at all, it seems that the UK was in relative terms a winner from agricultural spending.
The figures used in this blog have been obtained from the Financial Report of the European Union 2012.
Following David Cameron’s famous veto to a treaty change for dealing with the crisis of the Eurozone two years ago, I posted a blog here that wondered comically what a post-exit UK would be like. Now that exit looks more probable, it is time that UKIP and the pro-exit Tories are held to account since leaving the EU is not cost-free and is full of uncertainty. The safest course of action is to stay part of the EU, which is the largest economic space in the World exceeding the GDP of North America. Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget is only 1% of total public spending, a small price for access to that most successful market and the chance to shape its rules.
Hard Eurosceptics tell us that the UK could have a status like Norway or Switzerland, with access to the single market. It could, but this would have to be granted unanimously by the rest of the EU and could be vetoed by just one member state – and the year of a new EU treaty and David Cameron’s referendum, 2017, happens to be election year in France. De Gaulle said “no” to Britain twice, in 1962 and 1967, and Hollande or a Gaullist successor may feel pressured to do so again – or a French President could hold a referendum on a trade deal for the UK whose result would be unpredictable. Further, to get access to the single market, Norway and Switzerland have to allow full freedom of movement to EU citizens as part of the deal and yet free migration is one of the issues most unpopular with British Eurosceptics. For Norway and Switzerland, without free migration there is no access to free trade. To be part of the single market, Norway and Switzerland also have to obey its other rules without getting a vote to shape those rules.
The Eurosceptics also like to tell us that by breaking free, Britain will be able to trade freely with the rest of the World. But there is nothing to stop Britain trading already with the rest of the World. The EU certainly doesn’t stop Germany from being one of the World’s largest exporters. Cutting Britain out of the EU would weaken its trade position since the EU negotiates as a single bloc at World Trade talks and negotiates powerfully as the World’s largest economy. When the big deals are done between the EU, NAFTA and China, how much weight would Britain carry on its own?
Do not under-estimate the offence that leaving the EU would cause to France and Germany. A deal to grant trade access to the UK would not go as far as the existing single market and would damage Britain. Just one example is the City’s ability to trade the euro against currencies other than Sterling on the money markets. Although the euro is not the currency of the UK, the City can do this because of the single market. A lesser version of the single market for Britain would probably have this feature withdrawn.
Finally, Eurosceptics assure us that given Britain’s big trade deficit, there is no way that France would bloc a trade deal for Britain. Are they sure? Is this what François Hollande told them? Why take the risk of leaving the EU? Sure, Britain has a big trade deficit but is this something to be proud of? If ever that deficit were turning towards surplus with British goods competing well against goods from France for example, with a post-exit trade deal there is nothing to stop the EU reneging or imposing new conditions if circumstances change. The EU-Switzerland deal allows either the EU or Switzerland to abandon the agreement – or aspects of it - at any time. An EU-UK trade deal could also be unilaterally curtailed by the EU at a later date.