Responsiveness of EU institutions

2005-11-03

I have recently made three attempts to deal with various EU-level officers: two MEPs and two parts of the EU Commission. Here's how well they managed to deal with interactions from the public.

Elected official #1: Andrew Duff MEP

I wrote to Andrew Duff's office in Cambridge; the letter contained four quick questions, totalling no more than 75 words. Mr Duff is trying to revive the European Constitution, which has been rejected by the voters of two countries already. My letter languished in the Cambridge office for a couple of weeks, until I rang he MEP's Brussels office; no-one ever answered the phone in the Cambridge office. They managed to get Cambridge to fax them the letter, and sent me an acknowledgement. They undertook to respond to the letter, but didn't until I pestered them a few weeks later. I got one or two emails from Andrew Duff MEP himself, essentially insisting that his responses had already answered my questions, which in my opinion they did not.

Score: 3/10 - I'd rather an answer I disagreed with than a pretend answer

Elected official #2: Tom Wise MEP

I rang Tom Wise's office in Beds, and after a few attempts got through to one of his officials, who asked me to put my questions in writing by email. I did that, asking that Mr Wise put down written questions in the European Parliament about the democratic mandate behind two pieces of European legislation. I got an acknowledgement that this had been passed on to Mr Wise. I never heard anything more, but the two questions have since appeared, rolled into one, on the European Parliament website.

Score: 9/10

Unelected official #1: Nicholas Kaye (of the European Commission)

I was able to find Mr Kaye's contact details on the web and just phone him up. He was perfectly happy to give me fifteen minutes of his time discussing the quasilegislative proposal he's in charge of and answered all my questions. I didn't like some of the answers, but that's a separate issue. He gave me a useful list of names and contact details of the appropriate people in the UK government to speak to.

Score: 10/10

Unelected official(s) #2: European Commission's Freedom of Information staff

These people are in breach of their own deadlines on handing over documents I requested, and didn't even notify me of this. There are perfectly competent people working there, but they are at the mercy of the departments who actually possess the document you need. However they're difficult to get hold of, as they are often not in the office and have an impenetrable phone firewall which can't cope with the "who is the next most appropriate person to speak to if X is away?" question, at least, when not expressed in French.

Score: 2/10

Misplaced collective responsibility

2005-11-06

It's always amusing when "feminists" leap to embarrasingly wrong conclusions, and it has happened again.

I was appalled when Jo Read proclaimed that the administration of Rohypnol was effectively attempted rape (the feister and more categorical quotation which appeared in Varsity doesn't seem to be available) and relieved when she was subsequently proved wrong when a woman was convicted of using the drug to facilitate theft. More recently another conclusion that the perpetrators of particular sorts of violence must always be men was shown to be false.

What I am thinking of is the "man tax" proposal of Gudrun Schyman leader of the former communist party of Sweden, which country has still not come to terms with proclaiming eugenic sterilisation as part of its welfare state. Schyman wanted men to pay an extra tax, as compensation for the costs of domestic violence against women. Even if we ignore the fact that the fiscal system is not an appropriate means of responding to crime, that most men aren't perpetrators of domestic violence, and so on, we are confronted by an even greater problem: some domestic violence is perpetrated by women. Why should they be exempt from the tax?

Measuring Parliamentary Scrutiny

2005-11-10

In yesterday's debate on the timetable for discussing the Government's anti-terror legislation, it was asserted (by Ken Clarke) that the amount of time being spent on scrutinising legislation in general was decreasing.

TheyWorkForYou is probably in a position to have a stab at calculating the amount of time spent on a given legislative proposal. It'd be a nice addition to that site, and allow comparison with specimens of legislation enacted by Parliament under previous governments.

The Man Tax Cometh

2005-11-24

Polly Toynbee has a number of nauseating proposals for us this week. I know she has to make a living by selling newspapers; if only she could do it without appealing to the worst of humanity's instincts and prejudices. After all, isn't that what she attacks the rightwing press for doing, albeit to a different group of bogeymen and scapegoats?

Toynbee is now advocating compelling fathers to hand over 15% of their income once they get divorced. She cannot bring herself to means test this arrangement. Accordingly, a man whose wife earns more than he does, who leaves him for another man who earns more than he does, and has a daughter who also earns more than he does, would end up subsidising this multimillionaire household. Even without the celebrity daughter it's still unfair (if you feel this example is too contrived, you are free to contact me to be corrected). I can't see how this will not incentivise mothers to leave their husbands in favour of men earning fifteen percent more; you'd have to earn a lot to be safe.

Elsewhere in her piece, Toynbee resurrects the repulsive "man tax" of the former Swedish Communist party splinter group, Feminist Initiative. I've already criticised this nonsense briefly, on the grounds that not all domestic violence is carried out by men anyway, but here are some more of the many things which make this policy abhorrent and call into question the moral judgement of Toynbee and its other proponents: not all men are actual perpetrators, so why should they be punished? will not men be less disinclined from violence if they've already paid compensation fiscally? and would Toynbee support taxing any other genetically-definable groups, if membership therein were correlated with violent crime?

This latter is not so strained an analogy as might first appear: it's not that all men commit violent crime, only proportionally more men than non-men. So too, even if not all dark-skinned people commit violent crime, but more dark-skinned people commit violent crime than the rest of the population, why not tax them too? What's the principle distinguishing gender taxation from pseudo-racial taxation?