A Seat at the Table

by Andrew Stuttaford

As the Spectator’s James Forsyth reports, it looks as if fracking may represent a much-needed boost to the British economy:

A few months after the last election, Oliver Letwin warned Cabinet colleagues that a chunk of Britain’s income would be gone for good after the economic crisis. Letwin, who has always been the Cameron project’s in-house intellectual, told them that some of the complex high finance in which Britain had specialised was never coming back. We would have to develop a new form of economic activity to make up for the loss.

The good news is that this new form is looming into view. Fracking the Bowland Shale alone will, on a relatively cautious estimate, produce the equivalent of 90 years of North Sea gas production.

We will have to wait for the British Geological Survey’s report on the Weald Basin to know how much shale there is in the south to add to the supplies in the Bowland, which runs from Nottingham and Scarborough in the east to Wrexham and Blackpool in the west. But ministers are increasingly optimistic. Shale gas promises to be as significant to Britain’s prosperity as North Sea oil.

But there may be a problem…

[S]hale still has its opponents. Some are motivated by environmental concerns. Others are worried about the impact on the appearance of the countryside. There is, moreover, a predictable European Union dimension to this fight. Various environmental non-governmental organisations are trying to use the European Union to stop fracking. In a position paper put out last year, they declared that ‘the development of unconventional gas within the EU runs counter to EU treaty obligations’.

Such a position seems absurd. EU member states have always had very different attitudes to the production of energy. France is proud of its expertise in nuclear energy while in Germany it is a political no-no.Alarmingly, however, these NGOs are treated with great deference in Europe. Take the European Environmental Bureau, which supported last year’s anti-fracking position paper. In a memo to the Lithuanian presidency of the European Union it argued, in typically bureaucratic prose, that, ‘based on the EU’s precautionary principle, for member states where shale-gas exploitation is not banned, ensure that those projects have to undergo an EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] taking into account the still limited knowledge on this technique and the high risk level associated’. The bureau is also pushing for the ‘environmental impact assessment directive’ to be made far stricter and to take into account climate change. If the bureau got its way, shale gas exploration in Britain and other EU states would be caught up in years of red tape.

Ministers from countries who favour fracking were surprised then to find that Jeremy Wates, the secretary general of the European Evironmental Bureau, was present at a recent meeting of the European Environmental Council hosted by the Lithuanian presidency [Lithuania currently holds the revolving 'presidency' of the EU's Council]. Wates was not only in the room, sitting through the entire ministerial discussion, but also had the opportunity to address the council at the end of the meeting. He took the chance to vent all the alarmist ‘green’ arguments against shale.

The bureau has no democratic mandate; it is just a collection of NGOs. But it was still invited to the meeting. As Paterson remarked, no one had asked a representative of pensioners in fuel poverty to come and explain to the council why they would like to see their energy bills come down.

To add insult to injury,  the taxpayer is providing the means by which the EEB has influence. The lion’s share of its funding comes from the European Commission. It also receives money from the governments of most member states, including Britain. So, bizarrely, Her Majesty’s government is contributing to a group that argues against its policy priorities at a European level.

Inevitably, EU Referendum’s Richard North is on hand with extra detail:

Jeremy Wates, it turns out, is an Irish former green activist, who has made his way up through a succession of well-paid jobs with international bodies such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, to become secretary-general of the EEB.

This is a Brussels-based lobbying body, claiming to represent “140 environmental citizens’ organisations”, which is funded not just by other green activist groups such as Greenpeace and WWF, but also by many European governments, including our own.

It is no accident that the EEB is closely linked in the “Spring Alliance” to other Commission-funded lobby groups, such as the European Trade Union Confederation, which openly promote a Left-wing agenda.

And, yes, this does represent a profound corruption of the democratic process.

Which is the idea

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