Roger Helmer MEP
Ten new countries are expected to join the EU in 2004. Eight have had referendums and voted YES. Only Estonia and Latvia have yet to vote.
It seems that the so-called "accession states" are actually far keener on the EU than existing member-states. But the reasons are not hard to find.
Firstly, the political classes, the people who actually negotiate and campaign for accession, have a lot to gain. In the case of Poland, the largest accession country, it is expected that well over a thousand Poles will get highly paid jobs in Brussels, frequently on ten times the salary they could get at home. These are the same people who lead the campaign to join, so it's not hard to understand their motivation.
But why do ordinary people vote Yes? A major factor is the vast amount of money spent by the European Commission (this is our money from our taxes) to persuade them - plus money spent by national governments. I've just spent a weekend in Estonia, and seen the EU propaganda machine in action.
Ironically, the tiny "No" campaign in Estonia has been accused of "being funded by foreign money", despite the fact that the Yes campaign has received at least twenty times as much money, and their money is equally foreign - it comes from Brussels!
I saw it myself in Jogeva, a small town in Estonia, on August 24th. I was there to see the European Commission's Campaign Bus for the Estonian referendum (which takes place on Sept 14th). They were distributing handfuls of tendentious propaganda, and a particularly egregious example caught my eye.
It was in the form of a glossy post-card, featuring a smiling male model.
The caption read "Vote YES for sexier men!". It argued that in the EU, men on average drink less and live longer than Estonian men, and therefore Estonian men would become more sexy if Estonia voted YES.
I wish I could say that this was a bad joke, but it is the plain unvarnished truth. A copy of the offending post-card is on my web-site at www.rogerhelmer.com
A German diplomat made a speech from the bus calling for a YES vote, and I reminded him in no uncertain terms that his direct interference in an internal Estonian political debate constituted a serious breach of Article 55.1 of the Vienna Convention.
He tried to justify his behaviour by claiming that this clear and overt campaigning in the referendum campaign was "Promotion of German Culture", although, bizarrely, the jazz band supporting the event had played "Land of Hope and Glory", and not the Beethoven/EU "National Anthem".
Later in the town of Rakvere, I made a speech at the ancient mediaeval castle, in front of stone ramparts and massive wooden parapets, under the black, white and blue flag of Estonia. I reminded the audience that the first paragraph of the Estonian Constitution, adopted in 1991 after decades of rule from Moscow, speaks of Estonia's independence and sovereignty as "timeless and inalienable", and I hoped they would not choose to give up that independence after a mere dozen years, and become a tiny, remote northern province in the People's Republic of Europe.
Recently in the House of Commons at Westminster, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw accused Iain Duncan Smith of "Sending MEP Roger Helmer to Estonia to campaign for a No vote". Straw was wrong on both counts. IDS certainly did not send me to Estonia - I went at the invitation of concerned Estonian citizens.
And I would not have the presumption to tell the citizens of a free and independent nation how they should vote - they must make their own decision. I went to share my experiences as an MEP, and Britain's experience over thirty years in the EU. I went to try to ensure, in the face of massive EU propaganda, that the Estonian people hear both sides of the case. I hope they choose wisely.