In the (replica) Oval Office at the George W. Bush Presidential Centre in Dallas
I’ve been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on and off for ten years or so. I was introduced to ALEC by my former staffer Sally McNamara, who went out to intern with them in the summer of 2004 (after the euro-election), and stayed for several years before moving on to The Heritage Foundation and eventually to the private sector.
ALEC is a national association of US state legislators, boasting many hundreds of members. It is committed to free markets, limited government, and federalism. I need scarcely explain to my educated and enlightened readership that in the USA, “federalism” means almost the exact opposite of the European usage. Here, it means the constant accretion of powers by Brussels from the member-states.
In the US, however, it means the reverse: that powers not constitutionally assigned to the federal government remain with the States. As Wikipedia – you can read here – puts it, “The Tenth Amendment states the Constitution’s principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or the people”.
This is closer to the EU’s principle of “subsidiarity”, which is often talked about but never given effect.
ALEC has been criticised because it cooperates with, and is partly funded by, the private sector. This criticism sits comfortably with the anti-lobbying hysteria which we see in Brussels. Both are misplaced.
Let’s stand back and think about it. The private sector creates wealth, growth and prosperity. It creates jobs. It pays wages, and pensions. It also pays the taxes that fund our schools and hospitals and other public services. This is not about “them”. It’s about all of us. If the economy does well, and the private sector does well, we all benefit. If the private sector bombs, and the economy tanks, we all suffer.
There was an unhelpful prejudice in the 70’s which saw workers and industry as in constant conflict. But it’s not a zero-sum game. Success and prosperity for all depend in the end on the co-operation of industry, capital and labour, and I believe that today, that proposition is better understood.
As legislators, I and my colleagues are constantly passing laws and regulations that impact directly on businesses and jobs. It seems to me that we have not merely a right, but also a duty, to talk to those who will be impacted by our legislation, to understand their concerns, and so far as possible avoid doing more damage than we need to. I make no apologies for talking to businesses. Indeed I do it rather a lot. While in Texas, and in pursuit of my energy brief, I made a point of driving out to Glen Rose, to see the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Station . And we looked at a number of shale gas sites on the way there. Texas is neatly placed on the Barnett Shale Basin.
Of course by now the usual suspects will be demanding to know who paid for my US visit. So I’ll tell you. Most of the cost was covered by the standard annual €4,200 allowance for MEPs for foreign travel. Why do I feel justified in spending this money? Because if I don’t use it, it doesn’t revert to the tax-payer. It just goes straight back into the parliament pot, and most likely goes to fund the federalists. Better that I should use it to promote UKIP values than let the EPP use it to drive (EU) federalism. The allowance didn’t cover the whole cost, so I also contributed myself.
One of my pet internet trolls asked “When are you going to do some work?”. Personally I think that working to support and strengthen our transatlantic ties with the UK’s greatest ally is an essential part of my work, as is following and debating energy and other issues with American colleagues.
And that’s what I was doing. In addition to visiting Comanche Peak, I spoke to ALEC’s International Relations Task Force about developments in Britain and the EU; the rise of UKIP at home and a euro-critical tendency in many member-states. I also talked about the economic damage that EU energy policy is doing in Europe, and urged the US not to go down that route. President Obama has had difficulty in getting anti-growth “green” policies through Congress, so he’s hit on the idea of by-passing Congress and driving through draconian restrictions via the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency – www.epa.gov). By designating CO2 “a pollutant” (of course it’s no such thing) they can bring in harsh, job-destroying restrictions without any democratic mandate or legitimacy. For what it’s worth, I see this as a real threat to freedom in the USA, and an abuse of process.
Over three days we debated a huge range of issues. Another one which relates directly to my energy brief is the move to relax US export restrictions on fossil fuels. The industry is keen to see this happen, not least to bolster gas prices. And given the Ukraine crisis, European governments are very keen indeed to find new sources of gas. Opponents of shale gas are salivating at the news that the US industry is facing profitability problems. They seem blissfully unaware that this is, in a sense, a measure of success. There is so much gas out there that US prices are down. If the US industry had access to international markets, and international prices, it would be hugely profitable.
Right now we’re in our summer parliamentary recess, so I guess I could have spent last week on a beach somewhere. But I suspect that Dallas was both more fun, and a better use of my time.