OPINION: OUR LOVELY EU NEIGHBOURS – Corrupt, squabbling, jockeying, controlling, fiddling….and failing

Secret Italian deal to minimise North African immigrants

Horse-trading on new European Bank head

Franco-German move to neuter the City hots up

Currency meltdown/bank crisis denial lapses into farce of lies

Britain already distancing itself from eurozone

Italy faced a major potential immigration scandal this morning as Italian ministers became implicated in a grubby deal with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi. Several senior members of the Government are understood to have secured Gaddafi’s word that victims of his human rights violations will not be allowed to go to Italy….in return for an Italian agreement not to criticise the Libyan regime.

Most of the top leaders, however, were distracted by the newest race in town: who can get a national horse into the top ECB job, and thus ensure the best result for their nation. The smart money is on Axel Weber to get the post because (a) this is what Germany wants and (b) Sarkozy has secretly approved the appointment on the condition this his own finance man Xavier Musca gets a job on the ECB’s ruling council. Parisian sources this morning suggested that this has already been accepted by German diplomats.

Talking of Franco-German stitch-ups, Brussels sources involved in the EU banking supervision talks say that France and Germany are on the same side about giving regulators the power to overrule individual member states. This is another back-door attempt to remove Britain’s control over its own financial services income; as David Cameron remarked last week, “You have to be on your guard all the time”. How true.

There are, however, encouraging signs that George Osborne is conscious of the need to keep a firm hand on the tiller. Late last week, Treasury sources tell the Slog, the Chancellor told mandarins there to abolish its Euro-prep Unit, and block Brussels attempts to dump UK software models in favour of Brussels versions. The Slog reported shortly after the Government’s formation that on returning from his initial EU meeting, Osborne told Cameron that the Eurocrats were “mad” and intended to push through a rise in their budget. This duly came to pass.

Also good to see was Sean O’Grady’s entirely sane and blunt piece in the Independent yesterday, which included this gem: ‘There is no alternative for Germany but to expand her economy and suck in more imports from the south. We need to see more Alfa Romeos on the autobahns: Germany’s trade surplus with Italy, or Spain or Greece, is, after all, only the mirror image of those nations’ deficits.’

But in the EU mainstream, denial and squabbles about what can and cannot be denied continue to take centre-stage and terrify the markets. Germany’s Rainer Bruderle joined the growing band of awake people convinced that Trichet was mad to follow a policy of the ECB buying everyone else’s junk bonds, and ECB Board member Christian Noyer was forced to admit that some EU banks “are facing funding difficulties” – code for “in need of total bailout”. Market suspicions that this is the case weren’t helped by yet more bluster and delaying tactics about the desired EU bank stress tests.

Spain’s Elena Solgado stretched her credibility beyond breaking-point by repeating again that Spain will not need to use any bailout funds, and slipping in a bit of snide against Germany for good measure: “Germany is eroding EU solidarity by not being willing to help. The feeling about the EU is certainly very negative there” she said helpfully.

As the Slog noted last week, firm opposition to all things EU is by far the most sane policy until such time as the Union is reformed by change from top to bottom. This has nothing to do with Little Englanderism, and everything to do with what is becoming increasingly clear: the organisation is sleazy, anti-democratic, and hypocritically obsessed with national ends – a severely sloping playing surface on which the original founders always play downhill – and one pockmarked by autocratic, redistributionist bollocks at the expense of having a clear commercial strategy.

The biggest problem we face today in the UK – on financial, liberty, economic and sovereignty fronts – is the EU’s abject failure to reform, democratise or grow economically. And equally big is the fact that the anti-EU opposition is hopelessly splintered, but spearheaded by a UKIP which no real supporter of a cultured and open-minded Britain can support. Nigel Farage can splutter all he wants to at Van Rompuy: compared to the Beast of Belgium, he is a lightweight joke – and most mainstream voters recognise this.

The only genuinely fair-play country in all this – Holland – has voted solidly for Parties opposed to the growing power of EUGo-maniacs. Here in the UK, the Tory Party remains (I’m afraid) the best home for those who remain determined to forge a new and sound trading future for Britain….until such time as any bendy-spine evidence comes to light. Should that happen, serious radicals here would have to think again. For the time being, we must keep up the pressure on the Coalition – and keep a close eye on events.