French brush the British out of the picture

Andrew Alexander

Last updated at 11:53 PM on 3rd January 2012

A new law came into operation on January 1. You may not have noticed , or care much, unless you are a serious art collector, dealer or auctioneer.

But it says a lot about how much sway France has in Brussels — and about Britain’s feebleness.  

We have accepted French demands that when an item is sold, the artists’ descendant must enjoy a royalty until 70 years after his death. This imposes a rather odd Gallic tradition on the London art market — which for so long has been more effective than France’s.

Artistic differences: Britain's acceptance of this law is likely to prove detrimental to its ability to lure lucrative art collections against stiff competition from New York

Artistic differences: Britain’s acceptance of this law is likely to prove detrimental to its ability to lure lucrative art collections against stiff competition from New York

It ensures that those wanting to sell an art collection will avoid London. They will get a better price in, say New York, where buying will not impose such a burden.

It is all too typical of French tactics — Britain’s, too, if you count feebleness as a tactic.

Unanimity among member states is required in taxation matters, but for a new levy, which France insists this is, no such rule applies.

It is all grist to the mill for rebellious Tory Eurosceptics who plan to make 2012 a year to remember.

Some of them are devising a series of tests to ensure Cameron keeps feeling the heat where Europe is concerned. In any case, he is faced with a ‘right wing’ that feels under-represented in the Cabinet and is prepared to make its views felt.

The chances of another full-scale debate like the one that recently produced 81 rebels are not high.

But probing questions to him and Foreign Secretary William Hague are planned to maintain the pressure.

If there were another full-scale debate, the rebels say, there would be more than 100 backbenchers in revolt, with the likely threat of a couple of Cabinet resignations.

Cameron would not be able to wave that aside. Chancellor George Osborne has been particularly vocal about the need for the euro to do better.

Weak: The alarming plight of the euro continues to threaten senior cabinet ministers

Some unkind Tories observe that the euro’s plight may be alarming, but at least it provides the Chancellor with the perfect excuse for the failure of his own policies.

For the next stage of the euro problem we need to wait until January 9 when another — yet another — Franco-German summit has been called.

At this rate, President Nicolas Sarkozy might just as well move in with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Up for discussion this time will be Spain’s admission that it will miss the debt target set for it — and, of course, the Greek problem, where the money will soon run out.

By any standard Greece is bust. But perhaps, I heard a Tory backbencher suggest, what really worries the zone’s leaders is the thought of how well the Greeks would do if they got back their own currency and could devalue to their heart’s content.

Hotels would fill up, the airlines would flourish. Our own travel firms, currently in a bad way, would find new life.

Portugal, another country in increasing difficulties (somehow the austerity plans keep going wrong), would clamour for the exit.

However, it is not just the consequences of a eurozone break-up that threatens us.

No one really knows what they would be. The EU proposes a change in pension fund rules that could cost British firms £600 billion if implemented.

It would depend on the operation of complex discount rates and one of its effects would be that even more firms would close down their pension schemes altogether.

Ministers promised to resist this. But they also promised to resist that French demand for the rights of artists’ descendants, yet we are lumbered with it. British politics are at its most volatile with ‘Europe’ piled on top of a likely recession, perhaps even a slump.

What the restless Tory Party wants are signs of Cameron’s  firm commitment to his often proclaimed Euroscepticism in less turbulent times. They will need to keep his feet to the fire.

Just a crafty Christian takeover

Now the festive season is over, we are no longer confronted by clerics telling us we should understand the true nature of Christmas. I am all for that. But it has nothing to do with Christianity.

As so often, the greater the myth, the more it is embroidered, in this case with wise men, angels, shepherds and the rest.

Crafty: Christmas is merely an example of the Church taking over a pagan rite

Crafty: Christmas is just an example of the Church taking over a pagan rite

Christmas is merely an example of the Church taking over a pagan rite, much as it also took over spring fertility rites as Easter.

Christmas derives from the Roman holiday of Saturnalia celebrated in the depth of winter to spread good cheer. There was much feasting and jollity with everyone expected to discard formal clothing. Technology had not advanced as far as the Christmas cracker — but if it had, various clerics would have given it a religious significance.

It made tactical sense for the Church to take over Saturnalia since it was so popular. It had nothing to do with Jesus’s wholly unknown, but much guessed at, birth date.

The Church has always been crafty in these take-overs, including those of pagan temples traditionally known as places where you went to pray.

If someone produced Saturnalia cards, they might well find  a market.

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