The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Estonia at the Crossroads

Roger Helmer MEP

On Saturday I arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, to find the flags flying at half mast. (It's just a short hop south of Helsinki, in case you were wondering!). I found I had arrived on the 62nd anniversary of the start of the great deportations, when the Russians took tens of thousands of Estonian citizens to Siberia. Few of them returned. I found the Estonians remembering this calamity with dignity and sadness.

Next day I drove eighty miles south to the tiny village of Pilistvere, where there is a memorial to the deportees. There is a huge cairn of stones, many bearing the carved names of individual victims. Several monoliths surround the cairn, bearing the names of Estonia's regions, and around the whole site is a ring of shrubs, followed by woodland and fields stretching to the horizon. Towering over the memorial is a tall cross of aluminium.

A crowd of several hundred stood through occasional showers for an hour and a half, listening to speeches, prayers, and hymns from a small choir. As the prayers and the singing drew to a close, the clouds parted and the sun shone through. We all trooped back to an old vicarage-cum-church-hall, where 250 litres of soup were consumed.

Estonian freedom and sovereignty are again under threat. On September 14th, they vote on whether to join the EU

The thousands of victims of the Soviet purges were punished simply for their belief in the freedom and independence of their country. And now, Estonian freedom and sovereignty are again under threat. On September 14th, they vote on whether to join the EU.

Bizarrely, the EU they would join in 2004 will be quite different from the one that exists today, because the new EU constitution (the one that Mr. Blair will not let the British people vote on) may well be in place. Of course Peter Hain says the new constitution is no more that "a tidying up of the treaties". Odd, therefore, that EU political leaders are lining up to hail it as a mighty step in EU integration. Ana de Palacio, Spanish Foreign Minister, says it will be "a political revolution".

Peter Hain says the new constitution is no more that "a tidying up of the treaties"... Ana de Palacio, Spanish Foreign Minister, says it will be "a political revolution"

So the Estonians are voting for "A Pig in a Poke", which was the title of the conference which I went to Tallinn to address.

While some of the new joiners - the EU "accession states" - will have to liberalise their economies in order to join, Estonia is already one of the most liberal economies in the world. According to the US think-tank The Heritage Foundation, Estonia ranks #6 in the world, ahead of the USA and the UK. They will be in the extraordinary position of having to raise taxes, impose import duties, and create new subsidies for industry and agriculture, in order to make them selves sufficiently illiberal to join the over-regulated, over-taxed EU.

They will also have to apply the 97,000 pages of EU law, which will be a huge burden on their economy. Estonia's one prospect for success is to use its low wages and taxes to price itself into global markets. EU membership will stop them doing so.

Estonia's one prospect for success is to use its low wages and taxes to price itself into global markets. EU membership will stop them doing so

The usual EU "referendum management" machine is going to work in Estonia. Although public opinion is fairly evenly balanced, the political classes and the media are overwhelmingly in favour. Messages from the NO campaign are blocked out of the media. A big government "information" campaign pumps out pro-EU propaganda. Government employees are threatened with the sack if they speak out for independence.

The conference I attended brought together MPs and MEPs from Britain and Denmark, including two members of the Brussels Constitutional Convention, to set out the true implications of membership for Estonia. Our great achievement was to break through the media blockade and get the NO campaign onto radio and television. They could not ignore such a group of politicians from other member states.

But at least Estonia gets to vote on the EU - we may not. Following the spectacular result in Britain of the Daily Mail's private referendum on the European Constitution, we must now make sure that Tony Blair offers the British people at least the same right to a referendum that the Estonians will have. Like the Estonians, the British people must have their say.