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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The impotence of the EU superstate

Roger Helmer MEP

It's amazing how often the EU is faced with problems that it seems totally unable to do anything about.

A tragedy is unfolding in Zimbabwe, or as I still think of it, Southern Rhodesia. When Robert Mugabe became President in 1980, it was a relatively prosperous country, perfectly capable of feeding itself and of exporting tobacco and other crops.

But Mugabe has been conducting a vendetta against white farmers in the name of "land reform". Farms are being transferred to so-called "war veterans" who are incapable of farming them. Black workers are thrown out of their homes, production collapses and the people starve. A recent drought has added to the problem, but the key issue is Mugabe's lunatic and destructive policy.

The EU has applied so-called "smart sanctions" against the Mugabe regime. They are so smart that no one in Mugabe's administration seems to have noticed them. Travel bans have proved ineffective - Mugabe was in the UK recently for a UN Conference - and only two bank accounts related to the Mugabe regime have been frozen.

Meantime the EU has allocated £41/2 million to Zimbabwe as famine relief. "This cannot continue" thunders an EU spokesman. But continue it does, and as the Telegraph remarks in an editorial, we are seen by the rest of the world to be countenancing a tyranny.

If we can't influence an African dictator, neither can we make the rule of law stick in the EU itself.

I have just been at a meeting in Edinburgh with Franz Fischler, EU Agriculture Commissioner, which was also attended by other MEPs, Scottish MPs, NFU representatives and Northern Ireland Prime Minister David Trimble. We discussed the Common Agricultural Policy - which the EU has been trying unsuccessfully to reform for thirty years.

British MEPs were especially concerned about the French beef ban. In my first year as an MEP I went to Paris with other colleagues to protest against the ban, and I am appalled that it remains in place.

I have heard Euro-luvvies saying that at least in the EU we have recourse to the European Court to resolve disputes. But the Commission took France to the court on this issue, and won. And the French have simply ignored the ruling - for years.

It looks as if EU fines will not kick in for up to two years. Even worse, if at any time the French decide to lift the ban, the legal case for imposing the fines will stop immediately. The chances are the French government will never have to pay a single euro over the whole affair. And now the French are proposing to introduce a ban on British lamb - with no scientific justification at all. As my West Midlands colleague Philip Bushill Matthews pointed out, the French know perfectly well that the European Court process takes three years. They could alternate a ban on British beef and lamb every three years, and run their cynical protectionist scam for decades.

"Constituents sometimes ask me what the EU is good for, and I find it increasingly difficult to give them a satisfactory answer"

When the people realise that they have no effective recourse under the law, they will lose patience and demand direct action, legal or not. A British ban on French wine and cheese would clarify the minds of our Gallic friends wonderfully - and unlike a court ruling, it could be implemented immediately.

But we now see an EU incapable of action abroad, incapable of implementing its own law at home. Constituents sometimes ask me what the EU is good for, and I find it increasingly difficult to give them a satisfactory answer.