Wednesday, March 21, 2007

50 reasons for the EU at 50 years old...

So, what has Europe ever done for us? Apart from...

Independent 21 March 2007

1. The end of war between European nations
While rows between England, France and Germany have been a feature of EU summits, war between Europe's major powers is now unthinkable. The fact that the two world wars that shaped the last century now seem so remote is, in itself, tribute to a visionary project that has permanently changed the landscape. As the EU celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome it is clear that while the detailed topography will always be difficult to agree, it is an extraordinary achievement that we are standing on common ground.

2. Democracy is flourishing in 27 countries
Spain, Portugal, Greece, and the EU's 10 ex-Communist countries are parliamentary democracies. None of these nations were truly free in the decades following the Second World War. Each is now a democracy anchored within the EU and is unlikely to change course.

3. Once poor countries like Ireland, Greece and Portugal prospering
EU subsidies well spent have been crucial to the lift-off of the Irish economy. Once firmly in Britain's economic shadow, the Celtic tiger has emerged. Gross domestic product per capita in Ireland in 2005 was 137.1 per cent of the EU average, compared to 116.8 per cent in the UK.

4. The creation of the world's largest internal trading market
The 27-nation EU now around 500m people making it the world's largest economic trading bloc. By comparison the US has a population of around 300m. The old EU 25 had 19.2 per cent of the World's exports as compared with 14.4 per cent from the US. This gap is set to grow following the last enlargement in January to 27 member states.

5. Shopping without frontiers has given consumers more power
European consumers can buy goods for their own use in whichever EU country they choose - in person, on the internet, over the telephone, or by mail order - without paying additional taxes. This competition is driving down prices and increasing quality

6. Co-operation on continent-wide immigration policy
Though EU countries set immigration levels the EU is increasingly active in the fight against illegal migration and in trying to match the labour needs of European countries to the supply of migrants. On the downside, the EU is increasingly an impregnable fortress and many lose their lives trying to get here by boat from Africa

7. Crime-busting co-operation, through Europol
This provides a clearing house for EU police forces. The police in EU member states can now use an EU arrest warrant to get suspects moved from one country to another where they will face serious charges without lengthy extradition procedures.

8. Laws which make it easier for British people to buy property in Europe
It may not be good for the environment but access to second homes a short-haul flight away has fulfilled the dreams of millions of Britons. Retirement or regular holidays from the south of Spain to the east of Bulgaria has become a reality for many and a legally safeguarded one at that.

9. Cleaner beaches and rivers throughout Europe
EU law and peer pressure - including annual reports - have forced the UK to clean up its act, for example bringing the once-dirty waters off Blackpool beach up to standard. The first EU legislation was passed in 1976 with two more pieces in 2002 and 2006. Now you can monitor the quality of bathing water by checking on a website.

10. Four weeks statutory paid holiday a year for workers in Europe
The EU Working Time Directive ensures that all Europeans get at least four weeks of paid holiday per year. In the US many workers get a fortnight. The same directive provides for 11 hours rest in every 24 and one day of rest per week plus a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours. Minimum standards are set for paid maternity and paternity leave.

11. No death penalty (incompatible with EU membership)
No EU member state has the death penalty and reintroduction of capital punishment would not be compatible with EU membership. Even countries outside the EU are having to review their policies if they want to be considered for membership of the club, most notably Turkey.

12. Competition means cheaper phone calls
Since the liberalisation of telecommunications in the 1980s loosened the grip of the monopolies, prices have plummeted. The European Commission says the cost of international calls in the EU has fallen by 80 per cent since 1984.

13. Small EU bureaucracy (24,000 employees, fewer than the BBC)
Despite the eurosceptic claims, the number of EU officials is surprisingly small. After the scandal of 1999 when the Brussels based European Commission resigned, strict new rules were imposed on spending.

14. Making the French eat British beef again
When the BSE crisis subsided and British meat was judged safe, the European Court of Justice ordered France to resume imports. France contested the ruling but had no alternative in the end. By contrast, the US retains an embargo.

15. Minority languages, like Irish, Welsh and Catalan recognised and protected
Minority languages are gaining recognition. Be it Irish, Welsh or Catalan, minority languages are getting a greater role thanks to the EU which even has a Commissioner for Multilingualism. Irish became an official language of the EU this year. Catalans have lesser language rights because their tongue is official only in one part of Spain, their member states. The EU - with 23 official languages - is doing more to keep lesser tongues alive than some individual member states.

16. Europe is helping to save the planet with regulatory cuts in CO2
The EU has announced the most ambitious targets for curbing carbon emissions, promising a cut of at least one-fifth on 1990 levels by 2020. Other parts of the world are being challenged to follow suit. The EU also has blazed a trail with its carbon emissions trading system which, despite teething troubles, is still a model for other parts of the world.

17. One currency from Bantry to Berlin (but not Britain)
The Euro is now the only real alternative to the dollar on the international stage. You can travel throughout 13 countries and use one currency. Slovenia became the 13th and latest nation to join the single currency this year. Several more nations have yet to meet the necessary criteria.

18. Europe wide bans on tyrants like Robert Mugabe
Smart sanctions on the Zimbabwean President and his cronies have been negotiated through the EU and prevent those on a list from visiting all 27 nations. Though countries differ in the way they believe the EU should treat the government in Harare, they all agreed to renew the sanctions for another year.

19. The EU gives twice as much aid to developing countries as the US
The European Union and its member states paid out more than €43bn in 2005 in public aid to developing countries. This is the equivalent of 0.34 per cent of GNP of the 25 member states, and is higher than the per capita aid levels of the United States at around 0.2 per cent. More than €7bn is channelled through the EU.

20. Strict safety standards for aircraft
Airlines deemed to be unsafe are now banned from travelling into any EU country. Recently some of Pakistan's national carrier were barred because of safety fears.

21. Free medical help for tourists
Any citizen of a European country is entitled to free medical treatment if he or she is taken ill or suffers an accident in another member state. So long as you carry the correct form from your national health service, no questions will be asked.

22. EU peace-keepers operate throughout the world
The EU is building its crisis intervention force and has taken over operations in Bosnia from Nato. EU forces have also been in action in Africa helping avert humanitarian crises. In addition the EU has a big policing project.

23. easyJet and Ryanair can fly anywhere without national rules protecting high cost flag carriers due to liberalisation of air travel
easyJet and Ryanair can fly anywhere without the national rules protecting high-cost flag carriers due to liberalisation of air travel. Any airlines granted a licence in an EU country - meeting safety standards and other conditions - can operate services anywhere within the EU. Between 1992 and 2000 prices at the cheaper end of the market fell by 40 per cent.

24. Introduction of pet passports
Since 2004 travelling across borders with pets has been easier. In addition to pet passports with a vaccination certificate pets require permanent identification which can be either a tattooed code on the skin or a microchip which can be read by a special machine. In the future the microchip is likely to be obligatory.

25. It will soon take only two hours from London to Paris by Eurostar
The Channel Tunnel, and high-speed lines in France and now Britain are not, properly speaking, EU projects. However, the tunnel was built partly as a means of reducing the mental barriers between Britain and the Continent. With the opening of the final section of Britain's fast line to St Pancras this year, trains will travel to Paris in two hours.

26. Prospect of EU membership has forced modernisation on Turkey
The presence of an affluent and stable bloc to its west has given the modernisers in Turkey the ally they needed to create a democratic constituency for change. That change has been pushed through with the promise of a European future.

27. Unparalleled rights for European consumers
Any consumer can send back a product if it breaks down within two years of purchase. Manufacturers often claim that they offer only a 12 month guarantee, but EU law states otherwise and consumers are demanding their rights.

28. Study programmes and cheap travel means greater mobility for Europe's youth
Through the Erasmus programme, in the 2003-4 academic year, 7,500 UK students spent between three and 12 months at a university in one of the other member states.

29. Food labelling is much clearer
All ingredients used in food products must be listed. Any GM ingredients must be mentioned as must colouring, preservatives and other chemical additives.

30. End of the road for border crossings (apart from in the UK)
Frontier posts have been abandoned between the 15 countries that have implemented the Schengen accords. This agreement means that EU nationals crossing most borders in continental western Europe do not need to show passports. The newer nations plan to join in soon.

31. Compensation for air delays
Passengers must get immediate help if their flight is delayed by more than a few hours, cancelled without notice or if they are denied boarding because the plane is overbooked. The carrier must make alternative travel arrangements unless the passenger asks for their money back instead. Depending on the length of the delay they must provide food and refreshments and accommodation if necessary.

32. Strict ban on animal testing for the cosmetic industry
Since November 2004 the EU has banned animal testing on finished cosmetic products entirely. Remaining safety testing on animals of ingredients for cosmetics will be ended.

33. Greater protection for Europe's wildlife
Tough European laws protect birds, flora and fauna, although the EU bird directive is widely flouted in southern Europe, particularly in Malta where 2m migratory birds are shot each year, including 80 protected species which are shot or trapped by hunters.

34. Regional development fund has aided the deprived parts of Britain
Some of the UK's poorest regions have benefited from massive handouts from the EU which has been used to regenerate some of the country's most run-down areas. Scotland's Highland and Islands have benefited enormously as have the Welsh mining valleys, Cornwall and deprived inner cities like Liverpool.

35. European driving licences recognised
Driving licences issued in one EU country are valid in any other, providing they are modern, EU-standard, ones with a photo identity. This means that the old days of having to gain translations for a UK permit to drive in Italy are over.

36. Britons now feel a lot less insular
A famous newspaper headline (perhaps apocryphal) once read "Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off". Remember the 1960s, when Ostend seemed like an exotic destination? EU membership has not dried up the English Channel but is has helped to remove the psychological barriers between Britain and the continent.

37. Europe's bananas remain bent, despite sceptics' fears
The suggestion that the EU wanted to impose straight bananas, or blue bananas, or ban all but Caribbean bananas, is one of the oldest of Euro-myths. Obsessive euro-harmonisation of rules is a thing of the past.

38. Strong economic growth - greater than the US last year
The EU's ambition to overtake America economically by 2010 has been ridiculed. The German economy has picked up with the UK and Nordic nations are performing strongly. Even Italy, thought to be in dire straits last year, is clocking up reasonable growth. The European Commission said it expects the economy of the 27-nation European Union to grow 2.7 per cent this year, ahead of the US's estimated 2.5 per cent

39. Single market has brought the best continental footballers to Britain
The Bosman ruling, based on European law, and other decisions, have freed up football transfers. From Eric Cantona to Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo, British fans have been enjoying watching Europe's finest talent for the past 15 years.

40. Human rights legislation has protected the rights of the individual
The introduction of the Human Rights Acts has provided a legal framework to prevent abuses of power.

41. European parliament provides democratic checks on all EU laws
The European Parliament, directly elected since 1979, has been given increased powers over the years. The parliament has made a significant impact in areas ranging from the environment to animal rights.

42. EU gives more, not less, sovereignty to nation states
Switzerland and Norway, two independent countries have little or no negotiating leverage when they deal with the EU. In fact they have less sovereignty than member states who decide the policy. Britons are more able to control their own destiny - in areas from international trade, to environmental protection, to consumer rights - because they are part of a 27 nation, democratic bloc. Real sovereignty, rather than theoretical sovereignty, is enhanced by EU membership.

43. Maturing EU is a proper counterweight to the power of US and China
As it develops common foreign and defence policies, the EU is finding its voice. Europe's interests and those of America and the emerging powers, such as China and India, will sometimes coincide, sometimes conflict. Could Britain's interests be protected if we stood alone or if we became a junior partner of the US?

44. European immigration has boosted the British economy
Hundreds of thousands of Poles commute between Poland and Britain. More surprisingly the economies of both countries are booming. The UK economy has benefited from a surge of well-qualified, highly motivated workers.

45. EU common research programme
Job opportunities and Europe-wide access to education mean there really are Europeans now who see the need to speak at least three modern languages.

46. Europe has set Britain an example how properly to fund a national health service
Some continental countries have health funding problems but several, the Dutch in particular, provide quality care while keeping down costs. It took the EU to rule that British patients had a right to seek care abroad.

47. British restaurants now much more cosmopolitan because of European influences
Britain has become - let us admit it - a more continental country in the last 34 years. We now care about what we eat. Nowhere has this been more marked than in the quality and variety of food being offered in our restaurants.

48. Mobility for career professionals throughout Europe
Professionals from doctors to architects now have a right to have their national qualifications recognised across the EU. Language and cultural barriers will always remain a problem for professionals but there are can no longer be purely protectionist obstacles to a career in another EU country.

49. Europe has revolutionised British attitudes to food and cooking
Despite major drawbacks, the bloated Common Agricultural Policy has enabled small family farmers to flourish in Europe. Its support has led to the birth of the Slow Food movement and arrival in British towns of farmers markets, growing with quality organics produce. Bon appetit!

50. Lists like this drive Eurosceptics mad
In the Daily Mail-Sun universe, the EU can never do any good. Brussels is an insane bureaucracy, which secretly plots to have all donkeys painted blue (with yellow stars). The 50th birthday of the European project is a time to celebrate the many positive things which the EU has brought us.

See also: for the March 25, 50 years Anniversary

Friday, March 16, 2007

Warming up

World breaks temperature records

Staff and agencies

Guardian March 16, 2007

The world experienced its warmest period on record during this year's northern hemisphere winter, the US government said today.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report said the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature for December to February was the highest since records began in 1880.

During the three-month period, known as boreal winter, temperatures were above average worldwide, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and areas in central United States.

The global average was 0.72C higher than the previous record in 2004, but the report did not provide an absolute temperature for the period. An NOAA spokesman told Reuters news agency that the deviation from the mean was what was important.

A significant contributing factor to the record warmth was an El Niño weather pattern, a periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean. It was particularly strong in January - the warmest January ever - but the ocean surface had since begun to cool.

In the northern hemisphere, the combined land and water temperature was the warmest ever at 0.91C, while the southern hemisphere, where it was summer, recorded a temperature 0.49C above average, which was the fourth warmest.

The global temperature of land surface alone during this period was also the warmest on record, while the ocean surface temperature was the equal second warmest, with the equatorial Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and the South Indian oceans all recording warmer than average temperatures.

During the past century, global temperatures had increased at about 0.06C each decade, but the increase had been three times larger since 1976, at about 0.18C per decade, the report said.
The 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1995.

The report comes just over a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said global warming had very likely been caused by human actions and was so severe it would continue for centuries. Most scientists attribute the rising temperatures to so-called greenhouse gases, which build up in the atmosphere and trap heat from the sun.

Report in full:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

UK Parliament Draft Climate Change Bill

A Bill which makes reducing carbon emissions a legal duty

Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Independent 14 March 2007

Targets are the easiest things in the world to set. The act of setting one costs you nothing. You've got a target? OK, I'll set a bigger one. But delivering them is a different matter entirely.
Yesterday the Government unveiled the world's first delivery system for the targets involved in radically cutting back the gases that are causing global warming. It is based on two simple principles: make the targets legally binding, and map out the road towards them in detail.
The system is enshrined in the Climate Change Bill, unveiled by the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, which proposes to set into law the crucial aim of cutting the UK's CO2 emissions by 60 per cent, on 1990 levels, by 2050, and lays out a statutory path towards that from which it will be very hard, if not impossible, for any future government to stray.
The 60 per cent figure is one that might once have appeared very ambitious, but recent estimates of just how quickly climate change is now progressing ­ the world's ice is melting everywhere before our very eyes ­ have made it seem the very least that will have to be done, by Britain and other countries, if the earth is to escape the catastrophic consequences of runaway atmospheric warming, from mass agricultural failure to world-wide sea level rise.
Yet until now that 60 per cent has just been a target ­ first suggested by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and subsequently adopted with enthusiasm by Tony Blair. And targets to cut CO2, in the climate change business have been bandied about for nearly 20 years in many countries, with very few of them being achieved.
Indeed, hovering in the background to the Government's initiative yesterday was its own chastening experience of setting a target for cutting Britain's CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. It was solemnly repeated in three separate election manifestos, one after the other, yet is not now going to be met.
In 1994, Labour's shadow environment secretary Chris Smith produced with his political adviser, Stephen Tindale, the party's first wide-ranging review of environmental policy, entitled In Trust for Tomorrow. Among many other proposals, the document made the radical suggestion that a Labour government should pledge to cut Britain's CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2010.
Although it would be going too far to say that this figure was simply plucked out of the air, it was certainly chosen without any detailed analysis of whether or not it was achievable. Yet it was then made official party policy, and repeated as a pledge in election manifestos in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
It came back to haunt the Government. By autumn 2005 it was clear that, despite all the climate change measures the Government was putting in place, the 20 per cent by 2010 aim just could not be achieved. A year ago last week Margaret Beckett, environment secretary at the time, was forced to admit this in public.
It was a hugely embarrassing and damaging admission for the Blair administration, because up until then this target had been its flagship green policy. And it has clearly taught the Government a painful but essential lesson: delivery is what counts.
If the science tells us that a 60 per cent cut by 2050 is now vital, how do you nail the thing down, make absolutely certain it is achieved?
The answer is you turn it into statute, and you treat the national carbon accounts like the national money accounts; you create a carbon version of the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement. And to do this you need national carbon budgets just like you need money budgets, rolling into the future. You need to state exactly how much carbon the country can afford to emit by a given date, just like you need to set out how much money the Government intends to borrow.
The Climate Change Bill proposes to set this system up, with something extra: a powerful watchdog body to advise on the budgets and oversee the Government's performance.
Eye-catching initiatives have been the lifeblood of the image-obsessed Blair Government, and some of them have seemed distinctly less original when examined under the political microscope; there have been not a few cases of the same tranche of funding being announced more than once. But what was announced yesterday is genuinely original. It is the first such system in the world, and the Government's hope is not only that it will demonstrate the UK's leadership in the search for a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012, but also that the system will be imitated as widely as possible elsewhere.
Let's give credit where it's due: the idea of making CO2 cuts legally binding was first floated two years ago by Friends of the Earth, frustrated at missed targets. FoE campaigners drew up a draft bill, introduced into Parliament before the last election by three senior green-minded MPs: John Gummer and Michael Meacher, who had been Tory and Labour environment secretaries, and Norman Baker, who held the Liberal Democrats' environment portfolio. From then on FoE pushed the idea relentlessly in a campaign entitled The Big Ask, securing the signatures of more than 400 MPs in an Early Day Motion. FoE received its reward last November when the inclusion of a Climate Bill in the Queen's Speech showed that Mr Blair and Mr Miliband had been persuaded that this was an idea whose time had come.
The targets
The Bill proposes to set into law both the target of reducing the UK's carbon emissions by 60 per cent, from their 1990 levels, by 2050, and the intermediate target of reducing them by 26 to 32 per cent by 2020.
Emissions in 1990 were 590 million tonnes of CO2; the 2020 intermediate target equates to between 405 and 440 million tonnes; and the 2050 target is 240 million tonnes. That is the figure to bear in mind: by mid-century, Britain's economy, homes, energy generation and transport, all must be emitting between them no more than 240 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. (The figure in 2005 was 542 million tonnes.)
A technical note: in the past, Britain has expressed its emissions in millions of tonnes of carbon, not carbon dioxide, which is a lower figure (as it does not take account of the weight of the oxygen atoms in the CO2 molecules).
In future everything will be referred to in carbon dioxide terms. To convert carbon to carbon dioxide, multiply the carbon figure by 44/12.
The budgets
The Bill introduces a system of national carbon budgeting which will cap the UK's national emissions over five-year periods.
Friends of the Earth, which originally campaigned for a climate Bill, called for annual budgets, that is, guaranteed reductions in CO2 emissions of at least 3 per cent annually. David Miliband has rejected this as too inflexible - the power demand of a very cold winter might easily break a budget. Instead, the Government is bringing forward five-year budgets, to allow for adjustments, and it will be doing them three budgets at a time into the future so that industry can plan its investment.
The first three budgets will be for the periods 2008-12, 2013-17, and 2018-22. That means that when the first budgets are set, in 18 months' time, Britain's national carbon budget for 2022, in millions of tonnes of CO2, will already be known.
The Government points out that what it is offering, in annual terms, is accountability, from a new watchdog body.
The 'Climate tsar' and his committee
One of the Bill's most innovative proposals is to establish a new statutory, independent body to advise on the national carbon budgets and to report annually on progress towards achieving them; it will probably be called the Climate Change Committee.
In some respects the body will be similar to the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, but it will not itself set the carbon budgets, as the Bank of England independently sets interest rates; it will merely advise, and the final decision on the budgets will be left to the Government.
Although this is a criticism of the opposition parties, in practice, the committee's advice is unlikely to be disregarded.
Its members will all be eminent in their fields, and its chairman will be a very powerful public figure in Britain's climate change debate: in tabloid newspaper terms, he will be the Climate tsar or Britain's Mr Carbon, and he will be at liberty (and expected) to lambast the Government as required in his annual report if progress towards the low-carbon economy is not being made fast enough.
His appointment may even come this year, perhaps while Mr Blair is still in office. Expect a very senior, respected business figure with a strong record of public service.
The penalties
Putting climate targets into law means that if you fail to meet them, you can expect the law to punish you. This is perhaps the least clear aspect of the Bill: what if the Government does not hit the mark in 2020 or 2050, in spite of everything? Certainly, it would be "named and shamed" and the adverse publicity would be such that no government would want to endure it.
However, there may be further penalties: to miss the statutory targets would open the Government to a judicial review of its performance, which might be sought by environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace.
If the courts found against the Government it would be open to them, for example, to order ministers to buy carbon credits (representing emissions achieved by other countries) to meet the target, at a potential cost of many millions of pounds.
The timescale
The Bill is going out for a three-month public consultation period, and it will probably be brought before Parliament around October this year.
If all goes to schedule it should receive royal assent around April 2008, and the Climate Change Committee has to present its opinions about what the carbon budgets should be by 1 September next year.
The Government will decide on the precise levels of Britain's first three national carbon budgets by 31 December 2008. The Climate Change Committee will be up and running in the next 12 months.
What will it lead to - in the near term?
The new legal framework for tackling global warming in Britain is beyond all else a forceful driver of the kind of technological, economic and social changes which will be needed to bring about the vital low-carbon economy.
The changes must come in three areas, electricity generation, home heating and transport; they will need such developments as renewable energy (and possibly nuclear power), increased energy efficiency and zero-carbon homes, and new vehicle technologies involving electric and possibly hydrogen-powered cars.
Making the fight against climate change a legal requirement on ministers means they will push all of these changes as hard as they have to be pushed, and it puts global warming officially at the top of the national agenda alongside the economy and national security - which is where it needs to be.

Defra News release about the Draft Climate Change Bill: includes the full text of the Bill and accompanying documents (179p)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

OBL: 50

Robert Fisk on Bin Laden at 50

The most wanted man on the planet was 36 when our veteran correspondent met him for the first time in the desert

Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent

Independent 04 March 2007

He was 36 when I first met him. Osama bin Laden's beard had no trace of grey in 1993. He was a young man, building a new road for poor villagers in Sudan, a trifle arrogant perhaps, very definitely wary of the Western journalist - 10 years older than him - who had turned up in the cold Sudanese desert one Sunday morning to talk to him about his war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Was I going to ask him about "terror"? No, I wanted to know what it was like to fight the Russians. A Soviet mortar shell had fallen beside him, Bin Laden said. Nangahar province, maybe 1982. "I felt Seqina as I waited for it to explode," he said. Seqina means an almost religious calmness. The shell - and many must curse it for being a dud - did not explode. Otherwise Osama bin Laden would have been dead at 25.
When I met him again in Afghanistan in 1996, he was 39, raging against the corruption of the Saudi royal family, contemptuous of the West. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Bin Laden told the House of Saud that his Arab legion could destroy the Iraqis; no need to bring the Americans to the land of Islam's two holiest places. The King turned him down. So the Americans were now also the target of Osama's anger.
Has he grown wiser with age? The next year, he told me he sought God's help "to turn America into a shadow of itself". I wrote "rhetoric" in the margin of my notebook - a mistake. Age was giving Bin Laden a dangerous self-confidence. But as the years after 11 September 2001 went by, I watched the al-Qa'ida leader's beard go grey in the videotapes. He talked about history more and more: the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes-Picot agreement, the end of the Ottoman Caliphate. His political speeches appealed to Arabs whose pro-American dictators would never have the courage to tell George W Bush to take his soldiers home.
There was no contrition. Age - if it bestows wisdom - did not allow Bin Laden to question his own motives, to express any self-doubt. In the tapes, his robes were embroidered. He appeared like a Mahdi, a seer. But I wondered, as the years went by, if he was any longer relevant. Nuclear scientists invented the atom bomb. What would have been the point of arresting all the scientists afterwards? The bomb existed. Bin Laden created al-Qa'ida. The monster was born. What is the point, any longer, in searching for 50-year-old Bin Laden?
Five years ago, Time magazine offered to buy one of my photographs of Bin Laden in Afghanistan for its front cover. I refused to sell it. Time wanted, so their picture desk told me, to use a computer to "age" him in my snapshot. Again, I refused. "So how much do you want?" the Time picture desk asked. They didn't understand. Bin Laden may have no integrity, but my pictures did: they showed a man in his 30s and 40s, not in his 60s or 70s.
But now he is 50 years old. I don't think he'll be celebrating in his cave. Just reflecting that, white-flecked though his beard now is, he remains the West's target number one, as iconic as any devil, so embarrassing to Mr Bush that the President dare no longer pronounce his name, lest it remind his audience that Bin Laden is the one that got away.
I read the "experts", telling me that Bin Laden has cancer, that he needs medical machines to survive. But we say this about all our enemies. Bin Laden uses now a stick to walk - unusual for a man of 50 - but we know he was wounded in Afghanistan. The truth is - and forget the "experts" who might tell you otherwise - that Bin Laden is still alive. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, he may be damned and elusive, but he remains on this earth. Aged 50.
A historic meeting with the world's pariah
'Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace'
Published in 'The Independent', 6 December 1993
Osama bin Laden sat in his gold-fringed robe, guarded by the loyal Arab mujahedin who fought alongside him in Afghanistan.
Bearded, taciturn figures - unarmed, but never more than a few yards from the man who recruited them, trained them and then dispatched them to destroy the Soviet army - they watched unsmiling as the Sudanese villagers of Almatig lined up to thank the Saudi businessman who is about to complete the highway linking their homes to Khartoum...
With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr Bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend...
"I helped some of my comrades to come here to Sudan after the war," he said. Was it not a bit anti-climatic for them, I asked, to fight the Russians and end up road-building in Sudan? "They like this work and so do I."