Euro Myths Unbusted

This post is in response to a posting by a friend on social media. I find it shocking that people I know are very intelligent fall for this stuff—it is no better than stuff peddled by tabloids. The meme in question is below and I have responded to each numbered point in turn below the image.

References are provided. Where secondary sources are used, the source provides links through to primary sources wherever possible.

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1. Our laws go back hundreds of years. It would hardly be surprising that 13% had the EU’s involvement, but given the relatively small number of years we’ve been a member, this has precisely the opposite signifiance than intended!

But let’s give this statement the benefit of the doubt and assume it refers to recent and ongoing legislation. The figure is misleading, as it leaves out EU regulations (as distinct from EU directives). Regulations pass directly into UK law without touching the democratically elected House of Commons. See https://fullfact.org/europe/two-thirds-uk-law-made-eu/ for details. FullFact estimate the figure to be 62%, which is closer to the (admittedly exaggerated) claims made by some advocates of Brexit than to the advocates of Bremain.

2. Laws are made by the Commission, which is the executive. The European Parliament and Council have a means of providing feedback (in a similar way the House of Lords can influence the House of Commons), but ultimately, it is the Commission which is the executive of the EU. None of the Commission’s members are publicly elected, but are all appointed by member states, all take an oath to defend the interests of the EU above those of their own nation, and the Commission is accepted or rejected en masse by the European Parliament. Past commissioners have included people with failed domestic political careers and people with criminal convictions.

The Commission can not be removed or voted in through the ballot box by European citizens. It is therefore not directly elected in the way most executives are in modern, European democracies. In short, its members are indeed unelected bureaucrats.

The European Parliament, unlike a traditional parliament, can not propose legislation, but can only vote on legislation put before it by the Commission. Put simply, the only people in the EU institutions who we elect to represent us are not able, quite literally, to represent us.

Then there are policy areas where the Council may consult the Parliament, but is not even bound by its decision.

We need only take a look at the EU’s handling of Greece and Italy in recent history to judge its adherence to democratic principles.

But let’s just cut to the chase on this one with a simple question. How does the European Union electorate elect or remove a Commission, i.e. the EU government, to or from power?

Answer that honestly, understand how that differs from how modern, democratic, European electoral systems work, and perhaps you’ll understand why principled democrats on all political sides oppose the EU.

3. The Norwegians and Swiss have to abide by U.S. trade regulations when selling into the U.S., by Japanese trade regulations when selling to Japan, by Chinese trade regulations when selling into China. Somehow they manage, because many trade regulations are regulated outside the control of the European Union, through multilateral trade deals and international, multilateral trade bodies and standards organisations.

Regarding standards: IT standards, motoring standards, and other commonplace standards were not devised by the EU, but by innovators, business consensus, and the market around the world. It is these standards which must ordinarily be met by businesses, and many of them are set by organisations such as the ISO or quite simply by customer demand.

But back to the point on Norway and Switzerland, because seemingly, according to many Bremainers, these are the only models for nations outside the EU, despite there being 168 non-EU countries in the world. Let’s take a look at a typical example of how the discussion around Switzerland’s and Norway’s relationship with the EU goes, taken from an episode of the Daily Politics (https://youtu.be/hgrB2yAPPlQ?t=4m37s).

Andrew Neil: “I’ve looked at the EFTA Secretariat, which compiles these figures and the EU doesn’t in any way dispute them. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 52,183 legal instruments issued by the EU. Norway adopted 4,724, that’s 9%. Where does the 75 [%] come from?… Only 100 [0.19%] of these changes required primary legislation in the Storting [the Norwegian parliament].”
Andrew Neil: “How many EU rules does Switzerland write into its law?”
Matthew Hancock: “Well, actually I haven’t got the figure on that.”
Andrew Neil: “Well, I can tell you. It’s 0 percent.”

Andrew Neil: “If not having access to the Single Market is such a disadvantage, and as you say, Switzerland doesn’t have it, how come per capita Switzerland exports five times as much as we do?”
Matthew Hancock: “Because, err… Switzerland is physically much closer and surrounded by the European Union.”

Yes, Hancock really did say that – in the era of globalisation. That video is a lesson in knowing when you’re on the ropes in a debate and when to stop digging.

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, and is forecast by some to overtake Germany in the coming years to become the fourth largest. Switzerland is the 20th largest economy and Norway is 27th (or 25th, if you use UN rather than IMF/World Bank figures). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

But there are those of course who assert that money isn’t everything; that it is easy to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Switzerland and Norway are the 1st and 4th happiest countries in the world according to the 2015 United Nations World Happiness Report. Iceland, another non-EU European country is 2nd. See http://worldhappiness.report/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/04/WHR15.pdf

So either Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway are rich and happy or poor and happy, but either way, they’re clearly very happy indeed – despite being European nations which have declined to join the EU happy club.

Ultimately though, Norway and Switzerland negotiated their own bilateral deals with the EU, because sovereign states get to do that sort of thing. Norway and Switzerland opted into Schengen, whereas the UK didn’t. In February 2014, the Swiss people voted in a referendum to return to immigration quotas. Due to the Swiss constitution and Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, it is ultimately people, not politicians or businesses, who are sovereign there. Swiss politicians are obliged to follow the will of the people when expressed through the mechanism of initiative/referendum and so Swiss politicians (many of whom would happily join up to the EU, if only their damn people would agree) now have to do what it takes to make things work – and the EU is of course reluctant to play ball.

As I’ve stated above, there are 168 countries around the world which are not in the EU. It’s utterly absurd to suggest that life outside the EU for the world’s 5th largest economy would be impossible or even difficult.

4. Ah, the ‘toxic’ migration issue. Well, this issue is very complex, and if you quote very specifically on tax contributions versus benefit claims, this claim may indeed seem to stand up to scrutiny on the basis of one report, but there is no consensus on this and there have been conflicting studies. See http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/08/are-migrants-good-uk-economy. Core conflicts around the financial pros of immigration revolve around GDP figures per capita versus overall GDP.

But immigration should never be considered solely on the basis of monetary considerations. The last year saw record net migration figures of 330,000 (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/migration-statistics-quarterly-report/august-2015/sty-net-migration.html). The effects of this in terms of wage suppression, infrastructure, housing, environment, demand on services, schools, career prospects for UK natives, and social cohesion seem to all too often take a back seat in this discussion.

Proponents of mass migration as a means to deal with the demographic issues of a low birth rate also seem to conveniently forget that people age, so if you import several hundred thousand young workers now, you will end up with several hundred thousand pensioners in a few decades, and so on.

If you open up an unregulated employment market to people from vastly disparate economies, what effect to you think this has on those in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs? It’s relatively easy to find research which would validate this narrative or research which concludes that the effect is negligible, but it’s also obvious to those who mix with people outside the middle classes that times have been tough for many indigenous workers when they are competing against people from EU nations where the minimum wage is one tenth that of the UK and who will gladly work at the minimum possible wage indefinitely, thereby keeping all wages low. See http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Minimum_wages,_January_2016_%28%C2%B9%29_%28EUR_per_month%29_YB16-II.png for a comparison of minimum wages around the EU.

And that’s not a slur at all on foreign workers, many of whom have a superb work ethic – it’s just an economic reality.

Similarly, the economics involved in NHS trusts deciding to take on foreign labour (80% of in 2014) is simple economic pragmatism on their part. If they can easily employ foreign nurses rather than incur the costs of training indigenous nursing staff, why would they not?

Head of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter, said that there were 57,000 applicants for 20,000 nurse training posts in 2014. He commented:

“Isn’t that a matter of huge regret that you’ve got people in the four countries of the UK who want to train as nurses. They’re being turned away, while we’re going off and raiding the often impoverished workforce of other countries.” (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-33678773)

Migration Watch, an independent and non-political organisation, offers a Summary Fact Sheet regarding migration at http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/250, which tackles some of the issues around migration, quoting ONS sources.

Overpopulation has long-since been recognised as detrimental to society and following Malta, England (not the UK) is already the second most densely-populated country in the European Union.

In the last few months, I note an increasing amount of house building going on around nearly every town I go through. My home town alone has two huge ongoing developments on former green field sites on its outskirts. The house-building necessary to meet the requirements of this increase in population means more asphalt covering more fields and consequent run-off of water unable to drain naturally away where it falls. And as we know, flooding exacerbated by run-off is becoming more of an issue on an almost annual basis now.

The whole subject of migration is extremely complex and has wide-ranging effects, many of which are without doubt positive. But it seems strange that on the one hand many will gladly be wholly pro immigration, but then fail to make a connection when market forces cause large companies (such as those represented by the pro EU and historically woefully wrong CBI – see http://capx.co/find-out-what-the-cbi-thinks-and-do-the-opposite/) to seek cost reductions by employing cheaper labour from overseas or moving operations overseas and thereby close down British companies, much to the annoyance of these very same people who were willingly or unwillingly advocating global market forces in the first place!

I can’t help but note the number of people who are unashamedly pro-EU and yet, without the slightest hint of irony, express outrage at the current crisis around the steel industry and the government’s inaction!

5. Naturally, if the EU has been legislating, one would hope that at least some of its legislation would be beneficial to people! I’m more than happy to concede the point that it has helped ordinary people in some respects, although I can’t help recalling in my own experience that I could use my mobile phone data allowance in Switzerland (outside the EU), but not in Germany, and that, having proof of employment there, I was able to live and work in Switzerland on three separate occasions with no problem at all, years before Schengen.

In terms of how the EU has benefitted my wider community, we could of course open this up to ask how it helped Peugeot workers in Coventry when operations moved from Coventry to Slovakia – with EU support. You’d be foolish not to recognise that lower wages in Slovakia were a huge factor in the decision for Peugeot to move, but of course, in the grand scheme of thinking above and beyond the future of local car workers, that was the right decision, and from a large business perspective, it was of course a great cost-reduction. It is hardly surprising then that many large businesses support EU membership, is it? In its defence, the EU denied the move was funded by £78 million from its structural and cohesion funds (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/coventry_warwickshire/4936696.stm), but I don’t see why it should be so shy about this. It should be brave enough to openly promote the redistribution of wealth from the richer countries of Europe to the poorer ones, because that is precisely what it does and that is precisely its point. If you’re a full-on EUphile, why would you care about local car workers when there are workers in Slovakia to worry about? Sod the local working class when there are wider, idealistic, internationalist (or at least continentalist) considerations!

In all seriousness, if you take the view that money should be redistributed from wealthier, more productive economies to poorer and less productive economies, the EU has historically undoubtedly done a pretty good job in raising the living standards of the poorer EU nations over the last few decades. If you are happy that taxes of your fellow countrymen should go into building nice, new roads in Bulgaria and Romania rather than be put into transport infrastucture in the UK, that’s an absolutely legitimate view to have. It’s not one I share, as it goes, for all sorts of reasons—principally that old notion of no taxation without representation.

Back to the main point. Are we really saying that policies which are beneficial/progressive can not be made by national governments? I keep hearing people state that they would rather remain in the EU, because they are worried about what the Tories would do given a free hand. In essence, whether they realise it or not, they’re advocating the concept that an unelected organisation holds power over elected politicians, while they happen to think they agree with the aims and objectives of the unelected organisation, that is. I’m not sure how they’ll feel if/when the EU goes all-out corporatist (TTIP anyone?) and a left-wing government is in Downing Street. You can forget any notions of state protectionism and interventionism under the EU’s rules, so I’m not sure how many on the political left who are pro-EU square that circle in their own minds.

In my own, admittedly anecdotal experience, the most commonly-heard pro EU statement is “so long as they fight the Tories, I’m in favour of remaining in the EU”. This is generally accompanied by utter ignorance over how the EU operates, but so long as the EU is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be a bulwark against the actions of the current UK government, and in their short-term interests, that’s a good enough reason to sacrifice long-term democratic principles. We’ll ignore the obvious question as to why a Conservative government would be pro-EU if it felt in any way that EU membership were to the detriment of its policies.

The NHS, pensions, paid holidays, public holidays, maternity leave, and trade unions all pre-date UK accession to the European Union (or Common Market as it was when the UK joined) and many such social benefits (and more besides) are enjoyed by countries outside the European Union too. Again, progressive policies are not driven by the EU, but by public, societal demands and evolving, wealthier societies—oh, and public pressure on politicians who have to win votes, of course. Ask yourself to what extent politicians who need not fear the ballot box have to work in the public interest.

This latter point is key, the Commission does not have to appeal to the wider general public in a society. It can operate in the interests of large business and further disenfranchisement of the EU electorate pretty much at will. On the other hand, what do you think would happen to a UK government which tried to repeal existing rights? Do you really think they’d even dare to stand on such a platform? Do you think that they’d remain in power in the following general election, assuming they could even get such messures through parliament? Currently, when things go wrong, the government can point to Brussels and say “nothing to do with me – it’s out of my hands.” Regardless of whether this is true or not in individual cases (it most certainly is in the case of governments being forbidden from offering state support to companies), it nevertheless means that elected politicians in the UK can use the EU as an excuse.

Were a UK government wholly accountable for its actions to the electorate, do you not consider that it might have to be a little more cautious with its actions?

Post World War 2, the British public voted to remove a war hero from government and replace him with a Labour government. Even in light of the success of Churchill, he was not immune from the power of the ballot box and public desire for real change, including, of course, the foundation of the NHS under the ministry of Clement Attlee.

I have a great deal of faith in the British public. I think it’s fair-minded, and history appears to validate that supposition. A wholly right-wing, socially conservative and mean-spirited government would not last long in an independent UK – least of all if it started to enact laws which were detrimental to a large section of the electorate! Britons have a strong cultural sense of standing up for the “little man” (as epitomised in our comedy culture going back centuries) against the bullying upper middle classes. When the latter push too far, the public has a strong sense of restoring equilibrium through the ballot box.

6. The trends are important here. The EU’s share of global GDP has fallen from 30% in 1993 to 24% in 2013 with the emergence of the BRIC and other economies. See http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/international-transactions/outward-foreign-affiliates-statistics/how-important-is-the-european-union-to-uk-trade-and-investment-/sty-eu.html. We also remain a net importer from the EU (see https://www.uktradeinfo.com/Statistics/OverseasTradeStatistics/Pages/EU_and_Non-EU_Data.aspx) and this trade deficit has grown in recent years, meaning quite simply that there is more money in the EU trading with the UK than there is in the UK trading with the rest of the EU. Following a Brexit, you can bet that the heads of BMW, Volkswagen, and Bosch (among many others) will be demanding a favourable trade agreement between the EU and the UK! It is not UK jobs, but EU jobs which are most at risk from any kind of petty, vindictive action on the part of the EU following a Brexit.

It is certainly true that a small majority of our exports go to the EU (see http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/gbr/#Destinations), but that should hardly surprise us, and broken down by nation, only five EU members are larger export destinations than China. Then we need to consider the Rotterdam Effect, meaning that the figures for the Netherlands are hardly reliable, given up to 50% of exports to the Netherlands are destined for wider export outside the EU from the port of Rotterdam (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/uktrade/uk-trade/december-2014/sty-trade-rotterdam-effect-.html).

The 3.5 million jobs thing is a carefully-phrased hint to make people believe that 3.5 million jobs are reliant on EU membership. You’ll note that the above graphic is careful how it words this.

“Half of Britain’s exports destined for the EU account for 3.5 million jobs”

This does not mean that these jobs are at risk from Brexit. This is a long-discredited myth that simply will not die. Well done to the Bremainers who continue to use it, because it immediately flags up where they’re coming from for everyone in the know to see.

This assertion originates from a distortion of a report carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), commissioned in 1999 by the pro-euro lobby. The then director of the NIESR angrily dismissed this interpretation of his organisation’s report as “pure Goebbels”. The fact is that the jobs rely on trade with the countries which comprise the EU, not membership of the EU. It’s really not a difficult concept to grasp and the continued perpetuation of this myth no longer serves any purpose than as a means of quickly and easily identifying disingenuous or ill-informed Bremainers.

Dealing with the effect of Brexit though, see https://fullfact.org/economy/do-three-million-uk-jobs-rely-directly-our-place-eu/ for a wider explanation, but to quote from that article,

The most recent report Full Fact could find was conducted by Civitas in 2004. This provided an assessment of all the previous reports and concluded that “the economic impact of British withdrawal from the EU would be marginal—less than one per cent of GDP. Putting it another way, these three studies find that, for the UK, the net economic benefits of EU membership are at best marginal.”

7. I’m not one of those people who conflates the ECHR with the European Union, although it is worth mentioning that membership of the European Union requires members to subscribe to the ECHR, so therefore one must comply with the rulings of the ECHR to be a member of the EU.

In contrast, it is entirely within the remit of an independent nation to determine whether or not is should be bound by the ECHR. There are concerns of ECHR rulings relating to over-zealous application of rulings in favour of known extremists, but I concede that these fall outside the general scope of the EU and of this discussion, and I agree that fellow Brexiters should stop conflating the ECHR with the EU.

Importantly though, I’m not one of those people who conflates the ECHR with the European Court of Justice, which is an institution in the European Union, and which will of course interfere in domestic issues when decisions made by nation governments in the best interests of their citizens do not work in the best interests of the European Union.

8. Quite. All EU states do have different languages, cultures, histories, and laws. They also have different demographics, business sectors, world outlooks, cultural ties with nations outside the EU, and priorities, many of which are shaped by language, culture, history, and law and none of which are properly served by ‘one-size-fits-all’ empire-building mentality which invariably leads to constant compromises to the detriment of leading countries in certain sectors, and makes for an extremely slow, cumbersome, undemocratic, and unsatisfactory legislative process.

The founders of the EU wanted to establish a United States of Europe, but Europe is not analogous to North America before the creation of the United States of America, where a modern state was built where no such state already existed, and where incomers adapted to a common set of US legal and societal norms which had already been determined and did not have these imposed on them. Europe already exists as a set of proud nation states, each with its own political and legal framework, cultural differences… and centuries of history. You can’t force disparate European peoples into a supranational union against their will, and the myth that the UK is the only country in the EU with a EU-sceptic outlook is both ill-informed and wrong, and ironically demonstrates ignorance over our fellow Europeans.

The EU’s motto is irrelevant. It has shown through its actions how it pays lip service to its stated policy of subsidiarity (or confederalism). Actions speak louder than mottos. Mottos exist to convince people of something and not to reflect reality.

To conclude, this kind of meme and propaganda is pushed by many who see themselves as broadly pro-European and wish to associate themselves with a young, vibrant, cosmopolitan world outlook; the kind of people who see anti-EUers as grumpy, moustachioed, fogeys, who long for the days of empire and are suspicious of anyone with slightly brown skin or an accent.

It is an easy and convenient cliché, and doubtless, these same people associate membership of the EU with holidays and time they spent abroad, sipping coffees in pavement cafés. Unfortunately, they don’t distinguish between the EU and Europe. For so many, they are one and the same. As I mentioned above, many of these same people (if not most) are clueless as to how the EU operates.

On a positive note, there are those of us who likewise feel very pro European. I consider myself simultaneously a Yorkshireman, Englishman, Briton, and European, and yes, a citizen of the world, come to that. I love Europe, its varied cultures, people, languages, customs and traditions. I studied and graduated in modern languages at university, on a course whose content was history and politics based. I’ve worked and lived abroad and am perfectly happy to have done so and would happily do so again if life took a turn in that direction.

But it’s precisely because I love the diversity of Europe, but even more importantly, because I value democracy and moves towards increasing citizen empowerment and decentralisation, not centralisation, that I opposed the European Union. And, having argued the opposite case a quarter of a century ago, and voiced the still omnipresent mantra that the EU needs widespread democratic reform back then, only to see things worsen in this respect light of EU expansion from 12 to 28 countries and increasing dis-empowerment of member states as a consequence, I now find myself arguing precisely for a British exit from the EU and, for a new Europe of independent nation states, working on a collaborative and multi-lateral basis.

You see, my concern in all this is not just for Britons, but for all Europeans.

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