The European Union is a controversial issue in the British press. We’ve heard stories about straight bananas, Euro-gravy trains and paying out huge amounts of money for nothing in return. Which of it is true? Is any of it true?In reality, most of the things you read about the European Union are more fiction than fact. We’ve pulled together some of our favourite myths for you to peruse and I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. We hope the responses to these myths will be useful for your campaigning on Europe and help to encourage a more balanced debate about the EU…
June’s Euromyth was reported in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
“Brussels bureaucrats have banned the sale of homemade jams and chutneys in used glass jars”
“Interfering nonsense,” added UKIP Chairman, Paul Nuttall. “You could actually be flung into jail for selling your homemade preserves.”
Basic hygene rules have applied to business (not individuals) across the EU since 2004. No one has ever been prosecuted for reusing a glass jar, and the EU has no powers to levy fines, let alone to jail anybody. The Food Safety Agency is perfectly happy with the rules. The story was nonsense from start to finish!
The following story was reported in the Daily Mail.
“EU law means UK hospitals have to employ people who do not speak English”
This story has appeared in many forms over the last year or so and I think it’s important to set the record straight!
There is nothing in EU law that prevents the UK from checking the language skills of doctors and nurses from elsewhere in the EU.
There is no “new Brussels Directive against language checks”. Instead, proposed revisions to EU rules will make even clearer that all EU-qualified health professionals can be subject to checks before they take up a post. Far from EU law “taking precedence” over the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans to reinforce such checks, the European Commission has welcomed those plans.
I have been made aware of a recycled Euromyth published in The Telegraph, The Mail and The Express last November.
“Brussels bans children’s party toys” Several newspapers have claimed that “Brussels” has imposed new rules on the UK banning children from blowing up balloons or using party whistles. This is wholly untrue.
EU legislation on toy safety aims to protect young children from death and injury and reflects expert medical advice – and simple common sense. Balloons and other toys placed in the mouth can and do cause death and injury.
The EU rules referred to date from 1988. They state that balloons made of latex must carry a warning to parents that children under eight years should be supervised. Stronger plastic balloons do not need to carry this warning. They also state that all toys aimed at children under three should be large enough to prevent them being swallowed.
The Child Accident Prevention Trust says that each year, in the UK, over 15,000 children under five and a further 10,000 children aged between 5 and 14 are treated at accident and emergency units after choking. Only half these incidents involve food. US research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that ” Of all children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death”. Therefore, similar rules exist in the US.
With continuing for a referendum on our membership and a lot of misinformation in the media on what EU membership brings to the UK I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of just some of the huge benefits that exist. Of course, the EU can operate more transparently, efficiently and effectively. However, there is no doubt that our membership of the EU brings enormous benefits to the UK. These are just some of the benefits to British businesses.
Britain pays £40 million a day, or £14 billion a year, to the EU…This is not true. It is correct to say we are a net-contributor, but Britain receives a rebate from the EU (i.e. we get a discount on our contributions) and we receive extra money from the EU to help with our public spending. In 2008 we received a rebate of £4.9 billion and an additional £4.5 billion in extra funding. This meant our total net-payment to the EU was only £3.3 billion. Total UK public spending in that year was £631 billion, so our net-contribution to the EU was only 0.5% of our total public spending.
Britain would be richer if it was outside the European Union because it is a net-contributor to the EU budget…This is untrue. We would be worse off out of Europe. An independent report published by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research in February 2000 showed that the British economy would contract (and taxes would rise) if we left the EU, despite the fact that the UK is a slight net contributor to the EU budget. David Mackie, Chief European Economist at JP Morgan has said: “In the great scheme of things, our net contributions are so small as to be trivial. There is no doubt in my mind that the net benefit of membership of the EU is many orders of magnitude above our net contribution to the EU budget.”
Pooling sovereignty with other EU countries means having less control of our future…Wrong. As Margaret Thatcher said during the 1975 referendum: “the choice is whether to be outside the Community and yet to accept everything which it decides on trading provisions, including standards and safety provisions and prices of steel, or whether to stay in the Community and have an influence over all those decisions which will seriously affect the whole of our industrial life.
“Brussels bureaucrats impose laws upon us and we have no say in it…This is not true. The Commission has no power to impose law on EU countries, it can only propose legislation. Their proposals are sent to the elected MEPs in the Parliament and the national governments in the Council where they are amended until everyone is happy with them. Only after this process is completed are they turned into law. Therefore the British government and the Euro-MPs elected by the British people have a say at every stage of the legislative process.
Britain would gain sovereignty by leaving the EU but remaining a member of the Europe Economic Area (EEA), like Norway…This is untrue. In the EU Britain has pooled its sovereignty, being part of the decision-making process by which all EU agreements are made. EEA membership means access to the European Single Market, but actually giving up sovereignty. As part of the EEA, Norway is subject to all EU Single Market agreements but, unlike Britain, has no power to decide what they are. This is referred to as ‘government by fax’, because countries that do this must wait by their fax machines to hear from Brussels what laws to implement.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights represents a transfer of power away from the UK…This is untrue. Article 51.1 says the Charter is addressed to the EU institutions and member states only when implementing Community law. Article 51.2 says it will create no new powers or tasks for the EU. Article 52.3 states that civil and political rights are the same as in the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore Britain’s Human Rights Act.
MEPs have just given themselves a £20,000 pay rise…No, this is not true. The system of MEPs‘ salaries changed in 2009. Previously they were paid the same as MPs in their respective national parliaments. This led to huge disparities: in 2007 a Bulgarian MEP would have earned the equivalent of £6,400 a year but an Italian MEP would have earned £92,661 a year for doing the same job!. A uniform salary was organised so that all MEPs would earn the same. When this was agreed it meant British MEPs would have their pay cut and earn less than MPs at Westminster. However, because they are now paid in Euros, when the Pound collapsed during the financial crisis it meant MEPs received more when they turned their Euros into Pounds.
The EU is destined to become a European superstate…Wrong. The Member States are the most important part of the EU and it is they that have the power over what the EU is and what it does. Clause 3b of Maastricht states: “The [European] Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and… can be better achieved by the Community…”
The European Union is designed to “harmonise” or “homogenise” the peoples of Europe…This is untrue. Margaret Thatcher has said: “It is a myth that our membership [of Europe] will suffocate national tradition and culture. Are the Germans any less German for being in the Community, or the French any less French? Of course they are not.”
Europe is overrun by Brussels bureaucrats…This is untrue. In fact the total staff of the Commission is around 17,000 including over 1,800 translators/interpreters and more than 9,000 secretarial and support staff. This compares to around 20,000 staff at Bristol City Council or around 52,000 at Birmingham City Council.
Brussels bureaucrats are completely unaccountable…This is untrue. The Commissioners are appointed by EU heads of government (just as the British government ministers are appointed by their own head of government). They can only take office with the approval of the European Parliament, which consists of directly elected MEPs, and are dismissible by the European Parliament in a collective vote of no-confidence.
Meddling Brussels bureaucrats to ban 999 and harmonise euro-emergency numbers…This is untrue. EU agreement creates a common emergency number (112) in addition to national numbers like 999 so that Brits abroad will know how to get help quickly wherever they are in Europe. The agreement states: “Individual member states cannot be forced to change their emergency numbers.
Curved bananas are banned…This is untrue. Bananas are simply classified according to quality and size for international trade under EU agreements rationalising past standards by individual governments and the industry.
We now have a President of Europe that no one voted for…Firstly we do not have a President of Europe, there is no such position. What the media often refer to as President of Europe is actually the President of the European Council. This position has no decision making powers (the heads of government from the Member States are the ones that make the decisions) and it was created to bring greater consistency and fluidity to the European Council (which had relied upon a rotating Presidency every six months). Most institutions have similar roles: there is a President of the European Parliament, a President of the Commission, and each Committee Group even has a President. These positions are comparable to chairs. As the President of the European Council is not an executive position it is elected by the members of the European Council rather than the European electorate, in much the same way as MPs in the House of Commons elect their Speaker of the House rather than putting the decision to the British people.
Sterling would be more stable and therefore better for business, if Britain ruled out the option to join a successful single currency…This is untrue. Global financier George Soros has said: “I think that sterling will be in that case in a very dangerous position because it would be caught between two very large currency zones.
“Ruling out the option to join a successful single currency is necessary to enable Britain to avoid a one-size fits all interest rate…This is untrue. Britain already has a one-size-fits-all interest rate in that it (along with the rest of Europe, and indeed the US) consists of lots of regions that are actually very different. The Centre for Economic Policy Research has said: “The greatest disparities within Europe are not, in fact, between member states but within them, e.g. between different regions in Italy rather than between Italy and Germany.”
The EU budget has not been certified by the Court of Auditors for the last fourteen years…Wrong. In November 2009 the European Court of Auditors certified the EU budget. They issued it with a clean bill of health and concluded that they ‘present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the European Communities and the results of their operations and cash flows’. Previous EU budgets have been criticised by the auditors but this year they noted, ‘the overall results for 2008 reflect the improvements in the management of the budget in recent years’.
Rural communities will lose the delivery of mail under EU plans to streamline postal services…This is not true. In fact it is EU agreements that actually help to safeguard the universal service. The proposed new directive actually strengthens the existing 1997 Directive under which EU Member States can use licensing systems to impose universal service obligations on competitors. The new agreement would enable universal service providers to cross-subsidise universal services, insofar that it is needed to provide the universal service.
Brussels is trying to build an EU army…No. The European Security and Defence Policy does not create a ‘Euro-army’, instead it helps national armies within the EU to work more closely together on joint projects, in much the same way as NATO has since the end of the Second World War. If the British Government does not want the British Army to take part in a European campaign then it will not. The British Government always remains 100% sovereign over the British Army.
British farmers lose out in Europe and would be better off if we left…This is untrue. Ben Gill, former President of the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) has said: “Membership of the EU is vital to the interests of British farmers. Over three-quarters of our agricultural commodity exports go to the EU and this share is only likely to grow with the further enlargement of the EU. Looking ahead, the signs are that the whole of the food chain will become increasingly integrated on a European scale. Our future as part of a competitive food industry depends on continuing membership of the Union.”
We need to reject the Common Fisheries Policy to save Britain’s fish…This is untrue. Without international cooperation Britain would be unable to stop foreign fishing fleets over-fishing our stocks as they migrate through international waters. North Sea plaice, for example, need to be protected in the coastal waters of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands where the juvenile plaice congregate.
Britain’s special relationship with America is undermined by our EU membership…This is untrue. In fact the opposite is the case. Instead, our ‘special relationship’ with the US is underpinned by our influence within the EU. In the words of former US Ambassador to Britain, Ray Seitz: “If Britain’s voice is less influential in Paris or [Berlin], it is likely to be less influential in Washington.
“The Commonwealth could have provided an alternative trading area to the EU…This is untrue. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary and later a Conservative Prime Minister, recollected: “In 1961 I had concluded on the evidence before me that the United Kingdom could not afford to stay out of the European Community”, and made a speech to that effect in the House of Lords. My experience as Commonwealth Secretary had convinced me that the erosions of our economic preferences which had begun in Australia and which were depriving us of our share of Commonwealth trade, were bound to continue, and that we must act to find alternatives to protect our national income.
“Britain would have a greater world role if it left the EU…This is untrue. As Margaret Thatcher has said: “On our own, as a nation of 55 million, we would have some voice, but not enough. Britain has traditionally been part of a larger grouping and was listened to partly because of that grouping as well as because of our own particular attributes.”
Rural communities will lose the delivery of mail under EU plans to streamline postal services…(May 10)
This is not true. In fact it is EU agreements that actually help to safeguard the universal service. The proposed new directive actually strengthens the existing 1997 Directive under which EU Member States can use licensing systems to impose universal service obligations on competitors. The new agreement would enable universal service providers to cross-subsidise universal services, insofar that it is needed to provide the universal service.
October 2010 Euromyth
This month Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder was contacted by a constituent concerned by an article he had read in the Daily Mail: -
“The General Medical Council automatically registers any doctor registered in another EU country that applies to work here but is banned from testing them for competency. EU rules state this threatens ‘the free movement of labour’, and countries in breach face heavy fines from Brussels.”
This is untrue, The General Medical Council registers doctors with relevant UK qualifications and also recognises relevant qualifications from EU countries. The bodies equivalent to the GMC in other EU countries, automatically recognise UK medical qualifications in return.
Employers have a responsibility to check that their members of staff are competent. Primary Care Trusts employ the doctors so it is their responsibility to check the competency of the doctors. The checks can include checking that staff have relevant qualifications (by consulting the GMC) but can also include their own language checks. Checks by an employer, not a regulatory body, do not threaten “the free movement of labour”. My constituent was also specifically concerned as to whether or not this meant that a Polish plumber could practice medicine in the UK? But this rule would only apply if the Pole also happened to be a qualified doctor and could find someone to employ them!
Last month (November 2010), when visiting a school Catherine Bearder MEP was informed by a pupil that:
“The EU wants to drop the Queen from our passports”
This is untrue and another thing the EU doesn’t have the power to do.
If you’re travelling outside the EU and the UK has no embassy in the country you’re visiting, you can now ask the embassy of any Member State which does have a diplomatic presence there to give you full consular protection. And I hope you agree this is rather useful.
What the Commission has done is to issue a recommendation that passports mention this right, so you aren’t left stranded without help while abroad. The recommendation will not lead to replacing current national texts or symbols in anyone’s passport.
“The EU wants to stop pub-goers calling bar staff ‘love’.”
This is untrue but according to some papers, all pub landlords are now required under EU law to prevent customers from chatting up bar staff or calling them ‘love’ or ‘darling’ and will face unlimited damages if they don’t.
Actually, EU rules (which were in fact based on UK equality law) exist to protect us all from discrimination or sexual harassment, not to dictate how friends and acquaintances address each other. It is up to the UK government to define the specific rules for different places of employment.
June 2011 banner headline in the Express was a really spectacular myth.
“EU rules will allow the use of pets and strays in animal experiments.”
Some papers are claiming that EU rules will allow the use of pets and strays in animal experiments. This is not true.
Apart from the fact that it’s a completely made up story, the origin of stray and feral animals of domestic species is unknown, which reduces their scientific value when used in procedures. In addition, they are not familiar with a laboratory environment, which would induce unnecessary distress and suffering. Therefore, for scientific, animal welfare and ethical reasons they should not be used in scientific procedures. In line with that, Directive 2010/63/EU contains a prohibition on the use of stray and feral animals in procedures.
However, in some very exceptional cases, such as when investigating an affliction which is particular only to stray animals (e.g. a disease affecting stray animals only and is transmittable to humans in contact with them), it may be necessary to use them in a limited research study. However, this would be highly exceptional and always based on a clear scientific justification and on a case by case basis and carefully monitored.
Any other testing or research using dogs and cats can only be done with animals that have been specifically bred for scientific purposes.
“England football team ‘could be forced to wear EU flag’”
Some papers are reporting that national football teams would be forced to wear the EU flag on their jerseys under contentious plans being proposed by the European Parliament. This is not true.
“Brussels” is not forcing British teams to wear the EU flag now, nor is it remotely likely to do so ever. A single Spanish MEP has at this stage floated a suggestion in a report going to committee.
The report referred to can be amended at every stage of the process, making it possible for MEPs to oppose the suggestion that players should wear the EU flag on their shirts. Even if the whole Parliament ended up endorsing the report in its entirety this would simply constitute the basis for a request to the European Commission to come up with a legislative proposal which would then have to be agreed by member state’s ministers as well as MEPs.
It is also worth pointing out that the report discussed is looking at ways to respond to pan-European challenges such as in the fight against violence and racism in sport, doping, encouraging good governance in sport, and helping associations establish mechanisms for the collective selling of media rights to ensure adequate redistribution of revenues. Lots of good ideas, but guess which half a sentence the Europhobes pounced on?!