The eurosceptic narrative

A lot of eurosceptic arguments flow from a basic narrative which goes something like this:

“75% of our laws are imposed on us by an unelected giant bureaucracy in Brussels, stifling our businesses in red tape and costing us billions of pounds a day. We thought we were joining a free trade area, but it has transformed into a political union without anybody ever having a say.”

Not a single element of that narrative is true, but it’s repeated ad nauseam in the eurosceptic parts of our media and by so many Conservative and UKIP politicians that it’s almost taken as read.

It was Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who said that, if you tell a big enough lie often enough, the people will believe it. Is he about to be proved right — or can facts defeat myths? Can debate overcome prejudice? The Clegg-Farage debates didn’t augur well!

For the record and for the umpteenth time, here is that narrative deconstructed, point by point.

  • “75% of our laws”: The House of Commons library, which is independent of political influence, published a detailed analysis of this claim in which they concluded that the real figure was just 6.8% of laws and 14.1% of statutory instruments. And these figures include everything that even mentions the EU, “from passing reference to explicit implementation”.
  • “imposed on us”: The European Commission only proposes. It’s our own elected governments and directly elected MEPs who decide on European laws.
  • “unelected”: The EU’s Council of Ministers consists of national governments, the European Parliament consists of directly-elected MEPs, and the European Commission consists of nominees proposed by national governments and approved by the European Parliament. Parliament elects the Commission’s president.
  • “giant bureaucracy”: The European Commission has fewer employees than Leeds City Council.
  • “red tape”: Europe-wide rules are mostly common rules for the common market. They exist to simplify, replacing 28 divergent sets of national rules with one common one, thereby cutting red tape for industry and for consumers.
  • “costing us billions of pounds a day”: British industry (CBI) reckons that our membership of the EU benefits every family in the country to the tune of £3000 per year [the link is to a Financial Times report for which free registration is required]. Eurosceptics quote only what we pay into the EU’s own budget, most of which we get back anyway, and keep quiet about the far greater economic benefits, not to mention the intangible ones.
  • “we thought we were joining a free trade area”: No. We actually left the European Free Trade Association to join, specifically because we wanted more than just trade — as was made clear at the time by both Labour and Conservative governments, and by the media.
  • “never had a say”: this implies, perversely, that the only way to have a say in politics is through a referendum — in which case nobody has ever had a say on anything much! In fact, Europe has been a hotly-debated issue in many general elections, and on top of that there are specific European elections every five years. Parties seeking UK exit from the EU have never gained more than 20% of the seats.
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