Thursday, September 09, 2004

What has the EU done for us?

White Paper it is not… propaganda it most certainly is. On offer is a totally one-sided section entitled "What has the EU done for us?", which could easily have been written by Britain in Europe. The propaganda is reproduced below, with comments in italics.

Wealth: The EU now gives the UK access to a vast single market of some 450 million people across Europe – more than the US and Japan combined. We export three times as much to other EU Member States as to the US, and more to France and Germany than to the whole of the developing world.

Interestingly, that "450 million people" includes the UK's population so, if we take the claim literally, the EU has also given us access to our own domestic market. However, the crucial point, that is never identified, much less emphasised, is that while we have access to the rest of the EU, all the other member states have access to our market – which is why we have built a cumulative deficit on balance of trade with the EU 14 amounting to some £180 billion since we joined the EEC. Furthermore, despite our being in the EU, the USA actually exports more to the EU than does the UK.

Jobs: More than three million jobs in UK companies are estimated to be linked to exports to other EU Member States. Each previous enlargement of the EU has resulted in greater prosperity and research suggests that the same will follow from the EU's biggest ever enlargement. Two million people in Britain are employed by foreign investors – many attracted to the UK by our EU membership.

There is a subtle shift in the claim here: note, the jobs are "linked" to exports to other EU member states. The point made so often, of course, is that those exports would continue whether we were in the EU or not, especially as – like Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and others, we would doubtless negotiate a trading agreement with the EU – not least because the EU member states need our market more than we need theirs. As for inwards investment, membership of the EU is largely irrelevant.

Peace and stability: The EU, along with other international organisations like NATO and the United Nations, has helped to make a repeat of the First and Second World Wars unthinkable. As the Union enlarges, it reinforces peace, democracy and freedom across Europe. When the UK joined the European Community in 1973, Spain, Portugal and Greece were ruled by dictatorships, and most of the ten countries who recently joined the EU were Soviet satellites. All of these countries are now free, democratic EU partners.

Funny, the EU did not actually come formally into being until 1992, post-Maastricht. By then, I venture to suggest, repeat of the First and Second World Wars was already unthinkable. But the argument is tosh anyway. See our myth of the week on this.

The following two items are taken together:

Security: 30 years ago law enforcement co-operation with the rest of Europe was slow and ineffective. Escaping abroad often meant escaping justice. Europol (an EU criminal intelligence organisation) and Eurojust (an EU body for coordinating investigations and prosecutions) have led to the arrest of drug traffickers, child pornographers and leads relevant to detecting and preventing Al Qa’ida terrorist activity. Fugitives from British justice can now be brought back quickly to the UK as a result of the European Arrest Warrant.

Fighting Crime: In June 2004, EU Ministers agreed to spend 45 million euro on a programme to combat illegal and harmful content on the internet. Amongst other things, the programme will support hotlines allowing users to report internet content they regard as illegal or harmful (particularly to children) and fund technological advances allowing users to filter or limit the amount of such material they receive. The internet’s boundaries do not end at our borders; it makes sense to act together with our EU partners to tackle these problems.

I dealt with these in a paper for the Bruges Group. Below is the relevant part:

In respect of police and judicial co-operation, the 'European dimension' to this issue was introduced under 'Pillar II' of Maastricht and formalised by the Council Act of 26 July 1995, drawing up the Convention on the establishment of a European Police Office, known as the 'Europol Convention'. When reviewing the functions and mode of operation of 'Europol', however, it is hard to see any difference between them and those of the much older and better established 'Interpol'. This was originally the International Criminal Police Commission, which set up its first headquarters in Vienna in 1923. The Organisation was revived after the Second World War with new statues and a General Secretariat in Paris. It now has 181 member countries, with a Sub-Directorate for Europe, providing services and assistance to 46 European countries.

Both 'Europol' and 'Interpol' deal with such issues as illicit drug production; weapons smuggling; terrorism; money laundering; crimes against children; people smuggling; payment card fraud; and IT crime, in which context it is hard to accept any rationale for the much smaller and more geographically limited 'Europol', other than as a mechanism for political integration. If, as the justification for Europol, it is claimed that many criminal activities 'take no account of national borders', then the wider the net is cast, the more effective will be the countermeasures. As with the surveillance of infectious disease, therefore, the European Union perspective is far too narrow. 'Interpol' already provides a more than adequate mechanism for police co-operation.

This notwithstanding, in relation to specific crimes or incidents with cross-border dimensions, there is also a need for direct contacts between various national police forces, so the existence of an international agency does not preclude making bilateral agreements, to serve more specific needs.

Turning to judicial co-operation component of 'Pillar II', this presents a challenge which is of topical importance. There is not only the question of the European Arrest Warrant, which supplants international agreements on extradition, but also the vexed question of 'penalty shopping', where criminals engaged in cross-border crime can arrange their affairs - or locus of operation - in states where penalties and lowest, and the judicial systems more relaxed. There is some merit, in this context, in seeking international agreement on standardising some judicial measures and procedures, for which the EU - in relation to member states - currently provides the forum.

However, once again, there are already mechanisms for judicial co-operation, many of which pre-date the European Union and its ambitions in this area, or extend beyond the limited geographical areas of its member states.

A recent example of the latter is the United Nations Convention against Trans-national Organised Crime, concluded in July 2000. Hailed as a 'major step forward in the fight against trans-national organised crime', this is a legally-binding instrument committing States which ratify it to taking a series of measures against trans-national organised crime, including the creation of domestic criminal offences to combat the problem, the adoption of new, sweeping frameworks for mutual legal assistance, extradition, law-enforcement co-operation and technical assistance and training. The intention is that states which are party to the Convention will be able to rely on one another in investigating, prosecuting and punishing crimes committed by organised criminal groups, where either the crimes or the groups which commit them have some element of trans-national involvement.

The main Convention is augmented by a series of protocols, dealing with the prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children; against smuggling migrants by land, air and sea, and the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.

Arguably, most European initiatives in this context seem simply to be 're-inventing the wheel' and, on the face of it, offer few if any benefits that could not be realised outside the framework of the European Union. Much the same could be said of many other EU initiatives.

Freedom to work and travel across Europe: In 1973, ‘the Continent’ appeared to many a distant and rather inaccessible place. You often needed a visa to travel there. British people now have the right to travel, work, study and live visa-free throughout the EU. UK residents will make around forty million trips to other EU countries this year. 100,000 Britons are currently working in other EU Member States. 234,000 UK pensioners draw their pensions in other EU countries. On average, 10 000 UK students study abroad in the EU each year. And, contrary to fears expressed at each enlargement, many more Britons have gone to live elsewhere in the EU than EU nationals have to the UK.

Putting this into perspective, there are estimated to be over 400,000 French nationals of economic age in the South East of England alone... the “benefits” go both ways and could easily have been agreed on an intergovernmental basis. The EU has simply hijacked something that was happening and would have continued with or without the EU. Incidentally, in 1944-45, there were over 1 million British residents working in what are now EU countries - although some were day trippers. The EU had not even been invented then

Consumer benefits: The EU has also introduced rules to protect consumers. British citizens have guaranteed rights whenever they buy anything throughout the European Union. Many prices have been driven down thanks to the EU. The cost of making a call or taking a flight across Europe has been cut in recent years because of EU rules encouraging liberalisation and greater competition. And the single market has helped bring us greater choice in our shops.

There is nothing here, in terms of protection of consumers, that could not have been achieved through UK law, had we wished to pass such law. But much of this "protection" is responsible for the surge of red tape and the closure of small businesses, about which there are so many complaints. But, in the propaganda style of this section, only the “benefits” but none of the problems are mentioned.

A better deal on holidays: Today, Britons travelling to the continent enjoy benefits that were unheard of when the UK joined the EU in 1973. British travellers are covered for emergency hospital treatment on holiday in the EU. The blue EU channel allows travellers to move more quickly through customs. Package tour operators also have to meet certain advertising criteria thanks to EU rules – if they change your holiday, or cancel it, they must provide compensation.

Really… this is bottom of the barrel stuff. The great leap in package holidays started in the 1950s and was already a well established phenomenon in the late sixties, before we joined the EEC. It would have continued, with reciprocal arrangements on medicare – which apply outside the EU as well – irrespective of the EU.

A cleaner environment: Pollution respects no national borders. Cooperation with EU partners is helping to combat global warming and other threats to our environment and quality of life. Since the UK joined the EU noxious emissions have been cut, making our streets and countryside less polluted. For
example, in 1973, sulphur dioxide emissions (one of the key pollutants forming acid rain) were measured in the UK at 6.1 million tonnes. By 1999, these had fallen to 1.2 million tonnes. Important habitats have been protected to provide safe homes for endangered species. And beaches, rivers and drinking water have become much cleaner.

We have seen some of the "benefits" of EU environmental legislation in this Blog – click here. EU environmental legislation is a disaster area.

And the reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions is almost entirely due to the closure of Britain's coalfields and the change-over from coal-fired electricity generation to gas.

We will be dealing in more detail with some of these issues in later Blogs, as full-blown "myths". But, if this is the best they can offer, then it is not arguments we are short of – it is the sheer boredom of having to go over the same tired, discredited points, again. Can't they think of anything new?

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