As part of its campaign "to improve flagging confidence in the EU", it has set up a website giving "detailed rebuttals" of stories that it complains leaves readers with a "picture of the EU as a bunch of mad ‘eurocrats’".
The Times story is headed: "We're not banning corgis – check your facts, sighs EU" and the scope of the commission’s concern extends to rebutting stories that alleged EU plans to ban advertising slogans such as "Guinness is good for you", the one about the EU wanting to reduce lottery prizes to a maximum of £60,000 and alleged EU plans to ban corgis and 100 other breeds of dog.
The commission is free with its criticism, claiming that: "The British press is quite prepared to report fantasy, and they have a habit of deliberately distorting stuff…", although it does concede that "many of them are very funny".
What is not funny is the commission’s website, called "Get Your Facts Straight", where selective reporting is the rule. For instance, one of its "rebuttals" relates the "myth": "Model Railways under threat from EU", citing from the Mail on Sunday, 19 May 2002. The problem, à la commission, is that:
Thousands of model railway fans are facing a threat to their innocent hobby – from Brussels bureaucrats. EU rules will come into force at the end of this month aimed at improving the safety of industrial boilers.. The European Pressure Equipment Regulations, which are backed by Whitehall, will hit the handful of manufacturers who make the copper boilers for model steam engines and larger ride-on engines at theme parks. The makers claim the extra red tape will cost them thousands of pounds and will put them out of business.The kindly commission then gives us the "facts", to put us straight:
The Pressure Equipment Directive (PED) improves the system of safety checks on a range of items such as fire extinguishers and diving bottles, not just on boilers in steam trains. It also applies to power plants, air conditioning and refrigeration systems and oil refineries to name but a few example.The directive, says the commission:
…actually cuts red tape because products will need to be inspected by only one national body, reflecting the fact that such products are sold in more than one EU country. There is a strong case for the stringent verification provided for by the PED. Faulty pressure equipment can indeed kill. Under the new directive miniature railway fans are safeguarded via boiler checks, factory workers are better protected and manufacturers now have genuine access to the market, properly regulated to ensure safety.But what the commission does not do is cite Christopher Booker’s column, published in February 2003, which gave the detailed background to the problem being caused by the directive. "A world-leading British industry", he wrote then, "is about to be wiped out by an EU directive simply because Brussels officials had never heard of them, and therefore drafted a law in a way that makes it impossible for them to comply." He continues:
Small wonder that the fragrant Margot Wallström, the new communications commissioner, wants to promote the website to the public, rather than have them learn what really is going on. And her spokesman has the nerve to say: "It is useful to remind people of the truth. Our purpose is to ensure there is an informed debate, and this is part of that."
Although the six men and one woman who make copper boilers for model steam engines supply them to customers all over the world, and build them to a British safety standard twice as exacting as that imposed by the EU's Pressure Equipment Directive (PED), the Brussels law (certainly as interpreted by our own Department of Trade and Industry) makes no provision for such a tiny industry. It must therefore go out of business.
Britain's seven self-employed copper boilermakers - including Trevor Tremblen who worked in Swindon's engine sheds and on North Sea oil rigs; Pete Carr who worked for Westlands and Rolls Royce; John Ellis, who also worked for Rolls-Royce and Lucas Aerospace; Ian Stock, a retired farmer; and Helen Verrall from Somerset, the world's only woman boilermaker - have no rivals. They have customers lining up for their products from Japan to Oregon, USA. But so specialised is their craft that when Brussels drew up its directive to set EU-wide safety standards for pressure vessels, no one thought to consult them.
When the boilermakers finally learned about the new directive, which they were told would allow them to trade freely throughout the EU's single market (something they have been doing for years), they realised that it gave them no way to meet its requirements. What made their situation even more bizarre is that, although the EU has given exemptions to amateur boilermakers and those who build "heritage" steam engines, the professional craftsmen who make them more expertly than anyone else are being forced into extinction.
The PED is one of a phalanx of directives that require a wide range of products to be given a "CE" mark (for Communaute Europeen), to certify that they meet EU safety standards. These are granted by what are called "notified bodies", commercial organisations which, in return for an accreditation fee, buy the right to supervise the testing and voluminous paperwork needed to win a CE mark, charging £700 a day for their services.
The problem for the copper boilermakers was twofold. First, they had to provide certificates guaranteeing the content of each piece of copper they use. But because copper is a "base material", these certificates do not exist. It is too expensive for manufacturers to supply them. The only alternative is to have each component separately analysed at £80 per item, adding prohibitively to the cost…
Recently the net around the seven has been tightening. Customers not only in Europe but all over the world have told them that, unless each boiler has a CE mark and the mass of documentation which goes with it, orders must be cancelled. Insurance companies are free to insure boilers made to a lower standard by amateurs, because these are exempted. But professional products without a CE mark are uninsurable.
Short of miraculous intervention by a politician who can see just how insane is the situation that these decent, desperate people are faced with, it seems a world-beating British industry is about to be wiped out, for no reason whatever.