What percentage of our laws actually come from the EU?


by J Clive Matthews    
9:20 am - June 3rd 2009

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Law booksLast week on the BBC’s Question Time, eurosceptic Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan mentioned 84%; UKIP leader Nigel Farrage said it was 75%.

The figure most often mentioned by anti-EU types (such as French National Front leader Jean Marie Le Pen or the Libertas Party) is that 80% of our laws come from the EU, while in a speech elsewhere last week, Conservative leader David Cameron said that “Almost half of all the regulations affecting our businesses come from the EU”.

These figures (or, at least, figures in this rough ballpark) are widely accepted, with everyone from universities to charities seeming to accept them at face value.

But are any of them actually true? And which is it? 84%? 80%? 75%? 50%? Or some other figure? Because they can’t ALL be right.

Daniel Hannan: 84% of all laws come from the EU

Let’s take the biggest figure first. If 84% sounds ridiculously high, that’s because it is. Even eurosceptic thinktank Open Europe have dismissed this claim as unrealistic – explaining in detail where the calculation originated.

In short, it comes from a reply by the Parliamentary Undersecretary of the German Parliament, Alfred Hartenbach, given on 29 April 2005 – relating specifically (and exclusively) to Germany, where he stated that from 1998 until 2004, 18,187 EU regulations and 750 EU directives were adopted in Germany. During the same period the German Parliament passed in total 1,195 laws (as well as 3,055 “Rechtsverordnungen” – which are like Primary and Secondary legislation). This was seized on by former German President Roman Herzog and Luder Gurken of the Centrum für Europäische Politik, who used these figures to work out 84% of all German laws originate in Brussels. As Open Europe explains:

750 (directives) + 18,187 (regulations) = 18,917 EU legislative acts

1,195 (Gesetze) + 3,055 (Verordnungen) – 750 (directives) = 3,500 German legislative acts

= 84%.

The 750 directives were substracted as they require seperate implementing laws in Germany (assuming a directive/implementing law ratio of 1:1).

Open Europe goes on to explain why this figure is, at best, misleading. And remember, Open Europe is a eurosceptic thinktank:

to conclude that 4 out 5 laws originate in Brussels is probably a step too far. Germany, for instance, is a federal system, meaning that the individual Lander has substantial powers to legislate autonomously. The many laws adopted on the Lander-level would have to be included in any all laws count, which isn’t the case here. In addition, this count says nothing about the nature of the laws.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the EU’s powers are mainly regulatory, as opposed to budgetary. This means that most issues that relate to spending and taxation (health bills, crime bills, educational reform, pensions, welfare, etc) – the “wallet” issues if you will – are mostly beyond the realm of the EU, but must also be included in any count that includes all laws.

So, the 84% figure is based on a calculation about German laws (and is therefore not directly transferable to Britain, as Hannan and others would like us to believe), and that calculation in any case left out a huge chunk of German legislation, rendering the final figure utterly obsolete.

So the 84% figure can safely be discounted.

UKIP: 75% of all laws come from the EU

Next up, the second highest figure. Where did UKIP get their 75% claim from? Well, handily they provide a video on YouTube which shows it comes from Hans-Gert Pottering, EPP MEP and President of the European Parliament from January 2007 to June 2009:

“If we were not that influential,” the subtitles show Pottering as saying, “then we would not be the legislator of 75% of all laws in Europe.”

But where it suits UKIP’s purpose to interpret this as literally meaning that, EU-wide, 75% of ALL laws stem from the EU, had they included more of Pottering’s speech the context – and therefore the meaning – would have become far more apparent. For what Pottering was actually saying was that the European Parliament (not the EU) legislates on 75% of laws *passed by the European Union*. Not passed by EU member states – just by the EU itself, at EU level. Because the European Parliament has little say in something like 20-25% of EU legislation (something the Lisbon Treaty would rectify, but that’s for another day). German speakers will also be able to confirm that the subtitles on UKIP’s video of Pottering are not 100% accurate.

So the 75% figure does not apply to the percentage of laws in individual member states that stem from the EU, but the percentage of laws that stem from the EU that the European Parliament has a say in. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish – and so the 75% figure can safely be dismissed as based on a (deliberate?) misunderstanding.

David Cameron: “Almost half”

It is worth noting again here that Cameron says “almost half of all regulations affecting our businesses come from the EU”. Some laws may be regulations, but not all regulations are laws, so we need to tread a little more carefully here. Where did Cameron get his figure from? I genuinely have no idea. I can’t track down an original source for it anywhere – though it is a claim made on the website of the Institute of Directors – albeit with the qualification that “estimates vary”, something Cameron neglected to mention.

But what is the real figure? How much say does the EU have in business regulations? Well, handily enough, last month the British Chambers of Commerce produced a report (PDF) investigating precisely this issue, “Worlds Apart: The British and EU Regulatory Systems” – their seventh annual report into the subject, and the fifth comparing the British and EU systems. Their conclusion?

In terms of the number of regulations, the EU this year accounted for only 20%. The reduction from the previous EU level of about 30% is the primary reason for the overall decline in 2007/8.

Hmmm… Only 20%, you say? And the proportion of EU regulations is declining, you say? So where did Cameron get his “almost half” from?

The House of Commons Library’s 9.1% claim

Also on Question Time last week was Europe Minister Caroline Flint, who trotted out the usual defence against the above eurosceptic claims about the EU’s influence that just 9.1% of UK laws stem from the EU. the report in question can be found as a PDF in the depths of the UK Parliament site.

The study was conducted by the (politically independent) House of Commons Library between 1998 and 2005, based on the statutory instruments passed with references to European legislation, because “The vast majority of EC legislation is enacted by statutory instruments under section 2 (2) of the European Communities Act.” It also helpfully breaks these laws down by department – the most affected of which are Defra – which deals with the Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies, so no surprises there – and the Department of Trade and Industry – hardly surprising with the Common Market and all. Both departments saw about 50% of their legislation having some kind of EU origin – which could, via the DTI, be where Cameron got his “almost half” figure from, perhaps?

But is the 9.1% figure accurate? Is just looking at statutory instruments fair, when this means that normal legislation, via parliament itself, can be left out? Open Europe (in the same post where they discussed and dismissed the 84% claim) make four key points:

1) They do not seperate between budgetary and regulatory legislation, therefore comparing apples and oranges.

2) They also compare apples and oranges in another respect: Directives are usually far-reaching measures with a big impact on the economy. SIs, in contrast, can cover a variety of issues, including public administration – for example a road closure or changing arrangements for parish elections.

3) EU Regulations (as opposed to Directives) usually don’t give rise to a new UK law but are directly applicable. Therefore, most EU Regulations are not included in the 9% figure.

4) One Directive does not mean one SI. The Motor Vehicles Regulations in 2007 implemented four different Directives, for instance, making a one-for-one comparison tricky.

On point 1), of course, the EU has no say in the British budget and has no revenue-raising powers, so I’m not sure what they’re trying to say. On point 2) they have a point – but how do you measure the “far-reaching” implications and economic impact of a directive, exactly? On point 3) they also have a point – which might explain why the British Chambers of Commerce have a higher estimate of 20%. Point 4), if we’re hunting down the percentage of British laws that have an EU origin, is irrelevant.

But considering that we’re looking for a percentage of the *number* of laws that stem from the EU, it is worth bearing in mind that Statutory Instruments make up the bulk of all UK legislation, with an average of around 3,500 passed every year for much of the last two decades. In 2008, 3,389 Statutory Instruments were passed, while the UK Statute Law Database lists 2,414 results for the same year. With no study (that I’m aware of) having been conducted on how many of those have an EU origin, it is hard to tell the percentage.

However, with Statutory Instruments making up the bulk of UK legislation, and with most EU legislation brought into force via this method (having already been passed at EU level, there’s generally no need for EU legislation to then be re-enacted at national level, after all), it’s no great leap to suggest that the final percentage wouldn’t be that much higher than 9%. Indeed, Labour MEP Richard Corbett has noted other studies in other EU member states:

6.3 percent according to the Swedish parliament, 12 percent according to the Finnish parliament and between 12 and 19 percent according to the Lithuanian parliament

This would suggest that something in the region of 10-20% would be a fair guess for the UK as well (a range that has the added benefit of being backed up by the British Chambers of Commerce’s recent study of regulations).

Bonus: How much does the EU cost us?

I’ve already discussed the actual costs of EU membership based on the UK’s annual contribution, showing that the net cost is around £4 billion a year. But what about the cost to business and to the economy?

This is, of course, a hugely complex issue. How to estimate the impact of legislation on an entire country’s economy? It’s practically impossible, as without a control sample we can’t tell how beneficial or detrimental any individual piece of legislation may be – let alone the impact of other pieces of legislation that may affect the same general area.

Nonetheless, the more enthusiastic among you may have noted, in the Open Europe piece quoted above, that the same post also gives Open Europe’s own estimate that “72% of the cost of regulation is EU derived”. Is this fair? Well, it’s only an estimate, and I haven’t seen their workings, so it’s hard to tell.

However, let’s return to that British Chambers of Commerce report, also linked above. What do they have to say about the costs of EU regulation?

By value, EU legislation was only responsible for about 0.1% (£1.9m) of regulatory net costs in 2007/8 and virtually all business burdening regulatory activity can be attributed to Whitehall.

Oh… would you look at that?

Conclusion

No one agrees on how much legislation and regulation stems from the EU. The 9.1% figure stated by the House of Commons Library is too low, as it only covers Statutory Instruments, not ALL laws; the higher figures of 84%, 75% and even 50% claimed by the likes of Hannan, Farrage and Cameron are based on miscalculations, misunderstandings, or sources unknown, and often derive from parts of the EU other than just the UK – and so with no hard evidence to support them must be dismissed as either too high or inapplicable to the British situation.

What is the true figure? No one knows. So any claims that state hard and fast percentages should – if we’re being intellectually honest – be treated with equal suspicion.

Not that any of this is likely to change the opinions of those eurosceptics convinced of the malicious and all-pervading influence of the EU on our daily lives, of course. But still. I’ve looked for the evidence, and this is what I’ve tracked down. If you know different, please do let me know – I’m interested in the truth of the situation, as without total transparency, such misinformation, misunderstandings and resentments are only going to grow.

————
Cross-posted from EUtopia

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About the author
This is a guest post. Jc Clive Matthews has written about European affairs for years at: Nosemonkey's EUtopia
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Reader comments


Awesome post. Best thing I’ve read on LC for ages, and I’m glad someone’s set the record straight on the EU laws thing, even if to say that we don’t know for sure. At least now we know for sure that we don’t know for sure! Cheers J Clive!

When are we going to get an open and honest debate about the benefits (or otherwise) of our membership of the EU ?
Part of the frustration I feel is that we get a fair bit of the information on this issue from the UK press, not the most trustworthy source on any issue.
Thanks for this piece, interesting.

What a great piece of analysis. These figures being banded around always struck me as propoganda (I develop a nervous twitch every time I hear Nigel Farage talk about the EU in any case), but I would love for someone to really investigate this properly because it would make a huge contribution to the ‘in-out’ EU debate.

People do not trust politicians and civil servants . The further distant the politicians and civil servants are away from people the less control they feel they can exert over them . The problem is one of a lack of accountability. Many people are happy to live within an economic community but not a union. The EU has just become another gravy train which enables large numbers of well paid people – civil servants and politicians to tell us what to do. If the EU returned to the EEC and just was responsible for free trade in goods and services within the borders, then most people would be happy to let them get on with it. Most people are aware that it was the economic depresson which geatly assisted in the rise of the Nazis nd consider the old EEC was doing an excellent job in preventing such a situation ever developing again. Increasingly people are realising the CAP is a method of keeping prices higher than they need to be in order to pay many farmers more than the market requires and preventing farmers from the developing world exporting to the EU. The food and wine surpluses created by the CAP were a perfect example of poor legislation.How this ever would prevent the return of a depression which could lead to the rise of a neo nazi party defies all logic.

Therefore, whatever the figure is ; the EU interfers too much in peoples lives.

eureferendum.blogspot.com is a good source of very well informed eurosceptic comment

The issue of percentages is less important than the question of where EU “competence” as I believe it is called (!) comes into play, several of which are sizeable, to say the least.

A few examples (correct me if wrong):

VAT – we cannot cut below 15% even if we wanted to
CAP – you fail when estimating the costs of the EU to take account of the lower food costs we would have were there no EU-imposed protectionsim
Royal Mail
Defence procurement

Some recent research also estimated that EU regulation was costing the equivalent of 12% of GDP.

http://www.i-l-m.com/members/2363.aspx?articleid=19191281&articleheading=Cost+of+EU+regulation+tops+%C2%801+trillion

Which is not to say that Whitehall idiots wouldn’t be capable of imposing simialr costs themselves of course!

Surely the argument is, in any event, one of principle.
As Tony Benn – with whom I disagree on almost everything – says: our parliament should be supreme.
Our MP’s failure to protect their own supremacy is one of the reasons we hold them in such contempt!

And this analysis also ignores the point that, although most regulations are drafted by the British Government and passed as British Acts (or more commonly SIs) many of them are directly derived from EU regulations/directives and then further gold-plated.

great post: particularly effective in being straight and accurate, rather than seeking to counter misleading propaganda from one side with half-truths from the other.

#6 – so what? If an Act is drafted and passed by the UK Parliament, why does it matter if a similar regulation has been considered in the EU, the US, Sub-Saharan Africa, China or frankly anywhere? It’s still being debated and passed on its merits according to the will of the elected government of the day. It doesn’t equate to a loss of sovereignty.

@8 – it matters if the UK parliament is obliged to pass it as a result of an EU directive

Blears just resigned!! Rats off a sinking ship!!!

On the Benn point about Parliamentary Sovereignty, I can’t see any problem in principle here. There is no political difficulty in leaving the EU if a decision is made to do that. If an in/out referendum were held and the outs won (for example, had that been the result in 1975) or if a government came to power committed to leaving the EU, it is simply a question of repealing the European Communities Act of 1972. (The right to secede from the Union is articulated (for the first time) and confirmed in the Lisbon Treaty, but it is of course an established political reality for the member states of a community of democracies).

This is – for Eurosceptics – a problem of politics, not of sovereignty. They have not been able to win sufficient political or public support to get Britain out, despite tending to dominate the debate.

If, however, we choose to be a member of the EU, or NATO, or to sign up to a binding international agreement on climate change, then we are bound by the terms and rules of engagement while we are party to that agreement.

Again, there would be nothing to stop a future Parliament deciding it opposed the Kyoto or future Copenhagen agreements, voting to repudiate the Treaty (which would, in the UK, be symbolic) and to repeal any domestic legislation arising from it. The barrier to doing so is domestic political opinion – the current levels of support for the kyoto treaty, for EU membership, for Nato membership and so on.

(If we were to depart, the complex issue is not the reassertion of sovereignty, but rather how to take forward those national interests which are currently advanced by membership, such as trade access, cooperation on transnational crime and other multilateral and cross-border issues. There would be a whole series of complex – sovereign – decisions about what to do where, from outside, complying with eg particular trade standards was necessary for market access. This is something Norway and Iceland need to do at present. It is their choice to weigh up the pros and cons. In practice, they often choose to reflect the EU regulation from outside. There can be no loss of sovereignty in doing that, though they are in a relatively weak position in terms of their effective power and influence, eg to persuade the EU to adopt Norweigan or EFTA standards is difficult. In practice, it is possible that the amount of legislation adopted with an EU progeny was not reduced as much as people might think – but that would be the case only if there was a political decision that the UK national interest depended on signing up to parallel laws and regulations in several cases).

cjcjc – you raise a lot there that, had I covered it in sufficient detail to be convincing, would have turned this post into a book. But, in brief:

VAT – the current EU-set minimum VAT level is 15%, yes, while the maximum is 25% – however, the lower rate is in the process of being revised, with some agreements already reached. However, there are countless variables and opt-outs among the EU VAT guidelines that allow for a huge amount of flexibility – hence the UK’s 5% reduced rate and 0% rate on some items. Wikiepdia has a handy list of VAT rates in EU member states to show just how flexible the system can be.

CAP – I want this reformed as much as anyone as the entire system is a shambles, but what *you* fail to take into account that a) EU farm subsidies enable farmers to sell their goods for less without going bankrupt, thus lowering food costs (that’s the whole point of them), and b) we have no idea what the impact on food prices would be if the CAP was scrapped – it’s not a given that they would fall (though it is likely that many European farmers would be unable to survive)

Royal Mail – I assume you mean by this the idea that the EU is to blame for the part-privatisation of the postal service? This stems from Directive 97/67/EC (amended by Directive 2002/39/EC and Directive 2008/06/EC) – all of which are incredibly dull. We had private alternatives to Royal Mail in this country before that time, and the Post Office was already in decline. I’d personally blame several years of mismanagement combined with the rise of the internet and spread of fast electronic banking methods for the decline of the Post Office – but one thing’s for sure, it’s far more complicated than just “the EU screwed it over”.

Defence procurement – not sure what you mean here. Defence procurement is specifically exempted from the Common Market, and defence in any case is not an EU competence. There have been some efforts in recent years to draft a new Directive to deal with defence procurement, but as it hasn’t been written yet (let alone passed) it’s hard to tell what it might be. According to the usually reliable EUbusiness.com, though, any directive would be designed to liberalise the market – which I take to be a good thing.

It’s also worth noting that successive British governments could have vetoed or opted out of pretty much any of this stuff, if they so chose. They chose not to, but instead decided to accept the EU regulations in all these areas – regulations which they will always have been involved in the drafting of. Want to point the finger at someone? Point it at the government – the EU is just a tool, while government is the workman.

This is – for Eurosceptics – a problem of politics, not of sovereignty. They have not been able to win sufficient political or public support to get Britain out, despite tending to dominate the debate.

In what sense have Eurosceptics dominated the debate? Members of Better Off Out are barred from the Tory front bench. The Labour party contains no serious Eurosceptics and the LibDems are pro-EU. Only UKIP and the BNP campaign on a withdrawal platform.

Recent polls have pointed towards the EU being a key sticking point in voters’ minds and a recent Daily Politics poll demonstrated widespread support for withdrawal.

The problem is lack of leadership. If the Tory party campaigned on a withdrawal platform it would win by a landslide.

A fascinating post, thank you – it is always good to see a daft argument debunked.

Still, although you do a thorough job of debunking Hanan, Cameron, and the HCL’s figures, I am not sure that it moves us on very far.

Daniel Hanan’s argument seems to be that this is far too high a percentage of our laws to originate outside the Westminster Parliament. His figures are certainly wrong but they are irrelevant because, while It is certainly stupid to argue that the EU is a bad thing because it makes more than a certain percentage of our laws, it would be preposterous to argue that that the EU is a good thing simply because it makes very few of them.

It doesn’t matter what the percentage of laws originating from Brussels is – it matters what those laws are like and whether, without the EU framework to fit into, the British parliament might have passed (or declined to pass) substantially different laws that would better have suited out national interests. The disbenefits of having one or two laws that happen to suit, for example, the italians better than they suit us must then be weighed against the benefits of the common market, the lower regulatory costs associated with a single set of regulations and so on.

If it is difficult to work out the percentage of our legislation that originates in Brussels, it is quite impossible to answer this latter question (which is partly why people start arguing about the percentage of legislation that originates in Brussels in the first place).

The problems that the EU has concern transparency and legitimacy and both are linked to the type of legislation that it passes.

EU legislation is, as you rightly point out, much concerned with regulation of business and so on. I don’t think that many people have much difficulty with the idea that the maximum safe level of solvents in paint should be set at the EU-wide level for example – such solvents would, after all be just as toxic to a Pole or a Spaniard as they would to a Briton. But because so much of the EU’s remit is taken up with the unexeptional stuff, it can be difficult to come up with manifesto promises that get much traction with the electorate.

The result is that MEPs go to the parliament with tiny mandates and their constituents have only the dimmest idea of what they will do when they get there. In this context, it is scarcely surprising that people worry about the EU’s influence. Still less surprising when national parliaments have a tendency to claim EU successes as their own but heap the blame for the uncomfortable bits on remote and unaccountable Brussels.

People are unsure what the EU is for and so they are wary of it. What they can see is that the EU has grown substantially in size and scope since its inception and that there seems to be considerable internal controversy about how far this process should go before it stops. And when they are told that the way to clear this up is with a 300 page treaty that even Giscard d’Estaing regards as unclear, they are right to reject that treaty/constitution as utterly incomprehesible.

If the EU wants to give itself legitimacy, then what needs to be set out in its constitution is what it is for and, crucially, what it is not for. Only once this has been established would it be necessary to finalise every last detail of how that is achieved. This short constitution could then be put to a proper, Europe-wide referendum in which a simple majority of EU voters was required for passage rather than the absurd spectacle of a small number of countries being given a right of veto and everyone else being bound into a constitution they do not understand.

Nor should this be seen as a way of limiting the powers of the EU in perpetuity, constitutions are not eternal and if, after some years, the EU feels it can make a case for either greater or amended powers then it would be free to put a new constitution before the electorate.

I apologise for the digression and assure you that I am not a Libertas mole. (Although they might get my vote anyway for the lack of someone I actually want to vote for)

They have not been able to win sufficient political or public support to get Britain out, despite tending to dominate the debate.

Well in the narrow sense that we have not elected a UKIP government (fortunately!) you are right.

But the elites have not dared to hold a referendum, which the polling evidence suggests the “outs” would win.

The slippery LibDems voted against a referendum on Lisbon – saying they wanted an in/out one – only for them to vote against such a one later in the Lords!

Meanwhile here is Prof Vernon Bogdanor in a very interesting lecture on the constitution I attended a couple of years ago:

“The European Union, as we are coming to realise, is not just another international organisation, like NATO or the United Nations; it is a legal order which is superior to the British Parliament. Of course, if you take the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament seriously, there can be no such legal order superior to the British Parliament – Parliament must be superior. Thus there is a conflict there, and that conflict has not been worked out, either in theory or in practice. There are numerous examples – some of them people do not like, some of them they do – whereby legislation has been adopted by the European Union and Parliament has had no option but to accept it as a consequence of our membership.”

http://www.gresham.ac.uk/event.asp?PageId=4&EventId=534

Gresham College has lots of good stuff on btw…

@12 – excellent point about where power most obviously lies, ie in the council of ministers where we (or at least our supposed masters) *could* veto more often

the consequence of which would of course be the “two speed” or “a la carte” approach which I suspect most secptics (myself prob included) would consider a reasonable compromise!

George V:

It doesn’t matter what the percentage of laws originating from Brussels is – it matters what those laws are like and whether, without the EU framework to fit into, the British parliament might have passed (or declined to pass) substantially different laws that would better have suited out national interests.

So, in Hannan’s case it’s either ‘the EU has to pass laws that reflect my politics’ (hmmm…Single European Act, anyone?) or ‘It doesn’t matter what the EU does, I’m against it in the name of British Sovereignty’. The first is remedied by having lots of right-wing national governments and Hannan-clone MEPs. If it’s the second, it means quitting the EU. We’re dealing with people clutching articles of faith, not ones persuaded by evidence and argument.

Wonderful post.

We’re dealing with people clutching articles of faith

True on both sides!!

20. Moses Humberstone

The whole idea of expressing laws in something as elementary and crude as a percentage is a nonsense in the first place.

The actual number of laws passed by any particular legislature is a complete red herring. What matters is the extent to which these laws affect our lives (and what really matters in the context of an election is where the laws that have a negative effect on our lives originate, and who is responsible for them)

What if the EU wants to bring in a (hypothetical) law requiring all vehicles to display a pair of furry dice on the rear view mirror? It could bring in this law (1 law). Or it could bring in three separate laws requiring 1.Cars, 2.Vans and 3. Lorries to display the dice (3 laws). The net effect is the same, but the number of laws passed has tripled.

What if only two laws came from Brussels, 1. At the age of 40, all citizens of the EU had report to their local hospital for involuntary euthanasia, and 2. The implementation of a EU-wide minimum wage of €20 per hour. Presumably the Eurosceptic parties would be overjoyed at this reduction of ‘the number of laws passed in Brussels to a fraction of one percent.

George V – you are entirely right. It’s something I’ve been asking for years: what is the EU for? – until we know this, we can’t know what form the EU should take. It has evolved far beyond the relatively simple trading partnership that it started out as in the 1950s, and during all that time the people of Europe have never been consulted on what it is that they want from the organisation. Little wonder that there’s increasingly widespread distrust and misunderstanding – something the eurosceptics continent-wide are exploiting to their own electoral advantage (for reasons often equally unclear).

Personally, I think the eurosceptics have a vital role to play as the EU’s own opposition – a vital part of any mature political system. But as of yet, few eurosceptics have started to engage constructively to work within the system to make it better.

The other day I used the following analogy, and I think it’s a fair one: the republican Northern Irish MPs (Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and co), have repeatedly been returned to the Westminster parliament despite denying that it has any right to rule. The Sinn Fein MPs, of course, don’t turn up to vote – but were I a republican Northern Irishman and I got elected to the Westminster parliament, would I try and work within it to achieve my objective of independence? Yes, I’d like to think that I would.

Sinn Fein could have achieved far more far more quickly working within the system – as they have discovered during the last few years when the Stormont Assembly has been in place. Have they got complete independence? No. Because they are not a majority – just as people who want Britain to pull out of the EU altogether are not a majority. They have, however, managed to achieve a broad range of concessions and compromises that have made life in Northern Ireland infinitely more pleasant for everyone concerned. The eurosceptics and EU withdrawalists could do much the same if they got past the ideology and started working for the best interests of the people they are elected to represent.

just as people who want Britain to pull out of the EU altogether are not a majority

I’m not sure that’s true, but your “proper opposition” point is well made.

cjcjc @16 – I’m a big fan of a multi-tier EU idea. It’s something that I can see becoming ever more of a possibility as the ongoing stagnation that’s dogged the project since the failed compromise of the Treaty of Nice has shown that too many people want too many different things. We’ve already got the Eurozone and Schengen – sooner or later the more integrationist member states are going to realise that expanding this precedent-setting idea of different degrees of involvement is the only way that they can move ahead, allowing less enthusiastic member states like Britain, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic to chug along more slowly. This would also open up the way for the likes of Norway and Swtizerland to finally join, as well as bring in (on a lower tier) come of the countries of the Mediterranean Union, Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus – possibly even (not entirely beyond the realms of possibility) Russia.

Wishful thinking at the moment, but even if Lisbon passes it still doesn’t sort out all the problems that need to be fixed. If the next round of CAP reform and budget negotiations in a few years’ time don’t make some serious progress, the EU will hit yet another crisis point that could see the first serious steps down the path of entrenching the multi-tier model. I hope.

“By value, EU legislation was only responsible for about 0.1% (£1.9m) of regulatory net costs in 2007/8 and virtually all business burdening regulatory activity can be attributed to Whitehall.”

I always like to put it in perspective for people, if we as people in a household were “the UK”, and our expenditure was what the UK government spends, the spending level for comparison with what the EU costs us would be (on average) a third of our annual spend on fags and booze. And that’s being generous to the Eurosceptics.

I think we need to put it in to plainer examples like this if we’re to convince people that the “cost” is not that high at all.

25. dreamingspire

This morning on BBC R4 Today (just before 8 if I remember correctly) Nick Clegg was excellent on the benefits to us of the EU. Not that we could not try to get the same effects in another way, but (as mentioned above) our parliament – and I add our civil service – has not been adequate to the task even of responding properly to (very useful) EU Directives. It is our very insularity that is holding us back, and has been doing for 40 years as mainland Europe caught up and then went past us.

Lee @24 – my favourite bit of context is to point out that last year the government spent £31 BILLION just on paying off the INTEREST on the national debt.

£31 billion just to keep the bailiffs from the door – versus an average annual net cost of EU membership of £4 billion. But where are the outraged campaigners attacking the government for never asking us in a referendum if we wanted to run up such debts? Debts that cost every man, woman and child in the UK around £517 a year, just on the interest, without even the possibility of a beneficial return?

Nosemonkey – don’t go there, they love government spending here!

28. Luis Enrique

“Debts that cost every man, woman and child in the UK around £517 a year, just on the interest, without even the possibility of a beneficial return?”

it’s a small point, but some of those men & women are receiving that interest because they own government bonds, directly or indirectly. I’m not sure what you mean by “without even the possibility of a beneficial return” – doesn’t debt funded public expenditure bring some benefits? One would hope so.

redpesto,

From Daniel Hanan’s point of view that may be the case. I am merely saying that the benefits or otherwise of the EU are best determined by analysis of the effect of its legislation relative to the alternatives rather than analysis of the percentage of laws that originate there rather than in national parliaments.

Since an analysis of this kind is, to all practical purposes, impossible, we are left with a question of belief:

Do we believe that the EU is the best place to make certain sorts of decisions about how we govern ourselves?

Our answers to this question will depend on our view of two further questions:

Are the individual pieces of EU legislation that we know about generally good or bad pieces of legislation? And, is the process for developing this legislation robust? (i.e. transparent, democratic and subject to proper scrutiny)

On this last point, I think a better (and better understood) constitution than the Lisbon treaty would be a huge help and that the arrogance displayed by the EU in ramming through a constitution that has been rejected at successive referendums is symptomatic of the very problems that a better constitution would address.

Why not just a free trade zone in goods and services and let each country decide on how they manage themselves. The advantage is that any company has a market of 500 million and therefore can compete with the USA , India and China. Part of the success of American companies was the lower cost base . A company needed far fewer factories to supply the American market whereas European companies needed far more factories to supply Europe.

If we have a free trade zone then entry by Turkey and other countries are not such large issues as law and culture are not so relevant. The countries in Eastern Europe can become larger food producers for the rest of he continent, helping us to to become self sufficient. The danger the EU is becoming a 21 Century version of the Holy Roman Empire and empires collapse because of over reach; a result of hubris of the leaders. I cannot see how the desire by people to take more control of their lives can exist if more power goes to the EU. Evolution shows that species survive because they can adapt quickly enough to changed circumstance . The more bureaucratic organisation becomes, the less capable it is of rapid change. The EU is in danger of creating a one size fits form of government for 500M people of very diverse peoples, histories , culture etc . He healthiest ecosystem are usually where there is greatest diversity of flora and fauna with he highest biomass. The EU is in danger of turning a fertile grassland with an abundance of species into a massive field supporting a single crop and a very narrow range of other species.

@Charlie

Why not just a free trade zone in goods and services and let each country decide on how they manage themselves.

You unintentionally highlight the issue here. If you want a free trade zone, you need the political and legal structures in place to construct one.

And in the end, that is basically what the EU does. It attempts to level the regulatory playing field for businesses trading there, but it also champions EU wide consumer (stamping down on mobile phone roaming charges as an example) and employment rights (by ensuring one country can’t impose workhouse conditions in order to udnercut the labour costs of other nations).

The EU has no competence over direct taxation, the military and criminal law, which is wholly right. Eurosceptics blow hard about EU interference in all our affairs, deliberately obfuscating this.

The danger the EU is becoming a 21 Century version of the Holy Roman Empire and empires collapse because of over reach

No it won’t because it cannot reach out without the express permission of all its member states. The Roman Empire was a dictatorship from elites born and bred in Rome. The EU permits all voices from all nations to participate in all its workings. The difference is so massive as to make your comparison worthless.

You unintentionally highlight the issue here. If you want a free trade zone, you need the political and legal structures in place to construct one.

You need no such things.
I assume you have heard of NAFTA?

The EU permits all voices from all nations to participate in all its workings.

Hahaha

NAFTA isn’t a free-trade area, it’s a heavily restricted agreement to cut tariff barriers on certain goods.

And since all EU decisions must be endorsed by member states and/or by elected MEP, it unequivocally does “permit all voices from all nations to participate in all its workings”.

Either way, no political framework is *required* for a FTA to work.

Of course the EU is indeed a political project – which was dressed up in 1973 as a “free trade area”.

That may be a good thing; it may not. But people know (now) that they were not told the truth.

john b – you may think it a good thing, but I don’t want decisions made on my behalf by politicians from other countries.

Why on earth would you care whether the politician you personally didn’t vote for, representing another constituency in the same parliament as your own elected representative, was elected by the good people of Falmouth, Worksop or Marseille?

What a bloody brilliant post.

Thanks!

Damn it, let’s have a *world* parliament; and if we are outvoted by the Chinese or Americans, who cares?!

No thanks, not for me anyway. I think the UK is about the right size for everyone to be persuaded to “buy in”, though post-devolution England probably better now.

Of course the great test of EU / euro buy-in is upon us now is it not?
Do German savers really understand the extent to which they are *already* underwriting the Irish government debt mountain, via ECB loans to the now nationalised Irish banks?
We’ll see how this plays out…

31. The only laws one needs is one which bans traiffs and import restrictions. Let each country decide on it’s pay and taxation. If Romania has the same minimum wage as Germany it will ake a very long time to work it’s way out of poverty. The CAP and commin Fisheries Policies have been disasters. Norway, Iceland and Canada have far better managed fish stocks than the EU.

I mentioned Holy Roman Empire, the medieval empire. The Roman Empire was remarkably egalitarian for it’s age. If one served 20 years in the legion one became a Roman and was given land to farm , irrespective of birth. during the Roman republic a dictator was appointed to deal with a particular crisis facing the nation. Rome went from a monarchy, to republic and then an empire but it always maintained a senate , a lower house for knights and the Tribune of the Plebs. The Roman Empire started as a confederacy amongst the Latin towns of which Rome gained the ascendency. It was a republic for longer than it was an empire.

@cjcjc

I assume you have heard of NAFTA?

Well, yes. That too is an international agreement which subordinates the will of its member states to an international accord. Only because it is a looser political framework, parties other than the US don’t really have much clout in discussions. The US is so large and so powerful that in the absence of a pooled political construct it can do pretty much what the hell it likes.

By the way Europhobes, EFTA is no solution to what boils down to a simplistic antipathy to cooperating with your fellow Europeans. EFTA countries not only follow the rules agreed upon by EU member states without having a final vote on their shape or implementation. They also pay a fairly hefty fee for the pleasure of doing so – Norway’s contribution famously being more per capita than the UK’s!

Everywhere you look, the eurosceptic aversion to the EU looks ramshackle, self-absorbed and contrary to the Britain’s national interest.

Of course the EU is indeed a political project – which was dressed up in 1973 as a “free trade area”.

Which is weird, because I’ve seen videos of both Thatcher and Heath, during the referendum campaign, talking about the political nature of the project, talking about the “ever closer union” phrase specifically, and saying that these were good things.

Of course, I wasn’t born in ’73, and was less than a year old during the ’75 referendum, but there do seem to be a lot of myths touted about by those now opposed to membership about how they were “never told” or “lied to” when Britain joined.

If the leaders of the yes campaign were clear in interviews and similar what the (then) EEC was, and they were, where were the lies? It’s not like Benn, Powell and the rest weren’t given any coverage while they were campaigning for withdrawal.

The EEC was founded as a political project with political union as its goal. EFTA was founded as a pure free trade area. In 1975, 3/4s of the population voted for the EEC instead of EFTA, and had access to all the facts. Those that opposed it then have been bitter about it ever since, and continue to lie about the whole thing.

@NM: Good to see you posting here, even if only as a guest post transferred over—had to delete a link to your original from the netcast this morning as this hit the frontpage as Debi was compiling it.

I wonder if, after finally having someone actually doing some legwork for them, will journalists now actually question the torrent of crap that Daniel Hannan actually spouts.

Somehow though, I doubt it. The BBC’s journalism these days is beyond dire.

42. douglas clark

Clive,

That is an excellent post so it is!

You do have to wonder though what impact all these laws actually have, and whether or not similar legislation would emmanate from Westminster in the absence of a European dimension. If it was suddenly discovered that porridge was bad for you, does it really matter whether it is the EU or Westminster that decides to ban it?

Without reading every single piece of legislation and coming to a subjective judgement on whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ this debate will run and run.

The EU isn’t a free trade area, it is a customs union. If it were a free trade area, member states would still be free to negotiate trade agreements with third parties – a right available to members of NAFTA and other free trade zones around the world.

This was one of the main controversies surrounding Britain’s bid to join the EEC, as membership entailed kissing goodbye to trade agreements with Commonwealth countries.

The reason the European Coal and Steel Community was established as a supranational customs union rather than an inter-governmental free trade area was that the former provided the institutional means of achieving ever-closer union amongst the people of Europe. Inter-governmental free trade didn’t require a European Court of Justice, a European Commission, a European Parliament, or a single currency, hence it was (and is) a poor choice for those seeking European political union.

The key point about all EU law is that it is based on this underlying drive for union. The Commission has never produced a document saying things might be handled better by national parliaments, even when they admit – as they did with fisheries – that EU policy has been a complete disaster.

This process is ongoing, and even if we can’t fix a percentage to the amount of laws attributable to the EU, we know that percentage is rising – albeit slowly.

It is just a pity us Britons don’t have two political parties with two distinct positions regarding the EU: a party that is in favour of national independence, common law and traditional British democracy, and a party that clearly supports internationalism, civil law and technocratic rule.

“The Commission has never produced a document saying things might be handled better by national parliaments”

Well, except for every EU treaty since Maastricht, which introduced the subsidiarity principle at the heart of the way the EU is (supposed) to work. And as much as I dislike Barroso, his Commission during the last five years has made a few tentative steps down the path of deregulation and transferring powers back to the member states. As is often the case with the EU, it is the member states who have been resisting.

No doubt, the progress has been slow – but subsidiarity is an accepted principle of the way the EU runs, and is in the best interest of the Commission to implement. (After all, the Commission only has 30-35,000 full-time staff – about the same as Manchester City Council – it simply can’t handle all the work that it’s meant to do, let alone all the work it’s *accused* of doing…)

Subsidiarity, as defined by Article G (5) 1 of the Maastricht Treaty:

“In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance of the principle of subsidiarity, only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.”

Lord Mackenzie Stuart, a former President of the European Court of Justice, thought this article “a rich and prime example of gobbledygook”. He averred that to regard it as a constitutional safeguard showed “great optimism”.

Successive Ministers for Europe have held that the purpose of subsidiarity is not to give decision making rights to national parliaments. In a Written Parliamentary Answer in 2001, Keith Vaz told Peter Lilley, “subsidiarity is not about the repatriation of powers to Member States. Rather, it is about ensuring that where the Treaty already allows for action at both EU and Member State level, the most appropriate level is chosen each time action is required.”

Who decides when “action is required”? If there is a dispute between the European Union and a Member State as to which should be empowered to act, it is justiciable by the European Court of Justice. It is not an impartial arbiter but a body which is committed to European integration and which prides itself on a ‘dynamic’ approach to EU law.

If subsidiarity had delivered greater autonomy and power to national governments, then surely the pace of EU legislative activity would have slackened over the last fifteen-odd years? Have any areas of public policy been handed back to member state’s exclusive control? Perhaps they have been, I am not sure.

There are undeniably lots of vague areas when it comes to subsidiarity (and, indeed, most areas of EU law – thanks to the very nature of the thing, it all needs to be agreed by unanimous compromise), and I’d be the first to say that it hasn’t been implemented as fully as perhaps it should.

The idea has, however, become rather more entrenched in recent years – the Lisbon Treaty (and Constitution before it) being a prime example, what with it introducing treaty-level compulsions to include national parliaments in far more areas of EU-level decision-making than before. See, for example, parliament’s 2007 study of how the Lisbon Treaty may affect national parliamentary scrutiny and the subsidiarity principle (PDF). In fact, this is one of the few parts of the Lisbon Treaty I think is actually worthwhile.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Adopted Domain

    What percentage of our laws come from the EU? Not the 80% that UKIP claim that’s for sure. http://tinyurl.com/orzunz

  2. DonaldS

    This might be the best piece of sensible EU analysis I’ve read all year: http://bit.ly/nLXg8. Completely free of I’ve-already-decided-ness.

  3. Adopted Domain

    What percentage of our laws come from the EU? Not the 80% that UKIP claim that’s for sure. http://tinyurl.com/orzunz

  4. DonaldS

    This might be the best piece of sensible EU analysis I’ve read all year: http://bit.ly/nLXg8. Completely free of I’ve-already-decided-ness.

  5. links for 2009-06-03 « Embololalia

    [...] What percentage of our laws actually come from the EU? » Liberal Conspiracy No one agrees on how much legislation and regulation stems from the EU. The 9.1% figure stated by the House of Commons Library is too low, as it only covers Statutory Instruments, not ALL laws; the higher figures of 84%, 75% and even 50% claimed by the likes of Hannan, Farrage and Cameron are based on miscalculations, misunderstandings, or sources unknown, and often derive from parts of the EU other than just the UK – and so with no hard evidence to support them must be dismissed as either too high or inapplicable to the British situation. [...]

  6. Twas the night before the European election « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush

    [...] serious blogging at the mo. National events are seriously draining. I liked this post on the EU at Liberal Conspiracy. Anyway, I need some shut eye before some crack of dawn leafletting. Good luck to all comrades! And [...]

  7. Links for 4th June 2009 | Velcro City Tourist Board

    [...] What percentage of our laws actually come from the EU? [...]

  8. duncautumnstore

    Here’s a post looking at the different sources of figures on what % of legislation comes from the EU – http://is.gd/SbW9.

  9. duncautumnstore

    Here’s a post looking at the different sources of figures on what % of legislation comes from the EU – http://is.gd/SbW9.

  10. Jason Kitcat

    Excellent post by J Clive Matthews trying to get to the bottom of all these claims for percentage of laws from the EU http://bit.ly/Ls6hA

  11. Jamie Potter

    RT @jasonkitcat Excellent post… trying to get to the bottom of all these claims for percentage of laws from the EU http://bit.ly/Ls6hA

  12. Owen Blacker

    RT @jasonkitcat: Excellent post by J Clive Matthews trying to get to bottom of claims for percentage of laws from the EU http://bit.ly/Ls6hA

  13. Jason Kitcat

    Excellent post by J Clive Matthews trying to get to the bottom of all these claims for percentage of laws from the EU http://bit.ly/Ls6hA

  14. Jamie Potter

    RT @jasonkitcat Excellent post… trying to get to the bottom of all these claims for percentage of laws from the EU http://bit.ly/Ls6hA

  15. Owen Blacker

    RT @jasonkitcat: Excellent post by J Clive Matthews trying to get to bottom of claims for percentage of laws from the EU http://bit.ly/Ls6hA

  16. Theophile Escargot

    What percentage of UK laws come from the EU? http://is.gd/3Y6xR

  17. Shane

    @ShappersD this is a good article: "What percentage of our laws actually come from the EU?" http://t.co/YuYLy8oV





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