Yesterday I returned from work to find an anti-EU leaflet on the doorstep.
So you can imagine my surprise to find it was covered in an array of spurious bullshit.
Let’s take a look, “point” by “point”:
1) EU cost.
Covered so many times this is just lazy – another deliberate misrepresentation by focusing on gross rather than net contributions from the anti-EU crowd.
This is a matter of public record, FFS – easy to check. Madly easy to check. See, for instance, the House of Commons Library’s EU Budget 2014-2020, published last month, with figures back to 2008, and projected to 2020. Net contributions?
2014: £9.1 billion
2015: £10.4 billion
2016: £9.5 billion
2017: £8.3 billion
A lot of money, yes. But in context?
EU membership costs about 1.3% of the 2015 UK budget, or about 0.3% of UK GDP.
Big numbers mean nothing without context. In context, this big number is a little number.
And in any case, why focus on cost? What about value?Well, because working out a cost-benefit analysis of the EU is basically impossible. It’s all just, like, your opinion, man.
2) Financial Incompetence
Have the EU accounts been signed off? Yes. Every year.
Are they perfect? No – and neither would yours be if you delegated spending to hundreds of thousands of people across 28 countries without having the funds for inspectors to check that they’re spending them properly.
3) EU Corruption
Another old favourite, though the £6 billion figure is rather higher than I’d heard before. Maybe I’ve not been paying attention.
What they mean is not that the funds went “missing”, but that they were “misspent”.
This is not just semiotics. While the EU institutions are certainly not totally corruption free, they’re hardly dens of iniquity.
“Misspent” simply means that these funds were used for purposes other than those intended, usually by local and national authorities. Because that’s how the EU works: pretty much everything “the EU” does is executed at a national or local level, overseen by national and local politicians and civil servants.
In short, this is the same as the second complaint.
More importantly, this isn’t just taxpayers’ money going into corrupt pockets, but (mostly) into the wrong public projects.
Ideal? Of course not. But certainly not missing. They know where it went – and often go there to get it back.
4) Uncontrolled Borders
Sod the sub-claims about unemployment, wages and homelessness (also bollocks, but I’ve already spent too long on this to go into them – suffice to say that immigration has been shown to have a positive net economic benefit) – the core claim is bollocks.
The UK is not part of the Schengen Area. This means we still have control of our borders, as everyone who’s ever gone through the irritating border checks on the Eurostar can tell you.
5) Loss of Sovereignty
Wow. Someone’s still using the 70% of laws claim? That’s such total bullshit I’ll simply link to one of my greatest hits of 2009: What percentage of laws come from the EU?
(Hint: It’s not 70%. Hell, even fervent europhobe Christopher Booker agrees with my conclusion, from earlier this year)
6) EU Undemocratic
Why is it that every time anyone British complains about the EU’s democratic deficit they seem unable to realise how undemocratic the UK is? The complaint here is especially dumb – individual MPs in the Commons have no power to initiate UK law either, except in extremely rare cases that are usually tightly controlled by the government. Much as with EU law, where the “unelected bureaucrats” of the Commission will pretty much only ever initiate laws after they’ve had the nod from the (elected) member state governments – who have usually had their civil servants draft the things, because the Commission doesn’t have enough staff to draft all that legislation (the classic comparison being that the Commission employs fewer people than Birmingham City Council – probably still more or less accurate).
This also reminds me of this old chestnut from 2005 – The European Commission: More Democratic than the US Presidency. Democracy is a strange beast – you’ll often find that the closer you look at it, the less democratic it appears… (And yes, I have written on The Failures of EU Democracy too, plus on the EU’s (real) democratic deficit, and why it’s a good thing – as well as calling for fundamental EU democratic reform.)
7) Euro Currency Fiasco
They may, finally, have a point here – if they hadn’t thrown in the “KEEP THE POUND” all caps nonsense. That battle’s long been won – by Gordon Brown and his five economic tests. I haven’t heard any mainstream politician advocate joining the eurozone since way before the crisis kicked off.
8) Better to Leave
Ah… Switzerland and Norway. Perennial Utopias for the anti-EU crowd.
First, have a gander at 2011’s Why Leaving the EU for the EEA or EFTA Will Not Solve Any of the Anti-EU Crowd’s Complaints.
Then take a look at the “the UK will be able to trade freely with the whole world” argument.
Then, let’s turn the leaflet over:
“The EU is constantly negotiating free trade agreements” – which are apparently a bad thing when the EU does it, but brilliant when Britain does it.
As for the idea of a “Global Union” – I’d be all for that, as I wrote back in 2008.
So what have we learned?
This leaflet was not by UKIP, but the British Democrats – possibly related to the BNP spin-off the British Democratic Party, possibly (but unlikely) the “Home Rule for England” English Democrats. I don’t know, and frankly don’t care – call them Veritas, call them the Referendum Party, call them Libertas.
They’re all basically the same, these anti-EU groups: Passionate believers in their cause, but with barely a verifiable, properly cited fact between them, and usually hooked on a deep misunderstanding of how the Britain they profess to love works – either now, under the evil EU, or back in the glory days of pre-EEC freedom.
As Jon Worth has written, rebutting anti-EU myths is futile – but not just because it allows them to set the terms of the debate, and amplifies their lies by constant repetition. It’s because it’s really not hard to find out the truth – but they have no interest in the truth.
The web today is orders of magnitude bigger than it was back in 2003, when I started this blog. You have access to information I could only dream of back then – reams of data, all streamed to your phone faster than 2003 me could have dreamed of. Governments have digitised almost everything you could want to look up. Think tanks and even parts of the press are writing considered, well-researched pieces about the EU, and putting them online for free for everyone to read.
When I started this place, it was in response to a frustrated need – for more information about and explanation of the European Union and what it was up to in the run-up to the 2004 expansion. Check the oldest archives, you’ll see I soon gave up for several months – there simply weren’t the raw materials available online. I went off and read some paper-based books and magazines instead.
Now, nearly 13 years on, we’re approaching another crunch point for the EU and for Britain, with the fatuous UK referendum.
And where, back in 2003, there was nothing being said, today, as we approach 2016, there’s nothing new to say. All the arguments have been made. All the rebuttals have been written. All anyone needs to do to find a fact or an explanation is type into a search box and hit enter.
But they don’t. Because their minds are already made up. And neither you nor I are going to change them, no matter how wrong they may be.
And so instead, this place is an archive for search engines. For the tiny few who seek out answers. And I hope it helps them. But I very much doubt you’ll see me writing any more about the EU on here. Twitter, perhaps – but certainly not at any length. It’s pointless.
I started blogging because I wanted to learn something new. I stopped because I was simply rehashing old ground, time and again, in response to people who had no interest in persuading or being persuaded, just in arguing.
Will I start blogging again? Possibly. But I want to find something to excite me again. To teach me something new. And that’s not the EU.