Ten myths about the European Union

Labour Party

These 10 myths about the European Union were posted on Progress Online by Denis MacShane MP in August this year. Since Denis’ excellent piece didn’t get much coverage at the time, I think it’s worth giving it another airing.

Debunking the myths is, of course, becoming increasingly important as Tory anti-EU mania reaches worrying proportions.

Home Secretary Theresa May is seeking to opt out of 130 Justice and Home Affairs measures only, apparently, to then try and opt back into some of them.

Meanwhile Michael Gove and, seemingly, nine members of the Cabinet want a referendum on the EU.

As someone once said, we live in interesting times. Chaotic may be a better word.

Myth 1

The euro causes mass unemployment So how come unemployment is much lower in Germany, or the Netherlands than in Britain? Spanish unemployment was around 25 per cent well into the 1990s. In fact, the only time unemployment in Spain came below 10 per cent was when the euro replaced the peseta. It is government policy that determines economic success not the EU or the single currency per se.

Myth 2

Youth unemployment has surged under the euro Can anyone in Britain, with one in four 16-24-year-olds without work, make this claim with a straight face? Corrupt, clientalist politics in Spain and Greece have refused reform of the youth labour market to give young people a job but if the euro is responsible should we blame the pound for Britain’s lost generation of school and university leavers?

Myth 3

The EU makes all our laws. Sorry, but the House of Commons researches this every year and can never find more than about seven per cent of UK primary legislation which stems from Brussels. Just think of the rows over legislation in the Commons since 2010 – student fees, tax cuts for millionaires, NHS ‘reform’. Gove’s free schools, attacks on disabled people, five-year parliaments, cuts in local government provision – all these are made-in-Britain laws and have nothing to do with Europe.

Myth 4

The euro was badly designed and Greece should not have entered Agreed. But if Greece is forced out there will be a massive run on banks. It is not the single currency that allowed such lax regulation of banking in recent years. That began in America with Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan who removed all the rules in place since the 1930s to make banks behave responsibly. Britain (I would rather not mention which government) awarded an honorary knighthood to ‘Sir’ Alan Greenspan and his bust still stands in the Treasury. If we worship false gods of greed first we should not be surprised when they destroy us. The dollar is no more responsible for the Greenspan-Rubin tragedy of errors than the euro is for bad policy in the EU.

Myth 5

Devaluation is the way forward. So how come the British economy has been belly-up since the major devaluation of the pound four years ago. The pound lost about 25 per cent of its value against the euro. Did this lead to an export boom? UK balance of trade has never been worse. Belgium exports more to India than Britain. One day perhaps China will allow British exports to get a foothold – maybe when the Chinese have stopped killing British businessmen like Neil Heywood – but all the Commonwealth countries have various forms of protectionism in place – just ask anyone who tries to trade with India.

Myth 6

The EU is run by technocrats with no democratic oversight. Actually all the decisions taken in Europe are approved by democratically elected ministers responsible and accountable to their parliaments and public opinions. Decisions are slow and tortuous and are often so late in becoming policy they may be no longer relevant. The number of EU commissioners should come down from 27 to 10 but will the UK give up having a commissioner? Ask Nick Clegg.

Myth 7

The euro has caused riots and the rise of extremist parties That’s for Nick Griffin and the other BNP MEP to answer. Europe has always had extremist politics hovering at its fringe. The French communist party was xenophobic and supported one of the world’s great tyrannies for decades. Long before the euro existed there were ultra-nationalist and racist politicians elected under PR systems to different national and regional parliaments. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s glory days were when France used the franc. The biggest riots in Europe since the world capitalist crisis began in 2008 happened in London last year. Unlike the riots of Athens which were largely confined to its main square, the London riots spreads across the nation, turned into mass arson and looting with five deaths and huge damage caused. Last time anyone checked, Britain was not using the euro so is the pound to blame for the August 2011 riots? No and it is just as silly to blame the euro for social unrest and extremist political parties.

Myth 8

The EU imposes terrible burdens on British business This whine from the right has been a constant ever since the concept of social Europe was promoted. Tory MPs want to repatriate all rules from Europe that give some modest protection to workers and unions. For the left to act as bag carriers for this attack on social justice is bizarre. In fact, if you look at the nations that are best surviving the current crisis from Finland to Austria they are all based on EU social partnership systems which are anathema to Conservatives. And they all use the euro.

Myth 9

Housing bubbles were caused by the euro Again, it is national governments (including Labour) which did not put in clear rules insisting on minimum deposits and have a solid programme of social house building. Labour allowed 500,000 social housing units to be sold under Thatcher’s right-to-buy legislation. Ireland, Spain and Greece allowed unlimited credit well beyond the repayment capabilities for borrowers. That has nothing to do with the single currency but with bad government policy.

Myth 10

The euro is creating a European super-state. Please. Ten years ago the EU budget was roughly 1.2 per cent of Europe’s collection GDP. It is now down to one per cent. Of that one per cent, 85 per cent is returned to governments to pay for agricultural subsidies and regional investment. A BAP (British Agricultural Policy and payments system) would be more costly than the CAP. The EU gets many things wrong just as all governments do. But with an income of just one per cent of Europe’s total annual income the idea this is a new super-state is just silly propaganda.

Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

Labour Party

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.