As the European Parliament elections approach, it is worth pointing out some of the myths that continue to surround the debate about the EU. The cases are taken from the UK, but apply equally throughout the EU.
EUROMYTH #1: EU SPENDING
One of the most persistent myths about the EU promoted by its critics is the cost to the UK of EU membership. The number most often put out there is £55 million per day. Granted, it can be hard to find the exact numbers, but a recent report by Open Europe (a think-tank that wants to reform the EU) shows that the UK in 2013-14 was projected to make a contribution of about £17 billion, and that about £8 billion of EU spending would be directed at the UK (mainly on farming subsidies). So the net contribution this year is £9 billion, or £24 million per day, or about 40p per person per day.
EUROMYTH #2: EU LAW
Another of the most persistent myths about the EU – promoted by its critics and supporters alike – relates to how much UK law is made or generated by the EU. Commission president Jacques Delors started the ball rolling in 1989 when he predicted that up to 80% of national law could eventually come from EU law, and Commission Vice President Viviane Reding recently said the figure was 70% (or so reported the Daily Mail, anyway). A more objective measure is a 2010 House of Commons Library report which, while noting the difficulties of saying exactly how much UK law is the result of EU requirements, puts the number at just 7%.
EUROMYTH #3: RULE FROM BRUSSELS
British critics of the EU like to argue that Britain is losing control to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels (by which they mainly mean the European Commission). While the senior staff of the Commission are indeed unelected, so are bureaucrats almost everywhere, including those in Whitehall. And those staff – as well as being appointed by the elected governments of the member states, and being subject to confirmation in their positions by the elected European Parliament, and having to report regularly to the EP – cannot make final decisions on EU law or policy. Those decisions are made by the Council of Ministers (consisting of ministers from the elected governments of the member states) and the elected EP. Furthermore, the general direction of the EU is guided by the European Council, consisting of the elected heads of government (or state) of the 28 EU member states. And all the EU institutions are accountable to the treaties and the European Court of Justice. The idea that there is a European government in Brussels with independent powers is nothing more than a myth.