About John McCormick

John McCormick

John McCormick is Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Politics at the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University in the United States.

About This Site

This is a site designed to encourage discussion about the benefits and advantages of the European Union, and to help students using my textbooks on the EU.


Three of the most persistent myths about the European Union

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.


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.


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%.


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.


24 comments to Three of the most persistent myths about the European Union

  • […] the EU, which is unelected. However, as Professor John McCormick of the University of Indianapolis points out here, the final decisions on the laws the Commission drafts and proposes are taken by the Council of […]

  • H.Cummings

    With regard to unelected commissioners, are there any British members of this club and if not, why not. I have heard that we could have members but simply haven’t bothered. Thanks H.

    • jmccormi

      The Commission has 28 members, so one from each of the 28 member states, including the UK. The Commission also employs career civil servants, with appointments – including those at senior levels – divided up among all 28 states, including the UK. But the Commission represents the broad EU interests, so Commissioners and staff members from the UK are not there to represent UK interests. Member state interests are represented in the European Council and the Council of Ministers.

  • Gus Pickett

    The EU Commission is unelected. The Council of the EU is unelected. The EU Parliament IS elected but does not have the power to suggest, repeal or amend any laws, 73 of them are British. If they wish to repeal, amend or suggest new laws they must propose these to the unelected EU Commission who then choose whether or not present the proposal to the Parliament. This means 2/3 of the legislative bodies are unanswerable to the people, and 91% of legislators in the EU are unelected by the British electorate yet legislate on their behalf. I love Europe, and still find that system of government totally unacceptable. It isn’t merely undemocratic, it’s anti-democratic

    • jmccormi

      You are wrong on almost every count. The Commission is appointed by the elected governments of the member states. (And, by the way, the fact that it is not directly elected by voters makes it exactly the same as the cabinet in the UK government.) The Council of the EU consists of ministers from the elected governments of the member states. The European Parliament is elected, and (1) holds the Commission accountable, (2) can fire the entire commission with a two-thirds majority, (3) can suggest new laws to the Commission, and (4) has the power to amend proposals for laws, as well as (5) sharing sole powers with the Council of the EU to decide which proposals will become law and which will not. You have also forgotten the European Council, consisting the heads of the elected governments of the member states, as well as the Court of Justice, which is appointed by the elected national governments and makes sure that laws fit with the terms of the treaties. MEPs from Britain do not represent the whole of Britain. They represent the voters who elected them; so Labour MEPs, for example, only represent the interests of Labour voters, and work together with socialist MEPs from other countries as a voting bloc. The EU institutions are an indirect form of democracy, except for the EP. For them to become directly democratic, we would need to create a federal US of Europe, which you probably don’t want. Your arithmetical logic is peculiar: if 91% of MEPs are not elected by British voters, but legislate on their behalf, then you can also say that 533/650 MPs in Westminster (82% of the total) are not elected by the voters of Scotland, N Ireland and Wales, and yet legislate on their behalf.

  • Darren

    great site, I wish it was for mass consumption. You seem to know what you are talking about which is more than 99.9% of the general population. or perhaps 99.99%

  • Ian Phillips

    Can MEPs repeal EU laws and if they can how?


  • […] paid since 1973 (Reference). Some have quoted that it roughly costs 40p per person per day (Reference), that’s less than a can of coke […]

  • I quoted your explanation of EU myth no.3 to someone and got the following reply, I’d be interested to know how you would respond. I have appreciated your explanations, many thanks: “When voting to join the EEC, there was no anticipation of having to accept the Maastricht or Lisbon Treaties. Politicians, of both sides of the house, have sold the interests of the British people down the river.”

    • jmccormi

      Yes, there was no anticipation of having to accept the Maastricht or Lisbon treaties, because they were far in the future – so I am not sure what point the person was making. As for selling the interests of the British people down the river, that is a subjective conclusion. This person is obviously free to draw such a conclusion, but my response would be that membership of the EU has been in the overwhelming best interests of the British people. It is not perfect, it has made mistakes, and it could do with some reforms, but the same could be said of British government, and the EU glass is at least 80% full.

  • FB

    The election of legislators — not cabinet members — by those subject to the laws they create is at the heart of democracy. So long as laws are originated by the un-elected European Commission, the EU fails that test.

    • jmccormi

      So then as long as laws in the UK are originated by “the government”, which consists in part of unelected cabinet ministers, presumably the UK also fails the test of democracy? The Commission can originate proposals for laws until it is blue in the face, but as long as it lacks the power to pass laws, which is held entirely by the elected European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, who cares?

  • Andrew

    Whenever I hear British people going on about “unelected officials in Brussels deciding our laws” I question whether they realise what the House of Lords does.

    • jmccormi

      I doubt it, and I doubt that they realize that no UK civil servants are elected, and nor are members of the UK cabinet. They are holding the Commission to different standards than those they apply to their national government.

  • Mr Mc Cormick

    I will keep this short. I have read all the comments and your reply. Her is my personal thoughts.

    1: The objections and your stirling replys should be immediately sent to national goverment and the eu throught the it’s necessary channels.

    2: The same to our uk national goverment.

    3: Your comments should be used as a template to teach politics in schools.

    4: last but not least. Your factual reasoning would have greatly helped the outcome of the referendum, And possibly the grand out come of matters. Please do not hesitate to act on your arguments and conclusions.

    The very best to you.

    • jmccormi

      Thank you, and I appreciate your comments. I tried hard via a Facebook page titled Keep Britain in the European Union to promote these and other ideas, and to address the many myths and misunderstandings that undermined the referendum debate. The page is still active, as of course is the debate, and we will have to see how the rest of this debacle evolves.

  • Calum Duncan

    Well written and succinct, I will have to digest and respond to some of the outrageous posts since brexit dogs-breakfast! Still…Indy ref 2 will come sooner. Many thanks.

  • SickofFakeNews

    All governments since 1957 when the idea of the EU was first conceived have repeatedly lied about the true aims and figures surrounding the EU, why on earth do you think anything has changed, especially considering the outright lies that went on during the recent referendum. All the figures are generated by an EU or EU biased affiliated. But what is abundantly clear is that British industry has been systematically stripped from the UK since joining the EU, which I can testify to as I’ve watched our Manufacturing, Steel, Coal, Ship building, and Fishing Industries disappear, although they seem good enough for the Germans though!

    • jmccormi

      I disagree with all points of your analysis, and it would be interesting to see what hard evidence you have to support your assertions. Just two examples: the numbers I quote in my post on UK payments to the EU and the number of UK laws based on EU law come from the UK Treasury and the House of Commons Library report that I cite. Your last argument about British industry is far too broad and simplified. It is quite likely that many of its problems would have happened even if the UK had never joined the EEC.

  • SickofFakeNews

    To jmccormi,

    All that you have confirmed (by your first post) is that nothing gets through the EU once decided. The chances of getting a ruling in Britains favour is worse than the lottery odds. Such a complicated system, and the fact that many of the members are switching parties and allegiances every year or so, is inpracticable.

    • jmccormi

      Simply not true. The UK, and all EU member states, have benefitted enormously from the opening up of the single market and the harmonization of laws in numerous areas of polic, not least among them trade, industry, agriculture, education, the environment, consumer protection, energy, health, social policy, human rights, and travel. Those who were convinced by the tabloid press to vote for Brexit are going to find out eventually how much they have lost by their decision, and unfortunately it is not going to be pretty.

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