Euro-myths? Most of them are just plain bananas...

Click to follow
Indy Politics

As EU leaders prepare to relaunch negotiations on the draft treaty today they will put Tony Blair renewed pressure to retreat over one of his famous "red lines" on the proposed European Union constitution.

As EU leaders prepare to relaunch negotiations on the draft treaty today they will put Tony Blair renewed pressure to retreat over one of his famous "red lines" on the proposed European Union constitution.

Signs of concessions from Spain and Poland, which blocked a deal on the constitution in December, have put Mr Blair under intense pressure to agree to axe the national veto in some areas of judicial co-operation.

The moves towards agreement on the constitution have been accompanied by another batch of headlines in the Eurosceptic press - such as The Sun - announcing that there are just 12 weeks to stop the creation of the "Euro Superstate".

In the wake of the Madrid bombings and a new desire to co-operate with partner countries on anti-terrorism, senior diplomats believe that Mr Blair will find it impossible to resist a move to qualified majority voting in some new areas.

His hand will also be weakened by moves to achieve a compromise over a voting system for an enlarged EU. Plans now under discussion would make it easier to block decisions taken by qualified majority than under the current proposals. That will make it harder for the UK to resist extending the scope of majority voting.

One diplomat argued: "Blair will be under pressure on some of his red lines. Some movement from him is a precondition of getting a deal." An official added: "If it is easier to block decisions by majority voting, that means more areas should surely move to that system."

The Government's White Paper last year committed it to insisting on unanimity for "areas of vital national interest such as tax, social security, defence, key areas of criminal procedural law, and the system of own resources [the EU's revenue-raising mechanism]".

At a two-day summit in Brussels starting today, Bertie Ahern, the Prime Minister of Ireland, which holds the EU presidency, is likely to win backing for a pledge to get a deal. The Irish Prime Minister said this week that he hopes to clinch agreement by June, when his country's presidency ends.

The incoming Spanish government has said it will consider a modified version of the plan. Under this system, decisions taken by qualified majority voting would pass if supported by half of all member states representing 60 per cent of the EU population.

Those ratios will have to change to get agreement from Spain and Poland. The latest plan under discussion would shift the figures to 55 per cent of countries and 65 per cent of population. But there would be added safeguards to ensure that three big countries alone could not block, or that decisions could be held up by the smallest states. Any blocking minority would have to have 12 per cent of the EU population.

The summit, which has been overshadowed by the Madrid bombings, will welcome the appointment of a new EU anti-terrorism chief, likely to be Klaas de Vries, a former Dutch justice minister. European leaders are set to demand tighter security checks on ferries and to boost intelligence-sharing.

The subject which was scheduled to dominate discussion - economic reform - has been relegated to the sidelines. After a dispute with France and Germany, the UK has defeated a push to speed up moves towards Europe-wide corporate tax harmonisation.

Although Downing Street professed to be "fairly relaxed" about the revival of talks on the constitution, ministers admitted privately that the Government would rather the issue were left until after the general election expected in May next year. But they dismissed speculation that the Prime Minister would seek to delay agreement on the new blueprint to keep the issue off the domestic political agenda in the run-up to the election.

Yesterday Downing Street denied a climbdown over judicial co-operation and and insisted that the way British courts operated could not be changed against the Government's wishes. But Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "It shouldn't surprise anyone that another of Tony Blair's red lines have disappeared. The whole story of this EU constitution has been marked by Labour incompetence and U-turn."

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, said yesterday that the proposals would mean the biggest constitutional change since the 17th century. A Tory government would re-open negotiations on it, he said.

The Opposition believes there is a real prospect that Parliament will vote in favour of a referendum on the constitution, a move Mr Blair argues is unnecessary. The Government's decision to drop plans to expel the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords will increase the chances that the Lords will vote for a referendum. Eurosceptic Labour MPs may then join forces with Tories and Liberal Democrats to back the idea in the Commons.

Mr Blair faces a dilemma over how to handle the negotiations. If he were to obstruct progress, it would put his strategy of "positive engagement" in Europe at risk. But if he signs up to the constitution, it could cost him the support of some voters and newspapers, such as The Sun and The Times, both owned by Rupert Murdoch, at the general election.

THE QUEEN

The Myth

The Queen will be stripped of her powers as sovereign. (Based on the fact that the EU's Council of Ministers will gain a new president or chairman.)

The Reality

Nonsense. The UK is not the only country in the EU with a monarch (take Spain, Belgium, Denmark etc). It is the only country where this has become an issue.

THE UNITED STATES OF EUROPE

The Myth

The EU will be renamed the "United States of Europe". (The convention that drew up the draft constitution considered renaming the EU. The "United States of Europe was mentioned as one possibility.)

The Reality

Never a runner. The idea of "United States of Europe" was never formally proposed, nor was the alternative, "United Europe". The EU is destined to remain the boring old EU.

EU ARMY

The Myth

The EU will gain an army - "Britain in Secret EU Army Deal" D. Tel 29th November 2003

The Reality

Not true. The phrase "euro army" has spread because it presents an easy phrase to encapsulate EU effort to beef up its defence capabilities.

Decisions to deploy troops remain with member states. The EU is planning voluntary co-operation among its military, not coercion.

BANANAS

The Myth

Bendy bananas are banned by Brussels. (Bananas must not be excessively curved.)

The Reality

Bananas are classified according to quality and size. Individual governments and the industry have their own standards, the latter's particularly stringent. The European Commission was asked to draft legislation in this area. Following extensive consultation, the proposed quality standards were adopted in Council in 1994.

NO MORE UN FOR UK

The Myth

The UK will lose its seat at the UN to the EU. (Presented as inevitable that Britain and France should hand over their permanent seats on the UN Security Council to the EU)

The Reality

Untrue. The UK and France would have to agree; French are not even keen to share their seat with Germany - supposedly their closest ally. London won't talk about sharing with anyone.

TAXATION

The Myth

The EU will control taxes. Sceptic spin is that the EU assumes the role and powers of national governments. The Inland Revenue might as well relocate to Frankfurt.

The Reality

Nonsense. Never on the agenda. Decisions on tax rates are set by national governments.

CAR BOOT SALES

The Myth

Brussels threatens charity shops and car boot sales. (It is claimed a Brussels directive required retailers to prove full "traceability" of the goods they sell.)

The Reality

There is no such threat to car boot sales, charity shops or jumble sales. The legislation concerned has been in force since 1992.

JUSTICE, PART 1

The Myth

The European public prosecutor would take charge of criminal cases in this country. (The EU constitution sets out plans for a European public prosecutor)

The Reality

Distortion of truth. The prosecutor suggested in the constitution would only pursue cases of fraud involving EU cash. Would not affect internal criminal cases.

JUSTICE, PART 2

The Myth

Criminals will be removed from Britain to face charges without a right of appeal and could spend months in jail before being charged.

The Reality

True. The EU arrest warrant means that a Greek magistrate can order your arrest and there will be no extradition procedures. The government has already agreed to this measure as part of its anti-terror package. Many civil liberties organisations are concerned.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Myth

Foreign Secretary will lose power to a new EU foreign minister. (EU plan to appoint a new foreign minister to give it a greater role internationally is presented as a plan to strip national ministers of their power.)

The Reality

Because of the way diplomacy works, the EU foreign minister will have to win the backing of national capitals, particularly of the big member states, before acting.

TAX-FREE SHOPPING

The Myth

European Commission officials will get tax- free shopping. There is an exclusive, secret Brussels supermarket where Eurocrats can shop tax-free, called the Economat

The Reality

True, up to a point. The shop was not tax-free, all prices included normal Belgian VAT rates. It was run on a non-profit basis and managed by Commission officials. It was not secret and was set up in the 1960s to provide EU officials with products not readily available in Brussels. The shop has now been closed.

BRANDY BUTTER

The Myth

Brandy butter. The traditional accompaniment to Christmas pudding, will be banned or renamed "brandy spreadable fat" because it doesn't have enough butter in it.

The Reality

Accurate labelling is required to ensure butter substitutes or margarine cannot be passed off as butter. There are exceptions made for certain products, including brandy butter.

BRITAIN'S BORDERS

The Myth

EU will take charge of Britain's borders.

The Reality

The fact that the EU is boosting co-operation on border control and asylum policy has been presented as the slippery slope towards the ending of British border controls. The UK has an opt-out from the Schengen Treaty for passport-free travel across borders. That will not change.

NORTH SEA OIL

The Myth

UK will lose control of North Sea oil "McConnell's EU fears over North Sea Oil", Scotsman 2nd December 2003

The Reality

Claims that Brussels would be able to seize British resources under emergency measures to secure Europe's energy supplies were based on an ambiguously worded phrase in the constitution and caused anxiety among some oil companies. The clause has been tightened up and the Government is now happy.

IDENTITY CARDS

The Myth

We will all have to carry EU identity cards. (Almost all other EU countries have identity cards, and closer European integration means it is seen as inevitable that the practice will spread to Britain.)

The Reality

The government is moving in the direction of introducing ID cards. But that has little to do with the EU. It wants tighter controls for its own reasons.

MIGRATION

The Myth

Brussels will control immigration. (Presented as the inevitable consequence of a push to create a common EU immigration policy.)

The Reality

A common immigration policy tries to find agreement on the general principles, but leaves the decision on immigration into specific countries to them.

CONDOMS

The Myth

The EU has decreed that condom dimensions should be harmonised across the seamless Continent.

The Reality

Fact, but not guilty. The EU is not involved in setting condom standards. Blame The European Standardisation Committee (CEN), a voluntary body made up of national standards agencies and affiliated industry/consumer organisations from 19 European countries. It has nothing to do with the EU.

DESIGNER GOODS

The Myth

Brussels has imposed a European ban on shops selling cheaper designer goods, meaning that supermarkets could not undercut official outlets for certain brands.

The Reality

Fact: Again, a case of mistaken identity and nothing to do with the European Commission or the EU. Judges at The European Court of Justice, (based in Luxembourg by the way, and not Brussels) were responsible for the ruling, which the UK agreed with.

WELFARE

The Myth

Britain will lose control of welfare payments - presented as another power grab by Brussels as its appetite for meddling in national issues grows.

The Reality

Nonsense. The only proposals for axing the national veto in social security affects migrant workers. The UK is determined to block even that.

CUCUMBERS

The Myth

Cucumbers have to be straight

The Reality

The industry demands grading rules to show what quality and quantity they would get when purchasing a box, unseen, from another country, which puts restrictions on cucumber measurements. Nothing is banned under these rules which are guidelines for traders.

THE SUPER-EU

The Myth

EU will become like a superstate with its own president, flag and anthem. (The EU maintains all the trappings of statehood. As one Eurosceptic once argued: if it looks like an elephant and walks like an elephant, it is an elephant.)

The Reality

Misleading. The president of the Council will spend life co-ordinating committees; the flag exists at the moment, as does the EU's unofficial anthem: Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Comments