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The case of the curved cucumber: Bureaucrats are exposing EC folklore as plain silly, writes Leonard Doyle

DESPITE persistent reports to the contrary, the European Community is not trying to force fishermen to wear hair- nets, nor is it insisting that trawlers always carry a supply of condoms.

It is also untrue that the harmonisers in the EC are seeking to ban curved cucumbers and trying to prevent British oak being used in Euro- furniture because it is too knotty.

And as for the saloon-bar tale that donkeys on British beaches will have to wear nappies to prevent their droppings fouling the sand, it is 'a good story, but absurd', according to a 16-page Foreign Office booklet published yesterday.

The hair-nets on the high- seas story is completely untrue, but what is true is that the Community wants a high standard of cleanliness on board fishing vessels. Countries decide the standards and for Britain 'this will not include headgear or (condoms)', the Foreign Office says. But in a measure aimed at keeping hair out of fish fingers, dockside staff who cut fish will have to wear headgear.

Seeking to debunk what Douglas Hurd calls 'the rich and varied folklore about the European Community's influence on British lives', the Foreign Office's booklet exposes 40 'Euro-myths', 'Euro- scares' and 'Euro-lunacies'.

Under 'Euro-myths', it includes stories which have no basis in fact, such as the curved cucumber tale and the perennial tabloid worry that Jacques Delors' head will replace the Queen's on British banknotes.

It describes as 'Euro- scares', the regular misunderstandings about proposed EC legislation such as a feared EC ban on the British banger, mushy peas and prawn-flavoured potato crisps. There was a threat from Euro-purists to eliminate artificial dyes in everything from kippers to red cheddar cheeses, but under pressure from the food-processing industry the Government ensured that the new EC rules do not threaten traditional foods.

Another 'Euro-scare' being drummed up by British undertakers is a plan for all EC coffins to be waterproof and strong enough to withstand damage during transport. Britain, the booklet says, 'is not yet convinced' that this legislation is necessary, but it cautions that British undertakers are still not off the hook, as 'it may be helpful to the industry to have such guidelines'.

'Euro-lunacies' are the real and perceived sillinesses in EC policies which Britain would like to reverse. A priority is reforming the Common Agriculture Policy that independent economists say costs the average household pounds 1,000 per year.

The EC directive limiting the working week to a 48-hour maximum is another 'Euro- lunacy', the booklet says. It is 'a pointless and unwelcome measure' which Britain could not veto because it was brought forward as a health and safety measure, which allows qualified majority voting.

Another 'Euro-lunacy', the Foreign Office says, is the EC's plan to harmonise road speed limits. This proposal has been blocked by Britain and other member states, on the grounds that it would cost a lot to enforce and might not be suitable for safety reasons, as the speed limits would not reflect local conditions.