Monday, 25 January 2016

EUROPE: European Union myths debunked

Most people who dive into understanding how things work in Brussels find out the hard way: the way things work in this town is rarely, if ever, shocking enough to be bothered with. Like most things we hear about the European Union, the reality is far less conspiratorial, interesting or polemic. 

While EU Officials scramble to rebut sensational news stories about what they are plotting to ban next, anti-EU activists are just as busy challenging what they see as self-serving propaganda. “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic”, John F. Kennedy once said – it’s difficult to imagine he wasn’t thinking of Brussels.
Let us take a look at the three most prominent examples in which overblown legend meets boring reality. 
30,000 lobbyists, so a common tale about the European Union goes, work towards influencing decisions that will affect member states in the long run. A look at the accredited visitors’ register of the European Parliament – the place to be for anyone who would like to have a touch of influence  – paints a far less gray picture: at the time of writing this article, only 5,462 people have access to the European Parliament. 

Considering the fact that some persons with the right to chit-chat with decision-makers have a back office with one to three people, a more reasonable number to juggle with would be a count of around 10,000 to 25,000 lobbyists. Are all of those lobbyists business-oriented? 

Contrary to common folklore, a third of all interest representations are citizens’ groups: That is, groups that speak on behalf of and for European citizens. Surprisingly to most, studies show that citizens’ groups have been substantially more successful in whispering in the ears of institutions than business-oriented groups. The average lobbying success rate for citizens’ groups is 53 percent; that of business groups is 5 percent.
When Jaques Delors, former President of the European Commission, addressed the Parliament in 1988, he noted that “in ten years 80 percent of the legislation related to economics, maybe also to taxes and social affairs, will be of Community origin”. 
Twenty-eight years later we know: le grand Jaques Delors was wrong. His claim, however, has outlived him, the fairy tale of the 80 percent lived on. But how much EU is actually to be found in our national legislation? 

The number in the studies of the brave few who set out to measure the impossible varies from country to country: The scope of impact of EU legislation on national legislation has been found to be 38 percent in the Netherlands; in contrast, only 9.6 percent of new primary and secondary law of the UK has its origin in Brussels. 

A new study estimates that around 39.1 percent of all German laws between 1983 and 2005 were influenced by “European impulses”. Hence, cut Delors’ percentage by half and you’ll still overestimate the impact of the European Union on national legislation.
A golden EU rule goes: spread a falsehood and you will find yourself in all major newspapers; publish facts and figures and you will dine alone in Brussels. A trenchant example of the EU’s very own version of Murphy’s Law is the alleged EU ban on toasters. Be it the British Telegraph, German Bild, or the Italian Corriere della Sera: all proudly joined in bashing the EU for its mischievous plan to ban double-slotted toasters. So what is true? 

In one of its impact assessments, the Commission asked Deloitte, a consultancy, to analyze what electronic devices use the most energy. Page 56 of the consultancy’s assessment mentions briefly that double-slotted toasters use up unnecessary energy. The newspapers’ accusations were far-fetched – there was no attempt to ban anything, nor was the study conducted by one of the institutions.
The disappointing, boring truth is: there are fewer lobbyists than we assume there are; institutions would rather listen to citizens’ groups than business interests; and the impact of EU law is less important than we think it is. 

Does this make it a perfect place? No. If it’s a crime to be dead boring and technically complex, the Union is guilty of all charges. If you put together the pages of the impact assessments that the Commission has published in the last 10 years, one could pave a two-meter-wide street leading from Naples to Helsinki. 

The truth is, like all things regarding democracy, the EU is a far cry from a perfect construction. A new model of governance evolves with time and useful criticism. Constructive critique starts with first getting our facts straight in order to attack what is worth attacking. We won’t be short of material.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist/Writer
Political Analyst/Researcher
World Affairs Expert
Lecturer

Photo-Credit: European Union-The European Union Flag-Photo