Euromyths

The European Union is a controversial issue in the British press. We've heard stories about straight bananas, Euro-gravy trains and paying out huge amounts of money for nothing in return. Which of it is true? Is any of it true?

In reality, most of the things you read about the European Union are more fiction than fact. We've pulled together some of our favourite myths for you to peruse and I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. We hope the responses to these myths will be useful for your campaigning on Europe and help to encourage a more balanced debate about the EU...

How much the EU costs

Britain pays £40 million a day, or £14 billion a year, to the EU...

This is not true. It is correct to say we are a net-contributor, but Britain receives a rebate from the EU (i.e. we get a discount on our contributions) and we receive extra money from the EU to help with our public spending. In 2010 we received a rebate of over £3 billion and an additional £5.5 billion in extra funding. This meant our total net-payment to the EU was only £6.2 billion. Total UK public spending in that year was £669 billion, so our net-contribution to the EU was only 0.9% of our total public spending.

Britain would be richer if it was outside the European Union because it is a net-contributor to the EU budget...

This is untrue. We would be worse off out of Europe. An independent report published by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research in February 2000 showed that the British economy would contract (and taxes would rise) if we left the EU, despite the fact that the UK is a slight net contributor to the EU budget. David Mackie, Chief European Economist at JP Morgan has said: "In the great scheme of things, our net contributions are so small as to be trivial. There is no doubt in my mind that the net benefit of membership of the EU is many orders of magnitude above our net contribution to the EU budget."

Sovereignty

Pooling sovereignty with other EU countries means having less control of our future...

Wrong. As Margaret Thatcher said during the 1975 referendum: "the choice is whether to be outside the Community and yet to accept everything which it decides on trading provisions, including standards and safety provisions and prices of steel, or whether to stay in the Community and have an influence over all those decisions which will seriously affect the whole of our industrial life."

Brussels bureaucrats impose laws upon us and we have no say in it...

This is not true. The Commission has no power to impose law on EU countries, it can only propose legislation. Their proposals are sent to the elected MEPs in the Parliament and the national governments in the Council where they are amended until everyone is happy with them. Only after this process is completed are they turned into law. Therefore the British government and the Euro-MPs elected by the British people have a say at every stage of the legislative process.

Britain would gain sovereignty by leaving the EU but remaining a member of the Europe Economic Area (EEA), like Norway...

This is untrue. In the EU Britain has pooled its sovereignty, being part of the decision-making process by which all EU agreements are made. EEA membership means access to the European Single Market, but actually giving up sovereignty. As part of the EEA, Norway is subject to all EU Single Market agreements but, unlike Britain, has no power to decide what they are. This is referred to as 'government by fax', because countries that do this must wait by their fax machines to hear from Brussels what laws to implement.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights represents a transfer of power away from the UK...

This is untrue. Article 51.1 says the Charter is addressed to the EU institutions and member states only when implementing Community law. Article 51.2 says it will create no new powers or tasks for the EU. Article 52.3 states that civil and political rights are the same as in the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore Britain's Human Rights Act.

MEPs Pay

MEPs have just given themselves a £20,000 pay rise...

No, this is not true. The system of MEPs' salaries changed in 2009. Previously they were paid the same as MPs in their respective national parliaments. This led to huge disparities: in 2007 a Bulgarian MEP would have earned the equivalent of £6,400 a year but an Italian MEP would have earned £92,661 a year for doing the same job! A uniform salary was organised so that all MEPs would earn the same. When this was agreed it meant British MEPs would have their pay cut and earn less than MPs at Westminster. However, because they are now paid in Euros, when the Pound collapsed during the financial crisis it meant MEPs received more when they turned their Euros into Pounds.

European Superstate

The EU is destined to become a European superstate...

Wrong. The Member States are the most important part of the EU and it is they that have the power over what the EU is and what it does. Clause 3b of Maastricht states: "The [European] Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and... can be better achieved by the Community..."

The European Union is designed to "harmonise" or "homogenise" the peoples of Europe...

This is untrue. Margaret Thatcher has said: "It is a myth that our membership [of Europe] will suffocate national tradition and culture. Are the Germans any less German for being in the Community, or the French any less French? Of course they are not."

Brussels Bureaucracy

Europe is overrun by Brussels bureaucrats...

This is untrue. In fact the total staff of the Commission is around 23,000 including over 1,800 translators/interpreters and more than 9,000 secretarial and support staff. This compares to around 52,000 at Birmingham City Council.

Brussels bureaucrats are completely unaccountable...

This is untrue. The Commissioners are appointed by EU heads of government (just as the British government ministers are appointed by their own head of government). They can only take office with the approval of the European Parliament, which consists of directly elected MEPs, and are dismissible by the European Parliament in a collective vote of no-confidence.

Meddling Brussels bureaucrats to ban 999 and harmonise euro-emergency numbers...

This is untrue. EU agreement creates a common emergency number (112) in addition to national numbers like 999 so that Brits abroad will know how to get help quickly wherever they are in Europe. The agreement states: "Individual member states cannot be forced to change their emergency numbers.

Curved bananas are banned...

This is untrue. Bananas are simply classified according to quality and size for international trade under EU agreements rationalising past standards by individual governments and the industry.

President of Europe

We now have a President of Europe that no one voted for...

Firstly, we do not have a President of Europe, there is no such position. What the media often refer to as President of Europe is actually the President of the European Council. This position has no executive decision making powers (the heads of government from the Member States are the ones that make the decisions) and it was created to bring greater consistency and fluidity to the European Council (which had relied upon a rotating Presidency every six months). Most institutions have similar roles: there is a President of the European Parliament, a President of the Commission, and each Committee Group even has a President. These positions are comparable to chairs. As the President of the European Council is not an executive position it is elected by the members of the European Council rather than the European electorate, in much the same way as MPs in the House of Commons elect their Speaker of the House rather than putting the decision to the British people.

Britain & the Euro

Sterling would be more stable and therefore better for business, if Britain ruled out the option to join a successful single currency...

This is untrue. Global financier George Soros has said: "I think that sterling will be in that case in a very dangerous position because it would be caught between two very large currency zones."

Ruling out the option to join a successful single currency is necessary to enable Britain to avoid a one-size fits all interest rate...

This is untrue. Britain already has a one-size-fits-all interest rate in that it (along with the rest of Europe, and indeed the US) consists of lots of regions that are actually very different. The Centre for Economic Policy Research has said: "The greatest disparities within Europe are not, in fact, between member states but within them, e.g. between different regions in Italy rather than between Italy and Germany."

The EU Accounts

The EU budget has not been certified by the Court of Auditors for the last fourteen years...

Wrong. In November 2009 the European Court of Auditors certified the EU budget. They issued it with a clean bill of health and concluded that they 'present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the European Communities and the results of their operations and cash flows'. Previous EU budgets have been criticised by the auditors but this year they noted, 'the overall results for 2008 reflect the improvements in the management of the budget in recent years'.

To read more about the 2008 accounts click here.

Post Offices

Rural communities will lose the delivery of mail under EU plans to streamline postal services...

This is not true. In fact it is EU agreements that actually help to safeguard the universal service. The proposed new directive actually strengthens the existing 1997 Directive under which EU Member States can use licensing systems to impose universal service obligations on competitors.

A European Army

Brussels is trying to build an EU army...

No. The Common Security and Defence Policy does not create a 'Euro-army', instead it helps national armies within the EU to work more closely together on joint projects, in much the same way as NATO has since the end of the Second World War. If the British Government does not want the British Army to take part in a European campaign then it will not. The British Government always remains 100% sovereign over the British Army.

British Farming

British farmers lose out in Europe and would be better off if we left...

This is untrue. Ben Gill, former President of the NFU (National Farmers' Union) has said: "Membership of the EU is vital to the interests of British farmers. Over three-quarters of our agricultural commodity exports go to the EU and this share is only likely to grow with the further enlargement of the EU. Looking ahead, the signs are that the whole of the food chain will become increasingly integrated on a European scale. Our future as part of a competitive food industry depends on continuing membership of the Union."

The British Fishing Industry

We need to reject the Common Fisheries Policy to save Britain's fish...

This is untrue. Without international cooperation Britain would be unable to stop foreign fishing fleets over-fishing our stocks as they migrate through international waters. North Sea plaice, for example, need to be protected in the coastal waters of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands where the juvenile plaice congregate.

Britain & the rest of the World

Britain's special relationship with America is undermined by our EU membership...

This is untrue. In fact the opposite is the case. Instead, our 'special relationship' with the US is underpinned by our influence within the EU. In the words of former US Ambassador to Britain, Ray Seitz: "If Britain's voice is less influential in Paris or [Berlin], it is likely to be less influential in Washington."

The Commonwealth could have provided an alternative trading area to the EU...

This is untrue. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary and later a Conservative Prime Minister, recollected: "In 1961 I had concluded on the evidence before me that the United Kingdom could not afford to stay out of the European Community", and made a speech to that effect in the House of Lords. My experience as Commonwealth Secretary had convinced me that the erosions of our economic preferences which had begun in Australia and which were depriving us of our share of Commonwealth trade, were bound to continue, and that we must act to find alternatives to protect our national income."

Britain would have a greater world role if it left the EU...

This is untrue. As Margaret Thatcher has said: "On our own, as a nation of 55 million, we would have some voice, but not enough. Britain has traditionally been part of a larger grouping and was listened to partly because of that grouping as well as because of our own particular attributes."

The EU: What's in it for me?

A great no-nonsense guide for UK citizens on what the European Union delivers.

Donwload the Guide

EuroMYTH: 'The Lib Dems want to surrender border controls to Brussels'

MYTH: "SENIOR Lib Dem advisers are calling for a party debate on whether Britain should surrender its border controls to Brüssels, effectively allowing anyone in the EU to enter the UK without passport checks.

At present Britain is the only country of the 26 European member states which remains outside the so-called Schengen area, which allows Citizens to pass between countries without border checks

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