UK and the EU - better off out?

I’m currently reading a lot of “eurosceptic” (“eurosceptical”?) books and journal articles as part of my course. Most recently “The Great Deception: Can the European Union Survive?” by Christopher Booker and Richard North. Interesting stuff, but I have a question: I was wondering if I could get a eurosceptic’s opinion about what would happen to the UK economy upon leaving the EU.

Given that something like 60% of UK trade is with the EU, if the UK pulled out of the EU (and by extension the single market and the customs union), wouldn’t it damage UK trade at a time when the economy is already going into meltdown? With the UK’s trade deficit at a record high, would pulling out of the EU be such a good idea?

If the UK did pull out of the EU, should it also pull out of the European Economic Area? If it stayed signed up to the EEA, it would keep access to the single market, but it would also have to ratify EU law without having any say in the decision making process. Look at Norway, for example. Wouldn’t this be even more unacceptable to a eurosceptic?

And if the EU didn’t sign up to the EEA and instead negotiated bilateral trade agreements with the EU, then it would still have to sign up to a good deal of EU law without any say in the decision making process (as Switzerland has been forced to). Even worse, it might find itself held hostage by a “guillotine clause” in the treaties which forced it to adopt more and more EU legislation without decision making powers.

Another suggestion I’ve heard is that the UK should trade more with the commonwealth countries and with America. Given the wildly fluctuating price of oil - would it be sensible for the majority of UK international trade to be long distance trade (as opposed to trade with neighbouring Europe)? Also, many commonwealth countries are in highly unstable parts of the world. With (nuclear-armed) Pakistan rapidly collapsing, would it be sensible to have India as your major trading partner? The EU is, even taking into account the expansion into Eastern Europe, comparatively solidly stable.

So - I’d be interested in hearing what people think!

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I think most eurosceptics resent paying more into it than we get out, by way of subsidies for Spanish and French farmers. I don’t think many people want to reduce the amount of trade done with the EU, but reform of the EU farm subsidies is another matter entirely.

Well from Lithuania’s point of view i can add that people hate EU here and basically we all regret a lot we joined EU. I think it is only good for bigger countries.
Anyway, Josef, are you going to finish your monetary mod soon? I really liked your idea, and thinking to develop it myself, since this fiscal policy is so actual nowadays.

As you pointed out, we don’t need to be in the EU to trade with the EU. Obviously, it’s very important for our economy that we can trade with European countries, but equally it’s very important for their economies that they can trade with us. If we were to leave the EU, it is impossible to believe that anyone would want us to stop or even seriously restrict trade with Europe. We could join the EEA, as you suggested, but equally we could negotiate our own bi-lateral agreement with the EU. There are a number of countries around the world, including Chile, Peru, Croatia, Egypt, South Africa and Tunisia (see here under EFTA and EU for a full list) that have trade agreements with the EU - I’m sure they are not subject to anything like the list of Directives and Regulations we are here in the UK. Remember that as one of the world’s largest economies, we would have massive weight in negotiations and would likely be able to get an extremely favourable agreement.

Secondly, on the “fax democracy” point. Yes, if we left the EU, they would probably still want us to comply with some of their laws and regulations, but significantly less than we currently have to. OK, so we wouldn’t have any influence in the passing of new Directives - but then how much influence do we currently have in the passing of Directives? We are one of 27 countries in the EU. In the past, we had a veto on many areas and therefore yes, you have an argument that it was beneficial to stay in the EU to block Directives that we didn’t like. But now most Directives are passed using Qualified Majority Voting. In many cases, therefore, we can vote against a Directive and it can still be passed, and we will still have to comply with it.

What I am saying is - how much influence do we currently have over blocking measures we don’t like? Not that much, and increasingly less, especially once the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty enters into effect. On how many Directives does our vote actually make a difference? Probably not that many. So while it sounds good that currently we have an influence on what Directives are introduced, in reality on most Directives our vote makes no difference - they are either imposed on us anyway, just as they may be if we leave the EU, or they fail without our contribution, just as they would do if we were not in the EU. If we could avoid a significant proportion of Directives that we currently have to implement, I think we could put up with the odd Directive that we could otherwise have changed.

Thirdly on the trade with the Commonwealth/rest of the world point. EUrophiles love to call those who oppose EU membership “little Englanders” and suggest that we want to close the doors and avoid trading with anyone else. The truth is the absolute opposite. The EU is one of the most protectionist trading entities there is. It is known around the world as “Fortress Europe” as it is so hard to get anything inside it. When we joined the EU (and I think that this point is made in The Great Deception) we had to cut the Commonwealth loose. We had to sacrifice the Commonwealth to join our new “friends” within the EU (or EEC as it was then). We can currently not negotiate our own arrangements with countries around the world. We have no seat at the WTO. Look at economies such as India, China and other countries in that area of the world, some of whom (such as India) are members of the Commonwealth. These are massively growing economies, providing massive opportunities for trade for our country. Also look at other countries like the US, Canada, Brazil - massive economies that we could negotiate beneficial trading deals with if we left the EU. There are a massive range of trading opportunities out there, and we could negotiate bilateral treaties with these countries that benefit our mutual interests, rather than having to rely on treaties that may or may not have been negotiated by the EU for the benefit of the trade-bloc as a whole.

I see your point regarding trading with “unstable” parts of the world, but I don’t think that it’s an either/or issue. I think it’s an issue of if we stay in the EU, we can only trade with Europe. If we leave the EU, we can trade with Europe and the rest of the world. To me it is a “no brainer”. Why restrict yourself to trading with only one continent when you could trade with the entire world, including that continent. Plus you can do it without paying billions to be members of the club. Plus you can do it without the constant political interference from the EU.

Fourthly, EU regulation currently strangles our economy. It is estimated that EU over-regulation costs our economy £26 billion a year (source). If we were freed from even half of this regulation, then, we would save £13 billion a year. Add in the savings from not having to contribute to EU funds (£16 billion) and savings from not having to take part in the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common FIsheries Policy (£18.1 billion), and the extra money retained in the British economy and not wasted or paid to the EU (or are those two the same things?!) and this would mean a massive boost to the UK economy.

I think that there are two aspects to the whole debate - economic and political. The EU is now very much a political entity. Most of the arguments regarding staying in the EU are focussed on the economic benefits. Indeed, many people see the political element as a “sacrifice” that we have to make to get the political benefits. If you ask most people in the UK whether they would like to leave the political element of the EU if they could retain all the economic benefits, I think that you’d get an overwhelming “yes”.

From your initial post, this thread seems to be mainly about the economic side, but to just go into the other side of the equation for a minute. 80% of our laws are now made in Brussels. When the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty comes into effect, as it will in time, the EU will have a separate legal personality. It will be a state, a nation. The EU is already forming an army and a police force. It wants a foreign minister and President. Also, the more countries that join the EU, the less and less control you have. In the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, the amount of MEPs the UK has will be cut. The amount of influence in terms of percentage of votes the UK has on the Council of Ministers diminishes each time a new state joins. Once the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty comes into effect, the UK will lose its Commissioner. This means that the amount of influence you and I have over the making of decisions which affect our every day lives is continuously diminishing as the EU grows, and as more power is transferred to it.

So if we could retain the economic benefits while doing away with the political elements, then this would be the perfect solution. And if we withdrew from the EU, wouldn’t that be exactly what would happen? As I said above, we are the fifth largest economy in the world - it is incredible - in the literal sense of the world - to suggest that if we withdrew then we would suddenly cease to trade with the EU. They need us as much, if not more, than we need them.

We would sit down with them and negotiate a new bilateral agreement that would be to our mutual benefit. It would not be an option for either party to refuse to do so - it would be disasterous for either party to decline. Having negotiated a new settlement, a settlement hopefully more favourable to us than the current one, a settlement that would be an economic one and not a political one, we would then proceed to make bilateral agreements with the rest of the world. The result would be that not only would we be free of the political monster of the EU, not only would decisions about our every day lives all be made here in the UK, but we would also quite probably be better off economically too.

P.S. Have you see the Remote Control video about EU membership? Click here to watch it if you haven’t. It’s an excellent video that everyone in the UK should watch. Also have a look at the document “How Much Does the EU cost Britain?” (here) which I’m sure sets out the argument much better than I did.

TomPhil is quite right (from what I have read, sorry I don’t have time to read all of your reply, will get round to it after College). The European Economic Community is what the UK citizens voted YES to in the 1975 referendum. The EEC was an ecomomic trade bloc, which sought ot encourage free trade, aswell as freedom of movement within European members. However, unknown to the member-states public’s, the intention of those behind the EEC was to create a full political union, with a legislature (Euro-Parliament), an executive (Euro-Commission) and even a common foreign policy and military policiy, which is marking a dangerous resembelance to massive political federal unions like the Soviet Union. Nicholas Sarkozi (French President), has announced that, in his personal opinion, he would like to eventually see a ‘United States of Europe’ or ‘European Federation’; similar to that of the United States. In which, eventually, all national sovereigny of each individual member-state would be erdoded away.

If the current Economic Crisis and various other threats to the EU do not means it end, then we are likely to see some of the following aspects of change within our nations:

-The gradual removal of all Constitutional associations to the Crown (for those member-states with monarchies; currently 7). I.e. the removal of Her Majesty from the oath of allegience.

-The weakening of National and local Governments with treaty after treaty turning legislative focus onto the European Union Institutions. I.e. control over oil rigs etc.

-The encouragment of one single European culture, with the discouragment of national or local cultural heritage. (Don’t be fooled by the EU’s regeneration schemes!). I.e. the removal of certain words from public, which may promote a national/local culture.

-The ingegration of the Euro (for those without it) within certain areas of the country and/or different fields of business.

-The eventual disestablishment of national religious institutions and the encouragement of secular ideals. I.e. the ‘downplay’ of the Church of England in its role in British Society, and talk of its disestablishment.

There are other things which we will see with the eventual integration of our nations into the single European federal-state. However with parties like UKIP (of which I am a member) gaining mumentum in European-Parliament, the EU may find it more difficult to achieve its ultimate goal.

UKIP wish to re-establish the European Ecomomic Coomunity model, similar to that of Norway’s relationship, but withdraw from the political European Union. They seek to create, also, a Commonwealth Free-Trade policy (of which our EU membership forbids) and trade better and closer with our Commonwealth family of which some’s economies are far more stable (Canada, India) than that of European nations (France, Ireland, Spain).

[size=150]Pro-cooperation, anti-Integration![/size]

Hehe - I’m glad there’s still demand for it! Yes - I still plan on releasing my monetary mod. I’ve now got a better idea of the possibilities and limitations of the Democracy 2 engine, so I’ve scaled back some of the more ambitious elements of the mod. It’s currently on the back-burner, as I’m still settling into my course in Italy, but it’s definitely simmering away. My laptop arrived, so I’ve been working on it now and then.

@TomPhil - thank you for a reasoned and well argued response. Sorry I didn’t get round to replying to it earlier - I have very patchy internet access at the moment.

I haven’t fully formulated a personal view on the EU yet, but let me play devil’s advocate for the sake of debate.

True - but the UK economy is also very exposed to the current economic crisis. Financial services form a large chunk (if I’m not mistaken) of our economy, and we import (rather than manufacture) a lot of our goods and products. So we may end up needing trade with the EU more than they need it with us.

But, as you point out, the EU would still want to trade with the UK. They would be reluctant, however, to trade with us at a disadvantage. So, for example, if EU labour laws were a lot stricter than UK labour laws (thus allowing the UK to manufacture goods for much cheaper than in the EU) then I imagine the EU would press for the UK to adopt EU labour laws before it agreed to lower tariffs. So we may not be able to negotiate bi-lateral agreements without signing up to a lot of EU legislation (a la Norway/Switzerland).

But Qualified Majority Voting actually leaves the UK at a significant advantage - especially if the population forecast figures for the EU are accurate. The UK will have the biggest population in Europe, giving it more voting power (because a qualified majority needs to be a majority of countries and a majority of the EU’s total population). Also - hasn’t the UK demonstrated it can successfully negotiate opt-outs and reservations to unpopular EU legislature?

Wouldn’t there have be more opportunities to block unpopular legislature under the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty? There would have been the requirement of co-decision on many issues between the parliament and the council.

I’ve also heard the argument that it is the single biggest force for trade-liberalisation in the world (much more effective than the WTO which does things by unanimous decision and has trade-rounds which drag on for years). There is a single external tariff - but if countries agree to lower their own tariffs then the EU will do the same. This encourages free-trade, not protectionism. Whether trade-liberalisation is a good thing or not, that’s a separate issue.

Okay - I’ve got class in five minutes so I have to run! I’ll respond to the rest of your points later.

A very well formulated argument. One of the best defences of the EU I have seen/read in my ‘year’ as a member of UKIP.

However, I do not see how all this cannot be achieved with the ‘politically binding’ institutions of the EU either severly weakned or even scrapped? The intention of the EEC and Common Market was exactly what the EU preaches its function is today, which is essentially not true, we now know that the EU’s intention all the way was political union with economic benefits. It is true that with the UK’s rising population we will likely see much more Parliamentary monopoly in Strasburg, but is this ethical towards the other member-states who will be subject to the regulation of our MEP’s? (this is the good thing about the Euro-Parliament’s Proportional Representation, which is obviously purposely designed for this reason.) If the UK grows to attached too the EU, by means of our growing monopoly and influence within it, full political integration will be inevitable, which most people oppose (in all member-states not just GB). This ‘Peak Theory’ style model will only end the EU in what it origionally set out to prevent; boundries and the possible cause of conflict. The ‘anti-monster’ will become (and in my opinion already has become) the ‘monster’.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am pro-cooperation with our neighbourghs, but anti-political integration with them. With a body of institutions like the EU, we are either fully in or out with connections. We must stand strong as a Nation-State while retaining our unique relationship with the EU, either do this or we will inevitabley be integrated. We cannot dance around the issue with hope in population-growth statistics.

@noachian - Thank you as well for your two replies - I have more points than I can respond to properly! I think it’s easy for europhiles to dismiss euroscepticism as purely emotional and without reasoned argument, but both you and TomPhil have put forward some excellent points. I’m going to try to get through the rest of TomPhil’s points before I move onto your post.

I will, however, quickly try to respond to some of the points you’ve just made, because they are similar to some of the things TomPhil mentioned:

In terms of promoting trade-liberalisation, the benefit of a united EU is that as a unified trading bloc the EU has more influence than individual member states would in separate negotiations. In terms of transatlantic trade, for example, the EU is on par economically with America, whereas individual member states would not be. In fact, the EU is the largest economy in the world - giving it a significant advantage during trade talks with any country.

As for severely weakening or scrapping some of the legally binding elements of the EU - in principle, I absolutely agree with you: there should always be room for institutional reform in the EU - which institutions or laws were you thinking about specifically?

I agree the system could be seen to be biased towards member states with large populations, but because of the way the qualified majority system is set up (if I’m not mistaken, a majority in both individual states and the total population of the EU is required) small states also have a greater say than if the system were purely based on a population majority.

Okay - again, I have a class in five minutes! Thank you for your thoughts!

Thanks for replying at all if you are busy Josef!

Well the European Commission is a waste of tax money to be honest, of course if there is a Legislature (the Euro-Parliament) there usually has to be an Executive. But my argument is why not severely reduce powers and influence of both. While sacrificing some national-sovereinty for integration maybe benefit us in some ways, I think it can come as a burden more so. We [Europe] are trying to achieve something here that is quite ideological and not practical, nor ethical in many eyes. Of course we need a banalace of cooperation and independence, I see this balance as best being achieved in the EEC’s origional Common Market plan, and plans to further integrate the nations into a single culture, government and policy… is just plain silly. If it does go any further, I think the EU will have to become alot more oppressive/authoitarian in its approach to getting people to accept it, and by this I don’t mean authoitarian ideologically, I mean practically. And any authoiritarian institution I oppose. There needs to authoirty, but there needs to be liberty. There needs to be cooperation, but there needs to be independence (even if it means making the EU all the less workable as an economic trade-bloc). There needs to be trade, but not ties. Most of all; there needs to be common culture, but not loss of identity.

It maybe be sad for some to hear from such a cooperative, social and cautious person as myself; but when it comes to it… we’re better off out, not entirely, but certainly to a further degree.

My point was that the more countries join the EU, the less of an influence the UK has. As more countries have joined, and more countries plan to join, understandably our voice will become less and less significant (our population will become a lesser and lesser percentage of the total EU population). This is not only on the Council, but also on the Commission, where we stand to lose our right to a Commissioner, and in the European Parliament, where I know that my region for one is losing one MEP at the next EP elections.

It’s interesting that you mention the European Parliament and imply that more involvement for the Parliament means more democracy. The truth is that the Parliament is probably the least democratic institution within the EU. If you watch the “Remote Control” video that I linked to above, you will see how voting is conducted in the European Parliament. It is largely by shows of hands, and no attempt is made to properly count the votes. One particularly shocking example that I don’t think is mentioned in the video is that after one vote in the Parliament, the motion was held to have been rejected. A UKIP MEP called for an electronic vote. The motion had actually been passed 567 votes to 17. The chairman blamed this discrepancy on MEPs not “holding their hands high enough” (source). The European Parliament’s response? They removed the right for MEPs to demand electronic votes.

Also, the Lisbon Treaty will remove something like 60 vetos. This will mean many, many more areas where we can be outvoted, and be forced to implement legislation that is adverse to our national interest.

Finally, the Lisbon Treaty is the “final” treaty. It contains a self-amending clause, meaning that once it enters effect, the EU can transfer any further powers to itself without needing to go through the formal amendment procedure that has been required in the past. Not only would we be losing the opportunities to block legislation, but also to block further, potentially extremely substantial, treaty changes.

I’m getting internet put into my apartment in Italy - so eventually I’ll be able to write proper responses. I just wanted to quickly throw this out there before I have to get back to my studies:

I’ve been re-reading Paul Kennedy’s excellent “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.” It got me to thinking - his main argument for why the European “Great Powers” became “great” seems to be that no one state within Europe could dominate - there was always a balance of power and always competition between states within Europe. The vast all-powerful empires of China, India and the Middle-East, by contrast, stagnated and crumbled once they had conquered all their neighbouring rivals - and they became less competitive (I’m over-simplifying - but there’s some truth to this).

I wonder if a possible danger of the EU is that it will become like the vast Qing, Mughal or Ottoman empires - there will be no internal competition to drive it and so it will become increasingly inward facing, isolationist, bureaucratic and conservative. On the other hand - in an era of “globalisation” - with distances shrinking through the steady advance of technology, perhaps our “neighbours” are now China, the US, the Middle-East, South America, etc. Perhaps globalisation will generate enough competition to drive the EU.

This is certainly worrying. An excess of red-tape is not good for an economy. However, there is a difference between “harmonisation” of laws and over-regulation. Harmonisation actually reduces red-tape, because the same legal system is in place throughout the EU. Coming to Italy from the UK, for example, the bureaucratic system is completely different (and very, very wrapped up in red-tape). If I was a small business producing a product I wanted to sell in both the UK and Italy, I would have to satisfy both regulatory systems. If both systems were harmonised (for example, by EU regulation) then I would need to learn one system. Less red-tape, but more regulation - better for the economy of both Italy and the UK.

In other words: some EU regulation is actually aimed at reducing the amount of red tape.

Quick point re the CAP: the UK rebate, although controversial and slowly being eroded (as is the CAP), is not insignificant and does reduce those figures slightly. Regardless, the UK is still a major net contributer to the EU. There are four points about this I think are worth making:

  1. Grossly simplifying: The UK benefits enormously from the single market. We have access to the single market because we contribute money to the EU. That is the “price” of admission to the single-market. Is that price worth it? I’ll have to read a bit more about it before I decide.

  2. The EU structural funds in particular helps to improve the weaker economies in the EU, bringing them up to the same standard of living as in western Europe. Yes - this means massive investment in poorer countries by richer countries. But this also creates a stronger market for goods and services throughout the EU (wealthier Poles and Romanians can afford to buy English and French products) - which benefits trade for all countries.

  3. Structural funds also help to stabilise the poorer areas of the EU (and potential member-states, such as former Yugoslavian countries).

  4. Structural funds also provide a counterbalance to a newly bellicose Russia’s sphere of influence

International law is one of my modules at uni - and legal personality isn’t so sinister. The EU would have the legal personality of an “international organisation” which is very specific and distinct from that of a state. It just means that treaties could be signed between the EU and other countries and they could be regulated under the Vienna convention on the law of treaties. I suppose the EU already has something of a legal personality under customary law anyway.

But the EU is also being strengthened democratically. More and more power is being transferred away from the council and the commission and to the directly elected parliament. There is probably still a “democratic deficit” - and the rejection of the constitution/Lisbon treaty confirms that people are suspicious of the EU in terms of how democratic it is.

Personally - it looks to me like the Lisbon treaty is dead. The attempt to consolidate every separate treaty into a single document created an enormous book-length treaty written in complex legalese, which immediately looked suspicious to practically every citizen of every country in the EU. The EU should have kept the EU constitution separate from any attempt to consolidate the treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, and written everything in a plain, understandable style.

The Commission actually has an absolutely tiny budget for what it does. It has a staff of about 23’000, less than the number of civil servants employed by the city council of a typical medium-sized European city. In 2004, the budget of the Mayor of London was larger than the budget for the Commission. The budget for the Mayor of Paris was larger than the administrative budget for the entire EU, including the parliament and the commission.

The total administrative expenditure of the EU in 2009 (including the Commission, Parliament and other institutions) will be 7.5 billion euros, which represent something like 1% of the combined Gross National Income of the member-states. This is compared with an average of 45% of GNI typically spent on administration at the national level.

I disagree. The EU is unlikely to become authoritarian because there are so many checks and balances in place. No single institution could seize control and implement authoritarian measures without the others holding it in check. To me, the
argument that the EU will become bureaucratic, overly-complicated and redundant is much stronger than the idea it may become some sort of authoritarian super-state.

I can’t see this happening either. The individual system of democratic government employed by each member state is not a competence of the EU, it is not an area where qualified majority voting would be allowed and individual governments which wanted to keep their monarchies would simply veto any such proposal.

This is the classic supranationalist/intergovernmentalist dichotomy. It’s a fine line to tread, but if the EU follows a principle of subsidiarity (i.e. EU competencies are only those in which supranationalism would be more effective than intergovernmentalism) then would it be possible to achieve that balance? I’ll have to read more before I decide.

I don’t agree - again, following the reasons I outlined above re: national monarchies.

Adoption of the Euro is mandatory for EU countries (except for certain opt-outs like the UK and Denmark) - but only once certain pre-conditions have been met. If a country is really against adopting the Euro, then it can simply ensure it never meets those pre-conditions.

Well, some would argue that secularism is already an established European ideal. Anyway, the new UK immigration minister got into a bit of hot water recently for suggesting that the disestablishment of the CoE was inevitable. The government strongly rejected his views. With no political will for disestablishment from either Labour or the Conservatives, I don’t see it happening any time soon. Regardless - it would be decided at a national level, not by the EU.

Not sure if you’ll agree with what I’ve written - but would be interested to hear your thoughts!

As far as I understand it, MEPs can demand an electronic vote by shouting “Check, check.” The show of hands is done first to see if there is a clear majority (obviously, in the example Christopher Booker gives, it failed - but then the MEPs called for an electronic vote which gave the correct result).

I don’t think you’re right about that. Are you getting that from the article or somewhere else? Christopher Booker’s article says that the parliament rejected the proposal that electronic voting would be mandatory for all votes.

Here’s a link: … parliament - try this Google search to find many more articles regarding it.

This clearly shows that the European Parliament is not a democratic institution. When opponents of the European Union acted completely within procedural rules to protest against the undemocratic actions of the Parliament, they were silenced by “reinterpreting” procedural rules to give the President of the Parliament power to block anything he didn’t like, including roll calls. This is not the kind of thing that democratic institutions would ever contemplate doing, but it’s the sort of thing that the EU does on a day-to-day basis.

You make an interesting point regarding checks and balances. However, I don’t agree. Look at the European Court of Justice. What is the check and balance on it? If the Court operated within the normal bounds that we expect in a country like the UK, then yes, you could say that this institution was an effective check on the others, and that, as it was bound by the law made by the Commission and Parliament, they were a check on it. However, this is not how the European Court of Justice acts. Instead of interpreting the law in the traditional British method of basing its decisions on what the law actually says, it instead applies a teleological approach - this means that it interprets the law in line with what it thinks the purpose of it is, even if this means reading the law in a way totally adverse to the actually wording of it. It is totally at the Court’s discretion what it believes the “purpose” to be, but it places heavy reliance on the “ever closer union” provision within the Treaties.

When I studied European Union Law as part of my degree, I was shocked to discover the extent to which it totally disregards the actual written law in deciding what it thinks the law should be, and at the openness with which the lecturers and the textbooks admit this. Indeed, the Court is often described as the most powerful force in pushing forward integration and the expansion of the European Union’s powers.

You should very much bear this in mind when you look at a new Directive or Treaty. For example, with the Lisbon Treaty, the UK Government cited it as a document that protected Britain’s sovereignty and transferred very few powers to the EU, and, indeed, read in one light, that’s exactly what it said. On the other hand, ministers in most other European governments, and EU officials, described it as a treaty transferring significant powers to Brussels and, again, read in a certain light, that’s exactly what it does. The point is that these documents are deliberately written so that they can be portrayed in either light - in the former light in countries where the people do not support further EU integration, and in the latter in countries where they do. Once the Treaty is ratified and enters into force, its up to the ECJ to decide on the interpretion, and almost invariably they will decide on an interpretation far more federalist than all but the most ardent federalist had suggested.

Honestly, it’s difficult to put across to you how far the ECJ will go in interpreting Directives and Treaty provisions to go far, far, far further than anyone originally contemplated. If you look at some treaty provisions, the interpretation placed on them by the ECJ bears no relation to what they actually said. I remember my particular “favourite” at University was the word “workers”. Our lecturer who was I think from Greece used to pronounce it “vorkers”. I still draw a distinction in my mind between the two very, very different words “worker” and “vorker”, as they bear absolutely no relationship to each other.

Hi TomPhil

Again, sorry for the slow reply.

Not sure if you’ll get this in time, but tomorrow morning (05/11/08) I’ll be attending a guest lecture about the EU parliament. If I get the opportunity, I’ll raise some of the issues you’ve mentioned about the “democratic deficit” in the parliament.

But Britain uses a common law system (i.e. more powers of interpretation to judges, based on precedent), so surely you mean the traditional French method (i.e. civil law - more importance placed on the written letter of the law). :wink:

This isn’t really an argument in favour of how the EU does things, but the ECJ is by no means unique by interpreting the law as it sees it. This is how international law seems to work. Article 31 paragraph 1 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states: “a treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.”

International courts often interpret the law so that it fits the declared “object and purpose” of a treaty. The European Court of Human Rights does this (e.g. Belilos v. Switzerland), the International Court of Justice does this (e.g. the concept of “directly affected states” was just made up by the ICJ in the North Sea Shelf case), in fact: I imagine most international courts (if they have a measure of independence) do this.

So as to whether it’s legal or not: there’s an argument that it is. As to whether it’s a good thing or not - that’s open to debate. It’s difficult to maintain an independent judiciary and at the same time possess enough oversight over that judiciary to force it not to make decisions you disagree with.

I also want to mention one more thing which I read recently. It’s about the point you raised earlier about EU over-regulation and the distinction between regulation to harmonise laws and regulation which just causes pointless red-tape:

When mobile phone technology was just emerging there were several different possible technologies which could have been used to provide network coverage (I’m not sure of the exact technical details, but it’s something along those lines). In the United States, there was no government regulation and each network provider adopted a different technology, with the result that a mobile phone bought in one state wouldn’t work in the next state. In Europe, EU regulation created a standardised mobile network language (I think it’s called GMS) - so a phone bought in Germany would work in Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, etc. This created a massive mobile phone market for European companies, with the result that Vodafone (a British company) was the largest network provider in the world in 2005 (The United States of Europe, T. Reid). The US backtracked and opted for more regulation in the end, following the success of the European example.

Before the UK joined the EU it imported most of its agricultural produce from its former colonies like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This stopped once the UK joined the EU in 1973. As a consequence it started to pay 23 per cent more for its agricultural imports, and 23 per cent less for its manufactured imports. There was no economic gain or loss to the UK for switching trading partners. It all depends on whether you value agricultural or manufactured goods more highly, which is an interesting question.

Hi, rboni

Interesting point! But you only mention imports - what of UK exports? The UK wouldn’t have access to the single-market if it wasn’t in the EU. Or if it did get access to the single-market, it would suffer the problem of “fax democracy” which the Swiss and the Norgwegians are facing.

The Swiss guillotine clause I talked about earlier in this thread, for example, could be about to come down: ARTICLE.

P.S. Out of interest, where did you get those numbers from? Always interested in finding good sources!

P.P.S (completely unrelated to your point) - I was speaking to a guy in telecoms about the European advantage in mobile phone technology, and he says that he thinks the EU has messed it all up by now. They did have an enormous advantage over the US because they adopted a standardised model, but he says they’re losing their early lead, essentially because (he argues) social provisions are too generous in the EU (e.g. several months severance pay required by law, vs. hardly anything in the US).

I remember the statistics from a documentary I saw many years ago on our public broadcaster known as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Unfortunately I cannot refer you to a website or book with that information.