Category Archives: Euromyths

For those crazy stories they use to bash us with

Relight my fire

If you hear/read somewhere that the EU is contemplating a ban on barbecues, please don’t believe it. The Commission is not planning a ban on barbecues, we’re not going to propose bringing them within carbon emissions trading, and we’re not suggesting Member States instigate a barbecue tax. If an individual member state wanted to, that would be a national issue, but the EU doesn’t have that power.

The Commission is also not banning using the term watts for lightbulbs. Lightbulbs are already supposed to carry the lighting performance of the bulb, which is measures in lumens. This makes it easier to compare different types of bulbs, as of course the wattage only refers to the power needed to make the light shine, and doesn’t help comparison across the range of bulbs that now exist. From 2010 the lumens value will be displayed more prominently than the wattage value, but the watts will continue to be compulsory. This is to allow people to compare bulbs on the basis of performance, and is a measure that was approved by all the governments, and consumer organisations.

Interesting article by Will Hutton in the Observer at the weekend. The expenses issue has kicked all other political issues into the long grass, but I wonder how much of a campaign we’d have seen even if that issue hadn’t been around.

Magic Numbers

It’s a cliché to say it, but statistics are often really badly misused. People seem to accept figures about this or that without any verification or checking. A really good example was one that came up again this weekend with the Stuart Wheeler fuss in the Conservative party, and is often heard from Nigel Farage of UKIP: 75% of British laws come from Europe. The MEP Richard Corbett has written a very interesting piece (the Open Europe one) for the European Movement which includes this paragraph

As for the UK, two studies exist: one a paper by Edward Page in 1998, which analysed the effects of EU legislation on British law between 1987 and 1997 and a paper by the House of Commons library taking a similar approach between 1998 and 2005. Both papers take their figures from the statutory instruments passed with references to European legislation, with the library justifying this by asserting that “The vast majority of EC legislation is enacted by statutory instruments under section 2 (2) of the European Communities Act.” Page’s study produced a figure of 15.8% whereas the House of Commons library gave a final figure of 9.1%.

Now, of course I checked out the studies, and the House of Commons one is really interesting. Looking at the answers from departments, DTI (as was) and DEFRA are clearly the most affected, with their answers indicating around 50% of their legislation emanating from EU legislation. But several departments had no primary legislation and very little secondary legislation. So I suppose that’s what brings the average down to about 9-10% a year. Comments about the 50% generally refer to legislation that impacts on business, which makes sense given that the EU is still (whatever some people might think) predominantly an economic, trade and business union. But saying that the EU is responsible for 75% of UK legislation does seem to be over-egging the pudding. Unfortunately the Edward Page article is from a journal so I couldn’t read it, but as he quoted his own study in a book I did find on line and he said the figure was probably about 15%, I shall consider that as verification.

The EU in general and the Commission in particular is looked to for two things: regulation and money. Regulation above, so now I’ll show you the money – aid figures were announced today, which show that the EU (taken as the central budget and 27 Member States) is the biggest donor of development aid. We also announced the first financing decision to spend the Food Facility, set up to help those in the developing world who are threatened by food insecurity. Details on the Rep’s website.

Cod only knows

Reports are flying around that the European Commission is planning to bring all anglers under the Common Fisheries Policy. This is not the case. Anglers fishing in freshwater or on the shore will be free to continue as they always have done. Across Europe, there are some recreational anglers who do large-scale deep sea fishing and catch types of fish that are threatened due to low stocks, such as cod. In Germany anglers catch the equivalent of about 50% of Germany’s cod quota in the North Sea. So for certain types of fish caught in certain circumstances, then there will be a need to register those catches. But if we look at the types of fish caught recreationally in the UK, particularly South-West England, where this has got a lot of attention, and those that are subject to the sort of management plans we are talking about, we see that there is little overlap. The fish targeted by anglers are on the whole not the same as those targeted by commercial fisherman (hake, cod, plaice, eel, sole all have long-term management plans in the UK).

Just made a small change to be more accurate about the maths of the German quota.

Back in the saddle again

So, I’m back from leave, and it’s not too bad, though I could stay in my little house in the Pyrenees forever if allowed to! It snowed, which was lovely. Pics attached. We had lots of fun with the new puppy Bailey the Beagledor, who is a handful, though a very sweet one!

Anyway, back here there’s a few things to set straight. I guess the main one is that there are no plans to ban plasma TV screens. There are plans to set energy requirements for them and bring in an energy label like you have already for fridges, but as there are quite a few TVs on the market already that meet our proposed standard, that wouldn’t take effect until at least mid-2010, we can say with a lot of confidence that there’s no question of a ban. When we brought out the strategic energy technology plan in 2007 there was a lot of criticism that it didn’t include energy efficiency and our argument was that it was dealt with elsewhere. We’re showing that now. The most immediate way we can tackle not just climate change, but our energy security issues (top of the agenda at the moment!) is through energy efficiency. Habits are not going to change through nice ad campaigns – carrots and sticks are required, through legislation and taxes (either levying or giving breaks).

And another thing – we’re not planning an EU takeover of North Sea oil and gas. Even the UK government said “there is no proposal or prospect of the EU taking control over Britain’s gas supplies”. The Lisbon treaty doesn’t allow this in any way, shape or form and we wouldn’t want to if it did. We do want to make it easier for supplies to move around Europe – ie for the UK to furnish gas against payment to other parts of the EU, especially in situations like now where their supplier has let them down. There’s already a gas coordination group that looks at these interconnections.

Hanging on the telephone

I had a very frustrating morning. I had to work from home because I got an automated phone calls yesterday and Monday telling me that my new Dell computer would be delivered between 8am and 1pm today. Come 1pm, no computer. So I looked up on the Dell website and lo and behold! it now had it marked down that the delivery would be on Friday! When I called customer services it turns out that this is all because I couldn’t confirm the delivery, because the internal phone system here wouldn’t allow it. Course, if a PERSON had called me to confirm the delivery there wouldn’t have been a problem. I think I’m going to implement a strict “shopping in shops” policy from now on… The irony is that I’ve been forced into buying the computer in the first place because the OU doesn’t provide its software for Macs, at least, not for the courses I’m doing, so in the end the simplest thing to do was to get a PC, even if it’s cost as much as the course. If you see a spike in the November retail figures, you’ll know why.

I hope you’ve all heard the news about getting rid of standards for intra-EU fruit and veg (bananas will still have standards, but that’s more about it being an international trade issue). I like the comments on the BBC Magazine article about this, which went along the lines of “if this is all about EU rules, how come I can buy all sorts of funny-shaped veg in France and Spain?”. Down in my bit of France they have a tomato that’s totally ridged and lumpy. It looks quite weird. I bought some in a supermarket because they looked so unusual and they were DELICIOUS – really intense tomato flavour, perfect for a simple tomato salad with shallots and some good olive oil and loads of pepper. yum! These rules have often been quoted as a “Euro-myth” NOT because the rules don’t exist (obviously they do, otherwise we wouldn’t have to get rid of them), but rather because they weren’t imposed on the UK by the EU – such standards already existed in the UK before it joined and in fact harmonised rules were something the UK fought for during its accession. It’s a bit like metrication – the UK embarked on the process of introducing metric well before it joined the EU.

If you bought a car between 1998 and 2003, it’s likely you were affected by the cartel on car glass that the Commission has just fined a record €1.38b.

I’ve got a brand-new combine harvester

and European rules don’t say anything about whether it can be used in the wet. You have the UK government to thank for the rules reported in the Yorkshire Post on 23 October that farmers are not allowed to use their combine harvesters in waterlogged fields. We leave those sort of decisions to Member States. Which makes sense if you think about it – wet fields must be a much bigger issue here than in southern Spain…unfortunately.

Not that we can complain about the weather at the moment, it’s my favourite – cold and sunny and crisp. Guess it’s all those years in Finland affecting me.

So glad it’s the weekend, though I did enjoy last night – it was the 120th anniversary of the Foreign Press Association and 40th anniversary of the Association of European Journalists, and they had a reception at the FPA’s headquarters in Carlton House Terrace, which used to be Gladstone’s house. I met some great people and was also able to say hello to Brian Hanrahan, who interviewed my parents last year. He remembered them well, and also how much he loved that part of the world. I just watched the interview again and it’s amazing to see how much the garden has changed in just a year.

Looking forward to seeing my brother over the weekend and maybe also catching up with my friend Hannah from Brussels. If you’re in town, come along to the Language Show, where I’ll be manning the stall for a spell on Saturday.

These are crazy crazy crazy crazy nights

Sorry it’s been so long, but the last few days have been a bit mad. On Thursday and Friday I was up in the North-East, representing the European Commission at an event for local authorities, universities and businesses in that region, to highlight possible sources of European funding and where to fgo for assistance and advice on policy areas of interest to them. I also took the opportunity to meet some of the regional press – it’s always good to make human contact with someone, and the regional press tend to have a strong interest in some issues that don’t make it into the national dailies, such as farming or some industrial issues, as well as the obvious regional funding aspects. I was at my friend Clare’s engagement party on Friday night, which was a lovely opportunity to catch up with some people I haven’t seen since my landlords left. On Sunday my friend Kathryn came round for lunch with her little boy Sam, who is a little sweetheart. That evening I containued my advantage-taking of London’s cultural scene by going to the Electric Proms (not the Oasis gig, but rather the Introducing… night featuring new bands. Headliners were the really-rather-good Pete and the Pirates.)

Monday started with a meeting at the London Development Agency, to plan an event in early December with the Regional Policy Commissioner. If Kissinger joked that he didn’t know who to call in Europe, he would enjoy talking to London people… I think three or 4 acronyms were chucked at us during the meeting!

Tuesday was CRAZY! Meglena Kuneva, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner was in London and we had set up visits to the Watchdog and You and Yours stdios. I had to meet her and her team at St. Pancras at 9.38. I left Balham at 8.30 and at 9-ish was sat at London Bridge. For quite a while. Just as I began to panic, the voice came over the intercom “Northern Line suspended, please seek alternative routes”. Oh and by the way the Victoria line was stuffed as well. (This was after taking 90 minutes to get to Camden from Balham on Sunday. I am so over the Northern Line).  So I went haring up the escalators, out onto Borough High Street, and jumped into a cab, which took 10 minutes to get from London Bridge to Bank! By this time I was getting seriously panicky about whether I was going to make the meeting at all. Luckily the cabbie tok pity on a fellow South-Londoner and hot-footed it up to Kings Cross, making it with 3 minutes to spare! then it was into the car and off to the BBC’s media centre. We had a really interesting hour or so with the Watchdog team in their shiny new studio and got a real insight into the work they do and how they organise themselves. then back in the car to Broadcasting House to visit the You and Yours Team. The Commissioner was interviewed for the programme, and then we headed over to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, where she met the Minister. I then had to shake tail up to Emirates Stadium for a meeting of the Languages steering group, linked to the Double Club, a meeting I was over an hour late for, which I hate so much. we were in a box overlooking the pitch though, which was very cool! After that meeting, I went to meet Kate in their press office to talk about the Brussels visit, which is next week. I then got a call from the office asking if I could do an interview on Radio 5Live’s Richard Bacon programme, which would mean going into their studio at…wait for it…11.45 at night! I said I’d do it, because it was on a campaign that Sainsbury’s are doing to get us to drop rules on fruit and veg marketing standards which we’ve arelady said we’re going to do. So at half ten I headed over to the BBC, sat around for a while and then did the piece which lasted all of about 2 minutes! Then home again to bed. Crazy night, indeed.

So today has been my first proper day in the office for a week. I spent it sorting through e-mails and just getting organised – things really pile up when you’re out for so long. We had our weekly planning meeting today as welll, which is always good for getting our heads straight about what’s coming up. Off this evening to meet this year’s recipients of the One World Media Fellowships – looking forward to talking to the Fijian, in particular, as my parents lived there and I visited several times.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Or is it? Loved Charlie Brooker’s take on it. Like one of the people who commented, my spending all my spare cash on holidays and having a good time is beginning to look like a sensible decision – at least I’ll have some lovely memories to keep me warm. Part of the problem with the whole discussion is that buying a house is treated as a purely financial decision. I mean, of course there is a large financial element, but why should we expect buying a house to be a money-making exercise? I could have bought in Brussels when I arrived 13 years ago, and would probably have made on it, but then I wouldn’t have gone to Fiji, Madagascar, Morocco. I wouldn’t have visited so many places in Europe. I might not even have done my OU course. And all that is worth more to me. Never mind the fact that I didn’t end up staying in Brussels, the main reason I didn’t buy anyway.

I promised you anything written about Verheugen’s interview on Friday, so here it is. It’s always interesting to see the process through from start to finish. If you’re interested, these are the various steps in a case like this:

We find out a Commissioner is coming.

If there is room in the programme for doing media, we find out from the people in Brussels what there is to talk about that would be of interest to journalists (this is the crunch bit and often the most difficult, trying to convince people that some conference isn’t (usually) going to float anyone’s boat)

We identify journalists that might be interested in that issue and pitch the interview to them. If we think we can get a “big fish” along, we can offer them an exclusive interview.

We may be involved in the briefing process, letting the Commissioner know who he or she will be talking to, what they have written about in the past and what sort of issues they have flagged up to us. The Commissioner may want to talk about X, but the journalist will sometimes come along because they want to talk about Y, so we have to make sure that everyone is prepared. That’s a difference we have with government: Commission portfolios are pretty clearly defined so Commissioners will often be reluctant to talk about something that’s not their area. So if we have the Commissioner that deals with widgets here on a particular day and the big EU story is about sprockets, then he may not be prepared to talk about sprockets and so there’s no coverage of that Commissioner.

Finally, one of the team will often sit in the interview, especially if the Brussels-based spokesperson hasn’t come. That way, we have a record of what was said, if there’s any comeback. We get a first-hand idea of what the Commissioner thinks, which always makes it easier to brief the press. And also we are known to the journalist if any follow-up is needed.

Final step in the whole process is to monitor the press for the interview and make sure the Commissioner and his/her team gets the final product. In some European countries, the convention is for someone to get a chance to comment on a draft of their interview before it goes to press. That’s certainly NOT the convention with UK journalists, so we often have to explain that to the people at HQ.

Anyway, just thought it mighjt be interesting to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

 

We’ve been having a lot of stick from the Royal Mail in various ways over recent months, as they (ably supported by UKIP) blame the EU for post office closures in rural areas. (On the contrary, the EU rules say that every household and business should get delivery at least once a day 5 days a week and that deliveries must continue in rural, remote and urban deprived areas. EU rules allow the UK government to support rural post offices financially.) But they’re taking the biscuit today. If you can believe it, they’re trying to blame the fact that there is only one delivery a day on EU rules limiting the speed of lorries! I know we’re a bit of an Aunt Sally, blamed for all sorts of wrongs that we aren’t responsible for, but that’s one of the worst I’ve heard. Maybe the PR guy who came out with that line was working at British Rail when they blamed the “wrong kind of leaves” for train delays?!

Cornish pasties and Cumberland sausages

I did an interview today for the Politics Show about next week’s Green Paper on agricultural quality. Basically, we will be asking for “contributions and views for developing regulatory measures to facilitate production and marketing of products having particular qualities and characteristics”. Apparently. What that means is, do the various certification schemes and geographical protections work. This ranges from using phrases like “traditional” or “free-range” to only allowing Melton Mowbray pork pies to come from Melton Mowbray, taking in marketing standards for fruit and veg (which appears here quite regularly) along the way. This comes out next week and I’ll include a link to the consultation when it does so you can have your say (if you have one).

Also talked to them about the pesticides issue – looks like that one is going to run and run.

We had the good bye for Reijo, the head of office, today. It’s such a shame to see him go. I won’t disguise the fact that working with him again was one of the major reasons for taking this job. Happily, now that I’m here, I find there are enough other reasons to enjoy it that his leaving won’t change my mind about it. But I will miss him.

If you read Dutch, you might find this article interesting. Dutch journalists seem to be very interested in the whole Euromyth phenomenon. I love (not) the Sun political editor saying that they don’t need to check stories with us because since when should journalists trust spokesmen? Funny how they don’t seem to have quite the same issue trusting Open Europe or UKIP spokespeople… I agree that no journalist should take what we say at face value without checking it. But I do think a story that starts “The European Commission will…” should indicate what the European Commission’s take on the issue is. As I frequently say, I’m not bothered about people writing critical things about us – that’s what journalists are there for. I just resent people writing unfair or inaccurate things about us, or only giving one side of the story.

Kevin is safe

Several papers carried pieces over the weekend about an EU ruling putting small garages out of business, because they won’t be able to get information about cars from the major manufacturers. This is all about something called the “block exemption” which has allowed agreements to have been made between car companies and independent garages. There are concerns that if this exemption is removed, smaller companies will no longer get this information. But we need to look at the big picture. Alongside the block exemption (which basically means that if companies work together they won’t get accused of operating a cartel), we also see that the Commission has actively required car manufacturers to provide information about how their cars work outside their own distribution network. To the extent of taking car manufacturers to court. These measures are much more forceful and enforceable than the block exemption and so will give a solid basis to the means by which independent garages can continue to operate. So Kevin the mechanic from Coronation Street (the example given by the Daily Express as a mechanic that will go out of business…could someone please tell them that it’s NOT REAL!!!) will still be able to ply his trade and in fact there will be much tougher enforcement if the car manufacturers try to stop him.

Had a lovely time at the weekend, manning a stall at the Thames Festival, within the New Europe Village, which was showcasing the new Memebr States. We handed out publications and people could take a quiz to test their EU knowledge. Even when all the freebies had gone (I’m not *totally* naive about these things) we had a lot of people picking up publications: several mums keen to support their child’s language learning; a woman who said to her boyfriend “we have to take this, it’s really interesting”; loads of people who sidled up and snuck a few brochures away as if they were going to get caught and an alarm would go off: “Whoop whoop, possible Europhile alert”. Very encouraging really, at the heart of what is supposedly the most Eurosceptic country.