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Countering misinformation about EU institutions
28 Nov, 2018

Clearing up the myths

London4Europe Vice Chair Dr Monica Threlfall has produced this set of rebuttals of claims about EU institutions. Other articles on the site covering a similar theme are Is the EU Democratic?Tony Benn's Five Questions and Let's solve Leavers' EU democracy problem

 

 

COUNTERING MISINFORMATION ABOUT EU INSTITUTIONS

 

 

 

 

“The EU is un-democratic”

The EU has more democratic institutions than the UK: two equal law-making bodies: a directly-elected European Parliament and an indirectly-elected Council of Ministers (government ministers from 28 member-states). Elections to the  European Parliament are held every 5 years in all member states (UK included). The UK has only one elected law-making body, the House of Commons (650 members). But the 782 Members of The House of Lords who scrutinise draft laws and propose revisions, are not elected. 92 are mainly male members of the aristocracy who have inherited their titles. When one of them dies, a replacement is selected from among fellow aristocrats. The rest of the Lords are appointed for life by each Prime Minister or party leader, from people who are considered to have made a distinguished contribution to British public life.

 

 

“The EU is a dictatorship”

The EU is a hybrid organisation of democratic states which has inter-governmental and some supranational structures seeking to enhance, and in some cases integrate, political and economic co-operation. While remaining independent, member states share sovereignty in agreed areas: laws become binding once adopted. The European Court of Justice can penalise a member state that fails to apply the measures it has agreed on. The elected Members of the European Parliament sit together in cross-national political groups representing the parties and ideologies found across Europe. So 28 sets of electorates, legislatures, governments, pressure groups and citizens organisations have a role and a voice, acting within the confines of the current Treaty.

 

 

“The Commission is unelected”

The Commission is made up of 1 Commissioner proposed by each country’s elected Prime Minister or President and vetted by the Parliament. It does not pass laws. Its function is to develop the Treaties by proposing ways for member states to integrate. It manages the implementation of the laws that have been agreed by the EU’s 2 legislative bodies. The Commission is in turn guided by the priorities of theEuropean Council – the elected heads of state and government of the member states.

 

 

“The Commission dictates what must be done”

EU decisions and draft legislation are passed into law by the elected European Parliamentand the Council of Ministers(from elected governments) after prior consensus-building by the Commission, involving further actors such as business and trade union lobbies, regional bodies, specialist pressure groups and civil society organisations. The European Community “method” requires wider consultation and negotiation with a range of institutions and actors than do many national democracies. Complaints against the EU can be brought by individuals, with new rights won for all citizens, eg. Kohll & Decker.[1]

 

“The UK is over-ruled by other states”

The UK almost always gets its own way, ie we voted ‘yes’ to proposals in the Council 91% of the time.[2]

 

 

 “Juncker is not elected

The Commission President (currently Mr. J.C Juncker) is elected every 5 years, against rival candidates supported by party groups of MEPs in the EuropeanParliament. Juncker became President in 2014 after gaining the support of 26 out of  28 member countries.

 

 

“They are all bureaucrats”

 

 

 

The EU maintains a professional civil service of only 33,000 employees chosen through a competitive selection process with thousands of applicants from all over Europe. By contrast, a member-state such as the UK has 418,000 civil servants [3]as part of a total 5.3 million public sector employees working for the NHS (1.65m. jobs), in education (1.5m.), the armed forces, police, and local government – totalling over 2 million.

 

 

“The EU spends millions on admin

 

The EU spent €136.4bn, or 1% of EU Gross National Income (GNI), or €267pa for every citizen in 2016; or 1 euro per day.[4] The cost of NATO membership is double the amount, over 2% of GNI.[5] Over 94% of the EU’s funds are spent on people, via spending programmes. Only 6% goes on administration.

The EU uses its administrators to ensure money is spent correctly in compliance with laws and procedures previously agreed by its members. A supra-national Court of Justice enjoys delegated powers that can fine governments and bodies for non-compliance.

 

 

“The EU Auditors have not signed off the accounts”

 

The EU’s expenditure is scrutinised by a Court of Auditors composed of 1 member per country (including the British senior civil servant Phil Wynn Owen).[6] This Court  gave its latest Statement of Assurance to the European Parliament in September 2017. In turn the ParliamentCommittee on Budgetary Control, has been issuing a Discharge of the accounts for a number of years,[7] endorsed by the member-states. In addition the Parliament  votes on the Discharge for every EU institution, as each receives its own slice of the budget and returns accounts on it.[8]

 

“Fraud is rife

 

The EU suffers from ‘accounting errors’, not ‘fraud’ - in accounting terminology.[9] Fraud (not errors) is estimated to be only 0.2%, the same as in the UK.[10] Some UK government departments experience fraud of around 5% of expenditure.[11] Most fraudulent use of EU money is committed by the member states. The EU’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) forces them to pay it back. OLAF encourages reporting of fraud by the public through an on-line site:  https://fns.olaf.europa.eu

 

Further misinformation can be sent to M.Threlfall@GpiLondon.com

 

[1]Kohll and Decker won their case about not being able to get free replacement spectacles while in another EU country, opening the  way to cross-border healthcare.

[2]Vote Watch Europe, Data Annex to 2012 Annual Report ‘Agreeing to disagree: the voting records of EU member states in the Council since 2009. http://www.votewatch.eu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/data-annex-to-votewatch-europe-2012-annual-report-final.pdf

[3]Office of National Statistics (2018), Civil Service Statistics 2016, and Public Sector Employment, UK, June 2018  https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/publicsectorpersonnel/bulletins/publicsectoremployment/june2018#civil-service-employment-is-little-changed-on-the-quarter-but-up-slightly-on-the-year

[4]http://ec.europa.eu/budget/explained/myths/myths_en.cfm

[5]Adhu, A. (12.07.18) ‘NATO contributions by country’, Chart: ‘Military Spending of NATO countries and estimated share of GDP in 2017’. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/6745786/nato-contributions-country-who-pay-most-least-2-percent-gdp-target-trump/

[6]The UK Comptroller and Auditor-General is also prone to issue ‘qualified opinions’ of the Whole of Government Accounts, referring for instance to ‘inconsistent application of accounting policies’ and disagreements over these, as well as urging improvements. See The National Audit Office’s Estimate, Whole of Government Accountsto 31.03.2017, June.

[7]It stated that the accounts presented the financial position of the [European] Union ‘fairly’, and were ‘based on internationally-accepted accounting standards for the public sector’. OJ 2017/C 322/01), p.10. Paste in  https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/annualreports-2016/annualreports-2016-EN.pdf

6See the Court of Auditors’ Statement of Assurance, p.11 of Annual Report on the Implementation of the Budget, https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/annualreports-2016/annualreports-2016-EN.pdf 

[8]European Commission (2016) ‘Discharge Procedure’  http://ec.europa.eu/budget/explained/reports_control/discharge/faq/faq_en.cfm

[9]European Court of Auditors, Annual reports, Financial year 2017.https://www.eca.europa.eu/en/Pages/DocItem.aspx?did=46515

[10]See UK The National Audit Office’s Estimate, Whole of Government Accounts to 31.03.2017, June, p.5.

[11]See HM Treasury, Whole of Government Accounts – year ended 31.03.2017, table p.53, §1.147-1.151

 

 

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