Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Euromyths ahoy!

Toby at Straight Banana continues his quest to disprove Euromyths. If pro-Europeans really have to go into this much detail each time, we could be in trouble. There are hundreds of these things, and some of them are truly barking.

And, unsurprisingly, the usual tactic of modern political debate is brought up in the comments - an attempt to discredit the entire, insanely detailed research of the article by picking up on one small inaccuracy. Which, as is also often the case in modern political debate, isn't actually an inaccuracy at all...

Some good news for the pro-EU camp is that the Eurosceptics' previously fairly united front seems to be fracturing, just as the pro-European camp has before them.

This is hardly surprising - as noted here the other day, Britain's attitude towards and relationship with the EU simply can't be boiled down to a black/white, Yes/No issue. It's an insanely complex affair, with many ranges of belief and perception - from the hard-core nationalists who want out of the EU entirely on the one side through to the Ted Heaths of this world who think the EU can do no wrong on the other.

Most people, if they thought about it for a few minutes (which many, sadly, don't), would lie somewhere in between. They would see that the EU has its benefits, but that it also has its flaws. They would see that it is very hard to prove categorically one way or the other that further integration will be to Britain's benefit, and that it's very hard indeed to prove that Britain would be better off out. We simply don't know.

Much as with the 1975 referendum, most people (if given the choice) would opt for the status quo, because it's practically impossible to work out which direction - if any - is the best. Given the choice to leave the EU, they'd say no; given the choice to join the Eurozone (with all the fears of federalism that entails) they would also say no.

Of course, the problem is that if the rest of the EU charges ahead, and we don't follow along with them, the status quo will be impossible to maintain. Quite what will happen - and it is impossible to stress this point too hard - no one knows. Only one thing is certain - sooner or later Britain will have to make a major choice between following her EU partners or going it more or less alone into uncharted waters. Of course, the other EU member states will also be heading into the white areas of the map - but they will, at least, have safety in numbers.

But this, too, is falling into the trap. Anyone who claims to be able to predict the future is a charlatan speculating on insufficient evidence - nothing more. This is precisely why the two sides end up polarising a debate which is far more complex than simply "Yes" or "No", and keep getting bogged down in the details.

I'm offering no solution here. I'm not sure if there is one. The details need to be examined and discussed. The myths need to be dispelled, and the problems need to be highlighted. But we need to keep the broader picture in mind at the same time or risk getting into the classic blind men/elephant scenario, with everyone having a different interpretation of what's going on. Perhaps this has already happened - it'd certainly explain the infighting between all the various EU-focussed camps.

The provisional constitution is symbolic of the entire problem - overly complex and detailed, and very hard for most people to understand even if they can be bothered to try. To resort to cliche, the entire European debate has got to the stage where not only can none of us see the wood for the trees, but we can barely see the trees for the leaves.


Blogger ken said...

The Euromyth is a Europhile word for those news items which they see as being against the interest of the Union. Hence when the Sun has a headline that “Bananas must not be excessively curved”.
The Sun, 4 March 1998, p6, the rebut offered by the EU Commision web site London, actually confirms that the EU does indeed have quality standards for Bananas. So this is not a misleading item neither is it untrue. If the EU Euromyth generating system, could actually show that the EU did not have any standards for bananas, then I feel they would have a point. I therefore do not see the problem. Other than your earlier point that these things are in fact not important to the real debate on the Constitution or the EU. This is more a reflection on the standard of news that we are offered, what seems to happen is that one paper writes something and then the others without fully checking the story reprint it. There are however some serious points to consider when the EU Commision is overtly attempting to disprove items of news that appear in the British Newspapers in this way. Following your link to some other Euromyths, “truly barking” several of them do have a basis in fact they are not figments of the imagination.
If we look at the Brandy Butter myth we see that the EU does have standards for these items and in fact those standards would make Brandy butter illegal, however there was an amended regulation of 1999, which made special note to traditional UK produce by reducing the fat content requirement, but the three headlines shown on the EU Web site UK were all from 1998, before the requirement was amended.

12/09/2004 12:40:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Sorry - didn't realise "Euromyths" had any partisan connotations. I'd use it just as much for pro-European distortions - which is, after all, primarily what these things are: distortions.

There's (almost) always a grain of truth in them - which is precisely why lazy fact-checking from journalists ensures they get spread. I'm guilty of this occasionally myself in the day job, and it's entirely understandable - deadlines approaching, no time to go into detail etc., so you just opt for the first vague corroboration you find without going into details. The trouble is, when the mainstream national news media does this, these distortions get spread faster, and are soon adopted as fact. The EU certainly has regulations about banana quality, as well as what can be defined as "butter" (as do most governmental organisations which want to regulate trade) but that is not the same as all bananas having to be straight or a specific length.

In any case, as you note, the basic point is that these silly details are distracting everyone from the truly important issues. Whether you are pro- or anti-EU, there's still only a year to sort out your feelings towards the constitution and to convince others of the merits of your opinion.

Distortions from either side will simply ensure that the majority of the population don't know enough to form a valid opinion. Not only would this reduce turnout, but it would also mean that the losing side will be able to continue to claim that the winning argument doesn't have a clear mandate from the people. This would not be healthy for either side.

And all this, of course, could end up being purely academic anyway should any other member state reject the constitution before we have a chance to hold our own referendum...

12/09/2004 09:41:00 am  
Blogger ken said...

Neither did I until I looked it up and like you I use it both ways
The EUABC http://www.euabc.com/index.phtml?page_id=202discribes a Euromyth as
A Term used by the EU Commission to refer to alleged lies and distortions of fact about the EU, particularly on the part of Euro-sceptics, and especially as represented in the British press. The Commission has established a web-site claiming to refute them.
EUABC also defines

12/09/2004 02:46:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Hmmm... Still, only "particularly" by Eurosceptics...

I'll take your word for it, but I'm not overly convinced - especially as EUABC is headed by Jens-Peter Bonde, a member of the Danish JuneMovement (a Eurosceptic organisation) who organised the No campaign in the Danish Maastricht Treaty referendum. EUABC may well be trying to be objective, but if it's headed by someone with such well-defined opinions as Bonde, I'm not sure if it can be, and as such I'm afraid I'll have to be sceptical about its definitions - just as I am about the definitions offered by UKIP or Britain in Europe.

And this mistrust of a partisan source is another part of the problem. Damnit, it's practically impossible to get a truly objective take on the thing.

When I started this blog, the fact that I've accepted both sides of the argument I hoped would give me a good chance to straddle the debate and treat all sides equally. As it stands, the fact I've declared myself to be pro-Europe (even though I didn't declare to what extent) means that anyone anti-EU seems automatically to take a slightly hostile stance, and anyone pro seems to think I'll agree with everything they say.

The fact that most anti views I've found so far (bar EU-Serf and a couple of others) seem consistently to couch their views in terms I find rather irritating also hasn't helped - purely thanks to the (usually) more restrained rhetoric of the pro-EU camp I've found myself inadvertently leaning more towards them - sometimes against my better judgement.

I've been labelled left-wing by a bunch of sites, even though I'm more of a centrist. A few (who have only read individual posts in isolation) have even called me a righ-winger. In my time I've been called both a socialist and a Tory. As it stands, I'm both opposed to some aspects of the EU, and very much in favour of other bits.

Sadly, however, terminology is all important in this sort of thing, and there is no consensus on what anything actually means. As I pointed out the other day, even "Eurosceptic" doesn't mean what it says anymore. It's all somewhat frustrating...

Perhaps I ought to think about changing the strapline description of this blog...

12/09/2004 03:21:00 pm  
Blogger ken said...

Yes for some unknown reason you are expected to be left wing if you support the EU and right wing if you do not. Unfortunately these labels do not help define any of us, I would have considered myself an Eurealist but EUABC definition of such, does not define my feeling about the EU. But to be honest the problem we have or I have, is not with the EU but with our own political system, nobody can blame The EU for taking power only our governments can give that power.

12/09/2004 09:13:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Very true - the left/right assumptions when it comes to Europe are very confusing. I mean, the EU is a trade organisation, aiming to promote capitalism - that should be right-wing. But it also promotes workers' rights and such like, which is left-wing. In other words, it's neither. Just another silly generalisation.

And as you say, it is our various governments which give powers away. Personally, I can't understand why Westminster would want to do that. The Commons spent centuries building up the influence that it's now got, and is trying to gain more power by messing with the Lords - why chuck it away? I genuinely don't understand it, even though (for the most part) I think a lot of it was for the greater good. (The European Court of Human Rights being a prime example - even though we've opted out of various clauses to allow us to suspend habeas corpus - one of the fundamental rights which parliament was fighting for throughout the seventeenth century... As I say, I don't understand it...)

The double standards also get me. New Euroblogger Lose the Delusion has a good post on it. I'd add the question - Why is it that the anti-EU lot in this country ever seem to stop and think WHY so many governments want to go ahead with this? The way they present it, the French (in particular) are trying to build up the EU as a super-state which will destroy British sovereignty. By this logic, it would also destroy French sovereignty. Even the briefest glances at French politics (going back to at least Louis VII) would demonstrate that this is not something the French are particularly predisposed to do, despite all the "cheese-eating surrender-monkey" nonsense.

The French have lived under imposed foreign domination within living memory - as have the Belgians, the Dutch, the Luxembourgians, the Poles, the Czechs, etc. etc. etc. It is not something they wish to repeat, and they have far better knowledge of the situation than anyone in the UK does. I can't see any European country genuinely wanting a USA-style federal Europe, so that particular anti-EU argument simply never washed with me, even when I was full-on anti-EU.

12/09/2004 10:23:00 pm  
Blogger ken said...

None of the suggestion advanced for the European government’s to want to give away their powers make any sense, self-enrichment, power, obviously neither are the reason. The only thing that has any logic is the Bilderberger idea, and then only if you really buy into in conspiracies theories in a big way, I did begin to think that this was the only thing to make any sense, until I found that David Ike also thought that.

Basically on the point about the British Constitution any government has to eventually bring the British system into line with the European norm for full integration to take place, at some point Britain is going to have to change from our legal system to the EU legal system, the house of Lords and the judiciary will have to be reformed, that is what this government is doing. As to the make up of the second chamber it is difficult to defend the rights of birth to be an invitation as member of our government, but the real question is not who sits in the second chamber, but those that do, must have the power to hold parliament to account only in this way will the division of powers be maintained. Whatever eventually happens re; the EU we do need a Constitution that controls our elected representatives because the old one has been steadily eroded over the past 100 years, and we do not now have any real blocks in place against an autocratic government.

12/10/2004 12:44:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

And so - and I will hasten to add here that I don't believe this per se, and am simply playing Devil's advocate - perhaps in the absence of a viable second chamber in this country, or indeed any real semblance of the separation of powers, having the EU to act as a check on the Commons is a good thing?

This is, of course, a massive generalisation but I still get the distinct impression that a decent proportions of British Eurosceptics are traditionalists, plain and simple. This of course has its place - my day job is partially promoting British heritage and traditional ways of life - but I get the impression that there is a significant overlap between the people who don't want EU interference and those who are opposed to the reform of the House of Lords.

The Lords is - still - even more unrepresentative than the EU is, yet maintains its influence. So, assuming we can all agree that we need a check on government, might it not be just as valid to have that check coming from an oversees institution, the make-up of which we can have some influence over via elections and the like, as from an appointed or hereditary second chamber?

12/10/2004 09:48:00 am  
Blogger ken said...

An interesting theory, the problem being that the EU is a compleate supra national government in it’s-self, although its powers are presently limited to the areas in which it has a mandate, those areas are being increased and will eventually cover all those competences we associate with a government of a state. An indication of this is that in 1972 the argument was the EC can only act in those two or three areas the nation state allows, by 2004 we have red lines where Britian retains only two or three areas where the EU may not act. If the laws passed by the EU cannot be changed by our government then obviously the EU is the power. We would then be in the position of moving the basic problem of untrammelled power up a level. Of course a Constitution would be needed to control the power of that government, but the one on the table does not offer such a control because a constitution needs defined limits to power and a method of ensuring those limits are not broken.

In that instance I would suggest that we would not need a full government in Westminster we would need a government to handle the day to day running of the system in the same way we need a local government to run day to day running of the local system, but the big decisions would not be made in Westminster neither would the general policy direction.

Traditionalist: most people I discus this with believe the government is the servant of the people, in as much as, it is the people who have the final say, if we do not like what the government does we can get rid of them and change the direction by changing the policies. The Conservative Party ignored the views of the people, they are no longer in a position of power, nothing they say has any relevance to the running of this country, if the people choose to vote against New Labour at the next election then nothing Tony Blair has done will be relevant, none of his policies are protected against the wishes of the people.

The EU system has been set up to exclude the people from the decision-making process, although they are opening up avenues of allowing the views of the people to be given to the institutions, these views can be ignored at no cost to the institutions or to the people in charge. It is however not the intention to exclude the people for all time, only until the process of integration is compleate, at which point according to Altiero Spinelli they will introduce some form of democracy.

In a sense you are right about the overlap but only as far as the power of the people v their elected representatives is concerned, changing the powers of the Lords to control government removes the blocks on the power of government and giving power to the union to act removes the power of the people to affect their government. I don’t think I have explained that very well but it has nothing to do with hereditary peers more the independence of the second cahmber.

12/10/2004 11:41:00 am  
Blogger Matt said...

Being someone who is strangely obsessed with the history of constitutional thought, I think that the link between Lords reform and the EU is especially interesting and intellectually fruitful. I think it needs more work done on it. (It would of course be helpful if we started teaching people what the British constitution is in the first place...)

I'd like to suggest that one of our shared problems is that our basic view of what a constitution ought to be is dictated - however unconsciously - by Machiavelli (the link between 'libertas' and political freedom), Hobbes (that sovereignty is by its nature indivisible) and Montesquieu (balance of powers, etc). There's an awful reluctance on pretty much everybody's part to leave behind the political philosophy of the early modern period. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I do wonder sometimes. Can we not attempt to move the philosophical debate on?

(Moving slightly off-topic, one person who clearly hasn't paid any attention to his Montesquieu - or the Federalist Papers, for that matter - is the Lord High Chancellor of the United Kingdom. Listening to him witter on about what he thinks is meant by 'separation of powers' is a constant embarrassment.)

12/11/2004 12:28:00 am  

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