UKIP gets its facts wrong on Europe
When a political party puts enormous weight on a single issue, you’d hope they have their facts right about it. Unfortunately, UKIP has failed to do this with their figures on European Union legislation.
At UKIP’s manifesto launch this morning Nigel Farage, the former Party leader and Parliamentary candidate for Buckingham, claimed twice that, “75 per cent of our laws are now made in Brussels”.
Such a figure, were it accurate, might seem alarming. Fortunately, there’s good evidence that the 75 per cent figure is not only inaccurate but also quite misleading.
The first point of doubt is the figure’s source. The UKIP channel on YouTube posts a video showing the former President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering saying (in subtitles translating his German): “If we were not that influential then we would not be the legislator of 75 per cent of all laws in Europe.”
The problem is that UKIP use these words as proof that 75 per cent of the laws being made in every EU country are imposed by the EU. They use this statistics to claim: “Westminster politicians are not admitting their own impotence to us”.
The reality is very different. The video clip UKIP shows is taken out of context. Herr Pottering’s speech actually refers to the power of the European Parliament in the setting of the EU as a whole.
In the full context of the former President’s speech, he is saying that the European Parliament legislates on 75 per cent of laws passed by the European Union. That is, the Parliament had a say in 75 per cent of the legislation that the Union, as an institution in itself, was making and not 75 per cent of the laws being made by each member state in the Union.
Herr Potter ‘s statement was more broadly about the role of the European Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty, which he says would give the European Parliament a role in 100 per cent of all laws stemming from the European Union.
The UKIP video also plays on this 100 per cent figure by ending the Herr Pottering clip with a translation of him saying: “with the Lisbon Treaty” the European Parliament would be the legislator for laws in “100 per cent of all cases”.
Estimates vary on the true percentage of UK laws that come for the EU. In May 2009, a report by the British Chamber of Commerce found that the EU accounted for only around 20 per cent of regulatory legislation in Britain in 2008-09. They even went further to suggest that the level of EU input on UK regulatory laws was actually falling – according to the report, the EU accounted for 30 per cent of legislation in 2007-08.
Back in 2009, Caroline Flint the then Minister for Europe, referred to figures in a House of Commons Library report that stated between 1998 and 2005, just 9.1 per cent of UK laws stemmed from the EU. The latest figures from this report show that in 2007-08, approximately 10.4 per cent of laws stemmed from the EU.
An important qualification on the figures in this report is that they are based only on the laws passed by statutory instruments containing any reference to European legislation.Critics of the report have emphasised that looking at statutory instruments alone is misleading. They say that such an analysis ignores the EU influence over normal legislation that is passed through parliament.
Although the criticism is valid to some extent, according the Commons Library “the vast majority of EC legislation is enacted by statutory instruments.” Therefore, the small number of normal legislation that is influenced by EU directives would not affect the percentage significantly.
Another more significant criticism is that the influence of EU Regulation doesn’t usually lead to new UK laws.
New EU Directives usually lead to the need for a new statutory instrument at a one to one ratio. In contrast, the number of Regulations created by the EU can often be two or three times the number of EU Directives. Therefore, the House of Commons Library states, “the proportion of EU based laws could be as much as 30-40 per cent or more” due to the additional effects of regulation.
Even though the highest reasonable estimate from the Commons Library might sound extreme, it is nowhere near as high as the UKIP estimate. In any case, estimates for the actual EU influence on UK legislation usually vary between ten and twenty per cent.
Today isn’t the first time the 75 per cent figure has appeared. It has been around since as early as February 2009. The reason it’s worrying now is because in the midst of an election such apparent ‘facts’ get to see the light of day in the mainstream media.
There’s not only a statistical problem here but also one of definition. “Laws” is a very broad term with broad connotations – to most people, laws would cover virtually everything that governs our daily lives from rules on crime to policies in our health service. Misleading statistics can, therefore, make the issue more emotive than it actually is.
When we break down the figures on EU legislation, it’s clear that a lot of it relates to the EU’s regulatory influence. Had UKIP been honest about this, their latest argument about why we should leave the EU would have been further weakened.
Their position is that Britain should maintain its free trade partnership across Europe and bring back political control from Brussels. Looking at the reality of the EU’s ‘political’ influence over Britain, beyond the shaky statistics, it’s clear that the EU doesn’t have as much legislative influence over the UK as UKIP would like us to believe.
If anything, the EU’s tentacles all over Britain – to loosely use UKIP’s leader, Lord Pearson’s analogy – relate mainly to the trade relationship that UKIP seems to support