‘75% of our laws are now made in Brussels’. A UKIP poster makes this claim, common among Europsceptics. Indeed, we have heard figures as high as 84%. Then again, former Europe Minister, Dennis MacShane is fond of quoting a house of Commons Library study of 2005 that concluded that just 9% of our laws were made in Brussels. So what is the truth?
The 84% figure was obtained from an answer given by the Undersecretary of the German Parliament, relating to the number of European Directives and Regulations adopted by Germany in the period 1998 to 2004. The calculation fails to take account of the number of laws passed in Germany’s federal system by the regional Lander, and therefore over-estimates the proportion represented by the EU.
UKIP attributes its 75% figure to a statement by former President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, that 75% European Union laws are made by the European Parliament. This is clearly very different from their claim that ‘75% of our [UK] laws are now made in Brussels.’
At the other end of the scale the House of Commons Library’s figure of 9% is equally misleading. Much of EU regulation relates to the rules of the single market and is implemented in the UK by statutory instruments rather than primary legislation. As the House of Commons report itself admits, their figures ‘don’t give an insight into relative importance or salience of EU or national legislative acts.’
This is the crucial point: all laws are not equal. A regulation defining the size of different classes of apple is clearly of a different order to a Directive determining who can work in the UK and what benefits they might be entitled to. To lump all ‘laws’ into a pot and try to calculate the proportion originating in Brussels is meaningless.
What can we then say about the way we are governed by the EU?
Successive EU Treaties have introduced new areas of European competence: the environment, immigration and asylum, and justice for example. It seems strange that those who most loudly support Britain’s membership of the EU should wish to play down its impact. Legislation passed in Brussels affects the quality of the air that we breathe and the water that we drink, how many hours a week we may work and the safety of our medicines.
On the other hand, there are still great areas of legislation which are made in Westminster. When Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, proposed that all schools should become academies, or when Jeremy Hunt seeks to alter doctors’ contracts, it is clearly (largely) a Westminster decision.