The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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The mythology of the EU - Countered

Federalist mythology

Dr Richard North
Dr Helen Szamuely

ThemythologyoftheEU

The EU is a free trade area

With typical disdain for accuracy – or perhaps reflecting the usual level of Europhile Ignorance, the Independent newspaper yesterday announced the accession of the ten new states to the European Union with the claim that the EU had become “the world's biggest free trade area”.

This myth is one of the most prevalent in relation to the European Union, especially so with “soft” Europhiles who believe that the “Single Market” – the outward manifestation of what is believed to be a trading agreement – is essentially a benign creation.

However, the EU is most emphatically not a free trade area, and its structure is far from benign. Technically, the EU as – as was the EEC before it – a Customs Union.

Moreover, this is not an arcane, technical distinction. A free trade area either eliminates or agrees standard levies and tariffs between members, but each member is free make its own arrangements with third countries. The Customs Union shares the characteristic of common or zero tariffs between members but – and here is the important distinction – it has a common tariff structure with third countries, the proceeds being paid into a central fund.

As with the Bismark’s Customs Union, the so-called Zollverein, in order to manage this central fund, a “political instrument” is needed, in the form of a central government. This was noted by Arthur Salter in his 1931 book The United States of Europe (George, Allen & Unwin, London, p. 92). He was the man who, with Monnet, established the template on which the EU is eventually modelled.

He clearly recognised, all those years ago, the role of a Customs Union, writing that:

“...the commercial and tariff policy of European States is so central and crucial a part of their general policy, the receipts from Customs are so central and substantial a part of their revenues, that a common political authority, deciding for all Europe what tariffs should be imposed and how they should be distributed, would be for every country almost as important as, or even more important than, the national Governments, and would in effect reduce the latter to the status of municipal authorities”.

Small wonder that when in 1955 Paul-Henri Spaak and Monnet began to work on the outline of what was to become the Treaty of Rome, they considered and then rejected the idea of a free trade area. Their objective was to build a United States of Europe, and the customs union was the first essential step in its creation.

But, if the concept of a customs union owed something to the German Zollverein, the way it was structured owed more to Colbertian mercantalism. While a system of mutual recognition of the different standards in the Community could have been entirely workable, the system was built on a rigid framework of regulation that imposed strict common standards as the precondition to trade between member states.

Over the years, therefore, behind the protectionist barrier of a common external tariffs, the “Common Market” has also built up a web of inter-relating standards which have also served to inhibit trade with third countries.

What is on offer, therefore, is a very far cry from free trade. It is a dirigiste, inflexible, regulation-bound system based on the very antithesis of free trade, designed not primarily to promote trade but to protect member states from it, and designed to assist in the process of building a United States of Europe.

The EU is good for the environment

In "feel-good" terms, the "environment" often comes up number one in the approval ratings for EU action, where the majority of those responding believe that, overall, the EU is beneficial to the environment. This reflects in part the assiduous propaganda campaign undertaken by the EU so, in this new "myth", we look at the EU’s actual contribution to improving our environment, but also take a look at how their propaganda machine works.

Produce a pamphlet called "Choices for a greener future", decorate it with a colour photograph of a butterfly against a backdrop of glorious flowers and, by magic, the EU is in the environment business. Go for the EU and get better butterflies!

If ever there was an example of the subtle way the EU harnesses propaganda to the cause, this is it. Everyone is in favour of the "environment" in the same way that no-one could or would speak our against motherhood and apple pie. So, if the EU is in favour of the environment, we should all be in favour of the EU. Such is the underlying message that the EU wishes to convey.

The technique is indeed subtle: "As European citizens, we all share an interest in protecting and improving the environment around us, because it will make our lives better", goes the legend on the very first page of the pamphlet. You have to do a double-take to understand their game they are playing.

First they set up the "European citizen" and then they link this to a worthy and entirely uncontentious common cause – "protecting and improving the environment" – and you are hooked. European citizens are concerned… you are concerned because you are a European citizen… take it any which way you please.

The inference is, of course, that you are concerned because you are a European citizen. There is no allowance for the fact that non-European citizens are just as much concerned, or even that the reader might reject the very notion of European citizenship. The linkage is irrevocable.

Then they go for the H L Mencken "ploy", the American writer who explained that: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Thus we get: "Over recent decades, it became clear that our global environment is under serious threat as a result of human activities…". The pamphlet then lards the case with reference to the "menace" of climate change and, once the softening up is done, in comes the honey: "The way we in Europe respond to these challenges influences our own happiness and well-being, as well as dictating what sort of world our children live in".

Note the use of the word "we" – inviting a sense of involvement, of solidarity, of common purpose. Again we see the linkage, this time with "happiness and well-being", and the future of our "children". Who but the black-hearted could possible be against such sentiments and such laudable objectives?

From thereon, the rest is easy: "So what can the European Union, in particular, do to protect and nurture the environment?", the pamphlet asks. In the context set, such a question is so logical that it follows as night follows day – the EU will "protect and nurture". How could you answer that the EU can and should do nothing, in response to such a question?

In case you are tempted to answer in the negatives, however, the pamphlet states the case more firmly: "We are entering a new era," it states boldly, "in which countries will have to work together in order to safeguard our environment, for the air we breathe and the waters we drink are not restricted by national frontiers."

Then for the punchline: "As European citizens (again!) we know the sort of world we want to live in and the EU is playing a dynamic role in pursuing that vision with energy and determination".
That is the "case" so far. Firstly, "protecting and improving the environment" is a "good thing". Secondly, as "European citizens" we all share an interest in pursuing the protection and improvement of the environment. Thirdly, countries have to work together to that end and, fourthly, we have a "single vision" of the world we want to live in (doubtless a "European vision") the EU is playing a "dynamic role" in pursuing that vision.

Goebbels would have been proud of the case put, conflating truth and lies in a subtle mix, so carefully stitched together that it is difficult to separate the two. But here goes.

Looking at the issues, in general terms, it is self-evidently true that "protecting and improving the environment" is a "good thing" – but only as a generality. But it begs several questions. But to turn this into practicalities, you have to state what you understand by the "environment?

Then, want do you understand by "protection" and "improvement"? And to what extent then does protection and improvement of the environment take precedence over other human, and in particular, economic activities?

Once you ask these questions, a whole new vista opens up. The "environment", as we know it, is what surrounds us. It is varied, different, and encompasses everything from houses, gardens, roads, factory sites to farmland and virgin wilderness – together with air and water. Who decides what is to be protected and improved, to what standard and at what cost? What is the mix to be and what are the priorities?

This alone destroys the argument for a "common vision" of the environment. In each nation state, we have different problems, different priorities, different needs, different standards, different expectations, and – crucially – different priorities for the expenditure of limited resources. Reconciling the problems, the spending priorities and the standards is a matter for government.

The question is whether a supra-national government should dictate those priorities and here the essential issue is one of government spending. Should the EU be able to decide to elevate, say, a requirement for ultra-purity in drinking water over and above that of the need for hospitals or schools over and above the need to repair leaky water pipes and the renewal of ageing sewers?

As to the "European citizens", therein is the lie. The term is an artificial construct which has no real meaning and only by relying on this artefact is the EU able to project the idea of an otherwise non-existent "common vision". Take it away and we have citizens (and subjects) of the nation state. Their visions (plural) are from a national perspective, and need – by and large – national solutions.

There is, however, validity in the mantra "countries must work together". But the lie creeps in with the inference that the only way they can work together is through the supranational construct of the EU. Yet, one of the most immediate trans-national pollution controversies affecting the EU was acid rain and the supposed effect of British power station emissions on Norwegian forests. Crucially, Norway was not a member of the EU yet mechanisms for dealing with the problem still existed.

Intergovernmental agreements were concluded under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), starting with the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, which Britain ratified in 1982. This convention, which was legally binding, was further extended by no less than eight additional protocols.

In order for countries to work together, therefore, not only is the EU not essential but, inasmuch as "pollution knows no frontiers", the borders of EU member states are in fact too restrictive. Dealing with the wider problem needs larger groupings of countries than merely EU members.

And now for the biggest lie of all – that the EU is playing a "dynamic role" in protecting and improving the environment. Long before the EU was in being, the individual nation states had their own environmental programmes. In the case of the UK, we had strong legislation and programmes stemming from the Public Health Act of 1875, before even some member states of the EU were even nations. In that respect, the EU is simply "hijacking" member state activities and taking the credit for them.

Without the EU, progress on the environment would have continued and indeed so would trans-boundary agreements. One test, therefore, is whether the EU provides "added value", i.e., either improvements over and above those that would have been achieved anyway, in terms of outcome, efficiency and/or cost.

Here, the record of the EU is dire. One of the earlier examples is the "batteries directive" 91/157/EEC, aimed at promoting the recovery and recycling of lead-acid batteries used in motor cars. Prior to that directive, in the UK we had an excellent system which accounted for 95 percent of all batteries disposed of, comprising a profitable business for a number of scrap merchants. The EU scheme, however, imposed a costly, rigid bureaucracy which destroyed the profitability of the collection system, as a result of which costs to end users increased and the percentage of batteries recovered fell to less than 60 percent.

Then we have the famous fridge mountain created by EU regulation 2000/2037 which turned old fridges into "hazardous waste", prohibiting their recycling and turning a perfectly adequate – self-funding - collection and disposal into absolute chaos, ending up with thousands of fridges in huge dumps, costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands to dispose of them.

This is on the back of the infamous "landfill directive", which is causing no end of problems, not least a rash of fly tipping, massively increased costs and a network of expensive incinerators which no one wants at a cost to the UK estimated at £6.9 billion.

So incoherent is the EU waste policy that even the experts have trouble making sense of it, with massive confusion between what is waste disposal and what is recycling. This has led to the absurd situation where it has become virtually impossible to recycle waste oil and where Scottish Power are no longer allowed to use processed sewage to make electricity.

Soon we will have to deal with the End of Life Vehicle directive, the introductory pjase of which is already causing our streets to littered with car wrecks, while the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Directive will do for personal computers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines exactly what the EU did for fridges.

Yet the propaganda element is still very much alive, as we noted with reaction to the "Reach" directive by the Independent newspaper, which called this bureaucratic monstrosity as "anti-pollution drive". This is the proposed law that will create so many obstacles to the usage of a wide range of chemicals that it will drive businesses abroad, where there are fewer controls of pollution than there are now. The net effect may well be to increase rather than reduce global pollution.

Then there is the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) which the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds happily chirps "could cost billions of pounds" in achieve the EU targets", which have to be met by 2015. This is on top of the estimated £16 bn needed to upgrade water and sewerage pipes which is already leading to massively increased water bills.

All this, at a very rough estimate, looks like costing the British economy something like £40-50 billion over the next ten years or so, or between £4-5 billion a year – all to create more problems than are solved

But that reckons without the grand-daddy of them all, the Kyoto agreement, which according to the environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg could costs between $150 to $300 billion a year without having any long-term effect on global warming, massively retarding developed economies and limiting their ability to assist developing countries.

That itself has spawned the EU’s ultimate bureaucratic dream, the Emissions Trading Scheme, which adds a further £25 billion a year to the costs of the productive economy.

This is the EU’s idea of a "greener future". For any normal person it is a vision of chaos and disaster. Apart from anything else, the fact that the EU even thinks it is doing good for the environment – and the likes of Margaret Beckett believe is a reason why we should vote for the EU constitution – more than adequately demonstrates how far detached from reality supporters of the "project" really are.

The European Union is an association of freely co-operating nation states

"Are you going to co-operate sir?", says the policeman. These days, you are lucky if you get the "sir", but the scene is as old as the hills. You survey the options and conclude that the alternative is to get roundly beaten up, with the end result being the same as if you came quietly. Meekly, you allow yourself to be led down to the cells.

No one but a pedant would argue that this is an example of "free co-operation". Yet this same pedantic myopia drives the claim that the European Union is an association of freely co-operating nation states.

To deal with this particularly glib, and pernicious myth, however, one has to address it at several levels.

In the first instance, one can agree that, in the construction of the European Union - through its various stages from the European Coal and Steel Community, the EEC and the EC - free co-operation has been involved, at least between the political elites who agreed to set up the structures.

The essential issue here, though, was the nature of the co-operation and the result. In setting up the structures, Jean Monnet and the other founding fathers were not seeking an organisation to foster co-operation. They had seen co-operation in action in the League of Nations and had seen how, in its own terms, it had failed.

Instead, they wanted structures where co-operation was not necessary - where the free choice of nation states could be over-ridden and the will of the majority imposed.

To that effect, Monnet engineered a structure in which the central component was a "High Authority" - later to be given the more neutral name of "Commission". This was a proto-European government which had the power to command nation states. To enforce its commands, Monnet also created a supreme court with the power to impose sanctions on defaulters.

In these important respects, the EU is very different from WTO and especially NATO, which it is often compared. Neither of these organisations has governmental or quasi-governmental powers, neither can make binding laws and neither has a supreme court which can impose sanctions on its members.

The irony inherent in the EU, however, is that Monnet - and his fellow travellers - needed the free co-operation of nation states to implement his structures. It remains a mystery why supposedly democratic national politicians - jealous of their own powers - so freely co-operated in handing over those powers but history suggests that, in many important respects, those politicians did not know what they were doing, or did not fully appreciate the consequences of what they were doing.

Nevertheless, the upshot is that, while politicians representing their own states "freely co-operate" in handing over powers to the EU's government - the Commission - once those powers have been handed over, co-operation is left at the door. If member states do not comply with the laws they have co-operated in making, they can be hauled before the European Court of Justice and sanctioned.

As the point of decision as to whether to obey a law, therefore, the nation state has very little choice - even if it disagrees wholeheartedly with that law. It could refuse to co-operate with the Commission in the same way I could refuse to co-operate with a policeman who invited me to accompany him to the cells. But if it acquiesces - which it most often does - that is not free co-operation.

Of course, this is territory in which the pedant could excel. The nation state is not obliged to remain within the treaty framework which compels it to obey the Commission. But then I am not obliged to remain within the societal framework that gives a policeman power to deprive me of my liberty. I could always emigrate - as indeed the member state could leave the Union.

But the fact is that that the consequences for the nation state (or the politicians of that state) on the one hand, and the individual on the other, of stepping outside their frameworks are not acceptable. Therefore, in our own ways, we permit the established order to compel us to do things that we do not wish to do.

In this sense, co-operation is not the issue - it is in fact a red herring. The issue is "permission" and here I have some sympathy with Europhile arguments. Primacy of EU law applies because the respective governments (and parliaments) of member states permit it.

Thus, the EU and all it stands for is not something imposed on us by these "dreadful foreigners". It is imposed on us by our own governments and politicians, who permit the treaties to apply. Voluntarily thus do they enslave their peoples - and, to an extent, voluntarily, we as a nation allow them to do so.

But that is not an association of freely co-operating nation states. It is an association of slaves.

Europe is being reunited

On one level, this is the easiest myth of all to disprove. All one has to do is ask when Europe was last united.

Charlemagne? A very limited union achieved by conquest and dissolved upon the great man's death? The Holy Roman Empire? Again, somewhat limited and, as Voltaire said, neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. In fact, as he did not say, an unholy mess.

Napoleon? Hitler? Each one achieved by conquest for a very short time with few lasting effects.

On another level, however, the idea of a single European entity, a single European culture is very insidious and can easily be translated into harmful political ideas.

The great historian of the Renaissance, Sir John Hale, opens his monumental study, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, with the discussion of the concept of Europe and its emergence in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

When in 1623 Francis Bacon threw off the phrase 'we Europeans', he was assuming that his readers knew where 'Europeans' were, who they were, and what, in spite of national differences, they shared. This was a phrase, and an assumption, that could not have been used with such confidence a century and a half before.

The concept of Europe grew up as Europeans travelled further and further abroad and found themselves dealing more and more with other political and cultural entities. It was a concept that gradually, though as Hale shows, very slowly surpassed the concept of Christendom.

However, what it never did was to become a clear political concept of a single state. Quite the opposite: the concept of Europe included the idea of a patchwork of pieces, small and large, that may have had certain similarities and certain common notions but these notions were often more divisive than uniting ones.

Ah yes, I hear some of the European integrationists say, that is the problem: Europe has been consumed by endless fighting and warfare and it is time to put an end to it. To this there are several replies, the most obvious being that divisions and competitiveness do not necessarily involve fighting and warfare. It is merely the opposite of a huge, centralized entity, which has never been part of European history for any length of time.

There is a basic contradiction in the integrationists' arguments. Let us look at what the preamble to the draft EU Constitution says:

Conscious that Europe is a continent that has brought forth civilisation: that its inhabitants, arriving in successive waves from earliest times, have gradually developed the values underlying humanism: equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason.

Really? So why does the Laeken Declaration say:

For centuries, peoples and states have taken up arms and waged war to win control of the European continent. The debilitating effects of two bloody wars and the weakening of Europe's position in the world brought a growing realisation that only peace and concerted action could make the dream of a strong, unified Europe come true.

There are clearly two separate entities at work: there is Europe, which has had all those wonderful, liberal, humanist, peaceful, civilised forces at work and there are the peoples and states of Europe, who keep fighting each other and stubbornly refusing to unite. Therefore, Europe must be built up and protected from the peoples of Europe in opposition to their history.

A unified Europe, thus, has little to do with the history of the peoples and states of Europe. Indeed, the idea of a unified Europe is the direct opposite of what Europe, the Europe Francis Bacon understood and we understand, is really about.

The recent argument about whether to include the idea of Christian values in the Constitution demonstrates the problem. It opened up the deep fissures in Europe, called attention to centuries' old conflicts and undermined the whole notion of there being one set of European values.

It reminded us all that those European values are not all about sweetness and light, though they are, frequently, about swashbuckling curiosity and advancement in political, social, economic and intellectual matters - all of which is alien to the European Union with its prattle about European values.

The great dividing lines in post-Classical European history have been religious. At present, only one of the EU member states is Eastern Orthodox (as well as a former part of the Ottoman Empire), Greece, but certain problems in outlook have already been apparent.

There is a secondary dividing line and that is between Catholic and Protestant countries. Fortunately, in most parts of Europe, the various denominations have learned to live in peace (nothing to do with the European Union and everything with historical and economic development) but some attitudes remain different. It is noticeable that all the countries that signed a letter asking for an inclusion of Christianity in the Constitution were largely Catholic. For various historical reasons, the largely Protestant countries are shying away from the idea.

But there are other factors that make the European experience more varied than is admitted by the integrationists. A couple of years ago one newspaper published a list of the 100 greatest military commanders in history. Lists of that kind are enormous fun and, as usual, there were many satisfying rows and discussions about those included and not included and the placings.

One letter writer objected to Prince Eugene of Savoy being ranked above Marlborough. How could this be so, wrote the author indignantly, when Marlborough was the commander in chief.

The letter writer was talking about the French wars. Prince Eugene's achievement was to turn back the Ottoman advance, thus liberating Central Europe from Turkish occupation and ensuring its "European" development.

The point is that the crucial historic experience for many centuries in the east of the Continent was the constant war against one Muslim invader or another. The crucial experience in the west was the ongoing wars between Catholic and Protestant countries, which evolved into a national struggle between Britain and France.

That may well have influenced the different attitudes to the war against terror. Or the difference arose from another, equally important distinction. Twentieth century experience was incomprehensibly different in the two halves of Europe. The liberation from the Nazis in 1945 was the prelude to a half century of peaceful, democratic development in the west, while the east was abandoned to another brutal totalitarian regime.

The divisions and differences can be enumerated endlessly. This does not prove that there is no basic understanding of what being European is about. Just as Francis Bacon knew so do we know. But there cannot be a Europe reunited where no true union has ever existed or can ever exist.

The European Union is democratically controlled

Part I - The Council of Ministers

In answer to the charge that "Europe is undemocratic and that power lies with unelected, faceless bureaucrats," the UK Representation of the European Commission is fond of reminding us that,

The most powerful decision-making body, the Council of Ministers, is responsible through its members to parliaments and electorates in every EU country.

Furthermore, it states, "Each country decides how to make its ministers accountable." Thus, the Commission effectively argues, because Council members are responsible to their electorates, the European Union is democratically controlled. (It goes on then to describe the role of the European Parliament - we will deal with that in Part II of this piece).

In order to explode this particular myth - that the Council somehow adds democratic legitimacy to the European Union - we simply need to look at what the Council is, and what it does.

Firstly, the Council itself. In fact there are many "Councils" each dealing with specific policy areas - like environment, transport, fisheries, agriculture, etc. Their members are the sectoral ministers from the member states, each council comprising the same number of ministers as there are member states.

So what do they do?

The answer to that is quite simple - they "legislate". That is, they receive proposals from the unelected Commission, asking them to take powers and/or responsibilities from their member state governments (or to impose obligations on their citizens).

They then turn these proposals into laws, giving the Commission the powers it asks for - often acting by qualified majority voting - thereby depriving their own governments (and/or citizens) of power.

That's it.

From then on, the Commission having been given the power, it keeps it, to exercise as it thinks fit. The Council has no further part to play in the process, unless or until the Commission comes back to ask it to amend or extend those powers (or both).

Does the Council maintain an oversight over how those powers are exercised? No.

Has the Council any power to call the Commission to account over the way it uses its powers? No.

Can the Council remove or modify those powers, if it is unsatisfied with the way the Commission is performing? No.

Does the Council even have the power to ask the Commission for information on its performance? Er... No.

So what is the Council?

In effect, it is a transfer station. On the basis of proposals from the Commission, it handles the process of taking powers from member states, packaging them up and shovelling them into the Commission, for them never to be returned.

Does it ask the electorate in advance - through an election manifesto - what powers it should hand over? No.

And is any record kept of which particular ministers vote for what, so that they can be taken to task by their electorates, if they vote the wrong way? No.

That's democratic?

 

Part II - The European Parliament

In Part I, we looked at the UK Representation of the European Commission's answer to the charge that "Europe is undemocratic and that power lies with unelected, faceless bureaucrats," and dealt with the claim that the Council of Ministers conferred a democratic element to the European Union.

In this second part, we look at the European parliament, the only directly elected institution in the EU, and assess whether it confers any democratic element to the European Union.

All the Commission claims of the parliament is that "direct elections" have "created a body with a clear mandate from the electorate". "MEPs", it continues, "are accountable for their work on legislation and in scrutinising the other EU institutions".

The use of the word "mandate" in this context is interesting. It is generally held to mean the sanction given by electors to members of parliament to deal with a question before the country. In other words, the candidates for the election set out their stalls, the electors look at the rival offerings and choose between them.

In national elections, this choice has some validity because the winning party - or coalitions - go on to form a government, which then (in theory at least) executes the voters' mandate. But in the European parliament, this cannot happen.

For a start, the election does not produce a government, so the parliament has no power or authority to execute a mandate. It cannot, for instance, decide to repeal any EU laws - it cannot even initiate any laws. Those powers lie elsewhere. Therefore, the candidates - or the parties they represent - cannot produce manifestos in any meaningful sense of the word, as they have no means by which they can deliver on promises made.

Furthermore, in a parliament of 732 members, Britain elects only 78 MEPs, and then from different parties. But even if all were from one party and were clearly set on one course of action, they do not have the numbers to dictate terms. Even as a united bloc, they are swamped by the members from other member-states.

Therein lies one of the central defects of the European parliament. The essence of a parliamentary system is that it is the core of a system of representative democracy, where the members go to parliament to represent their electors' views (and safeguard their interests). But British MEPs cannot represent the interests of their electors - there are not enough of them to do so.

Furthermore - and this strikes at the heart of the concept of a supranational parliament - there is no commonality of interest in the peoples of the member states that would enable discrete blocs to emerge that could be adequately represented by a multi-national coalition of MEPs. In other words, there is no European demos and, without that, there can be no European democracy.

As for being "accountable for their work on legislation and in scrutinising the other EU institutions", as the UK Representation of the European Commission claims, the suggestion that the EP is "accountable" begs the question of to whom? Without any meaningful manifestos, the electorates have no yardstick (metrestick?) against which to measure the performance of their supposed representatives, so there can be no way of holding representatives to account.

Further, due to the arcane voting system in the parliament, MEP voting performances in the main (plenary) sessions are most often not recorded. By far the bulk of votes are settled by a show of hands, which means there is no record kept of who voted for what. The average voter has no ready means of determining how their MEPs behaved.

But the ultimate indictment of the system is the way that legislation goes rolling on, even when a new parliament is elected. In the UK system, when parliament is prorogued prior to an election, all outstanding legislation - not yet passed - falls. Not so in the EP. Newly elected members can and do find themselves voting on the second or third readings of laws that were introduced to the previous parliament. The names and faces may have changed - the voters may have completely shifted their allegiances - but that makes absolutely no difference to the nature of the progression of legislation through the parliament.

Then there is the scrutiny of "other EU institutions". In fact, there is no EP scrutiny of the Council, but the only scrutiny worth a light is, in any case, of the Commission. Here, commissioners do put themselves up for questioning by MEPs but anyone who has seen this done knows full well what a charade this is.

The strategy is well established and cynically transparent. First you have a sympathetic "chairperson", who is able to make sure the "right" people are picked to ask questions - and also allow for the token antis (just to prove they are "democratic"). Next you pack the committee with patsies who can be relied upon to "soft-ball" the commissioner. Then, you take questions in blocks of five, so the commissioner can "cherry-pick" the bits of the package he/she wants to answer.

You also impose a time limit on the whole session, and let the commissioner waffle on as long as he/she likes, until time runs out without any of the awkward questions from the token antis being answered. And, of course, supplementaries are either not allowed or severely curtailed. As a result of this, the questioning sheds light only on this issues which the commission wants to reveal, and no serious examination every takes place. Sessions end up as an opportunity for commissioners to propagandise or, as the case may be, evade accountability, while giving the appearance to the outsider of being open to scrutiny.

Some apologists for the EU, however, take a different tack when discussing the democratic legitimacy. They point to national parliaments, like Westminster, where most law is passed in the form of regulation, passed automatically through parliament without even a vote; where the government majority can ensure the passage of Bills without being troubled by the opposition.

But there is a difference. Individual MPs do represent their constituents and, if the nation really gets worked up about something, the House collectively can force a change. Even the mighty Thatcher government was forced to look again at the poll tax. Even at a minor level, with technical regulations that are causing problems, chances can be secured by the intervention of an MP, concerned at the loss of votes, or seeing the opportunity to attract some favourable publicity.

That difference tells the whole story. No matter what individual MEPs might think about an existing piece of EU law - and even if all 732 members wanted it changed (which is highly unlikely) - it cannot force a change. The unelected commission has the absolute right of initiative, and can ignore parliament completely.

This makes the parliament a toothless entity but - more to the point - its existence does not confer democracy on an essentially anti-democratic organisation.

The EU cannot become a centralised superstate

"The central administration - the EU Commission - is tiny, with fewer employees than Leeds City Council. Some superstate!"
Richard Corbett MEP

This issue here is not directly whether the EU is or is about to become a "superstate", but the rebuttal used many Europhiles to counter this claim.

Corbett's claim, quoted above, is typical of the genre. It purports to show that the EU could neither be not become the fabled "superstate" simply because of the small number of staff employed by Community institutions - commonly cited as less than a medium-sized local authority.

Interestingly, as far back as 1975, during the referendum campaign, Margaret Thatcher herself had used this argument, pointing out that there were "only 7000 officials" working for the Commission, mainly in Brussels. In later years, this number crept up to "only 15,000 officials", then "only 18,000", then "only 22,000", then "only 25,000". Currently, with enlargement, the number is approaching 40,000 but it still remains less than work for many UK local authorities.

Nevertheless - as you would expect - the argument is specious. There are plenty of historical examples of very small numbers of people dominating large populations, not least the British Raj. While not directly comparable with the EU, it is nevertheless germane to note that, at the end of Queen Victoria's reign, 300 million Indians were ruled by barely 1,500 British administrators of the Indian Civil Service, and perhaps 3,000 British officers in the Indian Army.

Excluding British soldiers, there were probably no more than 20,000 Britons engaged in running the whole country - fewer than the number of permanent officials currently employ-ed by the Commission. (Judd, Dennis [1996], Empire - The British Imperial Experience From 1765 To The Present. Harper Collins Publishers, London, pp. 79-80).

However, referring to the actual number of employees of the Commission is misleading. On any given day in Brussels there are not only the officials of the Commission itself but also thousands of visiting national civil servants, from every country in the EU. They may work for the national representative offices, they may be on detachment to the commission or council, or they may simply be visiting for discussions - but they are all engaged in some way or another in the construction of the "project".

The commission, of course, is the "dynamo" of the project, spewing out directives and regulations by the thousands, now totalling over 97,000 pages, plus millions of pages of other documents. Looking at this output, common sense would tell you that such a small staff could not possibly achieve such levels of productivity. And, of course, it does not. The preparation of much legislation and many of the technical reports is contracted out, or otherwise farmed out to outside agencies, ranging from paid contractors, universities and other academic institutes, sympathetic think-tanks and even the growing legion of non-governmental organisations in the pay of the commission.

Much of the rest comes from other sources, ranging from civil servants of member states to an array of anonymous committees, made up from professional consultants and academics to environmental pressure groups, or commercially-funded lobbyists acting on behalf of a particular industry or company. It is estimated that there are 1600 such committees operating in Brussels, and beyond them 170,000 lobbyists of one kind or another across the EU, ranging from pan-European trade associations representing whole industries to the representatives of individual county councils pleading for a share in regional funding.

Once the legislation is produced, it must then be implemented - the task of national civil servants and agencies. And where policy domains like fisheries and agriculture are involved, the hundreds of thousands of civil servants working on these portfolios in the 25 member states are effectively working for the EU. For sure, they may be appointed by their member states, they write on paper bearing their own governments' letterhead, and they are paid by the taxpayers of their own countries, but their activities and their functions are all dictated by Brussels. They are national civil servants in name only.

Thus, to say that 30 or even 40,000 Brussels bureaucrats are insufficient to run a "superstate" is completely to miss the point. They are only the tip of a huge iceberg. The real point is that "Brussels" acts as a nexus, the centre of a network, linking thousands of other organisations throughout the Community, not least the civil services of all the member states.

And that point was latterly acknowledged by Thatcher in her book Statecraft, published in 2002. She noted that the figure given for the commission staff - which by then had increased to 30,000 - "leaves out the much larger number of national officials whose tasks flow from European regulations". (Harper Collins, London, p. 324.) Those and the many others, amounting possibly to millions, directly or indirectly working for the project, are more than sufficient to run a "superstate".

The EU has kept the peace in Europe

This myth has its variations. One that we shall hear more of in the next few months goes something like this: the EU has kept peace in Europe for almost sixty years and if it did not exist, there would undoubtedly be war between the various protagonists.

Last week Europe celebrated or, at least, remembered the end of the Second World War in Europe, with VE-Day in the West and Victory Day on the 9th in Russia and some of the former Soviet republics. There is no point in calling Europe Day or Schuman Day or anything of that kind. It is Victory Day and the tanks roll through Red Square as they have always done.

It is, however, an appropriate time to examine the particularly silly but insiduous myth of "Europe" keeping the peace in Europe. There is an unresolvable paradox at the heart of the European project. Its aim is supposedly to preserve European values and ideals from ... the Europeans, since the main reason for the formation of the European Union, according to numerous preambles to treaties, is the bad behaviour of the people of Europe in the past. Unfortunately, the values and ideals were also created by those badly behaved Europeans in conditions that the European Union is now desperate to abolish, that is small and medium-sized, competing political entities.

Thus you get the odd notion that "Europe" will keep the peace against the Europeans. The truth of it all is that by the time Monnet, Schuman and the others got going on the "European project" in all seriousness the political situation in the world had changed irrevocably. As early as the Schuman declaration of the need for European integration (actually written by Monnet) in 1950 it was too late. The problem for which Schuman was putting forward a solution no longer existed.

The ideas of European integration were first mooted between the wars but became particularly powerful after 1945 when Europe awoke to find itself devastated. Even so the number of people who thought integration was the answer was very small; far more believed that economic reconstruction and the development of democracy would be the answer. That is why so much of the early part of the project had to be conducted in secrecy.

The early founding fathers' aim was European integration because that is what they believed in. But the notion had to be sold and the idea of peace was a powerful one after 1945. There was another paradox, though a less important one here, in that the idea of peace and need to control aggression was propounded by historically the most aggressive state in Europe: France. The French having been defeated in three successive wars by the Germans, were, therefore, the victims and could point to the Germans as the eternal aggressors who had to be controlled.

In fact, with the development of nuclear weapons and the growth of the two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union, the question of possible Franco-German wars became a non-issue. The enemy of the West was further east, just as the enemy of the West now is in the south and the east. European integration became an unimportant side-issue. Not the EEC, not the EC, not even the EU could protect anyone from the Soviet Union without a great deal of American help; they could not fight communism world-wide; and they cannot fight terrorism now. The EU can ensure that Denmark does not invade the Netherlands and that's about it.

It is not political structures that create political reality but the other way round. The reality was that the West, and within not too many years West Germany became part of the West, was not going to indulge in internecine warfare; the reality was that France and Germany neither could nor would fight each other again. The structure of European integration grew out of that and is now looking distinctly rickety.

It is easy to go through the facts and point to the truth about peace.

Fact number one: peace was kept only in a small part of Europe, which happened to be under NATO protection and the nuclear umbrella.

Fact number two: this part of Europe also had American troops stationed in it and was amply provided with American military hardware. Like it or not, and many in western Europe, particularly France do not like it, but a great deal of American foreign policy in the fifty years after the World War II was taken up with the problem of protecting Western Europe.

Fact number three: the countries that contributed most to the protection of Western Europe and keeping the peace in it were not always those involved in the European project. Apart from the UK, the main contributions came from Turkey and Norway.

Fact number four: the main crises of the post war period happened outside the whole European project even if they happened in Europe. Where was the peace-keeping qualities of "Europe" when the Berlin blockade was defied, when Eastern Europe rose in revolt, when the Berlin wall went up? Discussing the Common Agricultural Policy, that's where. There is no need even to mention problems outside Europe, like the Cuban crisis, the Vietnam war, the wars in Africa and Latin America.

Fact number five: the actual creation of a European Union in the Treaty of Maastricht coincided with the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. While the EU's influence on events in the former USSR was strictly limited, in the former Yugoslavia it played a baneful part: by trying to construct a common foreign policy through encouraging Serbia under Milosevic to keep the "country" together at whatever cost and by imposing an arms ban on all the other participants, the EU helped to prolong the war and increase the number of victims. Fierce hostilities and massacres were taking place on European soil once again as the European Union was entering what was perceived to be the final stage of integration and, as expected, it was NATO, led by the Americans that imposed some kind of a temporary solution.

Fact number six: The EU is now systematically undermining the one successful alliance that did keep the peace in Western Europe: NATO, without putting very much by way of protection in its place. And all for what? To give itself a notional and structural foreign and security policy.

So let us forget the EU's outdated attitudes towards politics, war and peace; it is unlikely to do us any good and unlikely to keep or create peace where it matters.

The EU is a free trade area

With typical disdain for accuracy - or perhaps reflecting the usual level of Europhile Ignorance, the Independent newspaper yesterday announced the accession of the ten new states to the European Union with the claim that the EU had become "the world's biggest free trade area".

This myth is one of the most prevalent in relation to the European Union, especially so with "soft" Europhiles who believe that the "Single Market" - the outward manifestation of what is believed to be a trading agreement - is essentially a benign creation.

However, the EU is most emphatically not a free trade area, and its structure is far from benign. Technically, the EU as - as was the EEC before it - a Customs Union.

Moreover, this is not an arcane, technical distinction. A free trade area either eliminates or agrees standard levies and tariffs between members, but each member is free make its own arrangements with third countries. The Customs Union shares the characteristic of common or zero tariffs between members but - and here is the important distinction - it has a common tariff structure with third countries, the proceeds being paid into a central fund.

As with the Bismark's Customs Union, the so-called Zollverein, in order to manage this central fund, a "political instrument" is needed, in the form of a central government. This was noted by Arthur Salter in his 1931 book "The United States of Europe" (George, Allen & Unwin, London, p. 92). He was the man who, with Monnet, established the template on which the EU is eventually modelled.

He clearly recognised, all those years ago, the role of a Customs Union, writing that:

"...the commercial and tariff policy of European States is so central and crucial a part of their general policy, the receipts from Customs are so central and substantial a part of their revenues, that a common political authority, deciding for all Europe what tariffs should be imposed and how they should be distributed, would be for every country almost as important as, or even more important than, the national Governments, and would in effect reduce the latter to the status of municipal authorities".

Small wonder that when in 1955 Paul-Henri Spaak and Monnet began to work on the outline of what was to become the Treaty of Rome, they considered and then rejected the idea of a free trade area. Their objective was to build a United States of Europe, and the customs union was the first essential step in its creation.

But, if the concept of a customs union owed something to the German Zollverein, the way it was structured owed more to Colbertian mercantalism. While a system of mutual recognition of the different standards in the Community could have been entirely workable, the system was built on a rigid framework of regulation that imposed strict common standards as the precondition to trade between member states.

Over the years, therefore, behind the protectionist barrier of a common external tariffs, the "Common Market" has also built up a web of inter-relating standards which have also served to inhibit trade with third countries.

What is on offer, therefore, is a very far cry from free trade. It is a dirigiste, inflexible, regulation-bound system based on the very antithesis of free trade, designed not primarily to promote trade but to protect member states from it, and designed to assist in the process of building a United States of Europe.

A Constitution for enlargement?

Tony Blair: "The new constitutional treaty is designed... to answer the challenge of enlargement". Commons statement, 20 April 2004.

There is no more pernicious a myth than the constant refrain, trotted out from Blair downwards, and faithfully retailed even by the Eurosceptic press, that the constitution is necessary to deal with enlargement. And the most obvious and easy response is simply: "what was Nice for?". We were told that the Nice Treaty was necessary for enlargement and now, with another treaty in the offing, we are again being told that it is necessary for enlargement.

Therein, in fact, lies the clue to unravelling the myth. The constitution is not necessary for enlargement: enlargement is the excuse for the constitution. Exactly the same excuse was used in 1969 when Britain, Ireland and Denmark were set to join the original Community of Six - when Pompidou used élargissement as the excuse for establishing the EEC budget, on which relied the handsome CAP payments that his farmers were going to enjoy. One way or another, every time a significant enlargement has been proposed, it has been used as a justification for further integration.

The Europhiles' case for a constitution as a response to this current round of enlargement might be more convincing if it had suddenly been dreamed up after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, when the prospect of absorbing the former Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe became a reality.

But the truth is that the quest for a constitution predates even the EEC and its predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community. It was a dream of Coudenhove Kalergi, in 1931, when he wrote his book the United States of Europe, and it was a central part of Altiero Spinelli's 'Ventotene Manifesto', written in 1941 under the title Towards a Free and United Europe.

This latter document was to become one of the basic texts of the European federalist movement and its thinking was clearly reflected in the European Movement's submission to the Hague Congress in May 1948, from which the Council of Europe emerged. At that time, even, the federalists were determined to set up a constituent assembly - a convention by any other name - in order to draft a constitution for Europe, the text of which bears a remarkable similarity to that which has been drafted by Giscard.

Despite the best efforts of the federalists, however - mainly through the blocking actions of the British - there was no progress on the idea, although it was reactivated again in 1952 when the first meeting of the European Coal and Steel Assembly turned itself into a constituent assembly, with a view to drafting a constitution for Europe. This was effectively blocked not by the British by the French Parliament, which turned against the idea of a "European Political Community", whence Monnet went ahead with his plans for what became the Treaty of Rome.

As always in Community affairs, however, the idea of a constitution was not dead, but dormant. It took until 1979, and the first direct elections to the European Parliament, for the idea to be resurrected - its author no less than Alterio Spinelli, now and MEP. By 1984, he and his colleagues in the European Parliament had produced a "Draft Treaty for a European Union", which was a constitution in all but name, and again bears a remarkable similarity to Giscard's current draft.

At the time, however, it was considered too ambitious and Mitterrand advised Spinelli to go implement his plan in "bite-size" chunks, to avoid scaring of the more Eurosceptic nations and leaders, one of whom was by then Margaret Thatcher. Spinelli took the advice, from which emerged - with the help of a new Commission President, Jacques Delors, the first "chunk", disguised as a treaty to establish a single market to keep Thatcher off-guard, but given the revealing title of the Single European Act.

Part two of Spinelli's master plan for a constitution came in 1990, with the Maastricht Treaty, again carefully disguised so as not to give the game away. By 1997, however - on the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, Giscard was in Philadelphia, home of the US constitution, predicting the "miracle" of a convention to establish "this charter of the European Union".

It took four years, at the Laeken declaration on 2001 for Giscard's "miracle" to appear, with his appointment as president of the Convention drafting a European constitution, thus realising an ambition of the federalists that was over 30 years old. But, terrified that their plan should be revealed for what it was, a premeditated attempt to create a United States of Europe, the federalists have resorted to their familiar tactics of deception, relying on once again on "enlargement" to justify a plan which existed all along.

Perversely, the constitution - if it happens - will not resolve the institutional stresses brought about by the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 nations. The core problems of trying to manage disparate nations, each with their own agendas, remain. But that is hardly surprising. The constitution was never intended to achieve this, whatever Blair and his fellow travellers might claim.