Referendum Blog: May 11

Referendum Blog: May 11

BENIGN EU?: At the heart of the BBC website’s EU coverage is a new animated feature by correspondent Damian Grammaticas that purports to give an objective two-minute overview of how the EU operates. This is the text of the feature in full:

DAMIAN GRAMMATICAS: The EU, as it says on the tin, is a union, a club, more than half a century old, now 28 nations. But how big is it? China is more than twice the size – so too in the United States of America. But compared to America, the EU’s population is far bigger, and its combined economies rival the US. The EU is the world’s biggest single market, people and goods, money and services flowing freely. And there’s the euro – now used by 19 nations and more than 300 million people. To make this market work, EU countries have removed some borders and pooled some decision-making. So who wields power? National leaders do, they gather regularly to take big decisions jointly, such as on the migrant crisis and set the EU’s priorities. Government ministers from each country do – they meet their counterparts every month, when they’re coordinating economic policy, it’s the Chancellor, George Osborne who goes. They, together with the elected European Parliament approve or reject any new laws. 10% of its members are from the UK. And to keep the EU running, are 55,000 civil servants. The UK government employs six times the number. Most of the EU’s civil servants work for the Commission. It’s independent of governments, draws up the laws, makes sure countries follow them. The European Court rules on any disputes and the Central Bank manages the euro. So what does the EU govern? Well, it has sole power to strike trade deals, makes competition rules like capping mobile roaming charges and fixes fishing quotas. The EU shares with member states the power to act in areas like the rights of workers and consumers, protecting the environment. And its powers are growing. It oversees banks in countries that use the euro, and monitors levels of national debt and deficit in all EU nations. Helps coordinate border controls, has a bill of rights for EU citizens, embassies around the world, even peace-keeping troops. So this union is economic, but political too, growing and changing all the time.

Where to begin unpicking how biased this is? The first overall point is that Grammticas avoids any mention that the EU is controversial. No mention, for example, that many believe that the operation of the European Commission is shrouded in secrecy and complexity. Nothing about the extent to which the EU is perceived to generate unnecessary regulations and directives. Nothing about that many fishermen believe that EU fishing quotas have wrecked the UK fishing fleet, or that the UK is repeatedly outvoted by the other EU leaders, and, indeed, on the 77 issues taken to a full vote since 1996, has been voted down every time.

On the other side of the coin, Grammaticas seems to actively play up the reasonableness and beneficial nature of EU operations. It caps telephone roaming charges, protects the environment, operates the world’s biggest single market so that people, good, money and services can ‘flow freely’. It works with governments in monitoring border controls, the rights of workers, the bill of rights for citizens and provides peace-keeping troops. Who would disagree with that?

Another issue is that Grammaticas constructs a picture of the EU’s modus operandi that makes it sound entirely democratic and fair. The members’ national leaders work closely with the European parliament to make and implement laws.  They are assisted in this process by’55,000 civil servants’, a total six times less than the UK’s government’s domestic civil service.   In this picture, The EU is doing the will of democratically elected figures, assisted by a civil service.  But critics entirely disagree.  First, the European Commission is not a ‘civil service’  It may have some of the functions, but is actually a supranational body with the power to frame laws and drive them through the EU structure so that are implemented.  The Council of Ministers cannot do so, and nor can the European Parliament – their powers are limited to making decisions about implementation. Further, the Commission’s main loyalty is not to member states, but to the EU itself. When Commissioners are appointed from the member states, they are required by EU law to swear an undertaking that their loyalties thereafter will be only to the EU.

All this adds up that Grammaticas has devised a strongly pro-EU feature. As with a similar snapshot exercise on World at One by Professor Anand Menon, it is deeply biased towards the EU and leaves out or glosses over key points that are what the opposition to the EU and desire for Brexit is based upon.   Not only that, this was expensive production with specially-commissioned graphics designed to show the EU in the best possible light.  It seems that the BBC is working behind the scenes to project the EU in the best possible light, to gloss over simplistically its shortcomings. In short, to pull the wool over the eyes of referendum voters.


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