The Corner

The EU: Making the World Safe for Fuss-Potting

A very minor press flap has erupted over the release of a study by Open Europe, a Euroskeptic group, showing that over a twelve-year span beginning in 1998, regulations – mostly the EU variety – have cost Britain nearly €200 billion, an amount equal to Britain’s current deficit. A report in quotes some of the study’s claims:

“We estimate the benefit/cost ratio of EU regulations at 1.02, while the ratio of UK regulations is 2.35.

“In other words, for every €1.13 of cost, EU regulations introduced since 1998 have only delivered €1.35 of benefits, meaning that it is 2.5 times more cost effective to regulate nationally than it is to regulate via the EU.”

“This shows the massive influence the EU has over our economy and everyday life,” says Open Europe’s Sarah Gaskell in a statement released with the study. “Whether we think this is a good or a bad thing, politicians can no longer be in denial over the extent of this influence and must dedicate much more attention to the EU in the run up to the General Election.”

If you think that seems reasonable, you’re wrong, say angry Europhiliacs. You just don’t understand that “attention to the EU” is a pastime of the dim sum of everyday folk. Whatever are they going on about? demands The Economist’s lofty columnist, Charlemagne, who argues that even without the EU, you know, there still would be regulations, apparently because, you know, there will always be regulations, what with, you know, the growing number of things needing to be regulated. Here, follow this, if you need some meaninglessness in your life:

…without regulation, there would be no single market. Some of that regulation will be designed to keep skittish, hygiene-obsessed German or Danish mothers (for example) calm about food safety, and ease their fears about dangerous salami being imported from the far corners of the EU to poison their blond-headed moppets. That may be expensive, but that fuss-potting gives political cover for the Danish and German governments to approve EU enlargement to countries like Romania or Slovakia, and that is really good for the long-term health of the EU. How do you possibly measure the costs and benefits of such things?

Stupid Danish mothers. But talk about asking the hard questions! Yes! How can we possibly measure? Charlemagne and other champions of continental fuss-potting seem to base their position on an assumption that being attentive to the consequences of governmental regulations is to sully the purity of the things themselves. Like the EU poet said, a thing of regulatory beauty is a burden forever. The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade echoes Charlemagne’s assertion that only the inherent indolence of the media gives credence to the views of “a small, but assiduous Eurosceptic campaign group” of people who waste the time of great minds by trying to calculate the cost of bad government.

Small but assiduous is the only ticket, especially if you’re an English, Scottish or Welsh Euroskeptic. In British politics, skepticism about the EU – certainly a sentiment shared by many, if not by most, Europeans – apparently has no place in polite political discussion, and asking voters how they feel about living under the EU’s psalmlike regs (here, for example a Brussels-blest .pdf file that just might save your life) is forbidden. As Charlemagne suggests, the EU is all about giving politicians political cover. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown, surely two of the most forgettable, banal British politicians of the modern age, have banned giving voice to any curiosity about the real value of the work of that giant hive of bureaucrats in Brussels.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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