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25 września 2012
“Seven EU myths you should never believe”
Radek Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland
As a Thatcherite free-marketeer, I have no doubt that being in Europe is good for Britain.
It’s interesting what happens on your first day as Foreign Minister. Helpful officials flutter around you like butterflies. One produces a secret red file marked “How to be a Foreign Minister”. Inside are papers on the do’s and don’ts of office. But decades of bureaucratic experience are best summed up in the immortal lines of Yes, Prime Minister: “Once you start interfering in the internal squabbles of other countries, you’re on a very slippery slope. Even the Foreign Secretary has grasped that!”
It is in that fine spirit that I mean to interfere recklessly in the UK’s internal affairs. I want to offer some thoughts on a subject of considerable British sensitivity: EU membership. And I want to try to change some minds.
Let me be clear where I am coming from. I am Polish, from the Solidarity generation that helped to bring down the Soviet empire. I have lived in the US and am a fervent believer in free markets. Lady Thatcher — may she live for ever — acknowledges me in her book Statecraft. In other words, I tick every box required to be a lifelong member of the Eurosceptic club. But I believe in the the modern European project. And Poland will do its utmost to help it to succeed.
Several myths about Britain and the EU need to be dispelled.
Myth No 1 Britain’s trade with the EU is less important than its trade with the outside world.
Fact In 2011 the UK trade deficit with China was £19.7 billion. You ran a deficit with Russia, too. Roughly half of UK exports go to the EU. The UK has until recently traded more each year with Ireland than with Brazil, Russia, India and China put together. Trade growth with new EU members is even more dynamic. Between 2003 and 2011 British exports to Poland increased threefold.
Myth No 2 The EU forces Britain to adopt laws on human rights that are contrary in spirit to British tradition.
Fact These rulings come from the European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU but part of the Council of Europe, a noble British creation that pre-dates the EU.
Myth No 3 UK is bankrupting itself by funding Europe.
Fact The monstrous EU budget is about 1 per cent of the GDP of all EU members; UK public spending is nearly 50 per cent of Britain’s GDP. Your annual net contribution of £8 billion- £9 billion is similar to France’s and less than Germany’s. That is less than £15 per UK citizen. Moreover, some of this money comes home. UK companies have profited enormously from EU cohesion-fund investments in Central and Eastern Europe. That improved infrastructure benefits UK exporters: higher prosperity in those member states mean new markets for the UK.
The UK Government estimates that every household “earns” between £1,500 and £3,500 every year thanks to the Single Market. That is between five and fifteen times the UK’s net budget contribution. It’s a bargain.
Myth No 4 The UK is drowning in EU bureaucracy.
Fact Yes, 33,000 people work for the European Commission, serving an entire continent. But more than 82,000 people work for HM Revenue & Customs alone. Spain has almost three million bureaucrats. In contrast to any of its members, the EU is a slimmed-down operation.
Myth No 5 The UK is drowning in EU legislation and Brusssels directives.
Fact We all have a good laugh when we hear about bendy bananas or euro-sausages. But these are not the fault of the European Commission. Usually they are proposed by member states trying to protect their former colonies or their national products.
Directives are not Brussels diktats, but regulations that British officials have agreed, approved and signed off. In any case, law inspired by Europe accounts for only 6.8 per cent of primary legislation passed by your Parliament.
Myth No 6 The European Commission is a hotbed of socialism.
Fact Whether on Open Skies or business subsidies, the EU has helped to dismantle national monopolies and stopped national politicians subverting competition rules.
Myth No 7 The EU stops hardworking Britons working longer hours than feckless continentals.
Fact The average Pole works 40.5 hours a week. The average Spaniard 38.1. The average for all the EU27 is 37.2. The average for the UK? 36.2.
Those are the myths. Now let’s look at the arguments. Because Britain’s market is too valuable for the rest of the Continent to ignore, Eurosceptics say, Britain could negotiate a trade deal that preserved all the advantages of the single market without any of the costs of membership.
Don’t count on it. Many states would hold a grudge against a country that had, in their view, selfishly left the EU. While you account for about 11 per cent of the rest of EU trade, 50 per cent of your total trade is with the EU. No prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in negotiations.
Any free trade agreement would have a price. In exchange for access to a single market of 500 million people, Norway and Switzerland make big contributions to EU cohesion funds. They also have to adopt EU standards without any say in how they are written. At the moment, Norway’s net contribution to the EU budget is higher, per capita, than Britain’s.
Britain’s leaders must decide once again how best to use their influence in Europe. The EU is an English- speaking power. The Single Market was a British idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomatic service. You could, if only you wished, lead Europe’s defence policy.
But please don’t expect us to help you to wreck or paralyse the EU. Don’t underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20th century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the Continent were. We’ll do almost anything to prevent it happening again. Europe’s leaders will step up integration to make the euro work. We believe the euro will survive, because it is in members’ interests for it to survive.
Since I first came to your shores more than 30 years ago, Britain has become much more European. You have the Channel Tunnel and are used to duvets. Even your cooking has improved. Yet public opinion and your politics is more Eurosceptic than ever.
Your interests are in Europe. It’s time your sentiments followed. Britain is famous for practical good sense and policies based on reality, not myth. We hope you return to this tradition soon.
The Times, 25 września 2012