Opinion: A storm in a jam jar – my top 5 Euromyths

Those of us familiar with the EU are used to its complicated processes, obscure acronyms and often unfathomable procedures. We sometimes forget that it is still a hybrid project that no-one has ever tried before: a multinational, multilingual experiment in international cooperation where countries decide by common accord to pool decision-making in certain areas and under certain conditions for their own mutual benefit.

No wonder that ordinary members of the public – not to mention politicians, civil servants and journalists – are often left baffled and bemused by EU decision-making. Even MEPs and EU civil servants find it hard to keep up sometimes. When asked to rate their own knowledge of the EU on a scale of 1 to 10 in a recent survey, 39% of Brits said they knew ‘nothing at all’ about the various EU institutions and 46% admitted complete ignorance of what those institutions do. Both figures were the lowest recorded in any EU country.

This massive information gap is, of course, fertile ground for eurosceptics and nationalists, each with their own agenda. But that does not excuse the downright untruths peddled by some politicians and journalists for the sake of a cheap headline. In no other corner of Europe is so much misinformation wilfully propagated in the public domain as in the British debate about the EU.

The public seem to agree: we have the lowest level of trust in our national press of any country in the EU. Just 18% of people in the UK say they trust the press while 79% distrust it, according to a survey earlier this year (compared to an EU average of 43% who trust the press and a high of 64% in Finland).

We need a proper debate about the EU and Britain’s place in it, but let us please base the debate on facts and not fiction. One way Liberal Democrats can contribute is to debunk the myths and lies whenever we get the chance. In a modest contribution to this effort, I have selected my top 5 Euromyths from the last couple of years, from a crowded field with many candidates. Thanks go to the European Commission’s office in London, who run a very useful Euromyths blog.

1) EU bans homemade jam: the tabloids recently got their knickers in a twist about alleged EU rules banning the reuse of old jam jars to sell homemade jam at village fêtes. The only food safety rules in this field apply to business operators, not fairs or bazaars, and do not in any case ban the reuse of old jars. The story hit most national media despite having already been debunked 18 years ago. So this particular piece of ‘news’ was actually neither factual, nor new.

2) Brussels bans children’s balloons: another old chestnut thrown back into the fire by lazy journalists, who claimed the EU was banning children from blowing up balloons. In fact, old rules from 1988 merely state that certain balloons should carry a warning that children under eight should be supervised if blowing them up – which is presumably common sense for any responsible parent anyway.

3) British sports teams forced to wear EU flag: a suggestion for a voluntary gesture in a non-binding, own-initiative report by MEPs with no legislative weight whatsoever was reported by the Mail, Express and Telegraph as a new EU rule ‘forcing’ sportsmen and women to don the 15 stars on their kits. As usual, they didn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good story.

4) Brussels wants to merge Britain with France: entering the comedy zone now, but the Express and Mail both reported on a ‘plot’ to wipe England off the map by merging it with northern France to create a new region. The story was lent weight by Eric Pickles, who condemned the evil Brussels bureaucrats. Of course, there was no such proposal, just a number of cross-border cooperation programmes to boost jobs and protect the environment.

5) EU plans to liquefy corpses and pour them down the drain: moving from comedy to farce, this story drew an indignant reaction from one Daily Express reader who observed that ‘it beggars belief’. Indeed, and mostly because it wasn’t true of course. The only ‘plan’ involved was a proposal to cut CO2 emissions from cremation by a Belgian undertakers’ association. The EU has nothing to do with this. The Express was clearly ashamed enough to pull the story from its website, but not so the York Press.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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30 Comments

  • Paul McKeown 29th Oct '12 - 12:38pm

    Lovely Eurocobblers, fresh in from Brussels today. Come and get them. Ten to the kilo, not sold in pounds.

  • I had never heard the suggestion “to merge Britain with France”. Seems a most creative idea, but taking us back to the 15th century might look like a rather retrograde step.

  • Great Site! I contacted EU Press Office last year in relation to “University Fined For Not Flying EU Flag.” They’d never heard anything about it, but the British press had a field day. No retraction ever issued.

  • Thanks Giles. I do feel strongly that we need to stop being such shy, reluctant pro-Europeans.

  • Personally, I’d wholeheartedly support the merger of the UK and France. Better food, wine, bread and cheese….

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Oct '12 - 2:56pm

    Indeed, this shows why UKIP is the most dishonest party in the country. People vote for it because they are against the EU, yet how can you know whether you support something or nor if you don’t even know what it is? Suppose I set up a party with the policy line “We are against Splghgh”. Then I get a whole of load people to vote for me on the grounds “Gosh, I’ve no idea what Splghgh is, but it sounds bad, so I’ll support your party”. The reality is that UKIP are an extreme right-wing economic party – what really seems to motivate them is any sort of international co-operation to control the power of big money. Far from being in support of real UK independence, they want to put us ever more at the mercy of big money. We are forever being told of things we cannot do in our country because if w did the people who control money would desert us. Why don’t UKIP talk about THAT threat to our national independence?

    The point is, UKIP are attracting a lot of the floating vote that used to go to us. Most people who vote for them have been tricked into it and have no idea what they are really voting for.

  • I’m not sure you’re helping your case by admitting:

    1. The EU has “complicated processes, obscure acronyms and often unfathomable procedures”
    2. The EU is “a hybrid project that no-one has ever tried before”
    3. The EU is an “experiment”
    4. “Politicians, civil servants and journalists – are often left baffled and bemused by EU decision-making”

    With these facts, who needs myths?

  • I worry about any story which is ‘lent weight by Eric Pickles’. I’ve never heard such a lightweight heavyweight!

    I also worry about Matthew’s obsessive rants. UKIP aren’t dishonest, even if some individuals within it may be. UKIP is merely a protest vote in a land where the national church is protestant. They have a natural constituency, which happens to exist on another planet.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Oct '12 - 9:18pm

    Oranjepan

    I also worry about Matthew’s obsessive rants. UKIP aren’t dishonest

    Yes they are dishonest because they are not about what they say they are. They give the impression of being all about patriotism and protecting the UK’s interest, but if you actually look closely at what they are really about, it’s about extreme free market economics rather than cosy old-style patriotism. Nevertheless, they get a lot of people voting for them who think they are about cosy old-style patriotism.

  • The main dishonesty about UKIP is its continual assertion that the UK can leave the EU yet enjoy all the privileges of trading rights but bear none of the costs and that Switzerland and Norway have a free ride. They also laud the jurisdiction of the WTO, with no mention of the lack of democratic accountability, yet they bang on endlessly about EU decisions made by faceless bureaucrats, when actually measures are hammered out through negotiations with democratically representative ministers and are debated, scrutinised or initiated in a democratically elected parliament.

    Matthew has a point about at least a sizeable faction of UKIP: these are actually keener to destroy the EU than the UK to leave; having said that they are a mixed bag and in the last general election muddled about what they stood for. Describing them as dishonest invites name calling,which is their signature tune, so it is better that they are pushed to make clear what they really do stand for.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Oct '12 - 1:50pm

    jedibeeftrix

    The main dishonesty about Lib-Demmery is the perverse refusal to recognise any relationship between the growth of UKIP and the decline of the Lib-Dem’s.

    Well if you can’t find any more dishonesties than that, it makes us pretty honest.

    However, where is your justification for this? Not for your linking the decline in the LibDem share of the poll with the rise in UKIP’s, but for your claim that LibDems refuse to recognise a relationship between them. I think there is a relationship, in that UKIP is getting a big part of the “neither of the two big parties” vote that used to go to the Liberal Democrats. However, I don’t think this is something Liberal Democrats would deny is happening. It’s perverse, however, if people are dropping off voting Liberal Democrat on the belief that the coalition means the Liberal Democrats are much more economically right-wing than they supposed, but then moving to UKIP which is more economically right-wing than the Tories.

  • jbt – apart from your continuation with (U.S) “skeptic- ing” (rather than Britiish “sceptic”), I note your rather ironic turn of phrase “the party has remained on its little island”, irrespective of the fact that it is europhobes who are doing just that!

  • I also note your comment about growth of UKIP going in tandem with decline in Lib Dem. Not true! When your contention has been so is the 5 yearly Euro elections, when UKIP vote grows out of all proportion (at the expense of all the 3 “main” parties), and Lib Dem vote is normally around 60% of its General Election vote, and only half or so of its Local vote. The decline in the opinion poll rating since May 2010 is directly correlated to the Lib Dems’ perceived to the right, apparently embracing the Tories, right wing economics, and public sector cuts damaging vulnerable people. Poll evidence generally shows that the European issue is, at most times, and for most people, not that important.

  • sorry – “perceived move to the right”.

  • Orangepan is broadly correct, when he says UKIP are a protest vote. But they are more than just a ‘Non Of The Above’ remonstration.
    There is a deep sense of unease with what the EU project has become, (and where it is headed), and the UK population are bereft of any democratic choices, or vehicle, to do anything about that unease. That growing body of restless voters, see a clear insidious cartel, by the three main parties, who are shamelessly, locked together, into a ‘referendum refusal at all costs’, stance.
    That growing body of voters increasingly feel disenfranchised and ignored. So, what can that body of voters do, if they are continuously locked out of any facility to have their genuine concerns, and voice heard, over Europe?
    This is why UKIP is in the ascendant.
    People who are turning to UKIP, frankly do not want, expect or believe, that UKIP will form a government. To them, UKIP is simply, a lightning rod, for a voice that will not be listened to by the three main ( deaf ), parties.
    Neither are these ordinary concerned voters, being tricked, or duped, or even frankly interested in UKIP. These voters are on strike. They are withholding their vote. They are holding their suspended vote aloft, and saying to the two main parties :
    The first one of you (Labour or Tory), to break ranks and guarantee a referendum on Europe, can gladly have my vote.
    And for sure, the first one that does break ranks, and guarantee a referendum on Europe, will consign LibDems (and a spent UKIP), to the dustbin, and walk through the gates of No. 10

  • I cannot be the only person who views the anti EU stance as opportunistic propaganda, that is used to seek short term political advantage or reflects or seeks to exploit fundamentally xenophobic attitudes. Nor can I be alone in admiring how the EU has brought together the peoples of Europe, given them a constructive voice on the world stage and given them the sense of unity that has been enhanced by open borders and a common currency.

    Another important and more fundamental factor for me is electoral reform.

    There has to be a party for people like me to vote for.

    Jedibeeftrix and John Dunne appear to have some kind of fantasy that they can somehow push the Lib Dems to a position where people like me have no party that can represent them. To them I can only say they are deluded, as I see it, electoral reform and internationalism that includes a commitment to working for the success of the EU are at the heart of what Liberal Democrats stand for.

    I will argue the case for Europe, but if someone is implacably opposed to the UKs cooperation with other states in Europe within the EU, and this is a top issue for them, then the Lib Dem party is not for them. In the random nature of things, there may be the odd few who have switched allegiance from Lib Dem to UKIP. However anyone doing this is clearly quite confused as to what they are voting for, the two are poles apart.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '12 - 11:30am

    jedibeeftrix

    Perhaps right-wingieness is not a problem for many of the ukip defectors, perhaps europe is?

    But the evidence given here is that most people have not a clue what the EU does. So wouldn’t it be a bit odd to make your main political concern something you know nothing about? On the right-wingieness thing, well, the Liberal Democrats seem to be losing support because of a belief “they have become just like the Conservatives, they are supporting all these cuts and privatisation policies”. So that seems pretty much to me that it’s a perceived right-wingieness that is losing the LibDems their support.

    You have a believe noted in the past that the British electorate has shifted righwards in the last few years, and noted how the party has moved rightward in lockstep.

    Well, I’ve seen a very heavy push by those in control of the published media to force politics here to the right, and huge amounts of funding from the wealthy being given to various think-tanks who are helping push politics rightwards. I’ve also seen a growth (pushed by the same right-wing interests) towards an anti-politics mentality, which pushes politics rightwards because when fewer people are involved as volunteer activists party activity become more about who has the most money to do it. I’m not so convinced that this is a conscious shift by the British electorate in general towards the political right. Essentially I see politics in this country as having been bought by a small clique of international businessmen who do not have this country’s best interests in mind, and I think anyone who was REALLY about “UK independence” would make that the focus of their attention rather than the EU whose influence is actually not that much.

  • The strong debate here between individuals, with regard to the EU project, is admirable. But in the end, it is not really important what we think.
    We need to listen, (and hear), what the other 50 million UK voters, think about Europe. And it is foolish and arrogant of Westminster to believe they can dishonestly refuse a voice to the electorate.
    The polls tell us that Lib Dem interest is shrinking, like an ice floe in the tropics. And what remains of this endangered species, that huddles together for warmth on the melting ice floe, is in for a very deep shock. I have to ask the question : Just what are LibDems afraid of? Why do the words ‘Referendum on Europe’, give them such a shiver down the spine?
    And whatever else we might understand about politics, remenber : if a body of angry voters continue to be frustrated, disenfranchised, and ignored, it NEVER ends well.

  • Matthew Huntbach writes :
    “But the evidence given here is that most people have not a clue what the EU does.”
    So, please tell us what it does. Please keep it simple, for those of us who have less of a clue. It must surely be easy for someone articulate, and knowledgeable on European issues, to give a simple list of the benefits of EU membership, that we get in return for the approx £13billion we send to Europe each year?

  • John Dunne asks “Just what are LibDems afraid of? Why do the words ‘Referendum on Europe’, give them such a shiver down the spine?” So far as I know the last manifesto policy is still in place:

    Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU

    Does John Dunne know any different? There is an issue here as I do not think the Conservatives want a referendum to be IN or OUT, rather whether to accept or reject a group of proposals over which long negotiations have already been held.

  • John Dunne: This will tell you about the benefits of EU membership If you look through it you can see that you can also get a hard copy. But are you interested enough to look at it?

  • Martin :
    Your link is a poor excuse for propaganda. It’s very absent for example, on the Common Agricultural Policy. You know the one where :
    A chap here in the UK, earning an average wage ….. pays tax on that wage… worried how he will pay this winters gas and electric bill…. whilst some of his tax is decanted, into to our European membership fee…. and Europe siphons some of his forwarded tax into the CAP fund…. and Brussels takes a little skim off the top …. before transferring some of his taxes into the bank accounts of ULTRA WEALTH UK Landowners, who are NOT the least bit, worried how they will pay this winters gas and electric bills.
    And that’s not the only Euro scam being perpetrated on UK voters.

  • Here is the freedom that the European Union’s dictatorship, has brought to the streets of Spain. How come we haven’t seen this on the BBC?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzP8znpQI9I&feature=youtu.be
    And Mariano Rajoy’s latest proposal. ?
    He wants a new law introduced asap, that aims to ban photographing, filming or reproducing images of the country’s members of police and state security forces while they are on duty.

    Doesn’t it make you proud to be European?

  • John Dunne, the link was a direct answer to your question about what the EU does. Actually it seems your question was disingenuous. If you wanted, though it is obvious that you do not, to give a positive outline of what the EU does for peoples lives, there is plenty there. You call it propaganda because it is the EU’s own production; I expect that you would dismiss that their productions are bound by rules of factually fair and balanced presentation.

    The basis of the CAP, to maintain self sufficiency in food across the EU, is concept I strongly support, however how the policy has to change as the EU expands and technology makes further strides is for another discussion.

  • Richard Dean 1st Nov '12 - 1:35am

    We need to listen, yes, to find out exactly what twisted untruths people have been fed, and then we need to clarify and illuminate and lead the population out of the quagmire created by cowardly politicians blaming the EU for their own failings, and into the light of the New Eurozone,

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