Why the debate regarding the EU’s influence on UK legislation remains unsettled

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Political parties in the UK often try to use the EU’s influence in British law to lead debate. But this has led to several calculations “being distorted”, suggested a Business for Britain report. 

“It is immensely difficult to accurately quantify the impact of EU legislation,” it said. “Research that tries to do so is always highly disputed. As the House of Commons paper notes, EU olive and tobacco growing legislation has almost no effect on the UK, yet the laws remain in the body of UK law nevertheless. However, it is possible to calculate the proportion of UK law originating from the EU introduced in Britain since 1993.”

It was also suggested that the difficulties faced in the calculation also mean that any attempt to make sense of the numbers is highly subjective. This would explain how UKIP can persistently quote a figure of around 75 per cent while the Liberal Democrats insist upon seven per cent.

Read more about the relationship between EU and UK:

In Why Europe will run the 21st century, Mark Leonard, commentator and founder of the European Council on Foreign Relations, remarked: “Although the trappings of ‘Question Time’ have not changed in centuries, this façade of continuity hides the fact that over half of British agricultural legislation is made to implement decisions taken by our ministers in Brussels.

“This invisible Europeanisation of power is happening across the spectrum of British politics. There is no longer a single national ministry that has not met with its counterparts in some EU forum or another, including defence ministers, transport ministers, and even home affairs ministers. The best estimates are that up to a third of British legislation and two-thirds of economic and social legislation are made by British ministers with their European colleagues in Brussels.”

The seven per cent estimate was made by Nick Clegg during a 2014 television debate with Nigel Farage. In the same debate, Farage claimed that 75 per cent of UK law came from the EU.

LBC themselves stated: “This is based on a misunderstanding: a European Commissioner claimed earlier this year that 70 per cent of EU law involved the European Parliament, and had nothing to do with the UK specifically.”

The European Commissioner was Viviane Reding, who advanced the 70-75 per cent figure, which is where Farage supposedly found his inspiration from. She was asked to later retract the figure as critics deemed it too high.

Business for Britain suggested that “this was widely disputed at the time, even by pro-Europeans, as being a misrepresentation of research carried out by the House of Commons Library, which counted only primary legislation (Acts) and left out Statutory Instruments. The seven per cent figure also only examines legislation between 1997-2009, rather than the total to date and, crucially, excludes the impact of the steady stream of EU regulations that aren’t scrutinised by Parliament at all, but enacted into law verbatim, automatically.”

The Institute of Directors had a different statistic to offer. 

“Roughly half of new regulations on British businesses originate at EU level,” they said. But seemingly only laws related to business were taken into account.

However, the figure was echoed by Lord Triesman, former minister for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, and was later backed up by OECD analysis in 2006.

The Business for Britain report noted that “Treisman’s figures are one of the few that attempt to measure the impact of legislation from the EU, but the methodology for deciding whether a law ‘impacted on business’ is not clear.”

The House of Commons, examining the years 1998-2005, suggested that the right figure was 9.1 per cent.

“This is again not the whole picture,” said Business for Britain. “This calculation counts only Statutory Instruments, leaving out normal Legislative Acts passed in Parliament that have an EU element, as well as, again, leaving out EU regulations.”

As it’s most recent calculation in January 2015, the House of Commons suggested a percentage of 13.2 per cent. This has been lauded as being the final answer to the debate. However, these results suffered for the same reasons as their previous conclusions.

“The truth is so strikingly different from UKIP’s usual vastly inflated ‘estimates’ that it’s almost funny,” suggested Richard Corbett. “Incidentally, it gets even worse for the eurosceptics if you read the small print. When we think of our laws being ‘made in Brussels’, we tend to imagine cases where national laws are created just to implement what we agree at EU level. But the figure of 13.2 per cent actually includes many other laws (the ‘vast majority’, according to the report) which simply mention the EU or define an EU term for UK purposes. These are not really laws being made in Brussels at all — they are our own, home-grown legislation. So even the 13.2 per cent figure is very much on the high side.”

Despite the aim of many reports to “bring some clarity back to the debate and provide a definitive answer”, it seems likely that the debate will remain unsettled.

“One must acknowledge the fact that many regulations and directives are required for the EU’s single market to function correctly; the number of British laws that originate from the EU institutions must be put in proper context,” Business for Britain explained. “That context can only be provided by greater scrutiny of such legislation by the House of Commons. 

“Business for Britain has produced research in the past examining the role of the House of Commons in scrutinising legislation, but it must also be noted that even with better scrutiny, national parliaments are effectively powerless to stop EU regulations or directives coming into force. 

“The yellow card system, the supposed ‘innovation’ of the Lisbon Treaty entering into force in 2010, theoretically allowed a coalition of at least 14 national parliaments to cooperate in voicing opposition to European legislation. But the European Commission has paid no heed to these advisory voices in the past, choosing to advance unpopular proposals anyway.”

In his most recent essay, Janan Ganesh suggested “a ‘red card’ whereby opposition cannot simply be dismissed by the Commission and the EU must take action. Whatever procedure one seeks, a firmer legal safeguard is certainly needed for member states, preferably in the form of a veto for national parliaments over EU legislation, and not just an advisory role.”

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