Graham Watson MEP

Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar

A local champion with an international reputation

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The European Union is a controversial issue in the British press. We've heard stories about straight bananas, Euro-gravy trains and paying out huge amounts of money for nothing in return. Which of it is true? Is any of it true?

In reality, most of the things you read about the European Union are more fiction than fact. We've pulled together some of our favourite myths for you to peruse and I hope you enjoy them as much as we did...

New Myths on the Multi Annual Financial Framework (MAFF)

The EU budget is constantly on the rise- whereas national governments reduce their spending.


National budgets are not decreasing but increasing

  • Between 2000 and 2010, national budgets in the EU increased by 62% while EU budget increased by 37% over the same period.
  • In 2011, 23 national budgets out of 27 are increasing
  • In 2012, 24 national budgets out of 27 are due to increase according to the latest estimations.

The EU budget is enormous

No, it isn't.

The EU budget was around €140 billion in 2011, which is very small compared to the sum of national budgets of all 27 member states, which amount to more than €6, 300 billion. In other words, total government expenditure by the 27 member states is almost 50 times bigger than the EU budget!

To put this in perspective, the average EU citizen paid only 67 cents on average per day to finance the annual budget in 2010. This is less than half the price for a cup of coffee - hardly a large expense given the huge benefits that the EU brings citizens.

The EU budget is always balanced, which means no single Euro is spent on debt. And 94% of what is paid into the EU budget is spent in Member States on policies and programmes that benefit citizens directly.

The Commission wants to introduce a direct EU tax and increase the tax burden on citizens

Wrong again.

The Commission has never floated the idea of a direct EU tax. Member States will remain in control of raising taxes. The Commission is not becoming your taxman. Ideas for own resources as presented in the budget review are not about extra money for Brussels. It is not about adding to the tax burden. It is about changing the mix of resources as presented in the budget review that finance the EU budget. Every euro is collected under a reformed system reduces the national contributions of Member States and makes the new budget faier and more transparent.

The control of the EUs own resources are subject to strong parliamentary control and that Member States' sovereignty and democratic rights are fully assured. All EU financing matters require unanimous agreement by Member State governments.

How much the EU costs

Britain pays £40 million a day, or £14 billion a year, to the EU...

This is not true. It is correct to say we are a net-contributor, but Britain receives a rebate from the EU (i.e. we get a discount on our contributions) and we receive extra money from the EU to help with our public spending. In 2008 we received a rebate of £4.9 billion and an additional £4.5 billion in extra funding. This meant our total net-payment to the EU was only £3.3 billion. Total UK public spending in that year was £631 billion, so our net-contribution to the EU was only 0.5% of our total public spending.

Britain would be richer if it was outside the European Union

This is untrue. We would be worse off out of Europe. An independent report published by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research in February 2000 showed that the British economy would contract (and taxes would rise) if we left the EU, despite the fact that the UK is a slight net contributor to the EU budget. David Mackie, Chief European Economist at JP Morgan has said: "In the great scheme of things, our net contributions are so small as to be trivial. There is no doubt in my mind that the net benefit of membership of the EU is many orders of magnitude above our net contribution to the EU budget."


Pooling sovereignty with other EU countries means having less control of our future...

Wrong. As Margaret Thatcher said during the 1975 referendum: "the choice is whether to be outside the Community and yet to accept everything which it decides on trading provisions, including standards and safety provisions and prices of steel, or whether to stay in the Community and have an influence over all those decisions which will seriously affect the whole of our industrial life."

Brussels bureaucrats impose laws upon us and we have no say in it...

This is not true. The Commission has no power to impose law on EU countries, it can only propose legislation. Their proposals are sent to the elected MEPs in the Parliament and the national governments in the Council where they are amended until everyone is happy with them. Only after this process is completed are they turned into law. Therefore the British government and the Euro-MPs elected by the British people have a say at every stage of the legislative process.

Britain would gain sovereignty by leaving the EU but remaining a member of the Europe Economic Area (EEA), like Norway...

This is untrue. In the EU, Britain has pooled its sovereignty, being part of the decision-making process by which all EU agreements are made. EEA membership means access to the European Single Market, but actually giving up sovereignty. As part of the EEA, Norway is subject to all EU Single Market agreements but, unlike Britain, has no power to decide what they are. This has been referred to by Norwegian prime ministers as 'government by fax', because countries that do this must wait by their fax machines to hear from Brussels what laws to implement.

Furthermore, countries like Norway often end up paying more per head of population to be part of the EEA.

MEPs' pay

MEPs recently gave themselves a £20,000 pay rise...

No, this is not true. The system of MEPs' salaries changed in 2009. Previously they were paid the same as MPs in their respective national parliaments. This led to huge disparities: in 2007 a Bulgarian MEP would have earned the equivalent of £6,400 a year but an Italian MEP would have earned £92,661 a year for doing the same job! A uniform salary was organised so that all MEPs would earn the same. When this was agreed it meant British MEPs would have their pay cut and earn less than MPs at Westminster. However, because they are now paid in Euros, when the Pound collapsed during the financial crisis it meant MEPs received more when they turned their Euros into Pounds.

To view details of Graham's accounts click here

European superstate

The EU is destined to become a European superstate...

Wrong. The Member States are the most important part of the EU and it is they that have the power over what the EU is and what it does. Clause 3b of Maastricht states: "The [European] Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and... can be better achieved by the Community..."

The European Union is designed to "harmonise" or "homogenise" the peoples of Europe...

This is untrue. Margaret Thatcher has said: "It is a myth that our membership [of Europe] will suffocate national tradition and culture. Are the Germans any less German for being in the Community, or the French any less French? Of course they are not."

Those fear EU membership in this respect clearly have no faith in British values, culture or identity.

"Brussels bureaucracy"

Europe is overrun by Brussels bureaucrats...

This is untrue. In fact the total staff of the Commission is around 23,000 including over 1,800 translators/interpreters and more than 9,000 secretarial and support staff. This compares to around 52,000 at Birmingham City Council.

Brussels bureaucrats are completely unaccountable...

This is untrue. The Commissioners are appointed by EU heads of government (just as the British government ministers are appointed by their own head of government). They can only take office with the approval of the European Parliament, which consists of directly elected MEPs, and are dismissible by the European Parliament in a collective vote of no-confidence.

Curved bananas are banned...

This is untrue. Bananas are simply classified according to quality and size for international trade under EU agreements rationalising past standards by individual governments and the industry.

President of Europe

We now have a President of Europe that no one voted for...

First, we do not have a President of Europe, there is no such position. What the media often refer to as President of Europe is actually the President of the European Council. This position has no executive decision making powers (the heads of government from the Member States are the ones that make the decisions) and it was created to bring greater consistency and fluidity to the European Council (which had relied upon a rotating Presidency every six months). Most institutions have similar roles: there is a President of the European Parliament, a President of the Commission, and each Committee Group even has a President. These positions are comparable to chairs. As the President of the European Council is not an executive position it is elected by the members of the European Council rather than the European electorate, in much the same way as MPs in the House of Commons elect their Speaker of the House rather than putting the decision to the British people.

Britain and the Euro

Ruling out the option to join a successful single currency is necessary to enable Britain to avoid a one-size fits all interest rate...

This is untrue. Britain already has a one-size-fits-all interest rate in that it (along with the rest of Europe, and indeed the US) consists of lots of regions that are actually very different. The Centre for Economic Policy Research has said: "The greatest disparities within Europe are not, in fact, between member states but within them, e.g. between different regions in Italy rather than between Italy and Germany."

The EU accounts

The EU budget has not been certified by the Court of Auditors for the last fourteen years...

Wrong. In November 2009 the European Court of Auditors certified the EU budget. They issued it with a clean bill of health and concluded that they 'present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the European Communities and the results of their operations and cash flows'. Previous EU budgets have been criticised by the auditors but this year they noted, 'the overall results for 2008 reflect the improvements in the management of the budget in recent years'.

To read more about the 2008 accounts click here

A European Army

Brussels is trying to build an EU army...

No. The Common Security and Defence Policy does not create a 'Euro-army', instead it helps national armies within the EU to work more closely together on joint projects, in much the same way as NATO has since the end of the Second World War. If the British Government does not want the British Army to take part in a European campaign then it will not. The British Government always remains 100% sovereign over the British Army.

British farming

British farmers lose out in Europe and would be better off if we left...

This is untrue. Ben Gill, former President of the NFU (National Farmers' Union) has said: "Membership of the EU is vital to the interests of British farmers. Over three-quarters of our agricultural commodity exports go to the EU and this share is only likely to grow with the further enlargement of the EU. Looking ahead, the signs are that the whole of the food chain will become increasingly integrated on a European scale. Our future as part of a competitive food industry depends on continuing membership of the Union."

The British fishing industry

We need to reject the Common Fisheries Policy to save Britain's fish...

This is untrue. Without international cooperation Britain would be unable to stop foreign fishing fleets over-fishing our stocks as they migrate through international waters. North Sea plaice, for example, need to be protected in the coastal waters of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands where the juvenile plaice congregate.

Britain and the rest of the world

Britain's special relationship with America is undermined by our EU membership...

This is untrue. In fact the opposite is the case. Instead, our 'special relationship' with the US is underpinned by our influence within the EU. In the words of former US Ambassador to Britain, Ray Seitz: "If Britain's voice is less influential in Paris or [Berlin], it is likely to be less influential in Washington."

The Commonwealth could have provided an alternative trading area to the EU...

This is untrue. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary and later a Conservative Prime Minister, recollected: "In 1961 I had concluded on the evidence before me that the United Kingdom could not afford to stay out of the European Community", and made a speech to that effect in the House of Lords. "My experience as Commonwealth Secretary had convinced me that the erosions of our economic preferences which had begun in Australia and which were depriving us of our share of Commonwealth trade, were bound to continue, and that we must act to find alternatives to protect our national income."

Britain would have a greater world role if it left the EU...

This is untrue. As Margaret Thatcher has said: "On our own, as a nation of 55 million, we would have some voice, but not enough. Britain has traditionally been part of a larger grouping and was listened to partly because of that grouping as well as because of our own particular attributes."