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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News from the Lib Dems in Government
Published on Friday 2nd December 2011
The European Parliament and the EU
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary body of the European Union. It is composed of 751 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) representing the 27 Member States and serving the second largest democratic electorate in the world (after India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world (500 million).
Together with the Council of Ministers (made up of government ministers from member states), the European Parliament forms the bicameral legislative branch of the Union's institutions and has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world. The Parliament and Council form the highest legislative body within the Union.
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
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 i