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Ceiling flaw in suggestion EU rules behind payments to big landowners

September 29th, 2016
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Rating: 3.3/5 (16 votes cast)

Stories today based on a Greenpeace report about EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies to large landowners cover a matter which has been widely debated over many years and are mostly accurate, as far as they go. But not all of them give quite the full picture.

EU rules allow Member States to cut substantially so-called “basic payments” under the CAP to large landowners, such as most of those cited in the Greenpeace report, by applying an upper limit (ceiling). Nine Member States do so.

In the UK, such a ceiling is applied in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – with the resulting funds generated remaining in those regions for rural development projects.

The UK chooses not to apply a ceiling in England.

The European Commission’s repeated proposals for more radical reform have been watered down by national Ministers.

Only active farms are eligible for CAP funding as long as the farmer keeps his land in a state suitable for agricultural production. The business of breeding racehorses is not supported, though the land on which horses graze might qualify if it meets the criteria.

Basic payments account for in the UK and most Member States for around 70% of all CAP payments made to farmers.

Further info

In 2010, the European Commission proposed extensive reforms to the CAP, including to place a compulsory ceiling on payments to large landowners under the CAP’s basic payment scheme, thus putting an end to payments at the levels referred to in today’s reports.

A number of Member States combined to oppose these proposals.

As no EU law can be adopted without approval from both Member States and MEPs, this meant the extensive reform package implemented from 2014 did not include any compulsory ceilings, only a reduction of 5% on all amounts over €150 000.

However, an option was left open for individual Member States to apply a ceiling at national level.

Similar proposals to limit the amount of payment per individual farm were made by the Commission in successive CAP reform exercises since 1992 – but were always blocked by Member States.

In the UK, ceilings are now applied in Northern Ireland (€150 000), Wales (€300 000) and Scotland (€600 000). Read the full entry

EU doctors in UK are not “a threat to patients” as Daily Mail says. If they left, that WOULD put patients in danger

September 24th, 2016
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Rating: 4.6/5 (33 votes cast)

It is out of the question that EU rules would require the UK to let linguistically or medically incompetent doctors practise. In fact, the rules – recently further reinforced in agreement with the UK – expressly require Member States to prevent such people from being employed.

Yet, the Daily Mail runs yet another misleading front page article on 24 September headlined “Patients at risk from EU doctors” and alleging that “thousands of EU doctors can work in the UK without basic safety checks.” Online, the headline becomes an even greater insult to about 30 000 “EU doctors” – 10% of the total – working in the NHS: “Patients ARE at risk from thousands of EU medics.”

The consensus in the profession – as has been reported by several other newspapers, including the Times here – is that the threat to patients comes from “EU doctors” deciding to leave the UK rather than staying here to save lives and cure illness. So, while clearly patient safety should always be the top priority for healthcare organisations, it is hard to see how national newspaper front pages and online pieces impugning European doctors’ professionalism will help patients.

This is a point made in no uncertain terms in response to the Mail article by some stakeholders and medical professionals on social media.

Again, the Mail chose not to contact us for comment before its latest splash.

We have provided details of how EU rules work, here and here. We will not repeat those in this piece.

There are, however, some important elements to add.

Read the full entry

Sun’s imperial “up yours” to Brussels falls down on the facts

September 1st, 2016
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Rating: 4.6/5 (155 votes cast)

The Sun runs an article on 31 August by Bill Cash MP claiming the EU has banned the use of pounds and ounces. The paper follows up by suggesting ten ways to “say up yours to the EU.” This may be intended as humour. But it repeats inaccuracies and misleading statements which seem to be widely believed and therefore are worth correcting yet again.

First, the EU has never banned pounds and ounces or other imperial measures. EU law does require metric measurements to be used – though already in 1965, eight years before joining the EEC, the Wilson Government decided to initiate the UK’s metrication programme, in response to global moves in this direction. However, EU law has always allowed imperial measures to be used alongside metric ones – as the Sun itself acknowledged at the bottom of this earlier article. Visiting any supermarket or market stall is enough to confirm this. This issue has been addressed on this blog several times, for example here, back in 2001.

The Sun proposes “having cleaner carpets by swapping weak, EU regulated vacuums for powerful ones”.   In fact, consumer magazine “Which” has found that new EU rules – backed by Member States, industry and consumer groups – on the specifications for vacuum cleaners (the facts here) have led to better performance and cheaper running costs. In any case it is uncertain that vacuum cleaner manufacturers, who operate globally, would want to produce models generally considered obsolete just for UK markets.

There are no proposals on the table to introduce similar rules for hair dryers, toasters or other appliances not already covered, as referred to in two of the Sun’s helpful suggestions for saying “up yours” to the EU and as we explain here. Only if there is cast-iron scientific evidence will the Commission put forward such proposals, and in any case they would need to be agreed by Member States and the European Parliament. If such evidence were clearly established, it would remain to be seen whether the UK parliament or public – inside or outside the EU – would wish to create unnecessary pollution, environmental damage and higher electricity bills by insisting on energy guzzling appliances, even in the event that manufacturers did want to keep producing them.

Another suggestion the Sun puts forward is bringing back old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs that require changing more often and thus cost consumers more. The Sun is correct that incandescent light bulbs have been phased out in the EU, not on the basis of a high-handed bureaucratic decision but as a result of a clear mandate from elected ministers and MEPs. They have been, or are being, phased out also in the US, Canada, Switzerland, China, Australia, Brazil, Russia and many other jurisdictions. Again, we have covered this issue in earlier entries and again there does not so far seem to be any evidence that the UK – which supported the EU measures – would now want to go against this global trend.

The Sun also calls for the UK to “reclaim jam” from EU rules that stipulate it should have 60% sugar content. But the rules already allow flexibility on this. What is more, the British media – including the Sun – have previously complained about this very flexibility, saying it would “ruin British jam”! This saga is explained here.

There are no EU rules preventing the recycling of tea bags. Again this is a very old – and wrong – story. Read the full entry

Express wrong to call green cars “waste” and wrong to suggest EU is prioritising them above terrorism

July 27th, 2016
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Rating: 4.1/5 (18 votes cast)

The Daily Express complains that the latest EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation work programme includes £112 million for electric cars. Electric cars can make an important contribution to cutting air pollution, which is estimated to cause 400 000 premature deaths in Europe every year.

So asserting that investing money in this area is “splurging members’ cash on waste” is, to put it mildly, ill-informed.

The Express compares funding for high-tech industrial research with “just £41m spent researching terrorism” and uses this to suggest to readers that the EU is somehow neglecting to take action on terrorism. This is a false comparison and a cynical and misleading conclusion to draw from it.

Read the full entry

Medical devices: Daily Mail misrepresents EU system and fails to mention reforms

July 4th, 2016
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Rating: 4.2/5 (44 votes cast)

An article on medical devices – such as implants and artificial hips – published in Daily Mail on 29 June contains serious inaccuracies and leaves out crucial points. In particular, it misrepresents the current system for the approval of such devices and neglects to point out that the EU has taken a series of important steps to strengthen that system.

Background

According to the article, “Brussels” and the European Commission approve unsafe high-risk medical devices on the EU market.

This is not the case.

Under EU legislation, independent third-party organisations (Notified Bodies) check and scrutinise medical devices before their CE certification and possible placing on the market. These Notified Bodies are designated and monitored by national authorities, not by “Brussels”.

Read the full entry

Express’s “EU £2600 tax bombshell” story completely wrong

June 20th, 2016
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Rating: 4.5/5 (54 votes cast)

Changes to EU VAT rules require a unanimous agreement by all Member States. That is written in black and white in the EU Treaties, which set out and limit the powers the EU has – and also make very clear that the final say on all big political decisions rests with elected ministers and MEPs, not “Brussels” or “faceless bureaucrats”.

The Treaties themselves are drawn up by – and can only be changed by – unanimous agreement of the Member States.

In other words the UK has a veto both on any changes to VAT rules AND on any changes to the way the EU takes decisions in that area.

So despite the various fulminations quoted in the article, the suggestion in the Daily Express on 20 June that “Brussels” could force the UK to raise VAT rates and cause “a £2600 tax bombshell” is completely factually wrong.

Where there IS agreement that the rules will change is that the possibility to zero rate sanitary products will be introduced- EU leaders made that clear at their summit on 17-18 March.

The rationale for having such VAT rules – agreed by all Member States – is that rates that differed too widely within the single market would increase red tape and costs for business and mean consumers paying more for goods and services.

The EU is investing billions in tackling cancer – not denying treatment

June 9th, 2016
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Rating: 4.3/5 (35 votes cast)

Summary

A number of media articles have claimed that “EU red tape” is denying cancer patients access to new treatments.

This is not the case.

Various EU initiatives, backed by billions of euros from the EU budget, encourage Europe’s top scientists, businesses large and small and leading medical professionals to get new drugs to patients as rapidly and safely as possible.

And Europe-wide authorisation by the European Medicines Agency means more people get access to more medicines more quickly than they could if each country authorised them separately.

Details

Delivering new drugs to patients is a multi-stage process.

First, they need to be developed from scratch.

The European Commission has invested about €2.1 billion in cancer research projects since 2007. Some outstanding examples are described in simple terms here. The pace is likely to increase under the 2014-2020 Horizon 2020 programme, which is about 35% larger than its 2007-13 predecessor known as FP7.

Read the full entry

“Bailouts”,EU budget ceilings and “backlogs” clarified

June 7th, 2016
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Rating: 4.1/5 (38 votes cast)

The UK will not, whatever the circumstances, be called upon by the EU to supply emergency (“bail out”) funding to Eurozone countries. This is clear in the agreement reached between David Cameron and all the other EU leaders in February, which has the status of international law.*

Neither can the EU budget be increased without the UK’s consent beyond the ceilings Member States, including the UK, agreed unanimously for the 2014-2020 period. Any increase in those ceilings requires according to the EU Treaties a unanimous vote – in other words the UK has a veto which could only be altered by a change in the Treaties, something the UK could also veto.

Finally, reports of a £19.4 billion “black hole” in the EU budget are mistaken. There was a backlog in payments – partly the result of technical issues arising in the transition from one seven-year budget period (2007-13) to the next (2014-20) – but much of it was already eliminated in 2015 and it is expected to be down to EUR 2bn by the end of this year, at zero additional cost to Member States beyond their scheduled budget contributions.

This amounts to a return to normal, given that in practice the backlog represents the claims for payment that come in towards the end of one financial year but are paid in the next financial year. As all claims need to be properly checked and this takes time, it is inevitable that some claims will fall into this category.

Background

The EU budget is just under €150 bn per year for the period 2014-2020. This represents about 1 % of the annual wealth produced in the EU and 2% of total public expenditure across Europe, the other 98% of which is spent by national, regional and local governments.

Read the full entry

EU state aid rules do not slow down urban broadband

May 20th, 2016
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Rating: 3.9/5 (30 votes cast)

In an article “EU red tape leaves urban homes in internet slow lane” published on 18 May, the Daily Telegraph slams EU “red tape” for hampering UK Government efforts to rollout high-speed broadband in urban areas that don’t have it yet. The article implies that EU state aid rules prevent public subsidies for such rollout.

This is untrue.

In fact, the European Commission’s 2013 Broadband Guidelines for state aid explain how state aid rules apply to the rollout of fast broadband and how investment can be made more quickly.

In 2012 the Commission approved the previous National Broadband Scheme for the UK for rural areas . In May 2016 the Commission endorsed the new UK broadband scheme for 2016-2020 within a month of its notification by the UK authorities.

Read the full entry

EC has not decided to regulate toasters or kettles – and could not decide alone anyway

May 13th, 2016
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Rating: 3.9/5 (54 votes cast)

EU ecodesign policy is in the news again.

This time the headlines are all about toasters and kettles, rather than vacuum cleaners, on which we tidied up the facts on this site in 2014.

No new regulation without watertight science

No decision has been taken – or is scheduled – to put forward new rules for kettles or toasters.

The European Commission is determined to make sure ecodesign policy is implemented in the least intrusive way possible, while delivering maximum energy savings.

So it will not bring forward proposals that would stop even the most energy-guzzling kettles or toasters from being sold unless backed by watertight scientific analysis that there would be significant benefits and no alternative way of achieving similar or better results.

Read the full entry

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

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