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Archive for ‘Euromyths’

EU will not and could not impose congestion charges on drivers or bin collection fees on householders

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016
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Rating: 4.7/5 (13 votes cast)

Readers could be forgiven for thinking that 1st April – like the Spring daffodils – had arrived early this year with a splash by the Sunday Express – “EU declares war on drivers: UK motorists should pay congestion charge to drive in every town say Brussels climate change meddlers“. The so-called “exclusive” was the catalyst for other similarly misleading headlines and distortions of the facts in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Scotsman.

The European Union has no power to force local authorities to implement congestion charges or bin collection fees.

Both remain a matter for national and regional authorities. The European Union only has the powers delegated to it by Member States in the EU Treaties.

Behind the headlines
The claims motorists should pay for driving in towns and bin taxes stem from a “Handbook on the Europe 2020 strategy for cities and regions” published by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in 2012. The newspapers fail to mention that the document is several years old. They also fail to point out that the CoR is a purely advisory body with no legislative powers, made up of elected local and regional representatives. The Express describes it as “the European Commission’s Committee of the Regions”, which it is not. It is a separate institution.

The document does not suggest that all local authorities should introduce charging schemes. It merely cites some examples of policies that are consistent with environmental and economic goals, such as those set out in the Europe 2020 strategy. This is the EU’s broad strategy to help create jobs and boost growth after the financial crisis, in a smart and sustainable way. It was agreed by all EU Member States, including the UK.

It would seem that the Mayor of London agrees that congestion charging can in the right circumstances be a useful tool, as he operates perhaps the most famous congestion charging scheme in the world. But this is up to him. Not to the EU and still less to the CoR.

Neither the Commission nor the CoR nor any of the UK’s representatives on the CoR seems to have been approached for comment before the Express published this story, which amounts to deceiving readers, either through negligence or deliberately.

That other newspapers picked it up without checking it properly means that their readers too have been seriously misled at a time when people deserve accurate information about EU matters.

EU development aid saves lives – and strong safeguards protect against financial risk

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016
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Rating: 4.1/5 (9 votes cast)

Summary
EU development aid projects save lives in some of the world’s poorest and often war-torn countries. They inevitably involve some financial risk. But the vast majority of projects deliver good results. Recent press reports suggesting billions of pounds have been wasted and that “Brussels” is asking EU member states for extra cash to finance ongoing projects do not reflect the facts or the evidence.

How EU development aid works and what it does

EU development aid saves lives and makes a huge positive difference to many more. For example, it helps children get lifesaving healthcare in the poorest parts of the world. It gives tens of millions of people access to safe drinking water. Since 2004, more than 18 million children have been immunised against measles, 13.7 million new pupils joined primary education, and 7.5 million births were attended by skilled health personnel.

The coordination of aid at EU level, whether directly through the EU budget or by mechanisms for coordinating national spending, creates economies of scale, avoids duplication and ensures more support gets to people who desperately need it.

In addition, it helps reduce the incentive for economic migration.

Media claims

Yet some UK media has a tendency to dismiss this as wasted money, or money that could be better spent at home, or by member states acting alone.

Most recently, on 17 January the Sunday Times reported that “£11.5bn EU aid has been lost due to incompetence and graft”.

It went on to say that this is due to “Eurocrats’ poor management, corruption in recipient countries and the misappropriation of funds” and to claim that “half of the money the EU spends on development aid is for projects that are either significantly delayed or fail to achieve their objectives.”

On 20 January, the Times took up the baton, claiming: “Billions missing after EU embassies run up aid bills” and alleging that the EU is asking Britain for additional £1.8bn.

The facts

The EU takes any wrongdoing seriously. Auditors’ findings and recommendations to further strengthen the EU finances are addressed immediately.

On this occasion, the newspapers’ claims are based on a report compiled by an individual MEP – not an analysis representing the views of the European Parliament as a whole.

Her report is in turn based on her reading of reports by EU Delegations – EU offices in non-EU countries, which help oversee aid delivery.

Those reports are intended to identify potential problems at an early stage, so that things can be put right in time.

So what the Sunday Times is actually highlighting is not waste but stringent measures to avoid it!

There is no question of £11.5bn being lost or of every second Euro spent on development aid not achieving what it should.

The claim that the EU is asking British taxpayers for £1.8bn to pay bills for EU aid projects is also wrong.

The reports represent an accounting “snapshot” for each Delegation at the end of a given year.

Figures can differ significantly from one year to another – as a result of an emergency, for example, or a low level of payment in a specific year.

It takes time to implement development projects, four years on average. So if an EU delegation commits in 2016 to spend say €1m on a project, that commitment might show up all in one go but the relevant payments may be spread over several years – and several annual EU budgets.

Member States are not being asked to pay more than either the ceilings they set themselves in fixing the EU’s seven-year budget framework – known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – or the amounts they have agreed for development policy in the EU’s annual budgets.

The context – EU aid spending inevitably involves some risks

It is worth pointing out that most EU development assistance goes to the very poorest countries in the world, many of which have been affected by war and natural disasters –like Mali, Somalia or Haiti, to name but a few.

The objectives set in the projects and programmes supported by the EU are always deliberately ambitious.

But as the Commission, other international organisations such as the specialised and specifically mandated UN agencies, national governments and NGOs are all aware, running projects in the poorest developing countries does bear risks. War, natural disaster, limited administrative capacity of the local partners, remoteness and/or limited infrastructure can all affect results.

That is why the Commission builds in safeguards and applies them even if delay might result, as that is better than real waste. But the unavoidable risk attached to development projects in this environment is not a reason to do nothing and to allow people to suffer – and sometimes die – unnecessarily.

More background – specific points in the articles

The reports in question by EU Delegations refer to projects in progress. They do not measure the final results of projects.

Should there be any concerns on payments, the Commission can review the books, or ask auditors to do so, and withhold payments.

This early alert system in the Delegations’ reports can also trigger additional checks by independent external consultants who monitor whether a particular project is on track.

The Sunday Times also refers to two specific projects which it calls “controversial” and “failed” – one for solar power installations in the Comoro islands and a second one to combat corruption in Nigeria. Contrary to what the newspaper claims, both projects are up and running.

The signature of a grant agreement in the Comoro Islands was withheld until the Commission was satisfied with the reliability of the local partner and until the Comoro government raised the required co-funding. Furthermore, the technical specifications for the project were reviewed to take into account the latest advances in solar power technology and the development of the Comoros national electricity grid. The project started in 2014 and tenders for equipment and works are forecast for the first half of 2016. The end result will be more reliable and generate more renewable energy.

As for the project to combat corruption in Nigeria, the money was never intended to be managed by the government, but by an international organisation – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One of its main objectives is to empower civil society organisations to better hold the government into account. The project has been up and running since 2012. It underwent a major evaluation and audit in 2015 and there are no reports of financial mismanagement.

The term “reste à liquider” (RAL) mentioned by The Times (translated as “outstanding commitments”) is a phrase used in managing the EU budget to indicate the difference at a given point of time between funds committed to projects and the actual payments made. It applies to all EU programmes, not to EU development aid projects only, and stems from the multi-annual nature of the EU budget.

For all EU programmes – but even more so for development aid – the picture from one year to another may differ significantly, due to an emergency or natural disaster for example. At the end of 2014 the average implementation period for EU development aid projects was four years – which is within the rules. The situation in the Delegations in Vanuatu, Uzbekistan and Yemen (to which the Times article specifically refers) has significantly improved in 2015.

The Commissioner responsible, Neven Mimica, has responded directly on his blog here to the MEP’s report concerned.

***

This post was published on 20 Jan 2016 and updated on 22 and 25 Jan to reflect further media coverage and to clarify further some points.

Museum gun collections do not face “near destruction” under revised EU gun control laws

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
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Rating: 3.2/5 (6 votes cast)

Claims that some of the UK’s most famous museums would have to destroy their historic gun collections as part of EU plans to tighten gun controls – “EU takes aim at museum gun collections” (Daily Telegraph, 18 December) – are way off target.

As part of efforts to prevent gun massacres by terrorists such as the tragic events in Paris and those by disturbed loners seen all too often in the US , the European Commission published proposals to further toughen up EU rules on the acquisition and possession of weapons (Firearms Directive).

Museums such as The Royal Armouries Museum and the National Army Museum were concerned that the new rules on permanently deactivating weapons might require  them to damage the antique workings of thousands of historic guns in case they fell into the wrong hands.

But the museums’ fears were misplaced. Museums run by public authorities continue to be exempt from these gun control laws. We could have told the Telegraph this if it had asked us.

Instead it reported incorrectly that: “Thousands of guns in British museums could be ‘mutilated’ under new law from Brussels”.

However, to be fair to the newspaper, it did agree promptly to correct its story.

Background

The revisions proposed under the Firearms Directive include a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms being held by private persons, even if they have been permanently deactivated, tighter rules on the online acquisition of firearms, key parts or ammunition via the internet, improving traceability of weapons as well as better sharing of information on those refused authorisations to own firearms and the obligation to interconnect national weapons registers.

But the proposed amendments (published  here together with supporting explanatory information on the 18 November) do not, as reported, include the deletion of Article 2.2, with wording similar to the 2008 rules, which exempts public authorities from the scope of the directive.

To clarify the proposed text reads:

Museum gun collections do not face “near destruction” under revised EU gun control laws

(2) In Article 2, paragraph 2 is replaced by the following:

‘2. This Directive shall not apply to the acquisition or possession of weapons and ammunition, in accordance with national law, by the armed forces, the police, public authorities. Nor shall it apply to commercial transfers of weapons and ammunition of war. Nor shall it apply to commercial transfers of weapons and ammunition of war.

As usual, the proposed amendments put forward by the Commission need to be approved by MEPs and EU government ministers.

 

Daily Express’s “11 barmy EU rules” either do not exist or are rather sensible

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015
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Rating: 4.8/5 (16 votes cast)

A pop-up on the Express web site, appearing for some time now via various pages featuring EU “news” and prominent in online searches, is headlined “Brussels’ craziest decisions.”

It cites “the top eleven unusual rules proposed by Brussels that seem too barmy to be true”.

That is because about half of these stories are simply not true. And the others are seriously misleading.

Here’s the Express list:

An EU copyright proposal will make it illegal to post photos of the London Eye and the Angel of the North under infringement law

Not true. In fact, one committee in the European Parliament wanted to end national exemptions from copyright law currently granted for photos of architectural and public art works. They were advocating only that commercial use of such images should be subject to copyright. The full parliament rejected even that idea, the European Commission never proposed it and Member States did not discuss it. Details here.


In an unforgettable ruling, the Brussels bosses were found to have a strange fear of bananas with ‘abnormal curvature’ after they were banned them (sic) until 2009

Not whole truth. There are rules on fruit quality in every developed jurisdiction. If there were not one set of rules for the whole EU, each Member State would have its own, creating havoc for transport and trade. So national agriculture ministers and the industry in the 1990s asked the European Commission to draft common legislation on this. Some rules still exist. But they have been reformed to cut red tape to a minimum.


Water bottles are BANNED from claiming to solve dehydration under an oddball EU rule

True but justified. That is because drinking water, whether from a tap or a bottle, is not enough to treat dehydration. That is why hospitals put dehydrated people on drips. There is an EU system – necessary in a borderless single market – where advertisers have to provide evidence for claims they want to make about the health benefits of products. On an issue like this, decisions are based on scientific advice. Experts – including in the Guardian here – demolished the idea that this ruling was in some way ridiculous.


Don’t let the EU catch you with flimsy washing up gloves. The EU imposed stringent testing on the household product to withstand all types of pressure and temperatures.

Misleading and incomplete.

Consumers don’t want shoddy goods that do not work, like washing up gloves that fall apart or which are not properly waterproof. And EU producers and importers of good quality products should not have to face unfair competition from sub-standard imports.

Professional washing-up gloves, garden gloves, etc. are already covered by specific legislation which ensures protective equipment is safe and works properly, by requiring manufacturers to certify performance based on standard criteria.

The tests involved – which the manufacturers do themselves – are simply about making sure the products concerned do what it says on the labels. It is then up to national authorities to check up on that and get sub-standard products taken off the shelves.

The EU is currently updating this protective equipment legislation. One small issue is whether it should also cover washing up gloves used at home, or whether existing general consumer rights are sufficient.

EU laws are made by democratically elected Ministers and MEPs, so the final decision will be part of an overall agreement between Member States and the European Parliament.

All developed jurisdictions have rules on product safety and quality. In a single market like the EU, there needs to be one set of rules rather than 28 different ones in 28 countries. That makes life easier for businesses and saves consumers money.


Brussels bureaucrats are fed up with Europeans confusing turnips and swedes and made sure supermarkets label them both correctly

True only in so far as supermarkets have to put the correct labels on food. Turnips and swedes are different things. But perhaps the Express is thinking here of another story in 2010 claiming that Brussels had interfered in Cornish pasty recipes – in fact the European Commission had merely accepted an application from Cornish pasty producers for an EU quality label.


Is it a jam? Or a fruit spread? Or maybe a conserve? Thanks to the EU a jam cannot be called jam unless it has at least 60 per cent sugar

Not true. National authorities can allow products with less than 60% sugar to be called jam. But there are different national traditions and some national authorities do not want to. Indeed, when the UK – not “Brussels” – issued proposals to allow such flexibility in Britain, the tabloid press, including the Express, objected violently…and blamed the EU for undermining great British jam, which they argued must have at least 60 per cent sugar or it would be “gloop”. Details here.


Vacuum cleaners with powerful motors had to be binned after an EU law to cut energy use

Misleading. The new rules banned energy guzzling vacuum cleaners that waste energy and lead to unnecessarily high electricity bills, not ones with powerful suction. Nothing had to be “binned”. Vacuum cleaners already in the home can continue to be used and those already in shops can still be sold. Full information here.


In 2010 the EU were close to banning up to a million drivers from the road after ‘EU experts’ claimed diabetics were ‘unfit’ to drive

Not true. No-one is banned simply because they are diabetic and no-one ever proposed that they should be. No-one ever claimed that “diabetics were unfit to drive”. There was never any chance of “a million drivers being banned from the road.”

But diabetes or treatment for it can cause or contribute to medical conditions which – depending on the degree – can make driving dangerous. As anyone licenced to drive in one Member State can drive in the rest, there is an obvious need for a consistent EU approach. Three eminent British practitioners were among eleven ‘EU experts’- as the Express calls them, inverted commas included – who advised the European Commission in 2006 on revisions to existing rules. Their report is here. Limited changes were in the end made by a 2009 EU law which the UK implemented in 2011. The Department for Transport estimated that “between 705 and 1 410 drivers might be adversely affected by the changes; while 2 000 or so might wish to take advantage of the relaxed standards for lorry and bus drivers.” The House of Commons Library issued a comprehensive report on the EU and UK rules.


The EU forbid shopkeepers from selling eggs by the dozen – now they have to be sold by weight

Not true. A quick look in any supermarket will show that eggs continue to be sold by the dozen – and by the half-dozen and very often also singly. The Commission and European Parliament denied this daft story already in 2010.


Under 2009 directives, it’s okay to eat a horse – just make sure you don’t own it as a pet. After two million pet horses ended up on the dinner table each year, the EU banned people from eating their pets

Not true. You could eat your own pet horse if you wanted to, though that is not known to be common practice. But it is true that eating horsemeat is popular in some countries, so it is important that people raising and slaughtering horses for meat cannot avoid food safety and traceability rules by passing them off as pets. To give one example, domestic horses are sometimes treated with the drug phenylbutazone but animals treated with it are not considered safe for human consumption. All horses have for many years needed to have a “passport” and since 2009 this specifies among other things whether or not they are destined to enter the commercial food chain. The UK government supports these rules and explains them here.


In another seemingly top EU priority, the meddling European lawmakers made it illegal for prunes to be sold as a superfood that fights bowel problems

Not true. After inconclusive supporting evidence was submitted with a first application – in fact, not every scientific study agrees on the digestive effect of prunes – producers put forward an amended application and the European Food Safety Authority in 2012 recommended that advertisers should be able to claim that “dried plums/prunes can contribute to normal bowel function.” This is another example – like the water issue above – of the EU’s science-based system to authorise wordings when health is at stake, to avoid consumers being misled by advertisers inventing or overstating the benefits of their product. This was not “a top EU priority” and nobody was “meddling”: the producers themselves applied for authorisation.

While we are at it, another widespread “barmy EU” story that we can refute is the idea that the EU has “banned hairdressers from wearing high heels”. In fact, the hairdressing industry – employers and trade unions – asked the European Commission to propose comprehensive health and safety legislation specific to the industry. The Commission declined on the grounds this did not need to be regulated at EU level.

But does the EU always get it right? Of course not, no-one does. For example, the proposal to ban bowls of olive oil on restaurant tables, after some Member States and stakeholders lobbied for it, was a mistake. But the Commission recognised this and withdrew it before it became EU law.

More generally, all EU legislation contains review clauses requiring the Commission to assess how things have worked out in practice and propose changes if necessary.

What is more, the Juncker Commission has honoured its promise to reinforce safeguards to ensure EU rules do not impose unnecessary red tape.

Finally worth mentioning – again – that EU laws are not “Brussels diktats” decreed by “bureaucrats”. They are made by elected ministers and MEPs, who amend and then either adopt or reject proposals drafted by the Commission, often after Member States have requested it to act.

Sometimes those laws set out principles and allow the Commission itself to adopt detailed secondary regulation based on those principles. Votes by Member States or the European Parliament can overturn such Commission decisions. Similarly, much UK secondary legislation does not automatically require a vote in Parliament but can be struck down if Parliament objects.

EU officials cannot charge hotels and meals to corporate credit cards

Thursday, August 20th, 2015
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Rating: 2.9/5 (7 votes cast)

The Daily Telegraph said on 17 August that EU officials “spent more than £85 million in a year on specially issued credit cards to pay for meals and hotels…not including train and air travel costs”.

Some clarifications are called for.

First, EU staff cannot charge a penny or a euro cent to a corporate credit card linked to a corporate bank account.

The European Institutions, unlike many organisations, do not allow this.

All work-related travel must be signed off by a senior manager. Staff must meet the costs (except transport tickets, which are purchased directly by the institutions) from their own bank accounts and claim the money back by submitting full supporting documents, which are carefully scrutinised.

So where do the credit cards come in?

The nature of the job – in institutions working with 28 Member States and many more non-EU countries – makes frequent travel necessary for many staff.

The time needed to scrutinise and authorise staff expenses claims, especially for longer trips, can sometimes exceed the interest-free period on many credit cards. Clearly it would not be fair for either staff personally or the European taxpayer to have to pick up the tab for such interest charges.

So the EU institutions have a contract with a credit card provider offering a longer interest free period than many credit cards – currently 60 days – and this provider offers credit cards to officials.

Individual staff members can use the cards for both professional and private expenses but remain responsible for settling the entire bill, which is linked to their private bank accounts and not to any corporate account.

They are reimbursed retrospectively and ¬only for legitimate professional expenses for which they can provide documentary justification.

The Telegraph’s £85 million figure is taken from a tender document where €103m (about £73m at current rates) is given as the estimated annual total spend on a future such credit card contract, including both private and professional spending.

The EU could not publish itemised bills – as some quoted in the media demand – under this arrangement as that would infringe the privacy of employees by showing where they are spending their own money. Redacting that personal information would be a Herculean and expensive task.

But we are quite happy to clarify that in 2014 the entire spend on reimbursing travel expenses by the European Commission, its agencies and some linked services, including all air and train tickets, car mileage, hotels and daily expenses was € 92.7m, or about £65m at current exchange rates.

This in fact amounts to less than £2 000 in total per official who was required to travel at least once during that year (NOT per business trip, for which the figure would be far lower). Not £6 600 on just hotels and meals as the Daily Express claimed (see below).

Some of this money was spent on the above mentioned credit cards. But much was not, as many staff do not have the cards and as travel tickets are billed directly to the institution by the relevant travel agents and operators.

It is still a significant sum, but far less than the media reports suggest. It reflects the fact that Commissioners and many staff need to be frequent travellers to do their jobs properly – if people in the relevant jobs never visited the Member States, they would be criticised for being out of touch with stakeholders and the public.

For example, in promoting the Commission’s Investment Plan to lever €300 bn into key sectors for jobs and growth, Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen and his Roadshow team have already this year visited 25 Member States, to a very positive reaction not least in the UK.

Staff are usually required to purchase economy air tickets and encouraged to use budget airlines.

Daily spending on hotels is tightly controlled, for example usually capped at €175 (currently about £120) in London.

Finally, the Daily Express followed up this story on 18 August, making the outright false claim that EU staff were spending £6 600 per head on “hotels, dining and other extravagances” – in passing apparently classifying sleep and food as “extravagances”. The Telegraph was on the contrary careful to say in the body of its article that its £6 600 estimated average spend on the credit cards included the private spending referred to above and not charged to the taxpayer.

The print edition of the Express also claimed that “the maximum [daily] allowance (for meals and other expenses) would come to £20 000 a year on top of basic salary,” as if officials could reclaim this money even when not travelling and as if it were somehow normal to regard expenditure on justified and documented work travel as part of someone’s salary package.

Press reports on First EURES Job mobility scheme conflate support for young unemployed Europeans with the Calais situation and do not reflect reality

Friday, August 7th, 2015
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Rating: 3.4/5 (5 votes cast)

The Daily Telegraph (EU pays jobless migrants to come to Britain, 3 August) and the Daily Express (Now the European Union pays jobless migrants THOUSANDS to claim jobs in Britain, 4 August) report that one third of the young migrants participating in the EU pilot scheme Your First EURES Job were placed in the UK.

Your First EURES Job mobility scheme supports young people aged between 18 and 35 to find a suitable job, traineeship or apprenticeship within the EU. Financial support is only provided if the job-seeker is short-listed for a vacancy and has been invited for an interview. If the candidate is recruited, only limited further support is provided to cover part of the travel and subsistence cost. It is about helping young unemployed people who want to work hard to do so, not encouraging “jobless migrants” to come to Britain or any other country.

At the same time it helps employers across the EU to find the right people for vacancies that have proven difficult to fill and for which they have not found suitable candidates at national level. It is testing a novel approach to matching young people seeking a job with employers who need them. It also provides limited financial support to employers, including British businesses, to cover integration measures and training measures programmes for the newly hired.

Your First EURES Job is an EU pilot scheme to help young unemployed Europeans find their first job, UK nationals included. It does not cover non-EU citizens and is not applicable to migrants or asylum seekers from third-countries. The largest groups having found jobs via the scheme come from Spain, Sweden and Poland

In the print edition of the Telegraph, the article links the EURES scheme with the Calais situation by saying: “As the Calais crisis deepens, it has emerged that the UK has taken a third of the young migrants involved in the “My First EURES Job” programme.” Online the implied link between young European unemployed people and migrants in Calais is further illustrated by photos of burning tyres and videos of migrants “storming the Channel tunnel.”

The situation in Calais – a complex issue – has no link whatsoever with the Your First EURES Job scheme. The current situation of migrants in Calais concerns non-EU residents from third countries, some of whom are asylum seekers fleeing war and conflict, others economic migrants in search for a better life. Overall, 625 000 people applied for asylum in the EU in 2014: the vast majority have applied elsewhere and are not seeking to reach the UK.

Latest statistics on asylum seekers

As EU members, the UK and France are working together to prevent irregular entry to the UK.

Statement from Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos

Now let’s put the EURES figures quoted in the article into context.

In its first phase, between 2012 and 2015, Your First EURES Job has helped roughly 1 200 young Europeans find a placement in the UK. This is a total figure for jobs, apprenticeships and traineeships. That is about 340 people per annum, a tiny number compared to the size of the UK labour market. There is no evidence that they are taking jobs from British young people. They are filling vacancies for which employers have not been able to find suitable applicants in the UK. And while one person getting a job means someone else does not get that specific vacancy, it does not deprive them of employment opportunities in general. Every employed person produces extra wealth and spends their own income, increasing the size of the economy and often having a net job creation effect. The majority of candidates had higher or secondary education qualifications.

It is true that fewer Brits have so far found placements via the scheme. But there is no reason why, with more publicity among young unemployed British people, that number cannot increase in the future. On the EURES portal alone (which is different from the Your First EURES Job pilot scheme) there are currently some 1.6 million unfilled jobs across the EU – one sixth of them in the UK and about half a million in Germany for example – and there are 5.6 million [1] unemployed Europeans aged between 15-24 (roughly double the rate of the population in general), including 730 000 in the UK [2].

Helping young people to overcome the challenges of seeking a job across borders can be a boost both to them individually and to the economies of the receiving countries.

EU funding is also helping British young people find jobs in the UK. The European Social Fund (ESF) funds successful projects all over the UK and has in England alone helped over 680,000 Brits to find employment since 2007. In addition, the Commission will invest a total of £145 million from the Youth Employment Initiative in the UK to help young people who are not in education, employment or training.

Finally, the article correctly states that under the scheme young Europeans who are shortlisted for a Your First EURES Job placement are eligible for financial support. But this support is not automatic – it has to correspond to eligibility rules and be approved. Secondly, it covers only part of the cost incurred by young people or employers for an initial interview or for relocation before the first salary.

[1] figures by Eurostat
[2] ONS data, Mar-May 2015

The European Development Fund offers aid to the poorest countries in forms that are most likely to deliver results for the local people

Friday, July 24th, 2015
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Rating: 3.5/5 (6 votes cast)

In a drive to have a go at the EU, on 20 July some UK newspapers (Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail) chose to ridicule circus artists and coconut production. The articles call funding for deprived communities in some of the poorest parts in the world “frivolous expenditure” and illustrate their point with photos of appealing beaches and young female acrobats in glittering outfits.

The European Development Fund (EDF), under which the quoted projects are funded, offers development assistance to the people and countries that need it most, in many cases affected by conflict and natural disaster like Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic or Haiti. More recently development aid of some GBP 85 million (Euro 121.6 million) was mobilised after the earthquake in Nepal. The EDF projects come in many forms depending on the community or country in question, what matters is that they bring results for local people.

Elaborate metaphors and frivolous choice of visuals aside, mastering – to quote the articles – “the art of the trapeze” can open job opportunities for a person in Tanzania (by the way, the same project also provides courses in carpentry and sewing). Exotic sounding Caribbean destinations are often poor countries where coconuts don’t grow on supermarket shelves, but their production provides livelihoods. As does wildlife tourism in Swaziland, a country considered a model in wildlife conservation and which loses only one rhino per year to poaching, compared to three per day in South Africa. And Aruba – despite its high living standards – is one of many island nations heavily dependent on tourism who whilst not contributing too much to climate change are at great risk from rising sea levels or extreme weather. The keynote speech at the first of its now annual “Green Aruba conferences” was delivered by the former US vice-president, Al Gore.

The articles fail to share with their readers salient facts about the fund achievements, for example: since 2004 more than 13 million children have been enrolled in primary education, 18 million children under one have been immunised against measles, 70 million people have been connected to better drinking water while 24 million have been connected to sanitation facilities. To quote but a few in a long list of examples.

Two final points: one on accountability and another one on transparency.

EU development assistance involves projects in a variety of countries, cultures and customs. For this reason, the Commission applies an additional procedure whereby auditors check the books before EU money is paid out (the traditional auditing practice is to do this after money has been disbursed and request funds back if wrongly spent).

In 2008, the EU launched the EU Financial Transparency Guarantee (FTS) – which means that the European Commission publicly discloses all information on aid programmes managed by its departments. Confidentiality applies where the security of the grantees may be at risk. For example, information is not published for grants given to human rights defenders, if in their country of origin, they or their family may suffer retaliation. In other cases, such information is not published not because of confidentiality, but for simplification for contracts under the amount of 15 000 EUR.

Daily Telegraph makes a meal of EU “embassies” buying crockery

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
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Rating: 3.0/5 (33 votes cast)

The Daily Telegraph published an article – later picked up by other media – on 18 July suggesting that the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) was “ordering a £2m dinner service fit for an emperor”. In fact it is launching a tender to supply all the crockery, cutlery and glasses, etc that all of its 140 “delegations” – equivalent to embassies – across the world will need for the next 4 years and doing so in the most economical way, with a flexible contract.

€3m is the absolute maximum that can be spent over four years, but only items actually needed and supplied will be paid for and the real amount spent is likely to be much less. The prices will be the normal rates for the kind of good quality but not extravagant materials that all diplomatic services would expect to use – for example around €10.50 (£7.50) for a plate, including all packing and transport charges

The online piece at least acknowledged in passing – though in a way that might bypass readers’ attention – that €3m was the maximum by referring to “buying a glittering dinner service that could cost as much as £2million”.

The article also contained a comparison between the “modest” cost of President Obama’s official dinner service and (EU foreign policy chief) “Federica Mogherini’s”. But alert readers will have spotted that comparing the cost of a single White House dinner service to that of potentially hundreds of dinner services to be used in EU embassies across the world is not a comparison at all.

The bottom line is that all diplomatic operations have to host events and that means buying crockery and replacing it when it breaks or is worn. The best and cheapest way to do that is to set up a central bulk contract allowing as much or as little as necessary to be bought over a given time period. Launching a separate tender each time would be much more costly.

The EEAS budget is lower than those of many national diplomatic services.

As for purchasing property, another issue raised in the article, the EEAS does this only where it saves money compared to renting.

No, the EU does not give you hay fever

Friday, May 29th, 2015
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Rapeseed, the home grown alternative to olive oil imports first introduced by the Romans, is again in the headlines as its bright yellow blooms transform parts of Britain.

Opinion concerning the impact the flowering crops have on hay fever sufferers is as seasonal as the crops themselves: “Runny eyes and wheezy chest? Blame Britain’s crops of rapeseed“, Daily Mail 2007 and more recently “Yellow crop has been blamed for Shropshire hay fever rise“.

Now the EU stands accused by Dr Madsen Pirie in the Times of being responsible for this perceived allergy misery: “What’s lurid, yellow and makes you sneeze?  Ask the EU“, (21 May 2015).

But the amount of rapeseed currently growing in the UK is not the result of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The CAP subsidy system has been reformed considerably over the last quarter of a century. It is now extremely market-oriented and decoupled from production, a direction strongly supported by the UK government.

That means farmers decide what to produce on the basis of what the market pays, rather than because of a specific subsidy for particular crops. This change was made back in the 1990s.

Dr Pirie is on the other hand quite right to say that the EU is no longer directly or indirectly encouraging the growing of rapeseed for bio-fuels and is instead promoting non-food sources for bio-fuels.

Indeed, the European Commission has said that there should be no support at all for food crop based biofuels after 2020.

Meanwhile, in April this year, the EU decided to limit at 7% the contribution food crop based biofuels (including biodiesel from rapeseed oil) can make towards achieving the 10% target for renewable energy in transport in 2020.

So if the amount of rapeseed being planted continues to increase it is not because of EU intervention in the market. On the contrary, it is all about the market mechanism of supply increasing to meet rising demand.

There is now an abundance of British produced rapeseed oil products each with their own regional flavour (Somerset, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Yorkshire, Northumbria, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Sussex, Hampshire and Aberdeenshire).

Finally, our job is to set the facts straight about EU involvement and not to take sides in medical debates.

But interesting to note that many experts, like Professor Pamela Ewan, consultant allergist at Addenbrookes Hospital here, say that common (or garden) grass – which really is everywhere – is anyway more likely than rapeseed to give you hay fever.

 

 

 

 

Express brews up dodgy coffee report

Friday, May 29th, 2015
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The Daily Express claims that “Brussels is trying to restrict the drinking habits of Britain’s coffee lovers”.

This is utter rubbish. It is inconceivable that the EU ever could – or would want to – restrict people from drinking as much coffee as they like.

What has happened is that some producers of energy drinks and other products containing caffeine sought EU authorisation for some claims they wanted to make in advertisements about caffeine’s alleged beneficial effects.

The EU is a single market where products can be marketed EU wide under one set of rules, which keeps business costs and prices down.

That means that, to protect consumers, there is a need to assess at European level the veracity of claims about the health-giving properties of food and drink. This is done based on advice from experts from the European Commission and all Member States.

As part of the ongoing assessment of whether the claims about caffeine should be permitted, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked to analyse the safety of different levels of caffeine intake.

It concluded that regular caffeine consumption up to 400mg per day – perhaps four strong cups of coffee – do not raise safety concerns for non-pregnant adults.

This is advice, not a proposal to regulate how much coffee people drink.

The BBC, the Times, the Daily Mail and others all reported this accurately.

And no doubt most Express readers will have worked out for themselves that there will never be an EU “limit on our daily visits to the coffee shop”.

But just in case anyone really does think clipboard-toting Brussels busybodies will be following them around snatching cappuccinos out of their hands, we thought it best to set the record straight.

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