This is a new occasional feature on our blog, given that weekends tend to be a peak time for – to say the least – contentious coverage of EU-related matters
Non-existent EC proposal alarms motorists
The Sun on Sunday on 6 July ran a prominent story headlined “No tanks: EU in 3p a litre hike”.
It is true that the UK Petroleum Industry Association (PIA) had some time ago expressed opposition to an earlier proposal to label oil products according to the environmental impact of extracting them.
The PIAs view that this would raise pump prices was contentious at the time.
More importantly, as both the Commission (EC) and the UK Department for Transport (DFT) made clear to the Sun on Sunday, the proposal the PIA was referring to has been withdrawn after Member States did not agree on it.
Both the EC and DoT also told the paper that the completely new proposal expected in due course would not put up pump prices.
So the Sun’s editorial asking “Is there anyone in Brussels with a basic idea of reality?” seems rather ironic given that the entire angle of its report was based on a proposal that no longer exists.
What is more its reference to “green crap” seems to suggest a rejection of all policies designed to protect the environment and tackle climate change, despite the fact that most scientists say that if we don’t cut greenhouse gases, there will be more pollution, more floods, huge clean up costs and parts of the world could become uninhabitable, creating millions of refugees.
Voluntary UK opt-in becomes “EU power grab” in the Telegraph
This weekend, the UK’s proposal to opt back-in to certain EU justice measures, following its decision earlier this year to opt out en masse, has been in the news.
Obviously this is a subject of interest to the media and it is unsurprising that it has made some front pages.
But it is bizarre to describe the UK debating whether to choose to opt-in to some EU arrangements as an “EU power grab” as the Daily Telegraph headline did on Saturday 5 July.
The Telegraph goes on to describe the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as “allowing foreign judges to extradite Britons for misdemeanours committed on holiday”, making it sound rather as if the EAW focuses mostly on non-payment of parking fines in Magaluf. In reality, it applies only to offences for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison
In fact – as the Telegraph does concede further down – the EAW has seen terrorists extradited back to the UK to face justice. It also allowed the return of the schoolteacher who, in 2012, abducted a 15 year-old girl to France and has helped put paid to the “Costa del Crime” phenomenon whereby the UK’s most notorious gangsters could retreat safely to southern Spain, among other places in Europe.
“Handing policing powers to Brussels” or cooperation to tackle crime?
The Times saw the UK opt-in proposals as “handing policing powers to Brussels”. Of course, this is all about a legal framework for cooperation to tackle criminals, to make sure justice works across borders and to guarantee the right of victims and defendants. This is not “transferring policing powers to Europe” or conversely “clawing back powers from Brussels” in the words of the Daily Mail.
In the Mail on Sunday, meanwhile, two star columnists took rather different views of the EAW. On p27 Peter Hitchens (1) calls it “an outrageous EU intrusion into our legal system” a rather odd view given that it has only ever applied because the UK and other Member States wanted it and will only apply in the UK now if the government opts in to it.
On P35, James Forsyth redresses the balance by saying “if Britain has not been allowed back into the Arrest Warrant by the end of this year, this country will struggle to extradite alleged criminals and terror suspects from other EU Member States. This could cause major security problems and is particularly alarming given the current warnings about terrorism in Europe.”
Finally, it is also interesting to note that some journalists who periodically cite the EAW as an infringement of civil liberties – though there are multiple safeguards, considerably reinforced over the last few years – regularly clamour for the removal of “foreign” criminals from the UK and for tackling misuse of free movement, which are things the EAW often helps achieve.
(1) Our original text referred mistakenly to the late Christopher Hitchens – we have corrected this and apologised
The Sunday Telegraph’s apparent conversion to the virtues of sugar quotas
Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph – not a noted supporter of Common Agricultural Policy quotas in the past – ran a story based on an NGO view that the EU agreement to lift sugar quotas in September 2017 was “perverse”, as it might make sugar cheaper, cut prices and increase consumption, leading to public health fears.
Unusual for such a free market supporting, “nanny state” opposing newspaper to take a critical view of a measure – or rather the removal of one – because it might make supermarket prices cheaper. Unusual too for a UK newspaper to imply support for the French position – which had been to maintain quotas longer – against the UK government’s view which had favoured lifting the quotas two years earlier in 2015.
Perhaps the opportunity to bash the EU for doing exactly what much of the UK press had long clamoured for – reforming the CAP, with full UK support, to scrap market distorting measures that can hand excessive profits to some producers while hurting other businesses – was just too good to miss.
Of course, quotas were not introduced in the first place for public health reasons but to maintain price levels for EU sugar beet producers. It is highly debatable whether their removal will increase consumption.
Various policy options for discouraging excessive sugar consumption are available: for example, taxes (applied in France to fizzy drinks), pressure on manufacturers to act voluntarily and/or public information campaigns.
Inalienable right to landfill?
Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph, asserts that we should continue to bury waste in holes in the ground, despite evidence that this can corrupt the water table and lead to noxious gases being released.
Mr Booker says: “But now our real government, in Brussels, has decided we must step up our recycling targets, to the point where, by 2030, we can ‘virtually eliminate landfill’”
But as ever, it is elected national Ministers and the European Parliament that will decide whether to adopt those targets and if they do, for each Member State individually to decide how it will meet them.
Mr Booker also says that “for the purpose of meeting our EU targets, waste is defined as being “recycled” at the point where it is collected. What happens next is that much is not recycled at all. It may be shipped abroad to places like China, while millions of tons are still just quietly buried.”
This is not true.
The existing Waste Framework Directive (Articles 10 and 11) is clear that the existing targets refer not to the separation of materials at collection but to “preparation for recovery, re-use or recycling”.
Article 34 of the Waste Shipment Directive forbids the export of waste for disposal to non-EU/EFTA countries such as China
The EC President is not all powerful
Last week (29 June) the Sunday Times Columnist Dominic Lawson stated that “the president of the commission has the sole right to promulgate EU-wide legislation.” This is, of course, inaccurate, so the newspaper agreed to print this week our short letter below:
Dominic Lawson referred last week to the European Commission President having the sole right to “promulgate EU-wide legislation”. In fact the European Commission only proposes EU laws – elected Ministers and MEPs decide – and the President cannot make a proposal alone, he or she needs the majority backing of Commissioners.
Weekend press watch, 5-6 July 2014,