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Seems it is the season to be jolly cavalier with the facts over EU stories, so we are posting this composite five-part myth-buster correcting misleading stories about films, cars, I-pods, insurance and pensions. There is perhaps merit in asking the question: how can there be a serious debate in the UK about EU issues amid this cacophony of misinformation?
First, the Sun claimed on Sunday 16 December that the EU was demanding £1.5 billion to subsidise “boring European films”. In fact, The King’s Speech, Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy and The Woman in Black are just some of the non-boring and very British films supported with EU funding and – partly as a direct result of that – enjoyed by many film-goers around the world, thus bringing in cash to the UK.
The funding is mostly agreed before the film is released – when it’s far from clear that a particular film would have big box office potential. On the basis of the theme, no one could have predicted the global success of the Kings Speech, for instance. A very English film about a stuttering English king and his speech therapist – not an obvious hit on paper.
The idea that European audiovisual work is “boring” also may not be shared by Sun readers who are fans of The Killing, Untouchable and many more.
Second, the Telegraph claimed that only sterling work by Roads Minister Stephen Hammond had prevented “Brussels” introducing rules that would have “forced owners of classic cars to take them off the road if they had been modified in any way” and “forced more than a million caravans and trailers to undergo an MOT.” But the Commission’s proposals on roadworthiness testing would not have forced any classic cars off the road, would not have made subject to testing any UK trailers or caravans not already subject to it….. and indeed would barely have affected the UK at all, as we already made clear here on this site in September.
Third, in a similar vein of trumpeting non-existent victories over a nefarious “Brussels” monster, a series of newspapers, led by the Evening Standard on 20 December, claimed the UK had “rebuffed plans to slap a £15 tax on i-Pods and other gadgets”. But there are no such plans to rebuff. And European officials were not “set to unveil plans for an EU-wide system of levies set by Brussels”. Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier has indeed asked respected former Portuguese Commissioner and Minister Antonio Vitorino to make a report on the best way of achieving coherence in various rules across Europe on private copying of music, film, etc. But Mr Vitorino has not yet reported. When he does, it will then be for the Commission to decide whether and how to make legislative proposals to act on what he suggests….and even if the Commission does make proposals, those rules would still only enter into force if a large majority of national Ministers – under the qualified majority voting system – and a majority of MEPs agreed. So no need to “go into battle against Europe” in the colourful but rather over-imaginative phrase used by the Standard. In fact what happens in Europe are discussions between partners, of which the UK is a very influential one, not least on single market issues like this.
Next, the new insurance rules based on the European Court of Justice verdict last year that gender discrimination in pricing was illegal. These rules enter into force today and many media reported this accurately. But many others did not, despite the Commission making a fact sheet available in advance of publication. The Daily Telegraph suggested wrongly that “Although young women tend to be safer drivers than men of the same age the new rules mean they will no longer be able to benefit from their care on the road.” The paper had the good grace to print our letter of correction – in full on this occasion: see earlier posts on this site for example of how they and other newspapers have edited our replies in order to soften them.
The letter reads: “The European Court verdict outlawing gender discrimination in insurance will not stop women drivers benefiting from “their care on the road” (report, December 20). The new rules are about fairer pricing. Male drivers will no longer pay more just because they are men. Instead, all safe drivers will pay less than drivers who are less safe, and the costs and benefits of a private pension will depend on individual circumstances and not just gender. The European Commission is insisting that price cuts be passed on to policy-holders as fairly as increases. Innovative and competitive insurance companies have every incentive to apply fairer pricing cost-effectively. Some are already doing so.”
Finally, and sticking with the insurance industry, several media including the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express followed up previous inaccurate stories on this issue by claiming that “new EU pension rules” would cost 180 000 jobs and cost British business £350 billion. This was based on a press release from the CBI and an initial report from the Press Association (later corrected), neither of which made clear one very important fact – not only are there no new rules but the European Commission has not even put on the table any proposals for new legislation.
What is more, the Commissioner responsible, Michel Barnier, has given repeated assurances – some of which have featured on this site, see here – that many of the fears being expressed are based on misunderstandings.
The reports quoted a range of sources fulminating against the “reckless” – but as yet non-existent – plans. Only the Telegraph, to its credit, came to the Commission for a comment – but it then put it right at the end of its article.
The truth of the situation is that the Commission asked the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) – an EU advisory and implementing body with no power to make or even propose EU law – to perform an initial study on the issue. When that was submitted in February 2012, the Commission requested that EIOPA follow up with a full quantitative impact study, which is now in progress, based on a wide consultation. The CBI report will be valuable input to the study and to the wider consultation process.
Only once that impact study is complete – and once the Commission is in a position to take full account of all of the evidence and of the views of all stakeholders – will the Commission come forward with a proposal. Even then, such a proposal would only become EU law if agreed by MEPs and Ministers.
The aim of reviewing the relevant EU laws is to make sure that pension schemes are sustainable and that members are not left high and dry with no pay out – as has happened in some cases in the past.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all
The EC in London team