UK and the EU - better off out?

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TomPhil
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Re: UK and the EU - better off out?

Postby TomPhil » Sun Nov 02, 2008 12:53 am

Josef Litobarski wrote:I disagree. The EU is unlikely to become authoritarian because there are so many checks and balances in place. No single institution could seize control and implement authoritarian measures without the others holding it in check. To me, the argument that the EU will become bureaucratic, overly-complicated and redundant is much stronger than the idea it may become some sort of authoritarian super-state.


You make an interesting point regarding checks and balances. However, I don't agree. Look at the European Court of Justice. What is the check and balance on it? If the Court operated within the normal bounds that we expect in a country like the UK, then yes, you could say that this institution was an effective check on the others, and that, as it was bound by the law made by the Commission and Parliament, they were a check on it. However, this is not how the European Court of Justice acts. Instead of interpreting the law in the traditional British method of basing its decisions on what the law actually says, it instead applies a teleological approach - this means that it interprets the law in line with what it thinks the purpose of it is, even if this means reading the law in a way totally adverse to the actually wording of it. It is totally at the Court's discretion what it believes the "purpose" to be, but it places heavy reliance on the "ever closer union" provision within the Treaties.

When I studied European Union Law as part of my degree, I was shocked to discover the extent to which it totally disregards the actual written law in deciding what it thinks the law should be, and at the openness with which the lecturers and the textbooks admit this. Indeed, the Court is often described as the most powerful force in pushing forward integration and the expansion of the European Union's powers.

You should very much bear this in mind when you look at a new Directive or Treaty. For example, with the Lisbon Treaty, the UK Government cited it as a document that protected Britain's sovereignty and transferred very few powers to the EU, and, indeed, read in one light, that's exactly what it said. On the other hand, ministers in most other European governments, and EU officials, described it as a treaty transferring significant powers to Brussels and, again, read in a certain light, that's exactly what it does. The point is that these documents are deliberately written so that they can be portrayed in either light - in the former light in countries where the people do not support further EU integration, and in the latter in countries where they do. Once the Treaty is ratified and enters into force, its up to the ECJ to decide on the interpretion, and almost invariably they will decide on an interpretation far more federalist than all but the most ardent federalist had suggested.

Honestly, it's difficult to put across to you how far the ECJ will go in interpreting Directives and Treaty provisions to go far, far, far further than anyone originally contemplated. If you look at some treaty provisions, the interpretation placed on them by the ECJ bears no relation to what they actually said. I remember my particular "favourite" at University was the word "workers". Our lecturer who was I think from Greece used to pronounce it "vorkers". I still draw a distinction in my mind between the two very, very different words "worker" and "vorker", as they bear absolutely no relationship to each other.
Josef Litobarski
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Re: UK and the EU - better off out?

Postby Josef Litobarski » Tue Nov 04, 2008 2:25 pm

Hi TomPhil

Again, sorry for the slow reply.

Not sure if you'll get this in time, but tomorrow morning (05/11/08) I'll be attending a guest lecture about the EU parliament. If I get the opportunity, I'll raise some of the issues you've mentioned about the "democratic deficit" in the parliament.

TomPhil wrote:Instead of interpreting the law in the traditional British method of basing its decisions on what the law actually says, it instead applies a teleological approach - this means that it interprets the law in line with what it thinks the purpose of it is, even if this means reading the law in a way totally adverse to the actually wording of it.

But Britain uses a common law system (i.e. more powers of interpretation to judges, based on precedent), so surely you mean the traditional French method (i.e. civil law - more importance placed on the written letter of the law). ;-)

This isn't really an argument in favour of how the EU does things, but the ECJ is by no means unique by interpreting the law as it sees it. This is how international law seems to work. Article 31 paragraph 1 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states: "a treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose."

International courts often interpret the law so that it fits the declared "object and purpose" of a treaty. The European Court of Human Rights does this (e.g. Belilos v. Switzerland), the International Court of Justice does this (e.g. the concept of "directly affected states" was just made up by the ICJ in the North Sea Shelf case), in fact: I imagine most international courts (if they have a measure of independence) do this.

So as to whether it's legal or not: there's an argument that it is. As to whether it's a good thing or not - that's open to debate. It's difficult to maintain an independent judiciary and at the same time possess enough oversight over that judiciary to force it not to make decisions you disagree with.

I also want to mention one more thing which I read recently. It's about the point you raised earlier about EU over-regulation and the distinction between regulation to harmonise laws and regulation which just causes pointless red-tape:

When mobile phone technology was just emerging there were several different possible technologies which could have been used to provide network coverage (I'm not sure of the exact technical details, but it's something along those lines). In the United States, there was no government regulation and each network provider adopted a different technology, with the result that a mobile phone bought in one state wouldn't work in the next state. In Europe, EU regulation created a standardised mobile network language (I think it's called GMS) - so a phone bought in Germany would work in Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, etc. This created a massive mobile phone market for European companies, with the result that Vodafone (a British company) was the largest network provider in the world in 2005 (The United States of Europe, T. Reid). The US backtracked and opted for more regulation in the end, following the success of the European example.
rboni
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Re: UK and the EU - better off out?

Postby rboni » Thu Feb 05, 2009 2:07 am

Before the UK joined the EU it imported most of its agricultural produce from its former colonies like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This stopped once the UK joined the EU in 1973. As a consequence it started to pay 23 per cent more for its agricultural imports, and 23 per cent less for its manufactured imports. There was no economic gain or loss to the UK for switching trading partners. It all depends on whether you value agricultural or manufactured goods more highly, which is an interesting question.
Last edited by rboni on Sat Oct 10, 2009 8:55 am, edited 3 times in total.
Josef Litobarski
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Re: UK and the EU - better off out?

Postby Josef Litobarski » Sat Feb 07, 2009 9:27 am

Hi, rboni

Interesting point! But you only mention imports - what of UK exports? The UK wouldn't have access to the single-market if it wasn't in the EU. Or if it did get access to the single-market, it would suffer the problem of "fax democracy" which the Swiss and the Norgwegians are facing.

The Swiss guillotine clause I talked about earlier in this thread, for example, could be about to come down: ARTICLE.

P.S. Out of interest, where did you get those numbers from? Always interested in finding good sources!

P.P.S (completely unrelated to your point) - I was speaking to a guy in telecoms about the European advantage in mobile phone technology, and he says that he thinks the EU has messed it all up by now. They did have an enormous advantage over the US because they adopted a standardised model, but he says they're losing their early lead, essentially because (he argues) social provisions are too generous in the EU (e.g. several months severance pay required by law, vs. hardly anything in the US).
rboni
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Re: UK and the EU - better off out?

Postby rboni » Sun Feb 08, 2009 9:10 am

I remember the statistics from a documentary I saw many years ago on our public broadcaster known as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Unfortunately I cannot refer you to a website or book with that information.

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