Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Why the UK’s “audit” of EU law is a waste of time

So, supposedly in a bid to allow any future in-out referendum on UK membership of the EU to be based on facts rather than ideology (fat chance), Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced an “audit” of the influence of EU law on the UK.

The promised audit has, of course, got a lot of anti-EU types rather excited, as they’re all convinced that any such study will show the EU to be the pernicious, all-pervading menace they’ve always claimed it to be.

Leaping to their own conclusions, no matter what the real conclusions may be

See posterboy for the Tory anti-EU right Dan Hannan on his Telegraph blog for a prime case in point, in a post that reads almost like a parody:

“In 1973, the United Kingdom ceased to be a sovereign democracy. EU law has primacy over British law, and we are largely ruled by unelected Euro-functionaries”

He has some good points to make in places (I’m no fan of the Common Agricultural Policy or Common Fisheries Policy either), but as he so often does, mixes up assertion with opinion with unreferenced “facts” like the claim that:

“on the EU’s own figures, the costs of regulation outweigh the benefits of the single market by five to one (€600 billion versus €120 billion)”

Actual numbers, Mr Hannan? Why thank you! Let’s see how justifiable those are, shall we?

With a bit of digging, it turns out (surprise surprise) not to be quite that simple, and that the figures dear Mr Hannan has chosen are not what he presents them as being. By which I mean that Mr Hannan is either ignorant about the figures he’s quoting to illustrate his point, which is surprising for a man so keen to portray himself as a great intellect, or is deliberately misleading his audience. (i.e. Lying.)

Thanks to the Tory MEP defector to UKIP Roger Helmer for asking the question and receiving a reply that points out that the €120 billion figure dates from 1992 (when the EU had 15 members), the €600 billion figure from 2006 (when it had 27), and therefore the two are not fair comparisons (even without mentioning inflation).

Thanks in turn to Open Europe for tracking down the details surrounding the €600 billion figure, which Hannan and others attribute to former Commissioner Günter Verheugen. The explanation can be found in a footnote on page 12 of this (PDF) Open Europe study, Out of Control? Measuring a decade of EU regulation:

“this figure has been widely misunderstood, as it has been described as the total cost of EU regulation. In fact, this estimate captures the administrative burden stemming from EU regulations and domestic regulations combined. Furthermore, on 10 October 2006, the Financial Times wrote “The bureaucratic cost to business of complying with European legislation could be up to €600bn a year – almost twice the original estimates – the European Union’s Enterprise Commissioner admitted on Monday.” However, what Gunter Verheugen – the Commissioner in question – actually said in the interview about reducing regulation, was that “I’ve said that in my view it must be possible to get a 25 percent reduction, and that means a productivity gain of €150bn.” The journalist took this to mean that €150bn represented 25% of the total cost of regulation. However, Verheugen’s office has subsequently confirmed that the €150bn figure referred to the extra benefits that would be generated (as opposed to saved) by a 25% cut in the administrative burden of EU and domestic regulations combined.”

And so we see, once again, that Hannan’s numbers are far from accurate. If his own opinions about the EU’s malign influence are based on such misunderstandings, it’s understandable for him to be hostile. But it also means he’s wrong.

Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and selective quotation

If it’s that hard to track down the source and true meaning of just *one* cost/benefit estimate, how much harder is it to track down the costs and benefits of the many thousands of pieces of legislation and regulations that have come out of the EU over the years?

And, more to the point, if misunderstandings like the one above are so simple, what are the chances of anyone actually understanding what the findings actually mean?

Another case in point, the House of Commons Library’s 2010 study (PDF) into the percentage of UK laws that stem from the EU concluded – with provisos – that the true figure was likely somewhere near 15%.

At least, that’s how I read it (partially because this tallies with the figure I’d come to, a figure that has since been backed up by a German study that came up with 15.5% for the UK).

But if you’re of a eurosceptic bent, you’ll argue – as did, for example, the Telegraph – that the actual conclusion was that up to 50% of laws come from Brussels. How is this possible? Simple – in *some* areas, EU law has far more influence than others, so for *some* government departments, around 50% of laws really do come from the EU.)

The HoC Library study itself actually concluded that “All measurements have their problems… The answer in numerical terms lies somewhere in between the two approaches, and it is possible to justify any measure between 15% and 50%”. So those of us who tend to the pro- side look low, those who tend to the anti- side look high, and both can feel justified.

What’s wrong with facts?

Of course, no one in their right mind could object to basing arguments on facts – and facts have long been in short supply when it comes to working out the EU’s influence and impact. Hague himself, after all, ran a general election campaign back in 2001 based largely on EU scaremongering, and his old euroscepticism can be revealed in his own assumptions of what such an exercise might achieve as he anounced this audit on Thursday:

“less cost, less bureaucracy and less meddling in the issues that belong to nation states”

If this audit really could get proper facts on the EU’s influence, I’d be all for it.

The trouble is, there have been plenty of similar studies conducted in recent years (most of which I’ve now rounded up in my old “What percentage of laws come from the EU?” post). And the most rigorous and respectable of them have all concluded the same things:

1) It’s practically impossible to work out the impact of EU laws, per se, due to:

a) the wild variation in the way they can be implemented
– directives vs regulations etc. etc.

b) the interconnectedness of policy areas
– knock-on effects of legislating in area A on areas B, C and D, both in terms of dilution of impact and exacerbation, are extremely hard to track (to put it mildly)

c) the tendency towards gold-plating
– UK officials and politicians adding additional clauses onto EU-originated laws that weren’t required by Brussels

d) the cumulative impact of almost 40 years of EEC/EU membership
– which British-originated rules/laws/regulations have been influenced by previous EEC/EU rules/laws/regulations
– has UK legal/legislative culture changed as a result of EU membership, leading to laws that are more “European” than they would have been without membership?

e) the incredibly obtuse methods by which most laws enter the statute books in the UK
statutory instruments, which bypass parliament, can be used for both UK and EU law. There have been an average of c.1,800 of these passed per year since 1987 (and, incidentally, there’s been a huge spike in the number since the Coalition came to power: 2010 and 2011 the two highest numbers ever)
– there’s no “track changes” function on legislation, so it’s often extremely hard to tell precisely where a law originated (you basically need to cross-reference all UK laws/regulations with all EU directives/laws and try to spot similarities – but just because there are similarities doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily a causal relationship, so this method will result in a lot of false positives)

f) the impossibility, in most cases, of tracking down the origin of the *idea* of a law
– was it actually from the EU? (it’s often impossible to tell, as in point e)
– was the EU itself the original source (laws that stem from the EU are, after all, almost always first proposed by EU member states – including the UK)
– what percentage of EU laws/regualtions applied in the UK were proposed to the EU by the UK, and what difference (if any) does that make to our perception of them?

g) which EU-originated rules *replaced* existing British ones more or less 1:1?
– the whole point of legislating at EU level is to harmonise laws and regulations between EU member states; it’s very rare for the EU to legislate in a new area, as EU legislation and regulations are almost always designed to replace existing rules in the member states
– most important, this, if you’re trying to work out how much the EU costs/saves its member states – because there is a strong case to be made that a law/regulation set at EU level by definition saves money, as otherwise it would have been introduced in 27 different ways by the 27 member states (not to mention in other countries, like Norway and Switzerland, that abide by EU law in numerous areas despite not being members) – this is why it’s possible to argue that legislating and regulating at EU level is almost always a good thing

h) which would the UK have introduced anyway?
– again, EU rules, regulations and legislation are (in principle) always guided (more or less) by the needs of the member states; the UK may have chosen slightly different forms for many EU-originated rules had she been left to her own devices, but if she really weren’t happy about a majority of them, she would have left ages ago.
– this is, of course, impossible to tell without an alternate universe in which the UK didn’t join…

i) which would the UK have to maintain if she were outside the EU?
– with estimates of the EU’s importance to the UK’s external trade varying between 40 and 60% (infinitely more detail here), to continue trading with the EU as a non-member would require a certain level of compliance with EU rules and regulations. What would the cost of this be to UK businesses, and would the cost saving advantages outweigh the disadvantages of no longer having any input into those rules and regulations in the first place?

2) A cost-benefit analysis of EU membership is pretty much impossible

a) we have no control group by which to measure the relative economic benefits/downsides
– no way to tell what would have happened to the UK (or any other member state) had they *not* joined
– no way to tell how each member state would have fared had the EEC/EU not existed

b) the whole point of the EU is its interconnectedness, so to understand its true impact you need to analyse the entire EU economy, not just that of one member state
– Britain, for example, imports from other EU states more than it exports (something eurosceptics are always fond of bringing up) – what impact has the EU had on the pricing structure of those imports due to the changes it has brought about in those other member states?

c) the sheer volume of laws tells you nothing about their impact
– the EU tends towards tiny trade regulations to maintain consistent product standards, which tends to push up their volume; how many pieces of regulation about the permissible ingredients in fruit jelly would it take to have a similar impact to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 or Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (for example)?

d) there remains a considerable degree of policy area overlap between EU and national law
– even if it were possible to definitively identify a law as originating from the EU, there may be other, non-EU-derived national laws operating in the same general policy area
– how is it possible to tell the impact of law x over law y or law z when they’re all about more or less the same thing, and will all be interconnected?

e) the impact of laws and regulations goes far further than simple cash cost/benefit
– is it possible to put a monetary value on the benefits/disadvantages of the reduced stress of travelling that’s come thanks to the right to free movement between EU member states? Or of the pleasure that’s been brought by European cultural organisations more easily being able to travel the continent to entertain? Or the more ready availability of more interesting and varied foodstuffs from around the continent due to the (supposed) reduction in cost of trading between EU member states? Or of the granting of a recourse to law that’s beyond the power of the nation, giving ordinary citizens that little bit more security in their freedom (even if they don’t even realise this)?

And all that’s just off the top of my head on a lazy Saturday, after only half a cup of coffee.

Selective quotation, ignoring the inconvenient, and ideological blind spots

But this is the problem with any EU audit or cost-benefit analysis: there are infinite ways to poke holes in any figures that are derived at, both from the anti- and the pro-EU sides. Because the EU is simply too complex to divide up into costs and benefits. Not least because what may count as a benefit to some (personally I *like* having more European immigrants around the place, and feel that the increased diversity of experience and attitude such immigrants bring is a benefit to the economy and society at large) will be a bitter cost to others (not just xenophobes, but also UK citizens who may end up competing for jobs with those immigrants – or even just *feel* that they’re competing).

And then there’s the added issue that *everyone* suspects the current government’s motives for this audit, meaning that left, right, centre, pro-EU and anti-EU will *all* be looking to pick holes in it as soon as it appears. And if any of them don’t like the result, they’ll simply pick a number from a study they *do* like – which is why dear old Dan Hannan keeps on using the utterly discredited claim that 84% of laws come from the EU, old Nigel Farage of UKIP keeps using the 75% of laws come from the EU line, which has been equally rubbished on numerous occasions.

Why do Hannan and Farage keep using discredited figures, and ignoring studies they don’t like the results of? Because neither of them are actually interested in the truth – and I suspect that the government aren’t either. This smacks strongly as yet another excuse to delay the resumption of hostilities between the Conservative party and the eurosceptic fringe that would kick off as soon as a referendum campaign is started. Because even former arch-eurosceptic William Hague has come to realise that although the EU is far from perfect, the UK’s other options are even less appealing – and in the process has started to come under attack as an EU stooge from some of the more excitable (and delusional) quarters of the anti-EU crowd.

And herein lies the glorious irony – it’s taken the EU’s worst crisis in its history, with the entire organisation standing on the brink of potential collapse, to convince some of the UK’s most vocal opponents of European integration of the EU’s benefits. Hell, even long-time eurosceptic campaigners Open Europe are starting to come out to argue the benefits of membership.

But many hardcore eurosceptics will never be convinced. For them, costs and benefits are irrelevant. This is not about money or trade or economics – this is about idealogy, sovereignty, independence. Better to be a poor free man than a rich slave and all that. No amount of audits or numbers will ever convince them that allowing a bunch of foreigners to have any say in the way we run our country can be right – even if we get a say in how they run *their* countries in exchange. It is the psychological cost of this perceived loss of freedom that is the most important for them, and even were the streets of Europe paved with gold it wouldn’t be enough to convince them otherwise.

As for the people as a whole? As per usual, the vast majority simply won’t care.


  1. Hi Pinnochio,

    The Swiss govenment performed a cost-benefit analysis of EU membership for Switzerland, and concluded that it would cost 9 times as much as their current arranagements. This shows the type of savings that UK citizens can look forward to outside the EU.

    P.S. And before you leap for that old EU apologist canard of saying the Swiss economy (where the princple indusries are Banking and Pharmaceuticals) or Norwegian economy (main industry Oil) is nothing like the UK one, lets not forget shall we that the principle industries in the Uk include Banking, Drugs and Oil… So these considerations very much apply to the UK too.

    • @Freeborn John

      Your comment simply proves what Nosemonkey has written in his blog posts, that is that anyone will pick and choose figures from any report to prove her/his point.

      a) You cite a report that cites the short English version of a much longer French/German report from Switzerland. Hence, you base your conclusions on basically third degree findings.

      b) You call the report a cost-benefit analysis, but you only cite figures that concern the payments between Switzerland and the EU level, i.e. that includes neither “benefits” nor “costs” beyond payments. If you read the original report, you would see that the discussions on actual costs and benefits are much more complex.

      c) From the source you cite, you cite the “NINE” times figure and claim this is the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis. Even if we would only consider payments, the figure you should have cited from your report is “SIX” times as these are the net payments, i.e. sum of the contributions to the EU and the money received from the EU.

      d) If you read the actual report linked above page 6972 (158 of the PDF), one figure might interest you: Out of the 3.34 billion net payments to the EU that Switzerland would have to pay according to the report’s estimations, 0.397 billion (~12%) are because of the British rebate. Based on the calculations in the source you cite, the net payment would drop to almost “FIVE” times the basic costs of 557 million CHF calculated for the current (i.e. 2006) Swiss situation – by the way a figure that I cannot find the complete German version (which may be my fault) – if the British would not have their rebate.

      Now, I do not want to claim that a Swiss accession to the EU would be cheap or financially advantageous to them – I simply don’t know as even a short look into the report you cite shows the amount of complexity this kind of analysis involves. At some places, the report itself says that the figures should be read “with maximum caution” (PDF-pages 92, 94, 121).

      Hence, Nosemonkey’s point is proven. This is not about an objective analysis, but selective choice of figures. And we haven’t even started arguing whether the calculations of joining the EU are the same as the calculations of leaving the EU…

  2. You’re never going to get an accurate audit unless it comes from a completely independent study and even then I doubt whether any of it is quantifiable now. Brussels tentacles reach so deeply into our economy, the only way, is to withdraw and then see what happens to our economy.

    As it is, those of you who are pro-EU will be happy with the outcome I’m sure. There is absolutely no way this will show much that is negative about our relationship. The consequences would be dire otherwise.

    Mr Hannan is what we “real” Eurosceptics like to call a “faux” Eurosceptic. He plays the part to satisfy the right wing’s lust to be free of control.

    After all, if he were a real sceptic, he would have left the Conservatives like Mr Helmer did.

  3. Freeborn John

    I’m not sure if you noticed, but the piece you linked to is almost 6 years old, and the report that the piece itself is based on is dated June 2006

    There’s a good chance that the Swiss position has changed since then, especially given documents such as this (click & go to “Presentation “Swiss policy on Europe””)

    • The EU budget has seen above inflation rises in each of the last 6 years and it’s regulatory burden increased. Therefore the cost benefit analysis can only have tipped further towards Swiss-style EFTA / bilateral treaties and against EU membership.

      • John – you’re utterly missing the point by focusing on the EU’s budget.

        That’s pegged at just 1.1-1.05% of the EU’s GNI for the period 2007-2013, which works out as approximately €123 billion per year. The UK government’s budget for 2012? £592 billion.

        The EU budget is a drop in the ocean. The question is what impact does the EU have on its wider economy – which accounts for a GDP (in 2011) of €12.629 trillion.

        • Though I’d be surprised if the government kept to that budget figure considering they spent around £710bn last year.

  4. John – None of what you’ve written contradicts anything I’ve said above. If you’d bothered to read the entire post you might have realised that.

    Would it cost Switzerland more to be a member of the EU? In terms of “Swiss gross contribution to the EU Budget” (which is how that report you link to gets the nine times figure), absolutely no doubt.

    Why? Because Switzerland is currently an EFTA member, and EFTA members have to contribute a far smaller amount to the EU budget than full EU members (though, please note, they still have to contribute). Switzerland’s budgetary contributions would certainly go up, quite possibly by nine times, were it to join the EU. (For more on EFTA contributions to the EU budget, see this old post).

    But contributions to the EU budget barely even scratches the surface of a true cost/benefit analysis of EU membership. If you want your cost/benefit analysis to be *that* simpistic, fine – the UK’s a net contributor, so your argument is already won.

    But it’s not that simple, is it? Germany’s also a net contributor, putting in more and getting less back than even the UK. So why the hell do they still stick around?

    Here’s a clue: the economic costs/benefits of EU membership are determined by rather more than contributions to the EU’s (in relative terms) tiny budget.

  5. Good post, of course.

    The one point on cost/benefit I think you missed is that even a complete break from the EU doesn’t automatically mean removing regulation of some sort on a topic. So, for example, even if we abolished all EU-derived health and safety law, we would still have *some* health and safety laws.

    So a cost/benefit analysis needs to make assumptions about whether drafting our own health and safety laws would be a net cost or a net benefit. Costs: uncertainty, ease of changing the regulations (slow EU processes can also mean stability), different rules for companies operating cross-border. Benefits: presumably some degree of better tailoring to UK conditions, maybe more liberal (although is that a cost or benefit?)

    Moral judgements all over the place.

  6. Anthony – I’m brushing up on my Hume even as I type… This is my key point when it comes to the EU – it’s impossible to have a complete understanding, so it all comes down to which areas you think are the most important.

    And yes, I am working on developing this in more detail. A *lot* more detail. So any pointers to elements I’ve forgotten (or am ignorant of) much appeciated.

  7. €120 billion figure dates from 1992 (when the EU had 15 members)

    Actually in 1992 there were only 12 members. It increased to 15 in 1995.

  8. I agree mostly with the article. However I think most people do care, and the true test would be a referendum.

    You can see that they are going to stack the deck with this audit or use it to avoid a referendum.

    • Indeed.

      Since the “deciders” are politicians, the question is ultimately political. No matter how factual and impartial the process could be, politicizing the result is anything but a certainty.This is also why, in the end, bean-counting the value of EU membership is (almost) baseless.

      How much value can one put to freedom or sovereignty ? is it worth 10 cars or 5 donkeys ? what if someone offers 100 quids for it … does it make it a “fair trade” ?
      And because the most flag-wrapping, vocal opponents of EU membership make it a principled decision about such high-minded (yet abstract) concepts, an audit of the costs and benefits for international engagement CAN’T be anything but a political decision.

      Now, of course you can estimate the value of economic trade. Or of economic efficiencies brought upon by the Single Market (or the costs/impediments). But is that all there is to EU membership ?
      Is that truly all that the UK wants to have in relation to its most immediate neighbours, of which millennia of intertwined cultural and bloody history link irremediably ?

      For centuries, the European continent has been a source of dangers, just as much as opportunities. The mainstay of English (then British) policy has been to engage politically with Europeans, and to remain as distant physically as possible.
      Not out of some benign goals, but of fears of invasion.
      Those who couldn’t be enrolled to be the frontline for the defense of the English homeland, had to be coerced into fighting their other neighbours. The longer they were busy, the farthest away from the Channel, the safer England was.
      “Divide and Rule” so that they could “Sail and Rule the waves”.
      Or to put it differently, English/British policy has been one of defense and fear from the Continent.

      How many times did the mainstream British policy was one of constructive engagement, of shared destiny ? Such episodes did happen. And usually after England was invaded from the Continent (think the first Celtic tribes, the Danish/Norman invasions).
      Yet, as soon as an island mentality sets in, the xenophobia (as in “fear of the others”).
      The process is widely shared in Europe. It’s the “village” mentality, where the farther you are from the neighbour next door, the more dangerous and incomprehensible you appear.

      Irrespective of the current political arrangements in the EU, where the Council has a vested interest to pander to national constituencies, European countries do believe the positives of EU policy-making go well beyond “bean-counting” and “fair trading”.
      Not because of some naive idealism that their neighbours only want what’s best for them, but because they realize that they are here to stay. That it’s better for yourself to engage with them, than to shut the borders and think they’d disappear magically.
      The EU is the most modern international and political construct, to break free from that millenial fear of the other. Where to talk replace to wage war. Where tocompromise is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
      Even the dreaded (certainly not for me) Euro is just another tool to the service of this construct. Yet, to see it only in terms of finance is missing its real strengths and innate longevity.


      And here lies the tragedy of the British (or rather English) dilemna : no European institution is dictating them what their future should be.
      There are no armies waiting impatiently to invade them (certainly not because of their “Tridents” and “Typhoons”).
      They are free to trade with whoever they want, except that no one is waiting for them to trade with unless they do provide something that is better (conceptually or in pricing) than their competitors.

      Yet, some of them can’t get rid of their fears, their “resistances”.
      Worse, the ones who are supposedly elected to represent and take decisions in their name, are the most resistant to take actions.
      That is why any “audit” of the EU membership is but a fig-leaf for political pandering. A convenience while waiting for the “perfect opportunity” to decide on a course of action that has yet to be decided ….

      Just like when you set up a committee when you want to spend air on an issue, rather than capital, all for the sake of not having to decide upon it.

      Best regards,

  9. It might be worth pointing out that the Norwegian government published a similar report earlier this year

    The BBC summarised it as saying that Norway is “almost as deeply integrated [into the EU] as the UK”

    BTW, is it possible to insert links into comments instead of the links being separate?

  10. Nice post Nosemonkey. You omitted to mention that Hannan also used the opportunity to refer to 1973 as Britain’s “Al-Nakba”, e.g., the “disaster” that befell Palestinians in 1948 when 700,000 thousand of them left or were forced to flee their homes in the war with Israel, starting the still-ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

    Because, yes, sovereignly joining a Community spending 1% of GDP and having to implement regulations (with weak enforcement powers in Brussels and most of which are decided by unanimity anyway), is exactly the same kind of tragedy as what happened to the Palestinians. The crassness of the propaganda and the extent of the whiny-bitchy self-victimization really has achieved a new high in British Euroskepticism.

    I find nothing removes my anti-EU feelings better than reading their lies.

  11. I would say that there is a social cost too.

    Whether we agree or not, the ‘Polish plumber’ problem was real.

    Thriving economies, Britain especially during its boom, attracted a lot of poorer workers from Eastern Europe.

    It was estimated that of all the jobs created during Gordon Brown’s boom years 80% went to people born outside of Britain.

    Assemblies and agencies, set up under the EU’s regional programmes, were keen to import foreign cheap labour – local communities could never compete.

    A case of the free movement of people putting the working class British at a disadvantage.

    If you wish to consider the financial implications of the above, we have had to pay those people benefits and provide them with housing and utilities.

    I found it to be a quite perverse way to run our country.

    • Hi WG,

      the thing with immigration is that it will always have a social cost as it tests tolerance of the natives vs the newcomers.

      however, you greatly underscore the benefits of the migrants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to the UK economy and society.
      yes, they were poorer on average than UK residents, but they weren’t poor.
      Compared to immigrants to the UK from Central Asia (think Pakistanis or Afghans) or Africa, CEE migrants are rich. Even more important, they are skilled.

      They didn’t “steal” jobs from natives : for that, it’d have meant natives were looking actively to apply for the jobs CEE migrants took in.
      For another, when they were in competition for the same jobs, CEE migrants proved to be more hard-working and willing to work for less pay : this was a huge boost to UK economic productivity in a time of global competition

      It suffices to compare the rates of UK unemployment in the 00′ and the 80′ to see that CEE migration did not “steal” jobs, but instead “created” jobs : more people looking for housing, for clothing and eating, entertainment a

  12. (apologies, I pushed too early the reply button … here is the follow-up)

    entertainment and so on ….

    even the so-called “health tourism” or “benefit tourism” scare stories were peanuts costs when compared to the payroll taxes benefits that those migrants brought in to UK coffers.
    because I got to repeat it : CEE migrants were by far skilled workers, with an overall close cultural affinity to UK residents.

    and then comes the 2nd round of positive effects : increased natality here and increased prosperity back in CEE countries.
    1) natality is a serious issue that all European countries have to face, both in terms of social welfare model (the more working actives, the easier it is to pay for the elderly) and for continued prosperity (the more youngster in society, the more dynamic the economy).
    by and far, the UK has grave investment deficiencies in healthcare and natalist policies, but migration helped “plug the hole” on the cheap for the time being
    2) the more prosperous your neighbours or trading partners are, the more stable and willing to trade they are : CEE countries are part of the European trading area, and either by sending remits back home or going back richer (skills and capital), they contributed significantly to the economic development of those countries, thus improving the trading opportunities of British companies here by ripple effects.
    remember that around 50% of UK trade is with European countries (40% with Eurozone).

    Migration like the ones experienced (I should say enjoyed) by the UK in the 00′ work like an investment multiplier : it increases national wealth many more times, than it increases the costs on social structures.

    The one migration that nobody wants (but the leaving countries) is of dirt-poor, unskilled, illiterate migrants. Why ? because to assimilate them require important investments (ie : costs) before they can become productive members of society.
    But here again, such migrants don’t leave their countries because they have a choice : it’s precisely because it’s a do-or-die for them and their families.
    And I mean it litterally, it’s migrate to a rich country like Britain (where the worst than can happen is a lowering of living standard for natives ) compared to a dog’s death by violence or starvation in their home countries.

    Best regards,

  13. I have a problem with your views on migrant workers Thierry – it is alright telling me that migrant workers were good for our economy, but that doesn’t translate to good for the people.

    Businesses in Britain were given a choice of training and employing local youngsters, or simply employing cheap migrant workers. Of course, they chose the cheap migrant workers and left our youngsters on the scrapheap.

    For all the talk of how good migrant workers were for the British economy Britain still has a massive deficit and huge debt – and a totally disenfranchised underclass.

    I don’t regard this as a EU problem – I put the blame at the feet of the British government at that time.

    But a question has to asked – the European Union at one time advocated a policy of inviting in 75 million immigrants from outside the EU.
    It claimed that we needed these people to replace an ageing population – and yet we have millions of people unemployed.

    Do we try to explain to the unemployed Spanish and Greek youngsters that these people are good for the economy?

    The question that I keep asking myself is – Who’s economy?

  14. Hi WG,

    Let’s try not to confuse the issues about immigration and fiscal policies, UK and EU.

    “that migrant workers were good for our economy, but that doesn’t translate to good for the people.”

    CEE migrant workers were an absolute benefit to the UK economy, and therefore for the UK population.
    They were of young age (20-40), skilled, of average income and not refugees. Meaning they came for work and had the means to support themselves.
    When an employer looks for recruitment, they’ll choose the best offer on the market. That is people willing to work for the longest hours, with the skills and at the lowest wage possible.
    If an immigrant is prefered to a native, that means that the immigrant is able to speak the local language and/or can do the job properly and is more effective.
    Training youngsters to do the same job and have a proper work ethic is not only time-consuming, but also capital-consuming.
    For a society as a whole, it’s vital to train the youngster to become active and responsible members of society. But you can’t honestly lay the blame to employers for not wanting to choose less skilled, less hard-working or more expensive workers.
    Remember that the higher the costs to a company, the more expensive it has to charge its products and therefore the public.
    Recruiting with a “national preference” is no panacea for productivity, nationally and individually.

    Now, both agree that it’s important for young generations, native or migrants, to become active and responsible members of society. But that mission is up to the individual (society doesn’t owe them a high-paying job) and to society (or rather State’s structures to provide adequate training while in education).
    Whether in competition with foreign migrants or older locals, young workers are always at a disadvantage when looking for a first job experience.
    At first glance, the more immigration, the more disadvantages.
    But that hides the fact that the more dynamic the economy, the more opportunities for job creations : and the UK created a lot of job in the 00′

    Here is a simple graph about UK unemployment rate for the 16-24 between 1992 and 2010 (ONS figures) :,r:12,s:0,i:104
    From 1992 to 2000, the unemployment rates for youngsters dropped sigfnificantly, then remained stable til 2008, and jumped back to pre-1992 levels in 2010

    Here is a graph about UK unemployment rate for the whole population,r:1,s:0,i:70

    What those 2 graphs show you is that the economy grew a lot, with a lot of immigration, but this didn’t hurt chances for employments for youngsters as long as they had marketable skills and work ethic.
    when things got worse for youngsters is when the global economy took a nosedive since 2008 for reasons totally unrelated to immigration : basically the worldwide financial crises.

    The main reason why some youngsters have huge difficulties in finding jobs has more to do with employability (proper skills, competitive wage, geographic mobility and flexible hours)

    “how good migrant workers were for the British economy Britain still has a massive deficit and huge debt – and a totally disenfranchised underclass”

    Migrant workers didn’t cause the budget deficits.
    Banks bailout did. The NHS budget did. Pensions and benefits for a greying society did. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq did. Private-partnership did. Outsourcing public responsibilities to private enterprises did. Lack of audit for public procurements did.
    If anything, migrants from developped countries (as those from Central and Easter Europe) substantially financed those budget deficits, even though a significant proportions of them won’t stay in the UK but will return home (as some have already done so). Therefore they paid taxes and social contributions for a country where they won’t retire, and won’t be able to benefit from in their old age.

    Disenfranchised class. I hear you, but I think that is something that relates to deeper problem of democracy and how the ruling classes respond to public concerns, much more than it is about work migration.
    In that sense, foreign workers are an easy bogeyman to use rather than the mother of all evils.

    “the European Union at one time advocated a policy of inviting in 75 million immigrants from outside the EU”

    Yep. And the problem is still there as it relates to how you pay for ever-increasing numbers of retirees, with ever-decreasing numbers of active workers without having to cut pension benefits or extending the age when to retire ?
    This is something I mentionned earlier : the natality issue for European countries.
    What the European commission said was more about asking member states to think deeply about how to use immigration as a mean to constructively adress those issues, rather than just wishing those problems away, if they refuse to radically overhaul their welfare systems (something that the current financial crises is forcing nonetheless)
    In no way does the European Union (whether in the executive body that is the Commission or the legislative body that is ithe European Parliament) has mandate to dictate immigration policy to member states.
    Look to how each countries reacted to free movement of labor for European citizens when the EU expanded from 15 to 27 members. Some agreed to let it happen (as in the UK) or to restrict it.
    The Commission balked, but couldn’t do much more.

    And the matter is even more sensitive for immigrants coming from outside the EU.
    By and far, we aren’t talking about migration from developped countries, but really poor or emerging countries from Africa and Central Asia.

    “Do we try to explain to the unemployed Spanish and Greek youngsters that these people are good for the economy? ”

    If immigrants are willing to do jobs that locals don’t want to, then of course they are good for the economy.
    Actually, it’s young spanish and greeks that are looking for migration for jobs. And I think it’s very good, because this mean that those people that take the steps are actually the most dynamic and entrepreneurial compared to those who prefer to “stay at home”.

    Best regards,

  15. Have to laugh at the Telegraph, looking at the HoC study and then reporting pretty much the opposite conclusion of the report- that ‘up to’ half our laws come from Europe rather than a small amount….

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