I came across Brexit: The Movie by accident. I didn’t particularly care about the topic, but when I started watching it, I was struck by the amount of distortions, misconceptions, half-truths and lies. So here is a blog post going through the whole movie (or as much of it as I can manage before the referendum) comparing the statements from the movie to reality and pointing out fallacies in their arguments.
Update (08/06/2016): Two new sections added:
- Q3 Accountability
- Part 2 of the commentaries added
Table of Contents:
- Q1 How it works
- Q2 Who is in charge
- Q3 Accountability
- The European Parliament is not a parliament
- Power to legislate resides with EU officials
- Where do my taxes go
- Magna Carta
- Complex state machine run by unelected officials
- Power without accountability for EU officials
- Shelter for kicked out politicians
- The Brussels gravy train
- 10,000 EU bureaucrats (1/5) are paid more than David Cameron
- EU lobbying and the diversion of tax payers money
- For every pound that comes from the EU, you have to pay 2,3 in tax
Brexit the Move – Q1 How it works
How is a Commissionaire appointed?
My comments: This is not a relevant question regarding democracy. It is similar to discussing whether the appointment of Ministers and their staff in the UK is a democratic process.
Also, the Commission is not a decision making body. It drafts and enforces legislative proposals but does not have the authority to accept them.
Britons don’t know how the EU works
My comments: How many people on the street know how their governments work? How many know how their local/municipal governments work? Is it the fault of the EU that Britons don’t know how the EU works? If you have any questions please visit www.europa.eu
The EU imposes laws on 28 countries
Correction: The institutions of the EU legislate laws that 28 countries have to apply. See below for the legislative process
The EU has 7 institutions
Fun facts: These institutions are:
- the European Parliament – democratically elected members, co-legislator with the Council;
- the Council of the European Union (simply called ‘the Council’) – the ministers of the 28 EU countries, co-legislator with the Parliament making decisions by voting;
- the European Council – the heads of state from each of the 28 EU countries, decides on general political guidelines and policies;
- the European Commission – consists of public officials, initiates law proposals;
- the Court of Justice of the European Union – consists of 1 judge from each EU Country, ensures uniform implementation of EU law;
- the European Central Bank – objective is to maintain price stability;
- the Court of Auditors – consists of 1 member from each EU country, independent external auditor and financial watchdog.
The EU has 4 presidents – its confusing and nobody knows who they are
My comments: This is a matter of semantics. As a point of reference, the UK has “Secretaries” that in other countries are called “Ministers”. The UK has, for example, three secretaries of state: First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for the Home Department and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
If the movie had asked Brits about the different Secretaries in the UK government, they would have had similar reactions from the people on the streets.
This section is full of personal hypothesis and opinions on why the EU is setup this way.
Brexit the Move – Q2 Who is in charge
Who are our representatives?
My comments: During this section, the movie shows how people on the streets can’t recognise the President of the Commission, President of Parliament or the UK Commissionaire – Jonathan Hill. I urge the movie makers to make the same experiment with pictures of Theresa May, Mark Harper and Mark Sedwill.
Fun facts: In the European Union, only the Commission can make formal proposals for legislations. However, the Parliament and Council can request the Commission to propose legislations in fields other than the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Also, citizens can request the Commission to propose legislation on a topic by collecting 1 million votes (there are approximately 500 million people living in the EU). (source)
Compared to how minsters and public officials are assigned positions in national governments, the process of selecting Commissionaires is much more democratic.
First of all, the President of the Commission has to be elected by the European Parliamanet (MPs that have been elected by the citizens of the EU countries). Candidates for the position are proposed by the heads of the EU countries.
Secondly, the government of each EU country nominates 1 person to be their Commissioner. The President of the Commission then assigns the portfolios to the proposed Commissioners. The suitability of all the Commissionaires is then discussed during hearings in the Parliament. If not elected, the team must be reshuffled or new Commissionaires must be nominated by the respective member states.
Find out more here.
Brexit the Move – Q3 Accountability
The European Parliament is not a parliament
Movie quotes: “It is not in charge”; “No power over them”; “It can not initiate, propose or repeal legislation – that is done by the Commission”; “Once a decision has been made the voters can’t change it”; “Those who are appointed have the real power”
Clarifications: The movie is basically claiming that the Commission and Commissionaires are running the EU making all the decision and that the only democratically elected body (the European Parliament) are powerless infront of them.
- The European Parliament can dissolve Commission as a whole following a vote of no confidence. By request of the Council or Commission, a commissionaire can be compelled to retire on account of a breach of obligation(s) if so ruled by the European Court of Justice (source)
- EU legislations are changed all the time. As discussed above, the Council, the Parliament or 1million EU citizens can request the Commission to propose new legislation or change old ones – although the Commission may refuse proposals. The Commission must follow such requests and the Parliament is not obliged to accept any Commission proposal it does not agree with.
- The work of the Commission and of the rest of the legislative branches is overseen by the Court of Justice which can and has overturned legislations in breach of the various treaties (example).
Power to legislate resides with EU officials – they debate their laws in secret
Correction: The Commission prepares drafts to be approved by the Council (national ministers of democratically elected governments) and the Parliament (democratically elected representatives). Their deliberations do indeed happen behind closed doors but they can not make decisions. How is this different from the ministries in the member states? Are the law proposals public while they are being drafted?
Where do my taxes go
Movie quote: “I want to be able to know where the taxes are going and be able to remove from power those spending them”
Comments: Please go to: http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/money/expenditure/index_en.htm
Like I already said, the Parliament can have a vote of no confidence to kick out Commission (the ones spending the money) at any point.
Movie quote: “No government can pass any law or any tax without first getting the authority of the British people (Magna Carta)”
Comments: It is very fortunate then that no EU laws can be passed without the approval of the members of the EU parliament (consisting of elected representatives) or the Council (where the British ministers are present).
It is also questionable whether the EU contributions are actually taxes any more than the UK’s contribution to the UN is…
Complex state machine run by unelected officials
Movie quote: “Complex state machine run by officials whom we didn’t elect but who have the power to impose on us laws that we haven’t debated and have no democratic means of repealing”
Comments: Again, the Commission doesn’t have the power to impose laws – they PROPOSE laws to be voted upon by those democratically elected. This line of argument is like saying that national ministries are undemocratic because they are run by officials you didn’t elect who have the power to draft legislation.
Power without accountability for EU officials
Corrections: See above how the Parliament can kick out the Commissionaires through a vote of no confidence. The Court of Justice can annul laws that violate EU treaties or fundamental rights. Also, any person or company who has had their interests harmed as a result of the action or inaction of the EU or its staff can take action against them through the Court of Justice. (source)
Shelter for kicked out politicians
Movie quote: “Kicked out politicians can get a job there”
Correction: Just where exactly is “there”? Remember, there are 7 institutions. In the Council Secretariat for example, there are ambassadors, and other representatives sent (and paid for) by the EU Countries. But nowhere, can a kicked out politician get a job for being an “EU-sympathiser”. The staff of all institutions, who are not elected or sent/nominated by their respective countries go through public recruitment procedure.
Find out about the public recruitment procedures here.
The Brussels gravy train
Movie claim: in the EU buildings, EU bureaucrats can get their nails done, hair done and there is even a massage parlour.
Clarifications: indeed these are stores in one of the buildings (Parliament I think). However, anyone using these services have to pay, and the fees are not subsidised. There is also a office supplies store, a news stand and a restaurant.
10,000 EU bureaucrats (1/5) are paid more than David Cameron
Correction: According to the latest staff figures by the Commission, there are 32,966 staff working for the Commission (source) not including staff working for agencies. The movie claims that one fifth of the staff (10,000 people) get higher salaries than Cameron. Last I checked, one fifth of 35,000 is not 10,000.
Cameron earns €180,500 per year or about €15,000 per month (see details below). Only EU staff in the two highest salary scales earn that much. In 2016, there are 195 officials/staff with those grades (source). But let’s lower the bar and include a benefit rate of 30% along with the basic salary. That includes staff with a monthly salary of about €11,500 – which includes category AD 12 and above in the EU salary scales (see here). So REALLY generously counting there are a total of 4,801 EU official who MAY make more than Cameron counting their salaries and benefits. So, nowhere near the claimed 10,000 officials nor the 1/5.
Its not for me to argue whether that is a lot or not, just to point out the false information presented by the movie. Also, here’s an interesting article (from 2007) about the bullshit way the Commission calculates staff numbers.
Lets compare salaries and benefits:
|David Cameron||€180,500 (£142,500) including € 94,000 (£ 74,000) MP’s salary||Same as members of the House of Commons||Source|
|Cabinet Ministers||€180,000 (£141,505)||Same as members of the House of Commons||Source|
|MP House of Commons||€94,000 (£74,000)||Office expenses, housing, second home, travel, pension arrangements, resettlement grant and winding-up allowance|
Average MP's expenses cost taxpayer £118,000
|EU MP||€98,400 (£77,000)||Any salary from country of origin.|
General expenditure allowance - €51,840 (£41,000) per year.
Daily subsistence allowance - €76,500 (£60,000) per day (counting 250 working days at €306 per day)
|EU Officials - highest pay grade (AD 16 step 3)||€222,000 (£175,000)|
Expatriation allowance: 16% of salary + household allowance
Household allowance: €171,88 + 2% of basic salary (per month)
Dependent child allowance: €375,59 per month and per child
Education allowances:maximum €509.66 per month per child
Birth grant: €198,31 per child
Installation allowance: maximum 1 months basic salary
Daily subsistence allowance: maximum €5.729,4 for the first 120 days of employment
Tax: progressively between 6-45%
Solidarity levy: 6-7%
Health insurance: 1,70%
Accident cover: 0,10%
Unemployment insurance: 0,81%
|EU Officials - lowest pay grade (SC1)||€28,150 (£22,100)|
|Same as above|
For more comparisons have a look at these official figures.
Now lets look at the movie’s claims:
Claim: 10,000 are paid more than David Cameron
Clarification: There is an automatic progression built into the salary system for EU officials where every two years officials move up one step within their grade (see table here). There is also the possibility for reclassification into the next grade (generally after minimum 4 years of service). So somebody who has worked in the EU system for 25 years has probably progressed 5 grades. So if they started as senior specialists or middle management 25 years ago (source), then together with various allowances, they may indeed earn more than the basic salary of Cameron. This is especially true for officials hired before 2004. Since 2004, the entry grade level of new officials has been lowered (source). Looking at the current positions, however, only about 1400 staff members are classified as middle or senior managers (source). But, like I said, people who have been working there for a long time
Fun fact: “Over 94% of the EU budget goes to citizens, regions, cities, farmers and businesses. The EU’s administrative expenses account for under 6% of the total EU budget, with salaries accounting for around half of that 6%.” (source)
Movie claim: Officials get entertainment allowance
Correction: See table above. There is no such thing as “entertainment allowance” the movie may, however, be referring to the expatriation allowance (16%). This allowance is only available to those officials who come from a different country than their place of work (i.e. Belgians don’t get this allowance if they work in Brussels, but do if they work in Strasbourg)
Movie claim: Officials get private healthcare allowance
Clarification: As officials do not pay national taxes, they are not covered by any national health scheme. So they pay each month (1.7% of their salaries) to have access to a healthcare scheme run by the Commission. This scheme allows officials to claim costs from any EU Countries medical facilities.
Movie claim: The healthcare includes free Viagra
Correction: Like any medication, Viagara is available after doctor’s prescription. It is only partially reimbursed, like all other medication.
Movie claim: Officials get private education for their kids
Clarification: Officials get an education allowance (max €509.66). If there is a European school (run/sponsored by the Commission) in the vicinity of their place of work, they get no education allowance but their children get to attend the European school for free.
EU lobbying and the diversion of tax payers’ money
Movie quotes: The EU diverts rivers of tax payers’ cash to the tax consuming middle class intelligentsia; The EU gives money to lobby organisations; The EU gives our money to local authorities and universities and art groups and opera companies.
Correction: The EU doesn’t give away money – it funds projects to which an organisation has to apply for and it very seldom finances more than 80% of a project (source). But if you look into the details of funded projects, it can be seen that the total costs of projects, is usually at least double that of the EU funding (see the #EUBudget4results below).
Fun facts: In 2014, 3,385 initiatives with at least partial participation from UK organisations received close to 3.5 billion Euros in contribution. The Financial Transparency System has all the details.
Also the #EUBudget4results contains a collection of 860 projects funded by the EU (between 2007-2013). Here is the list of all projects related to Tourism and Culture.
Did you know about the UK rebate? It is a financial mechanism which reduces the United Kingdom’s contribution to the EU budget in effect since 1985 (source). In 2015 that rebate reduced the UK’s contribution from £17.8 billion to £12.9 billion (source).
Movie quote: This creates a chorus of noise in favour of the European Project.
Clarification: Every project that has received funding from the EU must have this information publicly visible on for example advertisements. How is it different from having received funding from any other organisation?
Movie quote: Every charity over a certain size is getting money from Brussels along with every NGO; The EU is taking money from the general population and handing it to people who are lucky enough to be working for the system.
Correction: Funding of projects is based on applications and all funded projects are available for public review. The claim that ALL NGOs have EU funding does not have any merit what so ever.
For every pound that comes from the EU, you have to pay 2,3 in tax
My comment: The first truth in the move. If you only focus on how much money UK organisations and projects get out in the previously criticised funds then indeed, the UK contributes much more than it gets out (see the details here). So financially speaking the question becomes how much is the access to the single market worth?