Reflections about Brexit the Movie – Part 3

Also check out Part 1 & Part 2 of this series.

Table of Contents


Brexit the Movie – Enter the EU

Jean Monnet – the architect

Movie quotes: Then came something called the Common Market. Joining the EEC seemed like a great idea.  It meant escaping the dismal dreary confines of post-war Britain. In the 70’s we had terrible problems, double digit inflation, the three day week, prices and incomes policies and we looked across the channel and we thought – these chaps are doing something right. But the architect of the EEC was not German.  He was French. Jean Monnet was stepped in the French bureaucratic big state tradition. Indeed, he’d spent the second World War in Britain helping to create the very regulations which had all but destroyed the post-war British economy.

Fun facts: Monnet was actually instrumental in stabilising several Central and Eastern European economies and was invited to help develop the Chinese economy (source).  He also  convinced President Roosevelt to launch a massive arms production program, both as an economic stimulus and to supply the Allies with military resources. He also stated that “The European states must constitute themselves into a federation…” (source).  He drafted the Schuman Declaration which halted the ongoing dismantling of German industry in 1951 and lead to the lifting of the last civilian productions limitation in 1953 (source).

And let’s not ever forget that even Monnet did not introduce these changes.  It was Schuman, (foreign minister of France at the time), who did so.  The important point here is that he may have been the architect of the ECC and the EU but none of the EU iterations would be around if it was not for democratically elected governments opting to bring them into existence.  How many other intellectuals did not exist at the time who’s ideas did not come to fruition?


Those pesky EU intellectuals (again)

Movie quotes: It soon became clear that the Common Market was so much more than a trade deal.  Shiny new buildings kept appearing, the administration grew and the price of membership kept going up, as the EU assumed greater powers and demanded more money from Member States. Inevitable this burgeoning bureaucratic machine reflected the values of the university educated people who ran it and who benefited from its general funding.

My comments: The movie then proceeds with quotes from half a dozen British intellectuals describing just how snobbish the EU is and how EU intellectuals want to control the lives of the little people.  So, the EU intellectuals attempt to control the lives of Britons is bad but British intellectuals trying to persuade Britons to leave the EU is good.  Anybody else see the irony in this?

Fun facts: As the Union grew and developed, so did the checks and balances.  in 1967, when the Treaty of Rome introduced the Commission, it also introduced its counter weight, the Council of Ministers.  The European Council was introduced in 1974 and the European Parliament in 1979.  All institutions giving elected government representatives control over the work of the bureaucrats of the Commission.


Ignorantia juris non excusat

Movie quotes: As the EU’s power steadily increased, so did the regulators and the volume of regulations. “The bureaucratic class can not find an area of human life that they do not want to write a rulebook about. What vacuum cleaner you got, where you get your hair cut, what kind of size your shoes are. And those rulebooks stack up one on top of the other such that no reasonable human being could now possibly have an understanding of all the rules they need to obey.”

Correction:  The movie confuses the principle of criminal law where “ignorance of law excuses no one” with EU harmonisation legislation.  No citizen is legally expected to have to learn ANY of the EU harmonisation legislations from the Common Market.  Only with the onset of the Lisbon Treaty (2009) can the EU (not the Commission but the Parliament and the Council of Minister) legislate in a way that EU laws automatically come into force in all Member States.  Previously, every legal act had to be transferred into national legislation.


More pesky bureaucrats

Movie quotes: “You’ve got thousands and thousands of bureaucrats, civil servants and administrators and their job is to push paper, write on paper, have rules on paper, pile up more and more paper – you just get a mass of growing telephone directory sized rules and regulations one, after the other.  Ceaselessly, endlessly – that is actually what the bureaucracy sees itself as there to do.”

Correction: The bureaucracy – any bureaucracy, not just the European one – is there to implement the strategies, directives, principles decided by those in charge.  In the case of the EU, it is the Council and the Parliament.  And to some extent the Commissionaires – but they function under the guidance of democratically elected governments / representatives.

But more importantly, if this is true of EU bureaucrats, it must certainly be true for UK bureaucrats.  So what exactly will change if the UK leaves the EU?  The UK bureaucrats will continue pushing papers – because you can bet that the UK government is not going to let go of thousands of civil servants to join the ranks of unemployed people when their workload is cut – because they no longer have to deal with EU bureaucracy.


Brexit the Movie – EU Regulation overkill

The EU regulates every part of everyone’s life

Movie quote: Regulation is so vast and complex, even the EU is unable to tell us how many laws there are covering different areas of our lives. So we’ve used some helpful EU databases to make the best estimate that we can. Here is regulated EU man, waking from his regulated slumber to start his regulated day. You wouldn’t think you need a law for pillow cases but the EU has 5. But that’s nothing the pillow inside is subject to 109 different EU laws. As far as we can tell, there are only 11 EU pertaining to radio alarm clocks. There’s around 400 governing the other stuff on Jo Citizen’s bedside table. You can’t be too careful with the duvets and sheets so there’s around 50 laws governing those.

And so the movie goes on for another couple of minutes. But let’s examine a few of the claims in detail.

Movie claim: there are 5 laws governing pillow cases.

Correction: it is very difficult to know what the movie means by “laws” and which database they used, but out of the 4 Commission Regulations that show up in the EUR-Lex database when searching for “pillowcases” none have any impact on consumers or companies importing, exporting or selling pillowcases.  Likewise, the Commission staff working document that shows up in the results has no impact on anyone outside the Commission.

There is also a Commission Decision from 1982 terminating an anti dump procedure for importing polyester pillowcases from the USA.  The Decision from 1996 may, however, have an impact for companies as it establishes the criteria for awarding the ECO-label to bed linen and T-shirts.

So, is it that horrible that there is a uniform definition of ECO labeled bed linen across the EU?  And for the rest, the movie did HORRIBLE background research when already the titles of regulations they mention show they have zero impact on the lives of EU citizens or companies operating on the EU market.


Movie claim: There are 31 EU laws for toothbrushes

Correction:  Out of these regulations, only 1 would be applicable to any company manufacturing toothbrushes in the EU for sale in the Common Market.  That is a Directive from 2006 about a prohibition on the selling of batteries containing hazardous substances and contains specific rules for the collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of waste batteries. None of these regulations would have an affect on citizens other than not having toxic waste dumped in the Thames.

Details: But lets look at these laws in detail.

Like it was said above, there is one Directive (2006) about hazardous substances in batteries.

12 (1/3!!!) of these “laws” relate to the almost annual changes in the nomenclature (terminology) used for tariffs and statistics.  That is, it is just a long list of updated terms and numbers. They don’t really apply to anyone but government agencies and tax/customs offices.

4 of these relate to trade agreements between the EU and Central America (2012), Serbia (2013), Colombia and Peru (2012) and Republic of Korea (2011). There is also a regulation reducing custom duties on good from the Ukraine (2014), a regulation imposing a provisional anti-dumping duty on imports of hairbrushes originating in China, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand (2000) and a regulation changing the import arrangements established of various agricultural and industrial products from China (1987).

There are 3 Commission Decisions assessing whether company mergers or acquisitions are in violation of merger/monopoly legislations – Gillette acquiring Duracell in 1996, Procter & Gamble acquiring Gillette in 2005 and the merger of SmithKline Beecham and Block Drug Company in 2001. There is also a decision from 1975 evaluating whether an Italian dental expo organiser is restricting competition in the Common Market.

In terms of changes to EU bureaucratic terminologies: a regulation defines a list products (prodcom) to be included for statistics on manufactured goods in the EU (2010). Another regulation establishes the sub-indices of the harmonized index of consumer prices (HICP) which each month shall be produced by the Member States (1996). Yet another regulation amends the Common Procurement Vocabulary (CPV) (2008). Another regulation requires Member States to amend the procedures for data collection and transmission regarding the harmonised indices of consumer prices (1999). Another two regulations relate to the reporting mechanisms of the Fund for European Aid (2014 and 2016). Finally there is a regulation about the classification of certain goods in the Combined Nomenclature (2007)

There is also a recommendation (not a law) on the use of a harmonised methodology for classifying and reporting consumer complaints and enquiries (2010).



Regulations are bad for business

Movie quotes: For small and medium size businesses and startups – its perilous. Complying with regulation imposes huge costs and falling foul of regulation can put you out of business. Big established firms don’t mind regulations so much. For a start, it means less competition. Big corporate interests then to love the EU – it suits their purposes perfectly.

My comments: I agree with these points.  Over regulations is good for big businesses who can use can afford the lawyers to do navigate the legal minefield – something small businesses can’t.

But the movie makes it sound like there are thousands and thousands of regulations and miles of red tape that small businesses have to navigate.  This is absolutely not true!  Money spent on book keepers, accountants and paying tax are much more cumbersome for a small business than EU regulations and red tape.

If you look at the details of the regulations about toothbrushes above – not one small company in the UK would have any problems revolutionising the toothbrush or suffer the consequences of trying to understand 32 cumbersome EU laws about toothbrushes when trying to sell it within the EU.  Should they want to turn their eyes to markets outside the EU, then they would have to pay attention to 1 or 2 regulations on trade agreements with various regions.

So it is a huge overstatement that the EU regulations make it impossible to have an a small innovative business in the EU.

But what about something not so straight forward?  What about importing coffee?  Well it’s no more complicated than what can be summarised in two pages


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