Think the EU is responsible for banning roaming charges? Clean beaches? Workers rights? Health & Safety? Here are the real facts.
In the famous scene from the film “The Life of Brian” The question was: What have the Romans ever done for us? It turned out that all the things citizens took for granted were actually given them by the Romans. In the case of the European Union, however, it’s the other way around. The long list of things that the EU claims to have done for us, were actually done by others.
The benefits that the EU claims to have won are in reality the result of agreements at a global level by international organisations whose words the EU has merely cut and pasted into its own regulations. In some cases, the EU has delayed implementing measures the rest of the world has already adopted.
Here are just a few classic examples – cheaper roaming charges for mobile phones, cleaner beaches, fairer employment laws, and better health regulations.
Cheaper mobile charges
In the 1990s, as mobile telephone use grew rapidly, the phone companies set up mobile networks around the world. In Europe, companies like Vodafone and Orange wanted to set up European-wide networks with uniform charges. But the EU’s competition regulators ruled against this arrangement, and insisted on independent national mobile networks.
The mobile network companies obeyed EU regulation and set up separate national networks with separate national charging systems, varying from country to country. This separation of charging nationally gave rise to cross border “roaming charges” – sometimes excessive fees.
In 1999, an international association called the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG) asked the EU to change its regulations so roaming charges could be abolished but the EU, as usual, did nothing. INTUG thus approached another international body, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The OECD took up the campaign and lobbied a third global body, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU investigated and in 2008, published a report entitled a “Regulatory analysis of international mobile roaming services” which took up the campaign for a worldwide policy of roaming freely. Still the EU did nothing. In 2013, the OECD published its finding that “international mobile roaming services are believed to fall under the scope of [Word Trade Organisation] provisions”. It was this report that triggered the worldwide abolition of roaming charges.
As a result of the OECD initiative, in 2013, India committed itself to removing roaming charges, with African countries and China following suit, together with Latin America. ASEAN members of the World Trade Organisation are set to ban charges as is the United States.
It wasn’t until the following year, 2014, that the EU finally caught up with this initiative by others and voted to abolish roaming in Europe – and even then it will not abolish them until 2017. Long before then roaming charges will have been abolished in much of the rest of the world.
Pollution free beaches
One of the actions of which the EU and its supporters are most proud is the cleaning up of Britain’s beaches. Surely this is something we have to thank Brussels for?
Actually, no. The cleanliness (or otherwise) of beaches around the world is the subject of a worldwide programme initiated by the Foundation for Environmental Education, a non-profit NGO, headquartered in Copenhagen, founded in 1981, and which awards the coveted Blue Flag to beaches around the world. See http://www.blueflag.global/mission-and-history/
The EU has climbed aboard the clean beaches bandwagon because it realised at an early stage there was PR mileage to be made out of the subject, but to think of this as an EU initiative is to misunderstand the word initiative in connection with the dim, slothful and corrupt machinery of the European Union.
Haven’t the liberal-minded legislators in Brussels compelled the UK’s Tory government to adopt workers’ rights against the wishes of big business? Aren’t the EU our protection against the worst excesses of capitalism?
The facts are pretty much the reverse of this received picture.
Equal pay for men and women, banning of discrimination because of age, race or sexual orientation, are all rights that have long been fought for and won by the International Labour Organisation, ILO, which is the United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, particularly international labour standards, social protection, and work opportunities for all.
The EU has again simply cut and pasted the ILO regulations into its own rule book, introducing a completely unnecessary layer of bureaucracy between us and the UN.
The ILO’s governing body consists of 14 employers’ representatives, 14 workers’ representatives and 28 government representatives of which the United Kingdom is one of ten leading nations of “chief industrial importance”. The EU does not have a seat on the ILO and plays no part in its campaigns. So – unlike the EU – Britain played a key role in bringing about the workers’ rights for which the EU now tries to claim credit.
Outside of the EU, Britain would continue to occupy its key role in the ILO and would continue to implement the ILO’s rights for its workforce.
Britain has a better record on worker’s rights than the EU in any case. The UK implemented the Equal Pay Act in 1970, before it even joined the EU. Britain already had sex and race discrimination laws too, , while its maternity leave exceeded the EU minimum of 14 weeks when that directive came in.
The most controversial employment policies in the UK — the new higher minimum wage; the ‘apprenticeship levy’ payroll tax; restrictions on skilled migrant workers; and the requirement for large companies to publish their gender pay gaps — were not imposed on us by the EU but were initiatives of the current Conservative government.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Understandably people sometimes confuse the European Convention on Human Rights and its Court with the European Union, or think, incorrectly, that the ECHR is some kind of EU initiative. In fact, the ECHR was founded in 1953 – long before the EU came into existence – and has no connection with the EU. When Britain leaves the EU it will continue to be a signatory to ECHR.
Health and Safety
What about Health and Safety, then? Isn’t the EU famous for its rules and regulations in this field?
Safety in the workplace is regulated globally by the International Labour Organisation, ILO. The Constitution of this United Nations body is based on the principle that workers should be protected from sickness, disease and injury arising from their employment. The ILO has promulgated a number of Conventions on this theme.
In 2003 the ILO adopted a global strategy to improve occupational safety and health which included the introduction of a preventive safety and health culture, the promotion and development of relevant instruments, and technical assistance.
The EU, has cut and pasted many of these ILO initiatives and, as usual, claimed credit for them itself.
Health issues, globally, are addressed by the World Health Organisation, (WHO) based in Geneva. WHO is a United Nations agency whose objective “is the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health”.
WHO acts as the directing and co-ordinating authority on international health work and works with government health administrations, professional groups to assist Governments in strengthening health services and providing technical assistance and emergency aid.
Again, the EU has adopted many WHO recommendations as its own. As a member of the UN, Britain contributes to and benefits from WHO and would continue to do so if it leaves the EU.
Dozens of similar cases can be cited, where the standards, the regulations, the laws, the treaties have been initiated by global international organisations, and then rubber-stamped by bureaucrats in Brussels who claim the credit for the initiatives.
What the EU has been very effective at doing is using a significant portion of the €2 Billion of our money it spends each year on “communications and education” (that’s PR to you and me) to jump on the bandwagon of these global initiatives and convince us that it’s Brussels we have to thank.
What has the EU ever done for us? It has shown us just how gullible we are.