“No longer is European law an incoming tide flowing up the estuaries of England. It is now like a tidal wave bringing down our sea walls and flowing inland over our fields and houses.” Lord Denning
Many EU enthusiasts proclaim the Single Market as its greatest achievement and despair that Britain proposes to leave it. In this post we offer some insights into the introduction of the SM in 1993 and its consequences, which shed a different light on the exercise.
The dramatic growth in the volume, intensity and range of regulation pouring out from Brussels added burdens of conformance and cost that touched all businesses in the UK, and killed off many too. The present relevance of the history is not so much to the Single Market itself but to the illumination it provides to the ways in which the EU continues to operate and the deceptions that successive British governments have inflicted on citizens while they attempt to manage the supra-national system and obscure its defects.
Our evidence comes from The Great Deception (Chapter 15, 3rd edition, Bloomsbury Press) by Christopher Booker and Richard North. The story speaks for itself, requiring no comment from us.
We’ve extracted what we think are the main points from the chapter but we haven’t quoted any of the many individual cases that the authors cite; we recommend readers who wish to learn more about the specific effects of the EU in action to read the book, or at least this chapter.
(We use SM as a shorthand for Single Market; the abbreviation has another popular meaning that also seems appropriate, as this post shows.)
“In the closing months of 1992, many such stories began to come to light, from almost every sector of British industry, signalling a new phase in Britain’s relationship with what many people still called the ‘Common Market’. Until now, ‘Europe’ had seemed remote from their concerns. Occasionally the media would have fun with some ‘crazy new EEC directive’…. But in general ‘Brussels’ was viewed as some faraway place which had no impact on everyday life. All of a sudden, however, people running every kind of business were now disconcerted to be told they would now have to comply with new ‘EEC regulations’. The most obvious reason was the avalanche of legislation related to the launch of the Single Market on 1 January 1993.”
“Never in history had so many new criminal offences been put on the statute book in so short a time. Again, these often seemed to be related not to correcting genuine problems but simply to failing to comply with bureaucratic procedures, involving reams of paperwork.”
“Inflated by their new powers, many of the officials regulating businesses seemed to have become almost routinely aggressive and confrontational. This change appeared with such speed that, initially, many of those affected thought it was something happening only to them. Only gradually did it dawn that they were caught up in something much wider. Although few realised it, what they were experiencing were the first practical consequences of a dramatic change in the way their country was governed. Until now the emphasis in the story of the ‘European project’ had been on ‘high politics’; on the gradual construction, through interminable ‘summits’ and treaties, of a new system of government. But this had only been, as it were, the theoretical end of the process. What was now becoming visible was how this new form of government operated in practice.”
“From a British point of view, the first thing this represented was a radical change in the way most of their laws were made.”
“Now, as ever more areas of lawmaking had passed into Community competence, laws were increasingly coming to be made by a quite different method: one which represented as profound a revolution in the nature of their government as the British people had ever seen.”
“No one could hide the fact that the Community had become a law factory, every year churning out more directives and regulations.”
“It was central to the nature of the ‘project’ that the parliaments, officials and judiciaries of each of the member states should all be left in place. But behind them it erected a new supranational power structure which worked through these national institutions, controlling them and enlisting their active collaboration in a way that remained largely out of view.”
“On any given day in Brussels would be not only the officials of the Commission itself but also thousands of visiting national civil servants, all in one way or another engaged in ‘the European construction’. Countless thousands more were at work back home in each country, all participating in what had become the most complex legislative machine ever known.”
“In practice, a close appraisal of the workings of the Council of Ministers revealed that there was nothing ‘democratic’ about it whatever. Not only did its meetings taken place behind closed doors, without any public record of what was said or how ministers had voted …. Equally relevant was that more than 80 percent of proposals which came before the Council had already been settled by the officials in Coreper and were placed on what was known as the ‘A list’, as items the ministers themselves could not examine and which simply went through on the nod. Only the 20 percent of proposals which remained were on the ‘B list’, as items which the ministers would actually see. Even of these only a tiny fraction, marked with a star, were regarded as so contentious that they might actually be discussed.”
“The most remarkable achievement of this new system of government had thus been the extent to which the power to make the vast majority of laws had been transferred from politicians to officials. The only useful role left to the politicians in this process was to lend it a veneer of democratic legitimacy.”
“In practice, as those running businesses had already been discovering for some months, the most obvious consequence of the Single Market was a huge increase in regulation. Far from being a ‘free trade area’, the new Single Market was now the most highly regulated economic zone in the world, the setting up of which had required the issuing of 1,368 EC [European Community, as it was then known] directives. Their chief purpose had been to integrate the member states by ‘harmonising’ their laws over almost every aspect of economic activity, from the labelling of fire-extinguishers to the design of teddy bears.”
“Almost all the laws bringing about this revolution had to be transposed into UK statutory instruments, so that, while Parliament was spending months on the Maastricht Treaty, debating whether to give away more power to the European Commission, civil servants were busy drafting an unprecedented quantity of secondary legislation…. All this was ‘nodded through’ Parliament without debate, using powers MPs had already ceded under the European Communities Act.”
“One frequent criticism was that, far from making it easier to export goods into other EU countries, the new system had made it more difficult.”
“A second significant problem which came to light in the run-up to the Single Market was what became known as ‘gold plating’. So zealous were Whitehall officials in transposing EC directives into British law that they frequently added onerous requirements not included in the original directive.”
“A third, related problem was the extraordinary zeal often shown by British enforcement officials.”
“A fourth widespread problem was the discovery of many British firms that, when they attempted to sell their goods and services to other EC countries, this proved remarkably difficult. The Single Market had far from succeeded in dismantling all protectionist barriers. All too often the promised ‘level playing field’ was in practice a mirage.”
“A fifth problem in complying with this mass of new legislation was its cost.”
“Over the next four years [Prime Minister] Major’s ‘deregulation initiative’, inspired by the gold-plating of EC directives, was to remain a flagship policy. Yet during that time, when his government put its lengthy ‘Deregulation Bill’ through Parliament, not a single regulation implementing a directive was changed. The annual number of regulations issued by his government, which only topped 3,000 for the first time in 1992, never dropped below that figure. Only at the end of the Bill’s passage through Parliament did a junior minister in the House of Lords finally admit that the government had always intended that regulation stemming from the EC should be excluded from deregulation.”
“What was now becoming uncomfortably clear was that, whatever the Community claimed it was trying to do, the result was invariably the opposite. A Single Market claimed to be a great act of ‘liberation’ and ‘deregulation’ had produced one of the greatest concentrations of constrictive regulation in history. A ‘reform’ of the CAP intended to cut back on over-production and misplaced expenditure ended up producing more unwanted food at even greater expense. The CFP, intended to ‘conserve Europe’s fish stocks’, had resulted in an ecological crisis. At least on balance, it might be argued that the Single Market must have achieved its intended purpose of stimulating economic growth and creating jobs. But even that was a mirage. In the three years preceding the launch, average EU growth had been an unimpressive 2.3 percent per annum, while average unemployment had been 8.5 percent. In the four years after January 1993, the growth rate was to slump to 1.67 percent –the poorest performance of any economic bloc in the developed world –while EU unemployment would soar to 10.9 percent, with nearly 20 million people out of work.”
“As a former Chancellor, I can only say I cannot pinpoint a single concrete economic advantage that unambiguously comes to this country because of our membership of the European Union.” Norman Lamont, October 1994.