Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is there no refuge, even in our smallest rooms, from the EU's insufferable instinct to boss us about?

Where would we be without the European Union?
All right, it has its little drawbacks, such as destroying democracy in the continent of its birth by placing all the most important decisions in the hands of unelected, unsackable bureaucrats.
And, yes, I grant you that the empire-building ambitions of Brussels have caused enormous economic damage throughout the eurozone.
Indeed, the one-size-fits-all straitjacket of the single currency has forced youth unemployment in Italy up to a record 40.4 per cent, in Spain to 56.5 per cent and in Greece up to 57.3 per cent, crushing the hopes of a whole generation in three volatile countries where fascism thrived within living memory. Even once-wealthy France is staring into the economic abyss.
I’m prepared to concede that here at home, our membership of the EU may have brought with it a disadvantage or two.
For example, it has meant that we’re banned from restricting immigration from our partner nations to these crowded islands — which is part of the reason record numbers of our not-so-young (no names, no pack-drill) are forced to live with their parents for ever and a day.


For another, it means we can’t conclude bilateral trade agreements with booming markets overseas, such as China, Brazil or even our own Commonwealth nations, where our historic links ought to give us a huge trading advantage.
Instead, we have to leave all the negotiating to the eurocrats — for whom Britain’s national interests are the last thing on their minds.
Sticklers may also argue that the human-rights culture tied up with our membership of the Brussels club has seriously eroded our ancient liberties — not to mention our national security — by banning the Government from showing any favouritism towards British citizens and preventing us from deporting foreign terrorists.
The nit-pickers may add that the EU’s ambition to harmonise the justice system throughout its empire further jeopardises our quaint attachment to such insular principles as the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus and trial by jury.
But who cares about democracy, prosperity, security or liberty? The truly wonderful news from Brussels this week is that the eurocrats, in their tireless quest to improve our lives, have made gigantic strides … towards standardising the quantity of water we’re permitted to use when we flush our lavatories.
So, yes, the EU enterprise may be going down the pan, taking with it the livelihoods of millions of its citizens. But what a comfort it is to know that it still has time and money enough to ensure that when it goes, it will be washed away by a standard, Brussels-approved, five-litre euroflush.
All right, it’s high time I dropped the leaden irony and confessed that the European Commission’s three-year study of the loo-flushing habits of its 500 million citizens has set me fizzing with anger against the EU and all things eurocratic.
Why is it so often the little things that enrage us — the strict rules on the classification of bananas of ‘abnormal curvature’, for example (not an urban myth; see directive EC 2257/94) — while we allow such matters as the crushing of democracy to pass with a weary shrug?
By EU standards, after all, the study of WC-cistern capacity cost practically nothing — a mere £76,000, if the commission’s accountants are to be believed (which, of course, they’re not; but we’ll let it pass).
I should also admit that, as I understand it, there are no immediate plans to outlaw cisterns that deliver more than the eurocrat-approved quantity of water — five litres for a full flush, three for a half-flush and one for a urinal.
Indeed, so far, the plan seems merely to lay down the rules under which cisterns will qualify for an EU ‘eco-label’, so as to guide lavatory-buyers, including businesses and local authorities, on the most environmentally friendly options. But you can bet your bottom euro, on past form, that the next step will be compulsion.


No, it’s not the expense that gets my goat. It’s the sheer, infuriating, what-the-hell-has-this-got-to-do-with-them factor.
Steam pours out of my ears at the very thought of the EC’s working party, snooping around with their clipboards, tut-tutting at the UK for permitting the sale of six-litre cisterns and using five per cent more of our domestic water supply for flushing than the European average.
Is there no refuge, not even in our smallest rooms, from the EU’s insufferable instinct to interfere and boss us about?
I’m old enough to remember how the European project was pitched to us before the 1975 referendum, when we are asked if we wanted to remain members of what was by then officially known as the European Economic Community, though we all still called it the Common Market.
There was much talk about bringing peace and brotherhood to our continent, after centuries of bloody strife. There were many fine speeches about the wonderful business opportunities, coupled with solemn assurances that we wouldn’t have to sacrifice a shred of our sovereignty.
But I can’t for the life of me remember Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan, Denis Healey or any of the other euro-enthusiasts telling us that one of the joys of membership would be a comprehensive audit of Europe’s lavatories or a move towards a bog-standard euroflush (forgive the irresistible schoolboy pun).
Why this mania for uniformity in everything? I’m not denying that in dryer parts of the EU — including England — it makes sense to guard against wasting water.
But other parts are literally awash with the stuff. Why should anyone in the Lake District, listening to the rain gushing into an overflowing reservoir, be expected to buy a smaller cistern, simply because the land may be parched in central Spain?


As it happens, it was a similarly petty matter that finally convinced me, after years of uncertainty, that we should pull out of the EU.
This was in 2006, when the Blair government rubber-stamped directive 2003/20/EC, which required that all car passengers up to the age of ten — and 11-year-olds less than 135 cm in height — would have to sit on booster seats.
It occurred to me that there had been no mention in any party’s manifesto of this footling, bossy-boots law, which would either criminalise or cause unnecessary expense to a great many grandparents, uncles and aunts who occasionally help out with the school run.
As I wrote at the time, it was a mere fleabite on the ankle of freedom. But for me it was one too many.
Since then, of course, the fleabites have come thick and fast, with this nonsense about the euroflush only the latest.
So I suppose it’s no wonder that the Tories are haemorrhaging support to Ukip — a trend confirmed by this week’s poll of members of the once true-blue Countryside Alliance, which showed the Conservatives’ rating down by an alarming 20 per cent.
Heaven knows, I understand their frustration with David Cameron. We’re all well aware, too, that the Prime Minister will use every trick in the book to try to convince us that we should stay in the EU.
In this, he can count on strong support from the eurocrats, who will pretend his doomed attempts to repatriate powers from Brussels have been a triumphant success.
But no matter how much he wriggles, he surely cannot escape from his solemn promise to offer us an in/out referendum on Europe in 2017, if he is returned to power next time.
Which leaves us with the agonising irony that a vote for Ukip in the coming General Election will be the surest way to deny the country its say.
For that reason, and that almost alone, I will be holding my nose and voting Tory again.
The EU, with its over-regulated statist culture, is going down the pan. But I don’t see why we should go with it.


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