Dispelling the myths: Do 80% of British laws get made by the EU?

This time, I’m turning my attention to a common Eurosceptic argument that EU membership directly correlates with a decline in UK sovereignty. The EU Parliament, alongside other EU governing bodies, is apparently responsible for pushing an inordinate or otherwise unacceptable amount of legislation on to Britons, therefore we should leave the EU and make our own laws. The claim varies and different people use different percentages (60%, 75%, 80%), so in this blogpost I’m taking 80% as my guideline. If it turns out that, say, 70% of our laws are enacted by EU bodies, then the “80% argument” is still dispelled, and you are free to debate whether 70% of our laws coming from the EU is a tragedy or not.

The argument actually originates from European Commission President Jacques Delors, who told the European Parliament in 1988 that “[by 1998], 80% of the legislation related to economics, maybe also to taxes and social affairs, will be of [EU] origin”, and the argument is by no means exclusive to the UK (Germany and the Netherlands are also arguing over the amount of legislation imposed on them by Brussels). We do actually have a say in which laws are passed onto us from the EU, but nonetheless, for those who want to use this argument, evidence is, as always, crucial.

An analysis from the London School of Economics and Political Science looked at data sources and found that only around 15.5% of laws in the UK have an EU origin. Myth dispelled right? Not quite. Unfortunately, the data sources they use (and they admit this) have a very narrow definition of “EU laws”. They’re defined as “a law that serves to implement a European directive”, which is to say, an EU law operating in the UK is defined as a law that the European Union philosophically wants implemented. So if, say, the EU was not committed to protecting forested areas, but there were hundreds of laws that came from the EU about protecting forested areas, they would not be counted in the percentage study.

In short, the problem with dispelling this myth has been that the definition of an EU law operating in Britain is not properly vocalized by studies that deal with them in a statistical way. Studies don’t properly categorize what makes an EU law.

But thankfully, this doesn’t mean we can’t answer the question at hand.

Perhaps the main source for the “80% argument” comes from a mathematical count done by then-Parliamentary Undersecretary of the German Parliament, Alfred Hartenbach, in 2005. He basically added up the number of regulatory laws that were passed by the EU, compared them with the number of laws passed by Germany alone, and then calculated that about 84% of all German laws came from the EU.

But of course, the example of Germany is absolutely not transferable to the UK.

So how about the second-highest estimate that comes from former President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering, that 75% of all laws are made in EU and transferred to member states? This claim was regurgitated by UKIP.

The problem is, it actually refers to the number of laws adopted by the EU for the EU, not for member states. Pottering was referring to internal laws, to put it another way, and not laws that the UK implements.


(Image from Full Fact)

So what the hell figure should we use? Well, Nosemonkey’s Eutopia discredits the 80% figure, the 75% figure, and even David Cameron’s 50% figure. It details the complexity and difficulty that one faces when trying to compare the number of laws made by the EU and the number made by the UK alone, and it also explains how goddamn difficult it is to properly define what counts as a “law”, as opposed to a procedural decision, a regulation, or any other law-like jargon.

The best guess we can get comes from a 59 page Parliamentary report that concludes 15.5% of our laws come from the EU. Although this conflicts with other reports, it is backed up by Full Fact.

The verdict: We don’t know what percentage of our laws come from the EU, but it’s not anything close to 80%. Best guesses place the figure between 15%-50%, so feel free to debate that.


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