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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Regulations Ruffle Feathers In Great Britain

There are few things that Britain's zany tabloid newspapers latch on to faster than a Euromyth. This was demonstrated once more last week when The Sun, the country's biggest-selling daily, produced a scoop to the effect that European Union bureaucrats had decided to regulate the curve of bananas.


The Sun is no friend of things European. In fact, it regards Europe rather in the way that an animal-hater looks on dog dirt in the street. Among its most famous headlines of recent years are "Up Yours, Delors" -- a reference to Jacques Delors, the EU Commission's president -- and "Hop Off, You Frogs," which appeared above a loutish denunciation of Frenchmen.


But The Sun and its rivals believe they are tapping into a rich vein of British dissatisfaction with the EU when they reveal examples of supposedly meddlesome European bureaucracy. The tabloids are determined to foster the notion that the EU represents something fundamentally alien to the British way of doing things.


Thus the newspapers have recently reported that the EU is intent on forcing British fishermen to wear hairnets. Firefighters will have to wear blue pants. Homemade jam is to be banned, as are red double-decker buses. Potato chips with a prawn cocktail flavor will disappear from British plates, and British horses will be exported to France to be slaughtered for meat. Milkmen will no longer deliver milk to British doorsteps.


Most of these stories are myths or subtle distortions of the truth. However, in some cases, EU officials in Brussels are guilty of over-regulation. For instance, there is now a maximum permitted noise level for lawnmowers, an initiative as barren of logic as some of The Sun's editorial commentaries.


What about the bananas? It is true that the EU has ruled that bananas imported or grown in the Union's member-states must be of a certain minimum size. But this is a measure designed to prevent consumers from getting a bad deal. It may look like a case of bureaucrats sticking their noses into places where they have no right to be, but in reality the ordinary banana-eater in Europe should benefit.


The essential point is that there is bound to be a lot of regulation in the EU these days, because the Union is a single, integrated economic space. If everyone is to compete equally in this space and nobody is to have an unfair advantage, then common standards and rules must be drawn up. Free trade does not mean having no laws at all.


The question remains whether the tabloid newspapers' campaigns against Brussels have any effect on public opinion. The answer is probably not much. Regular surveys have been conducted over the last few years in which Britons are asked whether they are in favor of closer European integration. Results show that opinion has remained more or less unchanged, with those who favor greater unity roughly equal in number of those who oppose it.


However, the tabloids, almost all of which are stridently right-wing, do reflect an important strand of anti-European opinion in the ruling Conservative Party. If the Conservatives lose the next general election, due by 1997, then it is conceivable that the anti-Europeans will take over the party or that the party will split in two. In that sense, Europe really does represent a potential banana skin for the Conservatives.