There is a belief in the UK that we British obey EU laws, while other countries simply ignore them. A new report reveals the real story.
Every year, the European Commission produces an Internal Market Scoreboard. This compares the performances of EU Member States, in terms of whether or not they have officially put EU Directives onto their own national statute books. In technical terms, this is called ‘transposing’ EU law into national law.
The 2003 scoreboard showed that the UK was one of only five countries that met the timetable. Another was Spain, with Portugal highlighted for showing the most improvement. The worst – by a long way – was France.
The 2004 scoreboard has just been published and, once again, the UK met the timetable while France was still the worst offender, having failed to transpose as many as 62 Directives in time.
But this is only half the problem. It is bad enough for a country to be at the bottom of the list in transposing EU law – some countries are also offenders in terms of ignoring the law even when it has been transposed. In 2003, the worst offenders, by a very long way, were Italy and France. The same two are the worst in the 2004 scoreboard – but France has been the only one actually to get worse with some 125 cases of infringement.
Many of these Directives are concerned with opening up the Single Market, and with tearing down national trade barriers that certain protectionist countries have been sheltering behind for so long. That is why the UK, as a firm believer in open markets, is so keen to transpose these laws on time and then implement them comprehensively. It is also why countries such as France are so keen to resist.
It is an outrage that France has got away with its behaviour for so long, and a disgrace that the old European Commission had allowed it to happen. However, all this is about to change. The new Commission is committed to tackling the issue head-on, and about time too. That is one direct outcome of this report.
But there is another key conclusion to be drawn. Two of the countries with the best record of all, in terms of both transposition and implementation, are Norway and Iceland. Because they are not EU members, they have no say in the way the legislation is drawn up and no say in condemning the rule-breakers. But, as both want to do business with the EU on preferential terms, they still have to conform to EU laws.
Being inside the EU, fighting for a level playing field, can certainly be frustrating. Being outside, obliged to follow the same rules, yet with no say on shaping them, is more frustrating still. That is the real moral of this report.