Today’s Daily Express front page story “Go to Britain for benefits says EU” claimed that “meddling Euro MPs have provoked fury by heralding a £4million scheme to publicise Britain’s lucrative benefits and health care system to people from across the Continent”.
This particular “story” refers to the European Year of Citizens 2013 which, far from publicising Britain’s benefit system, will actually promote citizens’ rights, including voting rights, consumer rights and right to work and study across the EU.
Within a couple of hours, Labour MEPs had produced a rebuttal. But, despite this, the latest euromyth is born.
Like death and taxes, it seems they will always be with us. They have become part of the political fixtures and fittings, the tabloids love them, they have a special section devoted to correcting them on the European Commission website , they have a Wikipedia entry and the BBC even published a guide to the “best euromyths” as part of its coverage of the European Union at 50 a couple of years ago.
The most famous – or infamous – is the Brussels ban on bent bananas, which has been around so long no one can quite remember if Brussels was supposed to have banned bent or straight bananas or whether it might have been cucumbers anyway.
A quick survey of some recent additions to the euromyth library reveals that the EU is banning high heels for hairdressers, while insisting on hairnets for fishermen! And apparently those “barmy Brussels bureaucrats” are forcing the closure of Britain’s final salary pension schemes, demanding EU flags on England football shirts, banning children blowing up balloons, while allowing experiments on stray cats and dogs.
Except, of course, they’re doing nothing of the sort. As ever, the key part of the word “euromyth” is the “myth” bit! But certain British tabloids rarely let facts get in the way of a good headline.
And, as time goes by, myth and reality become indistinguishable. Many people remember the infamous European Commission “plan” to insist on re-naming British sausages as “emulsified high-fat offal tubes”. You may even recall that a successful campaign to see off the dastardly Europeans was led by a certain Jim Hacker. Not the real world, but the BBC comedy “Yes Minister.”
That’s why it’s useful every now and then to remind ourselves of what the EU actually has done – as opposed to the euromyth.
Things like rights for people at work, such as more protection for the consumer, such as cleaner air and water . . . . and such as legislation to bring cheaper mobile phone bills – passed in the European Parliament just the other week.
Can anything be done to correct the record? I suspect not. Unfortunately, though many of us challenge these myths whenever we hear them, the readership of our collective e-bulletins, websites and blogs still doesn’t quite reach the levels of the Daily Express.