Remain campaigners are keen to portray all Brexiteers as nostalgic dinosaurs with a narrow perspective, yet nothing exposes their own blinkered mindset more than the tired canard that leaving the EU in favour of the EEA would mean having no say over the rules of the market. They use this as one of the main reasons why we must remain in a political and judicial union and cling to the notion that the EU is the “top table”.
David Cameron led the way when he dismissed the idea of Britain gaining a trading relationship with the EU akin to the one Norway enjoys as a member of the European Free Trade Association. He said, although Norway has full access to the single market, “it has no say at all in setting its rules”, and thereby dragged up the “fax democracy” myth once again.
Aside from it being patently untrue that EFTA members do not have the opportunity to influence regulation at an EU level, proponents of this myth are seemingly ignoring the revolution taking place in the way such rules are made in the modern era of globalisation.
Trade is increasingly being organised at a global level between international organisations ranging from private sector rulemaking organisations such as the ISO, to quasi-governmental institutions under the wing of the United Nations and the WTO; together the form a rapidly evolving global trading system. With a global regulatory regime emerging to harmonise standards, facilitate trade and thereby increase and spread prosperity, the Single Market begins to look parochial and protectionist.
Moreover, it goes beyond trade. Global problems effecting human society on a wide scale require global solutions and, naturally, they are increasingly addressed at a global level, with initiatives begin driven by international organisations that eventually find their way into national law, in our case via the EU. The EU acting as both out ultimate government, and administrative body, actually obscures the global law making process.
While Europhiles and Eurosceptics alike focus on Brussels, they neglect Geneva, where giant buildings host the largest number of UN employees in the world, 34 international organisations housed in the United Nations Office at Geneva, and hugely influential bodies such as World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the International Standards Organisation, and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to name but a few.
It is global bodies such as these that take the initiative and start a process that eventually results in regulations that emerge in Brussels, as well as independent nations across the world. It isn’t exactly common knowledge, for example, that the abolition of roaming charges has been a global initiative dating back as far as 1999. Or that the working-time directives derive largely from the ILO, which was set up in 1919 by the Versailles Treaty, Article 13, which included the promise of a 48-hour week. Or that the “tampon tax” and the “plastic bag tax” originate from global conventions, hence why so many countries around the world also adopted them.
Our media do not report on the increasingly important work of UNECE, which was set up in 1947 to encourage economic cooperation between nation states. It is from UNECE that the vast array of technical standards that dictate how motor vehicles are made originate. There the UK is represented by the EU, while Norway is an independent participant, and it doesn’t even have a car industry! UNECE’s work also covers environmental policy, trade and many other areas of international policy making strategy.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) acts as a neutral global forum where nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy (apart from EU Member States who are subordinate as nations to the EU’s common position). FAO subsidiaries set the global standards on food safety, plant health and animal welfare. Norway, constantly asserted to have “no say”, chairs and hosts the influential committee on fish and fisheries products, playing a leading role in setting the standards of the fishing and fish farming industry, while the UK merely complies with the regulations that are handed down to us via the EU.
This is global governance at work, and here we are having a narrow little debate about the extent of our influence on Single Market rules at a European level. The fascinating fact is that the EU is losing its grip on the Single Market and losing control of its regulatory agenda. A 2012 EFTA report showed that 80 percent of the EEA acquis (and therefore the EU’s Single Market legislation) falls within the ambit of existing international organisations and is thus potentially amenable to global regulation, the number has increased in the past four years.
So when the Remain campaign says “we will have no say over EU rules” we must ask, who’s rules are they anyway? They are made by UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, WTO, ILO, IMO, ITU, Basel2 WHO, UNEP and a whole host of global super regulators, NGOs and standards bodies, where the EU effectively takes our seat at the “top tables” by voting on our behalf and compelling us to adopt the common position.
We know that as a member of EFTA we would have plenty of scope to influence the rules at an EU level, but far more importantly we would be engaged independently at a global level. Norway has more influence in drafting laws originating from these sources than Britain, which often has to accept the “common position” agreed within the EU without the right of veto. Norway is fully engaged in the process before it gets anywhere near the EU. They are at the top tables with the right of reservation – a veto to protect their unique national interests.
The direction of travel is clear. As the march of globalisation continues, the Single Marketacquis itself will become more fully globalised; the EU is now a law taker and for the UK it is nothing more than a redundant middleman.
Globalisation deniers continue to be wilfully blind to what is happening before their very eyes. They insist that we must remain in a sclerotic and constraining political union in order to maximise our influence on the rules of the Single Market. They refute the fact that the EU is obliged to adopt standards from global bodies into its own legislation. In doing so they are denying irrefutable evidence because it doesn’t fit with their rigid ideology and archaic ideals. This is the “little European” mindset.
Behold Article 2.4 of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which states that: “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations …” The EU is party to this Agreement and therefore bound by it.
The WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement contains similar provisions (Article 3.1). It requires members to “base their sanitary or phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations, where they exist”. These provisions are not voluntary; the specific use of the word “shall” indicates that these requirements are mandatory.
The gradual globalisation of EU regulation goes as far back as the 1991 Vienna and Dresden Agreements, made between the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the European general standards organisation CEN, and the electrical standards-maker CENELEC and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). These give primacy to the international organisations, meaning that when they produce technical standards the European bodies are obliged to accept international standards as their own.
We need to break out of our parochial perspective and participate independently in the complex network of global governance. We must seek to bring transparency and accountability to an obscure system before the EU undermines our independence totally and we become marginalised. Independent nations are cooperating in an equitable manner on an international scale via global bodies while Remainers insist the UK must remain subordinate to the EU. Once again this debate comes down to competing visions, we want intergovernmentalism, not supranationalism, democracy not an elitist managerial oligarchy and cooperation not subjugation.
As regulation becomes globalised, a global marketplace is emerging; we need to be a part of it and we need to be a strong, positive influence with an independent voice. Defeatists bemoan the stalling of globalised trade, I say the UK needs to help kickstart the global trading system. We need to broaden our horizons, we need to turn down the offer of second class status in a developing unified European state and become a champion of the modern era of globalisation; helping to facilitate trade and spread prosperity across the world. We can do this as an independent, democratic nation, but first we have to leave the EU and take our seat at the real top tables of the world.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty