Government by fax – really?

On Wednesday the Newsnight programme, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, was devoted entirely to the question of this country’s membership of the European Union (note this link is ‘time-limited’ where availability is concerned). During the course of this programme a statement was made by Helle Hagenau – who is actually from Denmark and worked as Secretary General in Norway’s “No to EU” in 2001 – that caused not one ripple of interest among the panelists among the anti-EU side while all Jeremy Paxman could do was make what could be considered a sneering remark. It should be noted that while this programme was hailed as ‘tv not to be missed” by those on twitter, there were some among us, besides me, that were not that impressed – but I digress.

In answer to the accusation that Norway suffered from ‘government by fax’ from Brussels, Hagenau said (starts 32:12):

“No, we are not governed by fax because the European agreement, the single market agreement, that has a clause when we can veto a directive if we don’t like it; and we have done that.”

This promptly set the bloodhound in me off in full pursuit, nose to the ground. With the aid of Richard North, The Boiling Frog and further sifting of the internet by me, some interesting results were found.

First, from Richard North, comes the EFTA Bulletin “The European Economic Area and the Single Market 20 years on”, September 2012 and from pages 13-14 we read:

“Despite the equality of the EU and EEA EFTA in the formal institutional framework of the EEA Agreement, it has always been clear that the EU is the leading partner. As a result, the automatic implementation of EU legislation is rarely discussed in the Icelandic parliament. According to many legal scholars, however, this harmonised legal framework is in violation of the Icelandic constitution. When Iceland does try to deviate from the EU rules, the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) intervenes. More than a dozen times, the Authority has taken direct action or issued formal infringement procedures against Iceland before the EFTA Court for being in violation of EU law. The number of cases against Iceland increased substantially after the 2008 economic crash. Even though EEA legislation needs to be passed through the Icelandic Parliament, it has increasingly become evident that the EEA EFTA Member States cannot refuse EU legislation without threatening the
whole arrangement. If this were to happen, it would go against the overall aim of the EEA Agreement, which is to ensure legal homogeneity in the Single Market, and it would be in the hands of the European Commission to decide whether or not to suspend the part of the EEA Agreement that refers to vetoed legislation. Vetoing EU legislation could lead to withdrawal from the EEA Agreement, not only for the individual Member State, but also for its two other EEA EFTA partners. Often referred to as the “thermonuclear clause”, the formal veto right could be effective, but it might not be to anyone’s benefit if it was used. On a few occasions, however, EU directives (the directives on electricity providers and sewers and, most recently, the service directive) have, however, been disputed to the extent that they have prompted a general political debate over the veto right.
Recently the Norwegian Parliament refused to implement the amended directive on postal services. The Icelandic Government is of course following that process with interest.” (Emphasis mine)

This fact is confirmed by the UNI Post and Logistics Global Union who state (page 12):

“As a result of an extensive campaign run by the union and supported by UNI Post & Logistics, history was made in April 2011 when the Norwegian Government decided it would not implement the Directive.”

Courtesy of The Boiling Frog we then find this from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the pertinent section is 6.1.4. The right of veto, from which:

“According to the principle of unanimity applied in the EEA Joint Committee, all the EFTA states must agree in order for new EU legislation to be integrated into the EEA Agreement and for it to apply to cooperation between the EFTA states and the EU. If one EFTA state opposes integration, this also affects the other EFTA states in that the rules will not apply to them either, neither in the individual states nor between the EFTA states themselves nor in their relations with the EU. This possibility that each EFTA state has to object to new rules that lie within the scope of the EEA Agreement becoming applicable to the EFTA pillar is often referred to as these parties’ right of veto.”

Bearing in mind this section of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs information document appears to have been written before April 2011, it goes on to state that the importance of the EFTA pillar as a market for the EU and as a common market for the EFTA states has been significantly reduced. If problems should arise between Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on the one hand and the EU on the other in connection with the integration of new EU legislation into the EEA Agreement, the natural balance will therefore have shifted in the EFTA pillar’s disfavour and makes the point that this trend will be exacerbated by future enlargements of the EU to include new member states.

Again courtesy of Richard North (and Google), we find this, from which:

“The most direct means the Storting has for influencing EU legislation is through Art. 103 of the EEA Agreement which gives the national parliaments veto power over the decisions of the EEA Committee. This Article was introduced to accommodate constitutional requirements in the EFTA states, and reflects the fact that formally the agreement is only an ordinary international treaty. Under Art. 26 of the Norwegian Constitution, new international obligations of particular importance must be accepted by the Storting before they can be ratified.”

What the foregoing shows is that there are a number of points that need to be made and made quite forcibly.

  • That are those supposed ‘eurosceptics’ fighting for withdrawal from the EU ‘up to the job’ and do they actually know what they are talking about? For a statement to be made, such as that by Hagenau, not to be immediately ‘picked up’ by a ‘leading light’ of the eurosceptic movement – Farage – (apologies for any hint of sarcasm) beggars belief.
  • For Cameron to repeat what is obviously a lie can only lay him open to the charge of misleading the British public and begs the question whether he has the right to continue to be addressed with a title which includes the word ‘Honourable’.
  • Were any referendum to be held in this country on membership of the EU, how can we be sure that we will be presented with all the facts when politicians, such as Cameron and others are, shall we say, “economical with the actualité”?
  • Why has our “informative” media not informed us of the fact that membership of the EEA provides a means of applying a veto to EU Directives? Why have the media not exposed Cameron and other politicians as not quite telling the truth and in so doing propagating what are lies about ‘government by fax’?
  • If and when (God forbid) Cameron does go to Brussels to ‘renegotiate a new agreement’, why does a sense of foreboding come over me? How can we trust one who is a proven liar where ‘matters EU’ are concerned and who obviously knows not of that on which he intends negotiating?
  • That we need a few clauses added to our non-existent written Constitution.
  • And that when we do redefine our arrangements with the EU we need a bloody good lawyer.

Just saying………………

Update: Courtesy of PurpleRevolution on twitter, who ‘feeds’ me info comes the latest Norwegian Committee’s review of Norway’s Arrangements with the EU.


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16 Responses

  1. Bill says:

    David. For what its worth I got you got from that Danish lady’s comments. The fact so many don’t should come as no surprise as the majority are brainwashed into NOT thinking for themselves.
    They are taught from nursery upwards to trust and respect authority as authority is all that keeps us safe.
    This is demonstrably bollocks of the highest order but it is the position for the majority of people in these islands. Dissent leads to anarchy, hell even asking questions leads to anarchy according the Quisling MSM. So entrenched is this belief people look at me with real fear in their eyes if I don’t comply with a drone and ask them a question instead. If I happen to say NO to a drone and then the others around me act as though I have pressed a self destruct button.

    People moan that it is strictlycomexfactor that is keeping everyone looking the wrong way but they are wrong. It is fear plain and simple.

    So to come back to your question at the end of your post giving up is entirely up to you. There is always a futile aspect to any attempt to change the status quo. Gandhi felt it as did Mandela and I’m sure many other people who change a status quo feel it at some point to.
    For myself I figured out long ago that status quo changes appear out of ‘left field’ whilst everyone and I do mean everyone is looking at the right field.
    You and your friends are in the left field and this Danish Lady’s comments is exactly the sort of thing that proves conclusively you are in the right place.
    Carry on Squiffy, Carry on!

  2. cosmic says:

    I don’t see this as a magic bullet so much as a buggeration to the government by fax argument.

    For instance, the current brouhaha over minimum alcohol pricing, apparently illegal under EU rules, and probably one of the things causing the UK government to wonder if the EU isn’t too big for its boots. Errh, they’d signed up to it and are now objected to the rules and are not feeling comfortable with one of the implications. I can’t see how this would help. There’s nothing about rejecting an agreement freely entered into because it eventually throws up an inconvenience.

    As for

    “The most direct means the Storting has for influencing EU legislation is through Art. 103 of the EEA Agreement which gives the national parliaments veto power over the decisions of the EEA Committee. This Article was introduced to accommodate constitutional requirements in the EFTA states, and reflects the fact that formally the agreement is only an ordinary international treaty. Under Art. 26 of the Norwegian Constitution, new international obligations of particular importance must be accepted by the Storting before they can be ratified.”

    I’d guess we have a little difficulty in that our constitution is a muddled, nebulous thing.

    So what would it take on our part to reject something along these lines?

    I’m inclined to take a step back and think how we got into this and the idea that you can’t take the UK out of the EU without taking the EU out of the UK. Well you have to start somewhere, so taking the UK out of the EU makes sense if it isn’t an answer of itself.

    Also, things like EFTA and NAFTA involve the dilution of sovereignty to some extent even if they don’t have the overtly political ambitions of the EU and carry the bureaucratic placemen, I mean technocrats.

    I’ve got to agree with Bill, negotiating this would require good lawyers and good negotiators like the people who negotiate for oil majors and can take your fingers off and leave you feeling you’ve robbed them. I suppose we’d have to have a diplomat or two with knowledge of the EU. The whole lot would need to take a special oath of allegiance.

  3. john in cheshire says:

    WfW, I’m afraid that you, Richard North, TBF and others will have to keep repeating this information ad nauseum because that’s the only way it will penetrate the fog that issues from the usual outlets, especially the bbc. Not a pleasant prospect, I’m sure, but I hope you all will be persistent and take some comfort that there are some people (myself included) who are supportive, if only in a passive way, of all of your collective efforts.

  4. Robert says:

    Great post.Confirms what a bunch of liars these politicians are and none worse than Cameron.The same can be said for the BBC.

  5. Funnily enough that was the phrase that work me up. There again I didn’t go into it like you fine gentlemen, so that you.

  6. Nigel Carter says:

    Eh? Er? …this just goes to show what EU can get away with by using an avalanche of abstractions…it’s not Secret, it’s just impenetrable and suffocating…most people only have a vague idea what the EU is, or does…and no idea what the EFTA or EEA are, or if they exist.
    The best way is to use journalistic format: main point in headline, more in sub-heading…and that’s 90% of your audience gone, getting on with their lives…and then expand on the detail for the remaining 10%!Thus:
    EU cannot be really be vetoed and must always be obeyed. (headline)
    Prime Minister away with the fairies; Cameron knows he’s downright lying to you!
    See attached for proof.

  7. Furor Teutonicus says:

    XX When Iceland does try to deviate from the EU rules, the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) intervenes. More than a dozen times, the Authority has taken direct action or issued formal infringement procedures against Iceland before the EFTA Court for being in violation of EU law. The number of cases against Iceland increased substantially after the 2008 economic crash. Even though EEA legislation needs to be passed through the Icelandic Parliament, it has increasingly become evident that the EEA EFTA Member States cannot refuse EU legislation without threatening the
    whole arrangement. If this were to happen, it would go against the overall aim of the EEA Agreement, which is to ensure legal homogeneity in the Single Market, and it would be in the hands of the European Commission to decide whether or not to suspend the part of the EEA Agreement that refers to vetoed legislation. XX

    What part of that is hard to understand?

    THAT is not “free to choose/legistlate/Veto, THAT is the prisoner being allowed to have a play station, because the guard knows damn well, the prisoner farts out of tune, that Playstation can JUST as easily be taken away.

  8. New Forester says:

    Please carry on.

  9. “note this link is ‘time-limited’ where availability is concerned”

    Not anymore it isn’t – will be on youtube later today

  10. Edward Spalton says:

    I can confirm that “government by fax” is a key catch phrase of the European Movement. It was used by an Oxford academicC, Dr. Graham Jones, one of their leading lights, in a recent debate. He also said that a Swiss ambassador (whose country of accreditation I cannot recall) had told him that Switzerland’s ability to promote its own interests was reduced by its non membership of the EU. In an interdependent world SOVEREIGNTY WAS ENHANCED BY EU MEMBERSHIP..Of course, we know that in both Switzerland and Norway members of the political and official class are frustrated at not being able to hop on the gravy train to the EU trough. But I think it is a slogan worthy of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth
    SUBJECTION IS SOVEREIGNTY.

    The audience were the bright sixth formers of the Politics and Debating Societies of Repton School.
    . Dr Jones went on to tell them that, as future leaders,, their prospects would be far greater inside the EU.

    I am happy to report that the majority for LEAVING THE EU was well over 80% .
    It was so large that a count was not taken.

  11. Pogle's Woodsman says:

    For a programm which took up the best part of an hour, it was perhaps enlightening that the closest they actually got to a contemporary debate was when Farage (?) highlighted the two-tier nature of the future EU. Up to then, it was the usual tedious and irrelevant myth-counter-myth playground squabble. Paxo didn’t even officiate that well this time round.

    That being said, I was genuinely surprised the pro-EU panel was possessed of such a weak hand. I thought they’d have a deal more coherence and structured debate to rally behind. Came there none. However, it was still gratifying in a seasonal festive sort of way when one comment was killed immediately by Paxman describing it as a ‘scare story’(which, fairly, it was). But if that’s the level of debate the – alleged – big-hitters of the Beeb have descended to, then what can you do but despair?

  12. Vanessa says:

    We need “The Hour” journalists to take to the streets of Britain and start a revolution. What tenacity in wanting to show the truth. Where are all those sorts of media moguls now?

  13. Woodsy42 says:

    So if we joined the ‘outies’ we would have no seat at the table but could simply accept or reject the EU regs, is that right?
    The problem is, as I see it, that even now as members we could have watered down or rejected many EU regs but our government has not only accepted them all without scrutiny but in many situations enlarged and over-applied them.
    Indeed I suggest it’s that attitude which has driven much of the anti-EU sentiment. Had they deliberatey minimised EU impact by better scrutiny and minimal application I actually doubt there would be such a vocal EU opposition.
    So in the ‘outie’ situation we could reject and be free, which is what we want, or accept the faxes and be just as tied as now.
    I see a huge danger that we could end up out and ruled by EU fax simply because the EU acceptance mindset of gov and civil service would choose to accept everything as they do now!

  14. Christopher Hill says:

    Interesting comments gentlemen for which many thanks. I found your website on a post from fubarroso in reply to Daniel Hannan’s post in the DT today 15 December 2012.

    What concerns me greatly is the amount of known deceit and frankly bull-dust in our Parliament.

    I am also worried that there are people like you – of whom I have never heard until now.

    UKIP, seems to be the only adhesive force for “points of view like ours” – but whilst I admire their rise greatly, I would like something a bit more – shall we say militant.

    Not militant in throwing rocks or worse – but in mass demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of angry – “Free the UK from the EU” people.

  15. Edward Spalton says:

    Woodsy.
    Countries which export to other countries invariably have to comply with the rules of the importing country on the goods which they send to them. There are many countries which have free trade agreements with the EU and they are not “governed by fax” although the EU can send them a fax to advise them of changed regulatory requirements. In very rough terms we rely on the 10 per cent of our GDP so the other 90 per cent of our economy we can regulate how we choose.once we are out. Of course, there are many international standards which are quite benign – such as safety standards for medicines etc. The EU acts as a regional regulator for these. Outside the EU but in the EEA (if we chose to be so) we would have a bigger say in the formulation of such standards
    The whole “government by fax” business is pretty much a europhile red herring.

  16. xmfclick says:

    Richard North, TBF and WfW have done very valuable work in two related areas, i.e. the fisking of the “government by fax” line, and the exposure of Cameron’s disingenuousness — ok, lying.

    However, as WfW and others have pointed out, the legacy media are studiously ignoring this. As has also been pointed out, the lazy and incompetent bunch of freeloaders in the House of Commons tend to get their information from the legacy media.

    I suggest, in order to remove the freeloaders’ excuse that they “didn’t know”, anyone who gives a damn about Britain’s future should send the text of WfW’s post to their MP, which can be done very easily via http://www.writetothem.com/

    That way the buggers won’t be able (so easily) to repeat the Cameron lie without being caught out; or, it will give the ones who actually do want Britain out of the EU, but are too lazy or stupid to do their own research, something with which to counter it.

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