Exposed: The Daily Mail’s Untruths

January 20th, 2014

Jon Danzig, an award winning medical journalist and formerly an investigative journalist at the BBC – published this on his blog. He is now pursuing a complaint against the Daily Mail with the Press Complaints Commission.

Daily Mail

The world’s most popular online newspaper had reported that many Romanians and Bulgarians were coming to the UK following the lifting on ‘work restrictions’ on 1 January.

The Mail claimed that seats were sold out; that one airline had to double its flights to meet demand, and one-way air tickets were selling for £3,000.

The paper announced that ’29 million Romanians and Bulgarians’ now had, ‘the right to work in the UK’.

Their New Year’s Eve edition reported that all buses from Bulgaria’s capital to London were sold-out for the first week of January and that almost all flights from Romania were full-up. The paper claimed that Wizz Air, the no-frills low-cost carrier, had to raise its prices to £300 a ticket because of the demand.

I posted three blog articles claiming that buses and planes were not full; last-minute tickets were still available at reasonable prices; Wizz Air hadn’t doubled its flights, and demand for bus and plane tickets was about the same as this time last year. In fact, the main bus company in Bulgaria said that ticket sales were down.

I also sent a comprehensive letter of complaint to Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail’s Editor claiming that their story was inaccurate and misleading, and that the paper should publish a prompt correction and apology. I have now launched a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Here are the facts of my case:

The Daily Mail’s story, headlined ‘Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’ claimed that plane and bus loads of Romanians and Bulgarians were not only coming to the UK for jobs, but were intent on finding ways to claim on the UK’s benefits system.

Firms had been set up to advise them how to do it, or how to avoid paying government fines, reported The Mail. In addition, Romanians and Bulgarians were posting on website forums asking how to get a Council House, child tax credits or maternity benefits in the UK.

By contrast, last week The Daily Mail published a story headlined, ‘Just 24 Romanians have entered Britain since migration laws were relaxed, according to the country’s UK ambassador’

There were so many loose ends with the Daily Mail’s story that I decided to enlist the help of my colleague, Alina Matis, award winning journalist and Foreign Affairs Editor of one of Romania’s leading newspapers, Gândul. Alina recently won a prize in the ‘European Reporter’ contest for her article about immigration.

We decided to do a full deconstruction of all 890 words of the Daily Mail’s feature that claimed buses and planes from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK were full. This in summary is what we analysed and discovered about the Daily Mail’s claims:

Claim 1: One airline has even doubled the number of flights to meet demand

The claim is flatly rejected by Wizz Air, the airline named by the Mail as doubling its flights from Romania to the UK ‘to meet demand’. Wizz Air flights from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK were only increasing by 30%, stated the airline, and that was for summer 2014. The Mail’s claim that tickets from Romania to London from 1st January were being sold for £3oo was also misleading. Wizz Air flights from Bucharest to London were available on New Year’s Eve for travel the next day at only €190 each (£158).

Claim 2: Some one-way tickets are selling for up to £3,000 each

The £3,000 ticket was offered by Alitalia for a non-direct route from Bucharest to London via Rome. As I pointed out to the Daily Mail, they’ll always be oddly priced, oddly routed tickets. But why mention it when direct flights were readily available for less than £160? Who would buy a £3,000 ticket when much cheaper ones were available?

Claim 3:Buses leaving Bulgaria capital Sofia until January 9 are fully booked

On 1 January I, the day after the Mail’s story was published, I was easily able to buy a bus ticket from Sofia to London departing 3 January. The bus company, Balkan Horn, stated that the bus left on 3 January with five empty seats. Their manager, Valentina Georgieva, told me, ‘We actually have less bookings than this time last year.’

Claim 4: Bulgarians and Romanians were last night preparing to travel to Britain as restrictions on working here are lifted tomorrow

The Daily Mail claimed that their story didn’t say if there was a link with Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK and the lifting of ‘work restrictions’ on 1 January. The Mail’s legal department told me, ‘It is for a reader to make a connection if he or she chooses.’ But the connection seemed clear enough in the sentence above.

Claim 5: When controls imposed in 2005 are lifted tomorrow, 29 million from the two countries will gain the right to work in Britain

Apart from the fact that it simply isn’t possible, let alone likely, that the entire populations of Bulgaria and Romania would all move to the UK, the Daily Mail’s claim that 29 million from both countries have ‘the right to work in Britain’ from 1 January cannot be correct. Romania has 3.5 million children under the age of 15; many of them are babies. Is the Mail claiming they have ‘the right to work in Britain’? There are also almost 1.2 million children in Bulgaria, and a combined elderly population of Bulgaria and Romania of over 4.5 million. Are they all coming to work in the UK too?

Also, the Daily Mail was incorrect to state that ‘controls’ were imposed on Romanians and Bulgarians in 2005. The ‘transitional controls’ were imposed by some EU member states – including the UK – in 2007 when Romania and Bulgaria first joined the European Union. During the transitional period, Romanians and Bulgarians could only work in the UK with a work permit, although students could work for 20 hours a week during term time and full time during holidays. From 1 January 2014, Romanians and Bulgarians are able to come to work in the UK, or to look for work, on the same basis as other European Union nationals.

Claim 6: One user of a popular website wrote: “My husband and I want to have a child in the UK. We want to know what kind of benefits we can apply for. We are interested in receiving a council house.”

The Daily Mail claimed that messages on internet forums in Bulgaria and Romania asked how to claim benefits in the UK. No details of the website forums were given in The Mail story. The Mail declined to let me have the addresses of the websites they referred to, so that I could check them. Of course that doesn’t mean such forums don’t exist; but it does seem odd, and not best journalistic practice, for the Mail not be open about this.

Claim 7: Aleksandra Dzhongova, who runs a legitimate employment agency in Sofia, said other firms had been set up with the specific intention of helping immigrants understand Britain’s welfare system, rather than filling job vacancies.

Aleksandra Dzhongova, partner in the employment agency Anons, insisted that she had never spoken with the Daily Mail and she would never have given such a quote. My colleague, Romanian journalist Alina Matis, told me, ‘The agency was stunned when I phoned them. They had no idea about the Daily Mail story.’ Programme Manager and Partner, Daniel Kalinov, commented, ‘The quote is inaccurate and untrue and we will likely take this further through our lawyer.’

Mr Kalinov explained that last January the Daily Mail had interviewed him for a story published in February 2013: ‘Mafia bosses who can’t wait to flood Britain with beggars: While politicians dither over new wave of immigration from Eastern Europe, ruthless gangmasters are rubbing their hands with glee’ Mr Kalinov claimed that the article presented ‘untrue facts’ about him, so that when the Daily Mail contacted the company again last December for another interview, they refused. As Ms Dzhongova doesn’t speak English, Mr Kalinov conducts all interviews with foreign media, and he said no one from the Mail had spoken with Ms Dzhongova or to him or anyone else in the company.

Claim 8: One firm offered to help its Romanian clients avoid paying fines issued by HM Revenue and Customs

I asked the Mail for the name of this firm and whether they had reported them to the authorities for possible illegal activities. The Mail declined to answer. The Mail’s story also referred to another anonymous firm helping Romanians find work in Britain whose spokesman was quoted as saying, ‘There are already many using these social benefits without necessarily having an urgent need for them.’ But the Mail didn’t name the firm and has not accepted my request to provide more details.

My colleague Alina said, ‘I did a thorough search on the internet, but I could not find any such firms in Romania or Bulgaria offering advice on benefits or avoiding fines.’ Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that there are no firms offering such advice; but it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist, and it would be easy for the Mail to verify this part of their story. As Alina pointed out, ‘Out of 141,000 Romanians and Bulgarians living in the UK, in February 2013 there were around 1,700 Romanians who applied for benefits, according to statistics from the British government. I would hardly say there is a trend or a mindset on going to the UK for benefits by the citizens of Romania or Bulgaria.’

Claim 9: The Daily Mail asked Priority Point, which gives Romanian migrants advice on settling in the UK, whether they could help a Romanian woman with two children with no legal documents to claim benefits while looking for a job as a housekeeper. A member of staff said they could, for a free (sic). The employee said: ‘There is no problem. But first she will need to apply for a national insurance number and then she can apply to receive money for the kids.’ When asked if the company will fill out the paper work, the employee replied: ‘Yes, we will do. For the documents for claiming child benefits you’ll be charged £70.’

I phoned the Managing Director of Priority Point, Cristina Haicu, and read the above piece to her from the Daily Mail article. She exclaimed, ‘Oh my God!’ and said she knew nothing about the story. She told me, ‘Thank you for bringing the article to our attention. Please be advised that Daily Mail did not call Priority Point and Priority Point did not make the quoted statement for Daily Mail.’

Claim 10: Travel agencies in Sofia as well as the Romanian capital of Bucharest reported huge demand for tickets. At the Central Bus Station in Sofia, travel agent Svetlanka Beaucheva said: ‘Everything is booked until Thursday, January 9. There are no seats left.’

Commented my Romanian journalist colleague, Alina Matis, ‘Svetlanka Beaucheva has been impossible to find. She only seems to exist in the Daily Mail article. The Bulgarian who helped me told me that the Daily Mail might have misspelled the name when they tried to adapt it to English, because it doesn’t sound right and he tried some variations of it, but couldn’t find her anywhere.’ It does seem strange that the Daily Mail didn’t give the name of the travel agency. Furthermore, it wasn’t correct that as at 31 December – the date of the Daily Mail article – that all bus seats to England were booked until 9 January. I was able to book a seat on the bus from Sofia to London on 3 January; and according to the bus company, that bus had five spare seats when it left Sofia for London.

Claim 11: A manager at coach company Karats Eurolines said prices had gone up due to the high demand.

Kurats Eurolines in Bulgaria categorically stated that they never spoke to the Daily Mail, or gave that quote, and they don’t even have any buses going to the UK. In a strong statement sent to my colleague, journalist Alina Matis, their manager, Bojidar Stamenov, wrote: ’What is the problem? Our company is KARAT-S AD, member of Eurolines Organisation from Bulgaria. We have NO interest for England, NO coaches for England, NO meetings with journalists.’

Claim 12: Another, at coach firm Balkan Horn, said: ‘It is very busy, many people want to travel to England, especially with the change in EU rules. But everything is booked up, it’s hard to get there.’

Balkan Horn deny any knowledge of ever talking with the Daily Mail, and say they would never have given such a quote as it wouldn’t have been true; there were seats available on their buses to London, and no increased demand because of the change in EU rules. In fact, demand for bus journeys to England had gone down.

Last week the Mail’s legal department explained that, ‘The published comments from the worker at the Balkan Horn office at Sofia bus station were given on the condition that he was not named because there is a company ban on speaking to journalists.’ This seems odd, as both myself and my journalist colleague, Alina Matis, had no problems talking several times with Balkan Horn, and found them to be very helpful. There was no ban by the company on speaking to journalists.

Commented my Romanian journalist colleague, Alina, ‘I spoke with Ion Prioteasa, and he was shocked when I read out the quote to him. The Mail had misquoted Prioteasa from a speech he gave last October when Wizz Air launched a direct flight from the city of Craiova to Luton. Mr Prioteasa was talking about numbers of all flights from Craivova airport to all destinations, and he was not referring to the UK.’

Claim 13: Ion Prioteasa, president of Dolj county in the south of Romania, claimed that the numbers travelling from there to the UK will double to 70,000 next year.

Ion Prioteasa told Alina, ‘I was referring to the doubling of the number of passengers from Craiova Airport in the next year, but we have many other destinations other than Luton. We have Bergamo, Milan, Rome, we are now trying to have flights to France and Barcelona. I had no knowledge to support a statement regarding the number of people traveling to UK in the coming year.’ Mr Prioteasa confirmed that he had never spoken with the Daily Mail.

For these 13 reasons, I am today making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about the Daily Mail article, on the grounds of an alleged breach of the PCC’s Editors Code of Practice, in particular Code 1, items i, ii, and iii, regarding accuracy. If you feel you want to complain, the more people who do so the better.


Benefit Tourism?

October 15th, 2013

Dr. Heather Rolfe, a Principal Research Fellow and the National Institute of Economic and Social research (NIESR) wrote this article about “Benefit Tourism” (Which appeared on the website ‘British Influence’ –

Last Sunday’s Telegraph claimed to have the ‘first concrete assessment of the impact of mass migration on Britain and other countries from predominantly eastern European countries’ purporting to show that the number of unemployed EU citizens coming to Britain without jobs and looking for work rose substantially between 2008-2011 along with an increase in non-active EU migrants in the UK between 2006 and 2012. The evidence was attributed to a new report from the European commissioner in charge of employment and welfare.

Should we be alarmed? Are the report’s findings proof of ‘welfare tourism’, that our welfare system is being drained by migrants wanting to live on benefits, and in danger of being looted and pillaged by Bulgarians and Romanians? The answer is no – the article distorts the findings of the Commissioner’s report and the reality of intra-EU migration.

Research shows consistently that work is overwhelmingly the motivation for migration to the UK from within the EU. The employment rate among EU migrants is 77 per cent and even higher, at almost 80 per cent, among those from Poland and the other A8 countries, while that of British nationals is 72 percent. As recent research by the OECD concludes, EU mobile workers have a strong and dominant motivation for work (OECD, 2013). Even if mobility for non-work reasons, including education and family, have recently increased, work is still the principal reason for migration within the European Union.

Is it possible then that, while motivated by the prospect of work, these migrants from Eastern Europe are unable to find it and then turn to a life on benefits, watching ‘Flog It’ and ‘Cash in the Attic’? The evidence suggests the contrary: rates of unemployment are higher among migrants than British workers, probably reflecting their concentration in insecure and temporary employment. But despite being more likely to become unemployed, they spend less time ‘between jobs’. Data for the UK isn’t available, but research in Ireland (Barrett et al., 2013) has shown that in mid-2009 the annual employment loss for immigrants was “as high as 20 per cent…as compared to 7 per cent for natives” but that, despite their adverse labour market experiences, the time they spent registered as unemployed falls more rapidly than natives. The reason for this is found in qualitative research findings: a recent study of poverty and ethnicity in Wales found that skills and attitudes towards work were helping to reduce poverty among Polish migrants. The authors conclude that:

‘The Polish families in the study were generally the most work focused and resilient. They were the most likely to be in work and appeared most able to cope with challenges.’

Other research by Jackline Wahba and colleagues has found that migrants make more use of social networks to find work than native workers. This has a downside, in that these networks appear to be most effective for finding low skilled, low paid work, but it is work nonetheless.

Research also shows consistently that migrants are less likely to receive unemployment-related benefits. As a recent report by the Centre for European Reform shows that just 1.7 per cent are on Jobseeker’s Allowance, half the rate of the host population. As the report also shows, a far smaller proportion of A8 immigrants receive disability, pension, and child benefits than British people. Reflecting their low take up of social housing, Very few European migrants live in social housing, and only 5 per cent receive housing benefit, compared to 8.5 per cent of non-migrants. The same report also shows that just 0.2 per cent of migrants claim unemployment benefit but have never worked in the UK. Other research shows that migrants from Poland and other A8 countries have tended “to have very high employment rates as well as a large percentage possessing high levels of education”. and are one of the non-native groups in the UK, besides those from Australia and United States, least likely to claim welfare benefits .

The Sunday Telegraph is right that the Commissioner’s report includes some ‘concrete evidence’. But this points to higher, not lower, labour market participation among Eastern European migrants. Here’s what it concludes:
The vast majority of migrants move to find (or take up) employment.
Non-active EU migrants represent a very small share of the total population of each Member State
On average, EU migrants are more likely to be employment than nationals living in the same country
The overall rate of ‘economic non-activity’ among EU migrants actually declined between 2005 and 2012 despite the economic crisis
The vast majority of non-active EU migrants (79%) live in economically active households
More than two-thirds of currently non-active migrants have worked before in the current country of residence
Migrants are not more intensive users of welfare services and that there is little evidence of a ‘welfare magnet’

And why doesn’t the Commissioner’s report include evidence of ‘welfare tourism’ from the UK? The answer says it all – the British Government declined to give evidence because it wasn’t able to provide it.

From UCL

September 18th, 2013

Britain should stay in the EU … for science

By Michael Galsworthy, University College London and Michael Browne, University College London

At a time of much business debate around whether the UK should remain in the European Union (EU), there is one critical area being overlooked regarding the relationship – science.

With a growing appreciation that the financial markets are something of a casino, many countries are getting wise to the importance of research and innovation as a high-return solid investment for the future. Much of this comes from the start-up tech companies increasingly emerging from, or feeding off, universities and publicly-funded science. Critically, the EU is providing the UK with a scientific boon that is set to grow.

European science has always been high quality, but fragmented by the patchwork of borders. Efforts to provide a central funding mechanism for collaboration have traditionally been characterised by painful “Eurocracy”. Added to this, European academia has been more separated from commercial partnerships than in the US.

Over the past ten years, however, EU science has slowly coalesced into an impressive force which now looks to become a genuine world leader. The EU already outstrips the US for academic output – by about 20% according to World Bank data, partly thanks to the EU being bigger than the US by 200m people.

The European Commission has been a driving force of science growth, consistently increasing the EU science budget. In his State of the European Union speech today, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said: “we need an industrial policy fit for the 21st century.” A key piece of this is their new €70 billion Horizon 2020 programme for 2014-2020, where there are substantial efforts to strip out bureaucracy and invest in future-focused science infrastructure. There is also a drive to link European research with industry – small innovative businesses in particular – to get maximum commercial mileage out of research “excellence”. Unknown to the wider public, there is a buzz of “can do” around these plans that you wouldn’t usually associate with European policymakers.

The UK has contributed many ideas to the new European science push, has reaped a lion’s share of the communal funding, and due to its prowess, sits in a driving seat. As EU science gets set to take off, abandoning that seat would be a colossal error. It would significantly hurt the UK’s global competitiveness.

What does the UK get from the EU?

The UK makes up about 12% of the EU population and contributes some 11.5% to the budget. However, the science funding that is awarded centrally from the European Commission is not based on population – it is based on research “excellence”. UK science is excellent by any standard and UK institutions win some 16% of all the EU funding. The UK is particularly strong in areas such as health, leading 20% of all projects and winning 27% of the prestigious European Research Council funds.

Whereas the UK government’s budget for science is frozen at a lamentable £4.6 billion annually (despite George Osborne’s “personal commitment”), the EU’s upcoming €10 billion per annum represents a 35% increase on previous funding. If the UK wins 16% of those funds, that’s a big slice atop our meagre £4.6 billion. It means that unlike the science cuts in the US, UK science has more money coming its way. And that’s not thanks to George Osborne. It’s thanks to the European Commission.

The EU also lets UK researchers play with “big science”, for example the European Space Agency, or the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN. There are countless projects that pool resources across Europe to forge world-leading science. Scientific articles with international authorship also get more citations than exclusively domestic papers. The UK has rapidly increased in this department and now >50% its papers are international (the US is around 35%). European science is getting big – and UK researchers are deeply involved.

Lastly, let’s not forget the influx of researcher talent from the mainland. Sure we can congratulate “excellent science”, but we must also thank international collaborations and the EU’s Marie Curie programme, which facilitates researcher mobility around Europe.

Some will argue that there are a handful of countries outside the EU that contribute finances to the EU science program just like EU countries. They can coordinate projects too and reap all the same benefits. In fact, they do very well. Can’t the UK just follow their model?

The key difference here is size. The UK is no small partner looking only for peripheral participation. We get away with an exceptional deal on a large scale (where eastern Europe, for example, is missing out badly) because British science is currently deeply involved in forging the European science direction.

The UK’s driving seat within the EU is a win-win for our science and innovation. Pulling out of the central team would break a bond that would be very difficult to recover.

Michael Galsworthy has previously worked on EU-funded international projects.

Michael Browne is Head of European Research & Innovation at UCL

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Thoughts on Europe

September 18th, 2013


In a blog, Ben Jones, Chair of the Liberal Democrat Europe Working Group, wrote -

“Next year marks the centenary of the First World War: that cataclysm that opened up the darkest decades in European history. We should be grateful that – for all our concerns – the Europe of today enjoys an unprecedented peace: its peoples among the most free and prosperous on earth.

Without the sacrifice of our ancestors we would not have that freedom.

But neither must we forget that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today did not glide effortlessly out of post-war Europe. Nor was it underpinned by the military might of NATO alone.

In fact it was a soldier – the great American General, George Marshall – who surveyed a broken post-war Europe, and saw that without common endeavour, there would be no prosperity and therefore no security to speak of.

He like Churchill, Schuman and others understood that old Europe had failed – and, unchanged, would fail again. The mould had to be broken.

So, when that centenary comes next year, let’s not be complacent about what we have today. Let’s be glad that Europe was re-founded on common endeavour – on democracy, human rights and the rule of international law. Glad that Britain supported and became a part of it…

…The EU has faced big tests in its history and yet the challenges of the future will be – in many ways – just as formidable as those of the past.

The world is changing rapidly – a global shift in economic power the like of which has not been seen for centuries. Globalisation gathers pace – across trade, new technologies, people and ideas.

We should welcome the opportunities this new world offers. But neither can we ignore the tests it will bring: tougher competition, cross-border crime, fragile states, instability on European borders, and unprecedented environmental challenges, not least climate change.

Certainly, no nation today can tackle all this alone. But the question for the EU remains – can it meet the challenge and continue its historic purpose of prosperity, sustainability and security?”

He argues

“First, if the EU does not stand for prosperity and jobs, it stands for nothing. In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, getting the single currency on to a firm footing will be a long and difficult process, but it remains as vital for the UK economy as any other, and we must support it.

But setbacks must not blind us to the opportunities of the single market. The world’s biggest marketplace – Britain’s biggest market. An 11 trillion pound economy linked to millions of British jobs, and a pre-requisite for billions of pounds of inward investment into our country. Without it, we would be poorer.

And we still need to unlock that market on our doorstep – in services, digital and green technology. We need to work hard for EU trade deals with the US and others to unlock billions in GDP and deliver more jobs. But only as part of the world’s biggest single market can the UK hope to get the best deal from tough negotiations with trading giants.

And, let’s be absolutely clear, the only way to influence and determine the rules of the single market is through EU membership – the Norwegian and Swiss models are either undemocratic, ineffective or both and none cut it for the UK.

Second, sustainability – we want ambitious new EU targets to reduce greenhouse gases. We want continued radical reform of fisheries and agricultural policies including a complete end to wasteful fish discards.

Third, a more secure Europe. Police and prosecutors must have the tools they need to catch the criminals who slip across borders. But we want a fair Europe too – ensuring common-sense use of the European Arrest Warrant and levelling the rights of suspects up – not down – across Europe.

And it is vital that the EU speaks with a more coherent voice in the world – combining diplomacy, trade and development more effectively, and pooling and sharing military capability to get value for money and meet our commitments.

Deeper Eurozone integration is a necessity. But it must not compromise the coherence of the single market. Future treaty change should guarantee equal voice for euro ins and euro outs in single market rules. And, if the EU is to win back the trust of its publics, it needs to work harder to demonstrate accountability, efficiency and transparency in all that it does.

That means more effective scrutiny from national parliaments on subsidiarity. And it means greater transparency – secret ballots on budget and policy in the European Parliament are unacceptable.

But when it comes to reform – let’s be clear. Tory hopes for a swag-bag of unilaterally repatriated powers are an illusion – a huge waste of diplomatic capital. Yes the EU needs renewal and reform – but you only do that by leading and building alliances for change with like-minded countries…

…With the right attitude, we can ensure a reformed EU delivers – on jobs, on crime and the environment.

But we have a fight on our hands. There is a new isolationism creeping into our politics – a delusion that Britain can simply pull up the drawbridge and escape all the demands of the modern world. It is hurting our influence in Brussels.

The fact is without EU membership we can’t have a stronger economy and a fairer society. This country would matter less in the world. That’s why President Obama – like each president before him for sixty years – insists that we walk taller in Washington when we count for something in Europe.

No offence Geneva – but I don’t want the UK to be a big Switzerland. I’m proud that this country fought for freedom in Europe, drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, pioneered the biggest single market in the world, is a UN Security Council member – a country that wants a say on our children’s future in this world, and – when push comes to shove – will stand up and be counted.

Does anyone really believe that we can be that same country if we leave the European Union?”

An informed Electorate

September 13th, 2013

More fear mongering by the Eurosceptic Press

September 4th, 2013

Reports of “Brussels Big Brother Bid” to impose speed controls are inaccurate beyond the limit


Reports in the press over the last day or two have suggested that the EU intends to bring forward “formal proposals this autumn” to introduce automatic speed controls -known as “Intelligent Speed Adaptation” or ISA, into cars. This is quite simply not true and the Commission had made this very clear to the journalists concerned prior to publication.

The Mail on Sunday for example (the only one of these articles online with no paywall), uses a quote from a Commission spokesman but chooses to leave out the first and most important sentence given to the paper’s reporter, which was this:

“The Commission has not tabled – and does not have in the pipeline – even a non-binding Recommendation, let alone anything more.” The Daily Mail on Monday 2 September had the integrity to include this quote, but only at the end of an article confirming the incorrect slant that the Commission was proposing introducing the system. According to the Mail’s imaginative opening paragraph cars would be fitted with it “if Brussels bureaucrats have their way”.

The Sun On Sunday failed to use the quote above, which it had been asked to use, but stated that “motorists are set to be forced to have ‘Big Brother’ anti-speeding systems fitted in all new cars under EU rules”.

In addition to receiving the quote in writing, the Sun had been told repeatedly in a phone conversation that there was no proposal and none on the way. But it manipulated the conversation to imply that we had said we could not understand why there would be any difficulty with introducing ISA. In fact, we had said we were surprised if the UK government were upset that the Commission consulted it on research into improving road safety, given close cooperation in the past.

The Sun also made the odd statement that the “proposal is being pushed by the unelected European Commission”. Needless to say, it rarely reminds its readers that actual decisions on EU law are taken by elected Ministers and MEPs, including those from the UK. For the record, the rest of the quote supplied said to all the journalists involved said this:

“The Commission has supported past research into ISA. There is a current stakeholder consultation and study focusing on speed limiting technology already fitted to HGVs and buses. One aspect of that is whether ISA could in the long-term be an alternative. And a second consultation on in-vehicle safety systems in general. Taking account of the consultation results, the Commission will publish in the autumn a document by its technical experts which will no doubt refer to ISA among many other things. That is all. (NB such “staff working documents” are not adopted by the Commission at political level and have no legal status.) Nothing more is expected in the foreseeable future.

It is part of the EC’s job – because it has been mandated to do so by Member States, including the UK – to look at, promote research into and consult stakeholders about new road safety technology which might ultimately save lives. This is done in close cooperation with Member States and the UK has generally supported such efforts.”

It might indeed also seem strange to some that the UK government -if the press reports are accurate at least in that respect – apparently objects so violently to even being consulted about a range of future ways in which lives could be saved on Europe’s roads.

Euro VAT Prats

September 2nd, 2013


Another Euromyth busted….

The Sun on Sunday likes to print an anti-EU story most weeks…it has picked up on the European Commission’s proposed economic policy recommendations for the UK, issued on 29 May – so not exactly breaking news and certainly not an “exclusive” as it was labelled, given that many other media have written about the recommendations.

Here is the story, headlined “Euro VAT prats”.

And here is the response the EU Commission’s office in London  sent to the Sun’s website. Their response does not seem to have appeared.

“First, these are recommendations, not demands.

Second although this is deliberately omitted from the article with its childish headline, they include many things the Sun loudly supports, like increasing incentives to come off benefits and get into work.

As the piece does mention, improving the UK’s childcare and transport are also crucial to jobs and this has to be paid for somehow at a time of massive debt.

Thirdly, the recommendation does not say that ALL lower VAT rates should be removed.

Fourth, independent UK analysts have said broadening the base for VAT could raise £3bn even allowing for measures to help the poorest, which the EC also recommends – so this could move the burden of the debt from poor to rich, which the Sun also usually supports.

EU Birth Certificates

August 31st, 2013

EU birth certificate

Early in August there was a series of misleading articles* in the UK press alleging – depending on exactly which fanciful article one chose to read – that the European Commission intends to force the UK to introduce EU birth certificates bearing the EU flag, force the removal of the Crown image currently used and/or abolish national certificates altogether.

The Commission put the record straight.

These assertions are wrong. The Commission proposals to which the articles ostensibly refer – to which the newspapers concerned had access – show in black and white that these reports do not reflect reality.

At the centre of this maelstrom is a Commission proposal on the certification of public documents

The core idea is that member states should recognise each other’s basic documents – like birth and marriage certificates for individuals or legal entities for companies – without the need for special stamps or legalisation. Currently, such a special certification stamp – called an apostille – is needed to prove the authenticity of a document. Legalisation is required to certify that the signatures on it are genuine. The cost of these provisions – dating from an era when countries only trusted public documents when they were certified by another country’s foreign ministry – is estimated at £284 million (€330 million) per year. Much of this cost falls on UK citizens who want to move, work, or buy property or set up businesses elsewhere in the EU.

So the Commission’s proposal looks to abolish unnecessary, outdated and costly red tape. It is ironic therefore that the same newspapers which continuously lambast the EU for allegedly creating red tape seem to find the proposal so offensive.

The main focus in the proposal is on mutual recognition by Member States of existing national documents. Contrary to the claims made in the articles, the additional option of standardised EU forms would be just that: optional.

Those people and businesses who find the EU format would save them time and money would be able to request them. For example, if a British business operates across the EU they may wish to have a standardised form, so as to confirm their legal entity in different countries more easily. The forms would not replace national forms which will continue to exist.

The proposal followed a Green Paper and extensive public consultation running from 2010-11, to which the House of Lords, Law Society, Notaries Society of England & Wales, Family Education Trust and Registers of Scotland, among others, all contributed. The overwhelming response was that standard forms would help people and companies get their documents recognised more easily. In a 2010 Eurobarometer survey , 74% of Brits said they were in favour of standard formats for civil status documents in all EU member states, 77% were in favour of automatic recognition and 81% in favour of better mechanisms for translating them.

Negotiations on the proposals have only just started in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – where UK MEPs and Cabinet Ministers sit and will have their say in how the final EU legislation will look. The implication in some newspapers that the Lisbon Treaty somehow means that the proposals could be forced on the UK by an arbitrary decision by the Commission is simply false.

Of course, any Commission proposal should be debated, scrutinised and criticised in the media, based on what it actually contains. If UK voices criticise an EU initiative, the media are right to report that, scrutinising with equal rigour both the proposal itself and the criticisms expressed.

However, in this case some newspapers seem to have simply abandoned objectivity and balance in pursuit of a convenient anti-EU story.

They have not given a fair reflection of proposals that have been widely supported in an open consultation and that will ultimately save British people and businesses money. Using a short quote from the Commission at the end of a long article after a lurid headline and a dozen alarmist paragraphs does not constitute balance.

Some media concerned have also – not for the first time – ignored the basic principles of EU decision-making, under which EU laws are not imposed by “Brussels” but are agreed and adopted by the European Parliament and the Member States.

*For example:

Anger over plot to put EU flag on birth certificates”, Daily Express, 10 August

“Stamped with the EU flag from cradle to grave”, Daily Mail, 10 August

“B-EU-rths’ and deaths”, The Sun, 10 August,

“EU puts its flag on British birth and death certificates”, The Daily Telegraph.

Rubbish and the Daily Mail

August 29th, 2013


One of the most outrageous purveyors of Euromyths [OK, let's stop beating about the bush - Lies designed to corrupt the political dialogue in a democracy] is the Daily Mail.

The European Commission has responded to it’s latest “alternative version of the truth”

Daily Mail claims that EU regulations will force householders to use 5 bins for recycling are complete rubbish. What’s worse is that this is recycled rubbish as the Daily Mail ran with the same type of scare story in September 2011 when they incorrectly claimed the EU was foisting 9 bins on householders.

NINE bins for every home as EU moves to control council rubbish collections

On Friday August 16th the Daily Mail published another article reporting that due to European recycling regulations every home “must be made to separate its rubbish into at least five bins”. Had the Daily Mail picked up the phone to this office they would have learned that under the relevant regulation there is no stipulation regarding the number of bins and indeed that it is at the discretion of each member state as to how they organise the separation of household waste. This is devolved even further as bin systems are often left to local and regional authorities depending on the facilities they have at their disposal.

For example, many people in the UK will be familiar with 3 bin system as widely used throughout London and other cities, in which there is a (1) food waste bin, (2) a recyclables bin (paper, plastic, metal, glass) and (3) a general waste bin for everything else. This system fulfils the criteria without the need for 5 or 9 bins as the main recycling bin already takes 4 different types of key recyclables.

Frequency of bin collection has nothing to do with the regulation as again this is at the discretion of the member state and its local authorities.

For further information about the recycling of municipal waste please visit the EC waste policy website and for an overview of municipal waste management in European countries please click this link.

The Power of Misinformation

August 28th, 2013


I thoroughly recommend reading Dana Milbank’s piece in today’s ‘Washington Post’ – “It’s Obama vs Misinformation”. (Accessible here). He has some truly terrifying results from some opinion poll research. “Opinions” being the appropriate word. It captures the astonishing beliefs that some people hold.

Why do 29% of Louisiana Republicans believe that President Obama was responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005? [he became President in January 2009].

I’m not aware that Fox News, or any right-wing ‘shock-jocks’ have been peddling this particular myth – and this was not an event that happened in some “far off country…of whom we know nothing”. Katrina hit Louisiana, only eight years ago. So how has it arisen?

Milbank’s article says -

“Obama derangement syndrome is running pretty high right now among a certain segment of the Republican base,” Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, told me. “There’s a certain segment of people who say, ‘If you’re going to give me the opportunity to stick it to Obama, I’m going to take it.’ ”

 In other words, a large number of that 29 percent who said Obama was responsible for the Katrina response knew that he wasn’t but saw it as a chance to register their displeasure with the president.

It’s not the direct result of misinformation peddled by Opponents of Obama – or by crafty Republican operatives – but the result of a climate of hate and distrust.

Could it happen this side of the pond?


Joseph Goebbels knew the value of spreading lies to build an atmosphere of distrust, leading to hatred. In fact it’s a technique as old as the hills. It is also seen in the effectiveness of “Euromyths” – stories peddled in the Eurosceptic media – and those ready to fire off an anti-EU opinion, be it in the pub or on late night radio.

Perhaps it is time we started to call out those who are so ready to pollute and poison political debate. To refuse to let their false claims go unchallenged. We are not just fighting the particular lie they tell at that moment – but begin to tackle the atmosphere these multitude of little lies are designed to generate.

Deliberation not deliberate lying is needed.

[You might find the following websites useful -


Immigration from the EU Myths