Friday, October 15, 2010

How the EU corrupts our culture

There are two permanent positions held by partisans of the pro and anti European Union camps in British public life.

From the pro side we are often told that 'being in the EU doesn't change Britain, do you really think that the French are any less French because they are in the EU? Or the Germans are any less German?' Yes the French still make 1001 cheeses, most of which can be eaten with a straw and the Germans still have an almost inexcusable appreciation for David Hasselhof, so the argument has a point.

On the anti side an inchoate response to a tide of regulations washing up Dover beach is that we should become more like the continentals, in that we prosecute the law, whilst they merrily sign up to every Directive and regulation and then promptly ignore them.

Britain has long prided itself on being a high-trust, law-abiding society. For us, unlike the Greeks or Belgians, where breaking the law has been part of culture for centuries we were it was said 'well governed, because we were little governed'. The problem lies in that today whilst we have the cultural inertia which means that we do what we say, we now have thousands of pages of the Aquis Communitaire to comply with.

So we are ill governed, because we are over governed. (Now please don't get me wrong, this isn't merely a problem of our membership of the EU, for a few decades now we have had way to much of an activist government, whose members feel that if they are not legislating they are not doing their job. But I would suggest that this activism has been ably supported, encouraged and exacerbated by our membership of the EU).

All this ruminating has been caused by an article behind The Time's firewall today about the impact on the NHS of the Working Time Directive. According to the article,
"The NHS is increasingly disregarding a European law which restricts the maximum hours that doctors can work as the Government seeks to limit the impact of the rules on staffing levels and medical training".
By this they mean that the NHS has stopped checking whether hospitals are complying with the Working Time Directive. One can easily understand why. The NHS is there, not to provide jobs and salaries for Doctors nurses and administrators, though it does do that of course, but to treat the sick, the injured and the dying.

It has no other purpose, and over the centuries the UK has built up systems of care, service and most specifically training that mean it is generally well equipped to fulfil this task.

However the application of the Working Time Directive has driven a wedge between the application of the law, and the ability of our health workers to fulfil their vocation.
As he article puts it,
"A Department of Health Spokesman said the move "would limit the impact of the working time directive in the NHS", and suggested that it would also cut unnecessary bureaucracy and costs associated with the rules".
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that. What we are saying is that a British Government department is deliberately colluding in the breech of law.

Why? Because the requirements of a law, imposed on this country against its will by the European Union are too onerous and diametrically at variance with our own.

This is wrong both culturally and gives a lie to the old argument about Europe not changing a country, but also stupid.

If this government is wilfully avoiding the law on the Working Time Directive, then any nurse/doctor/administrator in the NHS who chooses could take the NHS to the European Court of Justice, and with a class action could cost the NHS millions of pounds in EU fines, money that would then be removed from the budget for healthcare.

The European Union is bad for our health.


Eurogoblin said...

About that tide of regulations washing up on Dover beach - have you read the recent Commons report on the number of UK laws coming from the EU? It's summarised by Ralf Grahn over on his blog. Estimates vary from a tide (80%) to a trickle (6%). My guess is that it's closer to a trickle, with those laws nonetheless being highly significant. The report seems to offer some support for this:

"Using statistics from national law databases and the EU’s EUR-Lex database, it is possible to estimate the proportion of national laws based on EU laws. In the UK data from these sources provided estimates that suggest that over the twelve-year period from 1997 to 2009 6.8% of primary legislation (Statutes) and 14.1% of secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) had a role in implementing EU obligations, although the degree of involvement varied from passing reference to explicit implementation. Sectoral studies suggest that the agriculture forms the highest area of EU influence and defence the lowest. The British Government estimates that around 50% of UK legislation with a significant economic impact originates from EU legislation."

As for the Working Times Directive - you neglected to mention the fact that junior doctors can opt-out of the directive on an individual basis. Purely anecdotal, but I met a young GP the other day who loved the Working Times Directive and told me that it was the management who seemed to hate it. I'm not sure if that's just the junior staff, of course.

Regardless, you're right that the policy seems to have been a failure if central government is no longer collecting statistics (free, non-paywall article on the matter here). However, we both know this probably won't go to the ECJ. It looks like the Working Time Directive is for the chop (at least, it's application to the NHS) - especially if everyone else in Europe is doing it:

"Speaking at a separate Conservative fringe event last week, KPMG global head of healthcare Mark Britnell advised trusts to “gently ignore” the directive as, he claimed, most other European countries were already doing."

It sounds like there's significant pressure for this particular law to be overturned.

Budgie said...

Junior doctors routinely work longer hours than instructed by management. And it is not that management turn a 'blind eye' to this practice, they enforce it by threatening the junior doctors with disciplinary action if the doctors try to claim the extra hours.

Result: the doctors work the long hours that were supposed to be cut (I know a junior who recently worked an 81 hour week), yet the management claim that the WTD is being complied with.

Eurogoblin said...

@Budgie Is your problem, then, that the WTD is not being properly enforced? Because the signs point to it being scrapped for the NHS. I just hope we're not going back to the "bad old days" of doctors on 90 hour weeks (as one commenter puts it in this article).

@Gawain - I had a thought (dangerous, I know). The idea that the EU is somehow corrupting the fine British culture of following rules by introducing unenforceable directives is tosh. The British love to break unenforceable rules - it's deeply ingrained in our culture. Otherwise, how could you explain the damage file-sharing is doing to the music industry?

Gawain Towler said...

That the chappy from KPMG is also encouraging people to break the law is disturbing as well. It looks a little like the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion, are what we seeing hee an example of law evasion rather than law avoidance? Not sure, but I suspect that you ae sanguine if you do not see it arriving at the ECJ in time.

If as you propose the EU is going to allow Health care to drop out ofthe workings of the WTD then what is the point of the WTD at all. Shouldn't it just be scrapped in its entirety? The NHS isn't the only area where its requirements have been debilitating.

And do you really the EU dropping one of its flagship policies? Nah, thought not.
As to the business of being law abiding.

The file sharing issue is another example of what has been a rapid descent into petty law breaking. I would suggest that the huge quantity of il thought out laws that have been introduvced through our membership of the EU is a key driver of the new attitude.

You can hardly claim that file sharing is "deeply engrained" its only been around for a decade.

Eurogoblin said...


I suspect a sizable chunk of file-sharers have also only been around for a little over a decade. Mmm. Makes me feel old, too.

And to suggest that the EU is somehow responsible for the general acceptance of file-sharing is nonsense. I know the Pirate Bay is Swedish, but I doubt France or the UK pirates more music than Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc.

As for the EU dropping the WTD - it doesn't have to. It seriously sounds like the Coalition is gunning for an opt-out. Whether they get one, I'm not sure - but it's certainly possible.

I'll accept, however, that I'm less comfortable with the EU legislating on social issues. Personally, I would prefer it to stick to Single Market, etc. Or, at most, to use OMC. However, now that the centre-right is dominant, we may see less social legislation. The maternity leave vote, for example, is likely to either be voted down by the EP or blocked by the member-states.