The EU in a Nutshell
John Petley reviews Lee Rotherham?s encyclopaedic book of facts and figures
Critical to our battle to free this country from the EU is a single document containing all the rele-vant facts in an easy-to-read format. Lee Rotherham?s latest book more than fills this role. It provides a summary of how the EU works, a potted overview of European integration from the Roman Empire onwards and much more. It contains page after page of well-researched statistics. The book?s subtitle is no exaggeration - Everything you wanted to know about the EU but didn?t know who to ask. It is a veritable tour de force.
Even those who consider themselves already to be an authority on the EU and its history, cannot but be further enlightened by this book. For instance, it shocked me, having just filled in my tax return - a process which, like many other people, I find terribly laborious - to discover that the UK ranks 4th out of the 27 member states in terms of the simplicity of tax paperwork. The average Bulgarian took more than 51?2 times as long to com- plete their tax return in 2010!
While statistics like this may not be everyone?s cup of tea, this book presents them in a very readable, and often humorous way. It is not a book to be read from cover to cover in one sitting ? rather to be dipped into little and often.
The book is divided into eight sections, which cover - amongst other things - the history of the EU, its institutions and recurring controversies associated with it. Also included are some quotations from significant documents and individuals, along with a considerable amount of background European history. All very fascinating, but not always necessarily crucial for anyone seeking to win over waverers to the withdrawalist cause ? for instance, where, when and why Mayonnaise was invented! Reading the back- ground history does, however, explain why until recently there has been such a high level of support for the EU among citizens of the other member states ? something which we in Britain, espe- cially those of us with little knowledge of European history, find quite baffling.
In the humorous category comes the comparison on page vii (near the front of the book) between, among other things, the 70 words in the Lord?s Prayer, the 313 in the Ten Commandments and the 2,509 in Commission Regulation 1284/2002 laying down the marketing size for hazelnuts in their shells. This comparison is printed in a text-box su- perimposed on a copy of the aforesaid Regulation, so you can actually read most of the 2,509 words if you so desire, but personally, I would not recommend it unless you suffer from serious insomnia.
Even the sections of the book that sound heavy going, such as a summary of the work of each of the 32 Direc- torates General in the European Commis- sion are far more readable than might be appear at first glance. Descriptions of the functions of the DGs are kept to a minimum, and are interspersed with plenty of other interesting information. Over and over again Dr Rotherham illus- trates the sheer profligacy and downright stupidity that pervades the EU, but before the reader?s blood starts to boil, he moves onto something more light-hearted which, if memorised, can be very useful for anyone wishing to impress their friends. Did you know, for example, that in 2007, the total permitted tonnage of frog?s legs treated by ionising radiation in approved irradiation facilities in the European Union amounted to 1,522 tonnes for Belgium, 687 tonnes for France and 343 tonnes for the Nether- lands? (On second thoughts, gentlemen, if you?re single and looking for a partner, this isn?t likely to be a very successful chat-up line with the ladies!)
It is precisely this constant interplay between poking fun at the EU and making some very serious points that gives the book its appeal. The statistics and quotations have been deliberately arranged to make the point that Britain is better off out of the EU, although rather than calling for withdrawal, the book ends with a cost-benefit analysis which invites the reader to draw their own con- clusions. However, the author?s sympathies are brought out particularly in the final; part of the book, View from the Member States, where he lists the reasons why each country state joined the EU. The perceived advantages for some member states range from ?opportunity to reorientate away from UK? (Ireland), to ?Aid? (Romania) , ?hobble Germany? (France) and ?Split with Soviet past? (Es- tonia, Latvia, Lithuania, among others). For what reason did the UK join? ?Ideal- ist PM, Lack of Confidence, slow EFTA tariff reductions.? In other words, we were stuck with lousy politicians who had no faith either in the ability of our great country to turn itself round, or in the progress of free trade. There was never going to be anything much in it for us even then, and things have moved on since 1973. Tariffs are now lower across the world, Mrs. Thatcher gave us our confidence back and even if our current Prime Minister is still either deluded, cowardly or silly, the electorate are no longer under no illusions about the EU. There is no reason for us to stay shackled to this club of failed nations any longer.
If I would make one criticism of this otherwise excellent book, it is the lack of an index. After finding an item of infor- mation in a book of this size, with no index, it can be quite hard to track it down if you wish to refer to it again. However, this minor quibble should not deter readers from acquiring a most use- ful weapon in our fight for freedom.