The way in which the EU goes about producing the laws that bind the rest of us - whether our politicians like them or not - can be difficult to understand. If you're not intimately familiar with it, don't worry. You're in good company. If really interested, you'll find it in Arts.288-299 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, a turgid instance of verbal flatulence which ought to be in high demand as a cure for insomnia. In practice, politically the whole process comes down to ear-bending, rubber-stamping and grandiose posturing. Or, put another way, a curious congeries of Yes Minister, the Supreme Soviet and Jim'll Fix it. If you want a neat example of how all this works, and a clear indication why we are well out of this mud bath next March, you can find it in the Euro-developments last month on Daylight Saving Time.
You may not know it but, since the 1980s, daylight saving has been an EU matter. The amount of summer time we apply, and when it starts and ends, are matters governed by common European rules beyond the competence of member states' voters and legislatures to change.
Earlier this year, the governments of Finland and Lithuania - much affected as far northern states by dark mornings - bent the ear of the Commission with a suggestion for the complete abolition of summer time across the EU, on health grounds, apparently. A compliant European Parliament, referring to 'a number of citizens' initiatives' (a puzzling matter that one suspects actually meant quasi-official national petitions or approaches from pressure groups) resolved that something should be done. The result was a consultation in July. It seems that 4.6 million responses were received, overwhelmingly in favour of abolishing summer time throughout the EU.
Cue Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker:
'Millions think that in the future we should have summertime all year round. So, that's what will happen. The people want this, we will do this.'
By way of an oh-so-generous sop to subsidiarity, member states would be allowed to opt for permanent summer time or permanent winter time.
That aside, the EU had spoken, and no other choices were to be made available. Research had shown, you see, that if any further variation were allowed, this would be disastrous for the internal market and reduce productivity.
Apart from the fact that Juncker's announcement sounds rather like a proclamation from the late Mao Zedong that the broad masses were behind him and he was merely doing what they told him to, a number of comments are worth making.
For one thing, it's all very well to draw conclusions from responses to a consultation, or to say, as the Guardian did in gushing tones that 'More than 80 per cent of EU citizens' clearly wanted to do away with summer time immediately. But hang on a moment. The consultation was hardly front page news. Indeed, it does not seem to have made the mainstream media at all; at least not in the UK. Did you know you were being consulted, or did you know anyone who was? I certainly didn't. The exercise seems to have been simply posted online for the benefit of those who stumbled on to it or knew where to find it. Just as Caligula is said to have published his laws so high up on a pillar that no-one could read them, the EU has done something which has the same effect - by engaging in a secret consultation which nobody - who was not already an EU apparatchik or hanger-on - was told about. Indeed, a number of people have already pointed to the curious fact that, of the 4.6 million anti-summer time zealots who did respond, some two-thirds, or 3 million, came from only one member state: Germany.
Furthermore, if you look at the consultation form itself, although one could reply in a personal capacity, you can see that it was clearly aimed at those replying on behalf of organisations. Fields to be completed included the name of the body one was spokesman for; how many employees it had; whether it appeared in the Transparency Register; whether it had conducted a survey including all stakeholder groups; and so on. One's choice of answers was limited, too, with the Big Question phrased thus:
'Evidence suggests that common EU rules in this area are very important to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. In order to ensure such common rules also for the future, which of the following alternatives would you favour:
- Keeping the current EU arrangements switching between summer and wintertime for all EU Member States?
- Abolishing the switching for all EU Member States?'
In other words, the European Commission had decided in advance what answers it didn't want to get, and simply left no scope for them. What of subversive ideas, such as that there might be summer time in some countries but not others? Or (horror of horrors) that the question of how citizens set their clocks should be a matter for them and their elected representatives to decide! Perish the thought! The European project demands that we all be the same here.
Finally, it has been proposed that this sudden concern by the EU for the time shown on clocks in Western Europe is not entirely altruistic, and that there is a hidden Brexit agenda here. For, were this proposal to go through, lawmakers in Belfast would be faced with a nice dilemma: would they align with Ireland, where there is no summer time, or with the rest of the UK, assuming that Ireland continued to apply it? What better way to wrong-foot the United Kingdom than by destabilising its relationship with Northern Ireland? While such suspicions may seem perverse, the EU does have previous form on suchlike.