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August 29, 2005


Max Hastings makes the case for localism and subsidiarity:

A tiny primary school in Perthshire has seven pupils. Staying nearby a few weeks ago, I found the local community talking of nothing but its water supply. After centuries in which almost everybody in the Highlands has drunk water from the hill, new regulations decree this is unacceptable for schoolchildren.

A pipeline is being laid, to connect the school to the nearest fluoride-enriched mains, about six miles away. The work would normally cost £800,000, but since the pipe must bypass an ancient listed bridge, additional excavations will add £200,000 to the bill.

In other words, to provide "clean" water for the school will cost £140,000 a pupil. The benefit will be compromised by the fact that most children will return each night to homes that still get their water from the hill. The notion of continuing the school's policy of supplying bottled drinking water has been dismissed. Other, even more expensive schemes in the Highlands have roused widespread derision, but all are going ahead. The authorities declare themselves prisoners of national regulation.

The outcome represents a breakdown of one of the important elements in any sensibly managed society - proportionality. It is one thing for a British government or the European commission to decree that certain standards for water, or indeed anything, are desirable and should represent a norm. It seems another to impose such a norm universally, heedless of cost and local circumstances.

This is, as we know, only a trivial example of the idiocies imposed upon us by these remote bureaucracies. One needs a licence and years of training to replace a light bulb in one’s own kitchen, the latest drinking water standards appear to insist that tap water is purer than most mineral waters, the rules on the recycling of cars lead to more being left to rot at the roadside, the battery recycling scheme still, a decade after implementation, has lower rates than the private company it replaced (and made bankrupt).

A nice bloody revolution is needed, bonfires of the rules and their perpetrators. Let’s actually take the EU mantra, that of subsidiarity, seriously. Screw the lot of them and let’s get on with it ourselves.

August 29, 2005 in European Union | Permalink


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Let's get started SOON!

Posted by: Rod the Brit | Aug 29, 2005 5:27:20 PM

You and Max Hastings make a good point.

What argument do pro-EU people give for having EU rules on water quality of piped water? It is hard to see how this is consistent with subidiarity - there is no obvious cross-border reason for harmonizing water standards, is there?

Tim adds: "Environmental matters" are a sole EU competence. That’s where the power comes from.

Posted by: Owen Barder | Aug 29, 2005 7:26:49 PM

Tim, environmental matters are not a sole EU competence. That's simply inaccurate. The Treaty does not say this. The enviroment is what you might call a shared competence. There are european rules for some environmental issues, and not others.

In some respects the Treaty explicitly limits EU policy (eg on the fiscal side, or where it affects energy), or requires unanimity to get something done, but it's faily open ended in the general objectives.

The reality therefore is that the statement of what the EU 'should' regulate is not very explicit in the Treaty. It's more a matter of whether or not member states want/agree to common rules or not. Hence EU rules are sometimes not driven by a pure logic of subsidiarity , however desirable this might be.

Posted by: rjw | Aug 31, 2005 12:40:01 AM