I’ve been doing this job for 12 years, so I’d like to think I’m fairly immune to the wacky EU tales from the more Eurosceptic sections of the British media, brought about by misunderstanding or mischief. But every so often something comes along that causes genuine alarm and I take umbrage to it. For instance, my office has recently received emails from good, decent folk who read a story in the press recently that says that holidaymakers in Greece risk being criminalised if they rescue a struggling migrant from the water.
Let me be absolutely clear on this. There is, categorically, no intention to criminalise the many decent people who have been modern-day Good Samaritans on the beaches of Greece – including my own colleague Humza Yousaf.
Published in iScot March 2016
The story is supposedly based on draft documents from the European Council (made up of the leaders of the EU member states) and leaked by Statewatch, a non-governmental organisation, or NGO. The documents discuss the high number of migrant casualties on European shores and the need for coordination between services to prevent and counter migrant smuggling. NGOs and charities have not been explicitly exempted, which at this early stage means the loophole hasn’t been closed, not that this is the intent of a complex and sensitive package that hasn’t even been released yet.
Personally, I believe the final version of these documents should explicitly acknowledge that some actions have a humanitarian reason and should never be prosecuted or treated as smuggling. But in the meantime, we need to acknowledge that migrant smuggling is a serious form of organised crime, and we should not use the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ interchangeably.
To suggest that the EU – which has provided millions of euros in humanitarian assistance, including funding the aid convoy to Madaya, where thousands of Syrian civilians are starving, sick and under siege by President Assad – would put people in a position where they must stand on a beach and watch people drown, is not only completely inaccurate and contrary to the evidence seen so far, but also incredibly harmful.
But once a story is out there, it spreads. I’ve written to papers both local and national to set the story straight, sent comprehensive emails to concerned constituents, and I’m using this iScot article to clarify it. But a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, especially when it comes to the EU.
Now, the EU isn’t blameless in this. As I said in my last article, complex documents written by experts who only speak ‘European Legalese’ and then filtered through a media that doesn’t have the resources/inclination to explain it are ripe for misunderstanding.
That’s where your MEPs come in. We have access to the facts, the documents, and the inside knowledge that means we can explain the EU as clearly as possible, and we have a responsibility to do that. But we can only do it if our media, and indeed the readers and viewers, are willing to listen. It was instructive that the initial story in one of the Sunday papers did not include a single MEP comment - because we would have rubbished it.
So, please, if you hear a story about the EU and you think ‘wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right’, get in touch. Sign up for my newsletters. I believe Scotland can lead the way in making the EU referendum a talking point, the same way we did in our independence referendum.
In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite EU horror stories, comprehensively debunked:
RUMOUR: EU wants to ban bingo callers from using phrases like ‘two fat ladies!’
FACT: No, nothing to do with political correctness. There are style guides in different parts of the EU, e.g. the Commission’s translation services, but they’re for internal use, not our bingo halls.
RUMOUR: Brussels to ban mushy peas!
FACT: A Directive on colouring in food states that fresh and processed veg may not be coloured. However, an exemption was granted for ‘processed mushy and garden peas.’
RUMOUR: EU pays jobless migrants to come to Britain!
FACT: The ‘Your First EURES Job’ mobility scheme supports young people aged 18-35 to find their first job, traineeship or apprenticeship within the EU (UK nationals included). Financial support is only provided if you’re invited for an interview, with limited financial support as part of the relocation cost, provided you meet eligibility rules. It’s a way of helping young unemployed people to work hard, not to import “jobless migrants”.
RUMOUR: Fishing boats obliged to carry at least 200 condoms!
FACT: There is no Directive that mentions this. A certain number of medicines have to be kept aboard ships for the crew but a pack of glow in the dark Durex isn’t one of them.
RUMOUR: Kilts to be classified as women’s wear!
FACT: A questionnaire was reportedly sent to manufacturers requesting that kilts be listed as “women’s apparel”… by the UK Office of National Statistics, not Eurostat, the EU’s statistical branch.