In its draft Treaty published yesterday the European Commission appears totally ignorant of how the EU actually works and what it has already established as its policy in regard to the still extant visible and invisible borders between the member states. Make no mistake the EU is not ‘borderless’ at all. It is still an international organisation with 28 member states. Its single market is by no means complete with one set of mandatory rules and regulations covering all aspects of economic life. The Commission has always had as its prime objective total uniformity of law but time and time again it has been rebuffed by member states defending their own cultures, and established patterns of legal, social and economic life. When laws are agreed they are always extremely watered down versions of the Commission’s original purist proposals. And, the European Union itself does not implement or enforce any of the rules. European laws are implemented by the member states and enforced in their national courts at the expense of their taxpayers. And thus substantial differences remain.
In practice, examination of almost any aspect of economic life in the EU reveals a great deal of diversity. Two sovereign states share the island of Ireland. Both are at present members of the EU. Does this mean that all rules and laws are exactly the same in each of them? Of course not. Take taxation. The Republic of Ireland has (to the great dismay of the European Commission) reduced its rates of corporation tax to far below those of the UK which operate in Northern Ireland. Take VAT. There are considerable differences here too. There are some similarities. Take company law. A shared legal history has produced a similar approach. The UK and Ireland’s approach to company law is diametrically opposed to that of many of the other EU member states. Examine each aspect of economic and social life and you will find substantial differences. They are examined annually by the World Bank for its ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index. Differences persist within the EU because it has proved impossible to make absolutely everything identical everywhere. Thus, in practice, borders still exist between member states because the rules and practices that govern economic life are different.
Even more disturbing than the Commission’s lack of understanding of the nature of the EU and the way in which it has operated for sixty years, is its failure to remember what it has only in the last two years identified as a top priority, namely the development of electronic systems to end the need for vehicles to be stopped at borders. A ‘Letter of Intent’ signed in Rome in 2017 includes a commitment to work on ‘corridors’ between member states where electronic passage (as in Boris Johnson’s much criticised comment about the congestion charge) will be tested. Nor does the Commission appear to remember that it has finally, after decades, conceded that VAT is a consumption tax to be collected in the member state of destination. Gone is the Commission’s long held dream of a EU VAT system collected and distributed centrally. Now the differences in VAT rates between the two Irelands will not longer be of any concern to the EU. And, VAT too is to go digital.
The Commission needs to be sharply reminded by the UK Government that it is in danger of making a complete fool of itself by demanding complete regulatory alignment between the two Irelands when no such complete alignment exists between the remaining 27 member states and for hoping that no-one has noticed its recent policy initiatives on electronic border checks. If the Commission had it way Northern Ireland would be more tightly bound to the EU than its own member states.