The EU strait-jacket

The economic decline of the European Union is the central fact of our age. Every continent on the planet is growing except Antarctica and Europe. Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas have all prospered since the credit crunch. But, incredibly, the Eurozone’s economy was the same size in 2015 as in 2008.

We are a maritime nation, linked by language and law, habit and history, to every continent. It makes no sense for us to belong to the world’s only stagnant customs union, represented in the World Trade Organisation by one twenty-eighth of a European commissioner, unable to sign our own trade deals with India or Australia.

Burning question

It is now clear that, for the foreseeable future, the EU will be mainly concerned with keeping the euro together. While China, Indonesia, India and the rest surge ahead, the EU will continue to inflict unnecessary poverty on its southern members rather than endanger the political goal of deeper integration. The question for us in the UK is whether to make that problems ours. And, indeed, whether to pay twice over for the privilege of doing so.

For we pay both a democratic price and an economic price. The democratic price is that laws are handed down by institutions that no one elects. Because European commissioners are immune to public opinion, invulnerable to the ballot box, Brussels has become a lobbyists’ paradise. Again and again during my 16 years in Brussels, I have seen backroom deals struck by big multinationals and megabanks that hurt their smaller rivals and impoverish consumers. It is no surprise that these giants—Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan and the rest—are bankrolling the “Remain” campaign.

The economic price is not just the £19bn gross (£10bn net) that we hand to Brussels every year—enough to build and equip a state-of-the-art NHS hospital every week. It also takes the form of the regulatory burden that falls on our businesses, especially smaller firms.

How are publishers and booksellers affected? Obviously, most readers are more qualified than I am to answer that question, and I have no intention of telling you your own business.

I can however say, with certainty, that paper is more expensive in the EU than elsewhere, because the over-regulation of timber by Brussels pushes up the price of raw materials.

I can remind you of the 2009 ruling by the European Court of Justice that it was unlawful for national governments to forbid the selling of imported books at below-cost price, and I know that that decision must disadvantage domestic producers.

VAT on e-books

Most importantly, I can point to the commission’s clear and unambiguous opposition to the zero-rating of VAT on books in Britain. As recently as 28th January, Pierre Moscovici, the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, announced: “We will have to reassess everything... Zero rate is not the best idea.”

But, as I say, it would be presumptuous of an MEP to tell publishers and booksellers their own business. You guys are in a better position than I am to assess the impact of levying VAT on books.

So let me instead make the general argument that we are better off tailoring our regulations to our own conditions and needs. Linguistic diversity sets a natural limit to the European single market in publishing. To my non- specialist eye, the links British publishers have to Commonwealth and other English-speaking markets are the more important. But, be that as it may, it surely makes little sense to invite officials who are beyond our control to determine our laws.

One minor consequence of British withdrawal will be that I lose a comfortable and well-remunerated job. But I’m asking you serve me with my P45, because we need to think of the world as it will be in 10 or 20 years. The share of our exports to the EU has fallen from 55% to 44% over the past eight years. How much lower must it fall before we drop the bizarre idea that we should link ourselves politically to a declining market? There is a great future for us across the oceans, if only we have the confidence to raise our eyes to more distant horizons and recover our global vocation.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP for South-East England. His book Why Vote Leave is published by Head of Zeus in March