Every year the European Union issues many hundreds of laws, varying from far-reaching directives to decisions in individual cases. The number of laws has seen an explosive increase since the 1980s because Brussels has taken on more and more tasks: not only opening up the internal market, but all sorts of other areas of cross-border legislation, ranging from environmental law and agriculture to transport and consumer protection.

In 2007, Open Europe calculated that if we laid out all the European legislation in force at that time in a row, it would exceed the distance of a marathon. An “average person” would have to run for four hours to get past the row of legislation. What this means? No idea. But the underlying message is clear: all these laws have to be implemented at national level.

How much room does this leave for a country's own, national policy? 20%, if we are to believe a lot of journalists, think-tanks and particularly politicians. Everyone repeats everyone else and says that the rest comes from Brussels.

“It is remarkable that both proponents and opponents have an interest in making the influence of Brussels appear to be very large”, says the Utrecht-based public administration lecturer Sebastiaan Princen. “For proponents it is a sign that protest is pointless and we have no choice but to go along with Europe. For critics it is clear proof that a new superstate is being created in which we no longer have a place.” But the number is not based on anything. It is a myth.

Jacques Delors’s prediction

A few years ago there was a heated academic debate about the influence of Europe on national legislation. Jurists and public administration scholars went through the number of laws which referred directly to European rules. The results were similar in various studies, including in other European countries: approximately one in five laws was influenced by Europe.

Although the method was not infallible, it is abject nonsense that the figure of 80% is even close. In addition, studies showed enormous differences per area of law: the Asser Instituut calculated that two-thirds of environmental legislation was influenced by Europe, while that only applied to 6% of legislation regarding education.

So where does this 80% come from? Who gave birth to this myth? In 1988 Jacques Delors, then chairman of the European Commission, predicted that after ten years 80% of the legislation in the economic area, and perhaps also in the area of taxes and social security, would come from Europe. This figure then took on a life of its own.

Part 6 of the series