The wackiest EU laws and myths (and the truth behind them)

Meaty sausages, smaller condoms, weaker vacuum cleaners - we sort myth from reality on what exactly the EU wants to regulate.

The weight of European Union regulations on the UK is one of the most popular reasons given by those supporting a British exit from the EU.

As part of the EU, the UK is bound to enforce laws handed down for years in Brussels. British businesses are hamstrung by red tape and the country’s democratic rights are being curtailed, Leave campaigners say.

The European Union sets standards to harmonise regulations across its 28 member countries, aimed at making it easier to sell goods across borders and maintain environmental and safety standards.

For decades these regulations have made headlines in the UK, and the truth has rarely been allowed to stand in the way of a good story.

Here are some of the zaniest euro myths, some of which are actually entirely true.

Smaller Condoms

In 1994 The Sun reported that the EU was mandating smaller condom sizes, refusing to accommodate for what they believed were ‘larger British assets.’

The EU says the standards The Sun was referring to were voluntary, not mandatory, and did not relate to size. “Any standardisation work in the area of condoms concentrates on quality and not on
length,” the EU says.

Weaker Vacuum Cleaners

This one is actually true – in 2014 the EU introduced regulations which would ban the import or manufacturing of vacuum cleaners which exceeded 1,600 watts, prompting outcry in sections of the British press.

The EU introduced the regulations as part of an energy efficiency push, though some in Britain claimed that people would just be using weaker vacuum cleaners for longer.

The law prompted a run on the market for powerful vacuum cleaners in the weeks before the ban took effect, according to reports. The EU says the regulations have worked, prompting manufacturers to find innovative ways to increase suction without increasing power consumption.

“There have also in the past been major successes with fridges, freezers and television sets,” they say.

The End of British Sausages

The British press seems to love the story of bureaucrats in Brussels trying to ban the traditional British sausage – an item apparently intrinsically tied to national identity. The story has appeared again and again for over a decade.

In 2001 The Sun breathlessly reported on the issue. “The traditional British banger is under threat from Brussels chiefs who want to REDUCE the amount of meat in it. Under strict UK regulations pork bangers must contain at least 65 per cent meat and other varieties 50 per cent. But the EU wants to slash that figure to just 36 per cent,” the story said.

The EU was actually proposing a rule that set standards on what manufacturers could count as meat and what they could count as fat in their labels. “If adopted, consumers would be able to tell from the label exactly how much real meat was in sausages, as well as how much was fat and cheap ‘mechanically recovered meat’” the EU said.

The EU Regulated Man

A recent feature length film by ‘Vote Leave’ campaigners – Brexit: The Movie – claimed that the standard ‘EU regulated man’ wakes up from sleeping on an EU regulated pillow (five EU laws about pillowcases, 109 for the pillow inside) to turn off his EU regulated alarm clock (11 laws) enter his EU regulated bathroom (65 laws) and use his EU regulated toothbrush (31 laws).

The figures are pretty dodgy, however: film-makers appear to have taken these numbers through doing a simple search of the EU’s legal database, then using the number of hits as their figures. Many of the results have nothing to do with regulations about those particular products, they just mention the search term.

Banana Curvature Regulations

Since the late 90s the myth of EU banana curvature regulations has been strongly within the British consciousness – but this one is another that is actually true.

Ministers from EU countries agreed in 1994 to adopt standards for banana curvature, used to sort A grade fruit from B grade fruit in trading. While it sounds ridiculous the EU legislation was actually replacing national legislation set by individual governments – it was aimed at providing a consistent standard to make it easier to trade between countries, the EU says.

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