Don Micklewright derides my ‘ludicrous argument’ on the EU’s bureaucracy.  Where we differ, the fault is perhaps mine in skipping over the detail. In one area he may even be surprised that I agree with him.

In trying to keep things short, I oversimplified. Yes, the EU produces ‘policies, directives and guidelines’, but what I didn’t describe is the huge amount of work and negotiation that goes into these. 

It’s not exactly writing something on a piece of paper and going home at 5pm.

The commission, the EU’s civil service, has to negotiate each proposal with every government (presently 28) and, often, 28 industry or professional associations as well. Many of these want incompatible things. 

Example: In the late 80s, led by the UK and Margaret Thatcher, the EU was creating the Single Market. 

Thatcher knew that a single, open market would be a massive boost to the UK economy. (Ironic that her successors want to leave it). 

I worked for what is now AstraZeneca, in one of the UK’s few internationally successful industries. The company invented a range of life-saving drugs – for cancer, heart disease, asthma etc. We had a problem. The industry is based on research. 

It was now taking 10 years or more to develop a drug, by which time more than half the patent life had gone. Tens or even hundreds of millions may have gone into the original research and development. We needed EU-wide improvement to intellectual property, to safeguard UK research. 

There was opposition: some EU countries where there was little or no medical research just wanted cheap drugs without worrying about research.  The EU Commission was in the middle. They argued with government officials, industry associations and companies from 12 countries (now 28). I found Commission officials bright, hard-working, reasonable and tough.

Over two years, they squared the circle. Nobody got everything they wanted, but most agreed it was a fair outcome.

That’s when the directive got written, not before. 

Not a ‘piece of paper’, but a piece of law that safeguarded UK medical research, but without giving industry a blank cheque. One issue of many, in one industry of many.

Where I agree with Mr Micklewright is in the nonsense of the monthly transfer of MEPs to Strasbourg and back. 

It’s not quite, as he suggests, shuttling 32,000 Commission officials, but it is 750 MEPs plus support staff. 

Even for those of us who think the EU is, with all its faults, a good thing, this monthly waste of time and money is infuriating. 

Geoff  Holman