Cameron Penny is a financial services lobbyist.
It’s time for the media to get serious about the EU debate.
If you’re a Conservative who believes in a true Single Market and positive reforms to the EU then you probably rejoiced at the timing of the latest bizarre piece of agitprop from the Brexitists with the closing of the Commonwealth games.
Were it not for the joyous celebration to mark numerous nations and peoples coming together in common cause the Slovenian Supreme Court, rather than Glasgow, would have been top of the page for the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Telegraph.
Why? You may very well ask. Instead of reporting the relevant facts, these two esteemed organs decided to ignore them, and instead told their many millions of readers that “caring for your treasured turf could be about to become much more expensive – thanks to a ruling from (you guessed it) Europe”.
Yes, those evil bureaucrats in Brussels are planning on making you pay to insure your ride-on lawnmower. As if they haven’t got enough to do with straightening our bananas or telling us who we can or can’t deport. Now they’re after that cherished British birthright – the ability to ride a rotating blade around our lawns at will.
Except that there were some glaring holes in the story. First, and for a start, it isn’t “Brussels” which is planning anything of the sort. Second, the case in question relates to a tractor hitting a ladder. So let’s head to the European Court of Justice, which – for the benefit of our friends in the fourth estate – is based in Luxembourg.
Now for the substance. The entire story was based on a request from the Supreme Court of Slovenia for what is called a “preliminary ruling”. These requests from EU member states – not from Brussels – are used in order for courts in EU member states to question the application of European laws. In this case, someone driving a tractor towing a trailer, during the course of hay being stored in a hayloft, hit a ladder.
Unfortunately a Mr Damijan Vnuk was on the ladder. He fell, and was injured, though not fatally -because he has subsequently gone on to sue the insurer of the tractor, The Triglav Group, one of the larger insurance companies in South-East Europe.
The insurer, it seems, declined to pay out and appears to have appealed findings against them in the Slovenian courts, leading to the request from the Slovenian Supreme Court for a preliminary ruling on the relevant piece of European legislation – the same piece of legislation (Council Directive 72/166/EEC of 24 April 1972) that provides for compulsory motor insurance. I think we’d all agree compulsory motor insurance means we’re a lot better protected by pooling such risks.
The key issue for the Court of Justice is whether the use of vehicles, which the 1972 Directive mentions, should include a case in which the vehicle was not being used in traffic on public roads. In February this year, the Advocate General for the Court of Justice issued its opinion – which was that the use of a tractor in such circumstances should be covered, saying “it is conceivable that the accidents covered are not only those that take place on a highway”.
As staff on both papers would have been aware, the Court doesn’t often deviate from the opinion of the Advocate General. So, far from “Brussels” forcing people to buy insurance for their ride-on lawnmowers, the Court of Justice (remember chaps – it’s in Luxembourg) is actually reinforcing the principle that motor insurance cover should include incidents that occur on private property.
If it didn’t, can you imagine the outrage that would truly be felt? The implications of ruling against our friend Vnuk would mean you’d have to take out additional insurance to cover your car for that bump in Sainsbury’s or the unfortunate bumper cruncher in the multi-story.
Rather than letting their readers bask in the aura of the actuality, it suits far too many media outlets to twist the facts in the search of a good headline. In their defence, “Now Brussels threatens to slap car insurance on your lawnmower” is slightly sexier than “Ruling on EU Council Directive 72/166/EEC will protect civil liability requirements on private property.”
However, the question of whether this nation remains in the EU is hugely important for our long-term future. Journalists and their outlets all have bias, but accurate reporting of the facts should be an anchor in the storm. Let Ministers, commentators, companies, pressure groups and others play their part in the big debate, but if we can’t trust the media to at least convey the facts then there’s precious hope for an informed debate now, in 2017 or ever.