Warning: nobody knows how many UK laws are 'European'

What percentage of UK laws come from Europe?

Now there's a question that has challenged the biggest legal brains. Surprisingly, it is almost impossible to answer.

Counting laws is like grabbing a pile of sand on a beach. As you count each grain (good luck with that), hundreds and thousands of grains slowly escape through your fingers.

We don’t, for example, know how many criminal offences there are in the UK. As we reported in this blog in November 2013, estimates of the amounts of offences vary between about 7,000 offences to well over 10,000 offences.

So if we are struggling to work out how many UK laws there are in a particular area–the criminal law–what hope do we have to work out how much of UK law is from Europe?

Not much, if truth be told–at least as far as a specific figure is concerned.

But this does matter. The EU is at the centre of the political debate and arguably that debate cannot be properly informed if people do not understand what the impact of EU law is.

It is clear that, whatever figures are quoted, they are highly politicised.

Both Viviane Reding (europhile–European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship) and Nigel Farage's UKIP (europhobe–as if you need me to tell you that) have quoted the figure as being between 70%-75%.

Despite the fact that Viviane and Nigel will probably never be 'bezzy mates', it doesn't surprise me that they quoted roughly the same figure (although many have challenged how the Commissioner's figure was arrived at). I suspect that the European Commissioner was keen to emphasise a high figure in order to encourage voters in the EU to get to the ballot boxes in the European elections (eg  the EU is more important than most voters realise) whilst the head of UKIP was equally keen to highlight a slightly higher figure of three-quarters of laws emanating from the EU (eg to show how 'impotent' Westminster has become).

On the other hand, the House of Commons Library reckons that:

in the UK data suggest that from 1997 to 2009 6.8% of primary legislation (Statutes) and 14.1% of secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) had a role in implementing EU obligations, although the degree of involvement varied from passing reference to explicit implementation

Although it did also go on to state that:

there is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU

Indeed, it is not just an argument between the EU and the UK.

In 2005, the relatively europhile Labour government quoted the relevant figure as being 9% whereas the relatively eurosceptic Conservatives in May 2009 maintained that almost half of all the regulations affecting UK businesses came from the EU.

I could go on and I haven't even mentioned the extent to which the Court of Justice of the European Union and the case-law under it affects the figures quoted above.

To be honest, I don't think that we will ever come to a satisfactory answer.

That said, I can hereby confirm that the relevant figure is neither 0% nor is it 100%. The rest is up for grabs.

In the meantime, the question may need to be filed under other burning unanswered questions such as 'what is the meaning of life?', 'what if there were no hypothetical questions?' and, most importantly, 'why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?'

What do you think? Do let us know below...

Area of Interest