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Political issues

May 12, 2017

If you take the current crop of far-right European populists (and their Australian supporters) at their word, one of their key motivating issues is hostility to the European Union. And their beef against the EU, they say, is that it is bureaucratic, undemocratic and anti-freedom: it employs an army of unaccountable officials to stop people doing things they want to do.

In short, to use one of their favorite terms, it is the epitome of the “nanny state.”

How convenient, then, that the European Policy Information Center, an initiative backed by a variety of free market think-tanks, including Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs, has released its “Nanny State Index” for 2017. (Summary table here; full report here. Thanks to Nigel Ashford for the tip.)

Epicenter takes a narrow view of what count as “nanny state” measures – its rankings just cover taxes and regulations on food, alcohol and smoking. But within that range the report seems quite thorough, and its items are at least pretty representative of what those on the right seem to mean when they use the term.

So, do we find that those countries where Eurosceptic opinion is dominant have more liberal attitudes to personal freedom? And, conversely, that those most supportive of the EU are also worse off in “nanny state” measures?

Er, no. We don’t.

In fact, it’s the opposite. The United Kingdom, currently negotiating to leave the EU, ranks second-worst on the table. Ireland comes third, and Hungary, Britain’s occasional Eurosceptic ally, comes fourth.

And at the other end of the table, we find Germany, the chief pillar of the EU, to have the second most liberal policies. (Slovakia is the best.)

If anything, the countries with stronger far-right parties seem more likely to be found in the top (ie less liberal) half of the table, but the relationship is pretty weak. There’s also no correlation with membership of the eurozone.

So it looks as if reluctant countries are not being forced by the EU to oppress their citizens, but rather are doing it all by themselves. Once again, as we’ve previously seen with drugs and immigration, the Eurosceptics are not the friends of freedom that they claim to be.

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