By Richard Palmer
That’s right, this article is aimed at you. If you’re like most Trumpet readers, you live outside the European Union and the United Kingdom. You don’t know much about or care about the decisions coming from the EU capital in Brussels. But wherever you live in the world, the European Union is influencing your life in a major way, right now.
How does the EU wield this much power? And does it matter?
So many aspects of our lives are governed by detailed, yet often invisible regulations. Your food, your car, your bank, your travel. How you post on social media, what information your smartphone can collect, what standards your children’s toys must meet, how your car seat keeps your kid safe, how your computer locates the website you’re looking for.
These regulations have huge effects on your life. Tougher car safety standards, for example, may save your life. But they may also make your car more expensive to both buy and run. An obscure detail of food regulation could cost you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars a year. Yet in many cases these important decisions are not taken by national governments. Instead the rules that govern what goes into the food you eat every day are decided by more obscure groups.
The presence of many of these regulations isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s handy to have Bluetooth headphones purchased in one country able to work in another. A common minimum food standard makes trade much easier. Common standards are essential in a globalized world.
But these regulations are often managed by remote organizations and technical commissions. And no one is more influential in the making of these rules than the European Union. An examination of these rules reveals a power rising in Europe that has far more global clout than most realize.
“Today, few Americans are aware that EU regulations determine the default privacy settings on their iPhones or the type of speech that Twitter will delete as unacceptable,” writes Colombia Law Professor Anu Bradford in her book The Brussels Effect—How the European Union Rules the World. “EU laws determine how timber is harvested in Indonesia, how honey is produced in Brazil, what pesticides cocoa farmers use in Cameroon, what equipment is installed in dairy factories in China, what chemicals are incorporated in plastic toys in Japan, as well as how much privacy is afforded to Internet users in Latin America.”
The Brussels Effect is similar to the California Effect. California is the most populous state in the United States, and has some of its strictest laws. Businesses want to sell to California’s 40 million residents, so they make their products conform to California’s laws. It’s not cost effective to apply California’s rules only to products sold to California. So instead, businesses apply those laws to everything they sell in the United States. It’s why half of what you buy has a little note on it explaining that the product is known to cause cancer in the state of California.
Europe has a population of 445 million relatively rich consumers and is one of the biggest, most lucrative markets in the world. It also has some of the world’s toughest regulations. Big businesses follow the EU’s rules so they can sell to EU customers, and they then sell the same goods and services to those in other nations.
Big businesses who want access to the European market have to spend millions of extra dollars on lawyers, equipment, fees, taxes and other costs to come into compliance with EU regulations. But these businesses actually love it. Why? Because it is easier to face one tough set of regulations than dozens of differing sets in dozens of European countries. It also means that smaller businesses can’t compete.
Once big businesses commit to applying EU regulations, they become, in effect, agents of the EU. A big business’s smaller, domestic competitor in a non-EU country does not have to follow these same rules and is therefore smaller, nimbler and able to peel away some of their market share. So big businesses are motivated to pressure national governments around the world to adopt the EU’s rules, which helps them squash their competition.
The result is some bizarre alliances. You may have thought big corporations and environmentalist charities would be bitter enemies. But the two worked together to pressure the EU to adopt one set of standards for reporting companies’ environmental records. Then they worked together to persuade the International Organization for Standardization to apply the same rules worldwide. Greenpeace and Copa-Cocega—a body representing Europe’s farmers—worked together to push for tough European rules limiting genetically modified crops.
Not that EU bureaucrats need the help. They are quite aggressive themselves in forcing EU rules on other countries around the world.
Bradford claims this push began around 2007. That’s when the European Commission saw what it called “a window of opportunity to push global solutions forward. The EU is in a good position to take a lead ….” The same year, another EU paper said that the EU’s efforts to create a single set of internal rules should be “the launch pad of an ambitious global agenda.”
That has now become a worldwide reality.
The EU signs a lot of trade deals. It has completed more than 50 preferential trade agreements—compared to 18 for Japan and 14 for the United States. Bradford writes that “the EU can use its vast market size as an asymmetric bargaining chip that allows it to demand significant changes” for other countries’ rules. And these preferential trade agreements are just one type of treaty—the EU signs many more different types and almost all of them push EU regulations.
The EU goes out of its way to help other countries adopt its rules. It provides technical expertise to draft local variants of its rules, and it pays countries to implement them—not something other countries typically do.
EU courts also play their part. The European Court of Justice (ecj) has been keen to apply justice by applying EU rules to other countries. In 2012, it famously ruled that Google, an American company, had to respect the right of a Spanish citizen to be “forgotten” and to delete certain data from search results on her name.
Then there are the EU clones around the world. The Andean Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa all copy European systems and European regulations. They even have their own copies of the ecj. The Andean Community’s Andean Tribunal of Justice, for example, is based on the ecj and often cites ecj rulings in its own rulings. It is one of 11 courts worldwide that are essentially ecj clones.
Since the EU began instituting heavy regulations before most of the rest of the world, it influences other international organizations that implement international standards like the Food and Agricultural Organization. The World Health Organization followed European principles in its Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets global food standards. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has caused EU car safety standards to be exported to countries in Latin America and Asia.
Another reason that other countries and international bodies implement EU-style regulations is simple convenience. It’s easier to copy bits of EU law than to write your own. American law relies less on central authority than EU law does; to preserve individual rights, it leans more heavily on court rulings. This makes it harder for other countries to copy and paste U.S. laws into their own separate legal systems. European laws, by contrast, rely on a stronger central authority; they are already designed to work across a range of countries and are handily translated into many languages, including French, Spanish and Portuguese. This is another reason former European colonies in Africa and Latin America often copy the EU’s laws and ecj’s rulings.
So Latin America’s environmental regulations are similar to those of the European Union. African courts copy the rulings of the European Court of Justice. Ecuador has plagiarized Spain’s laws on business competition almost exactly, which were based on those of the EU.
Some of the EU’s most eye-catching cases come from its competition law. In 2001, General Electric wanted to buy Honeywell—both American firms. The U.S. Department of Justice approved the purchase. But the EU used its competition laws to block it. More recently, the EU has fined Google, Apple, Microsoft, Intel and others billions of dollars. Fear of these massive fines has caused these companies to change their practices around the world.
But it has also shaped law in other countries.
Over 130 jurisdictions have competition laws. “A closer look at these laws reveals that a great majority of them have been drafted to closely resemble EU competition law …. The majority of the global markets are covered, in practice, by a variant of EU competition law,” writes Bradford.
So the rules that govern business and products in your country are written in the EU. Who cares? Well, some of these rules restrict your individual freedom, including what you can and cannot say.
Try to send the “wrong” type of video to your friend, and you may quickly become familiar with the new censors of the Internet.
YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms have been downplaying, hiding and deleting content that their leadership disapproves of. That’s old news. But now the censorship is becoming more aggressive.
YouTube has spent the coronavirus period playing whack-a-mole: It smacks down videos that present any kind of dissenting view on the crisis, only to see the same video reposted again and again. Some of these videos are by obvious quacks, but many are not.
Try sharing one of these problematic videos privately with a few friends on WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, and you’ll find yourself blocked. WhatsApp can detect what you are doing, even in your “private” messaging, and limit how much you share videos with content it disapproves of.
Search for information about coronavirus on Google, and you’re taken to a special part of the site that links only to mainstream sources promoting the same mainstream narrative. Encourage people to protest lockdown orders on Twitter, and you’ll see your account suspended.
European governments want censorship to go further. France and Germany have both unveiled laws against online hate speech. Though not identical, both laws require content deemed “hateful” removed quickly from social media sites—with threats of massive fines if they fail to do so. Digital Affairs Junior Minister Cédric O called France’s law “the first brick of this new platform regulation paradigm.”
Some of these laws will be good, especially provisions against child pornography. The trouble is, laws against “hate speech” and “terrorist propaganda” can be stretched pretty far. La Quadrature, a digital rights nonprofit organization, warned that, in French law, the definition of terrorism is broad enough that it could be used to shut down peaceful and otherwise lawful protests. European courts have previously counted even academic criticism of Islam as “hate speech.”
One of La Quadrature’s spokesmen told cnn that this could give the government “a new tool to abuse their power and censor the Internet for political ends.”
France’s constitutional court raised similar concerns, and so the implementation of their law has been delayed.
Germany, however is moving full steam ahead. Its 2017 Network Enforcement Act was so restrictive that Human Rights Watch attacked it for being “vague, overbroad, and turn[ing] private companies into overzealous censors to avoid steep fines, leaving users with no judicial oversight or right to appeal.” This summer Berlin added to it, requiring social networks to report certain types of “criminal content” to the police. Tech Crunch wrote that “Now the concern is that social media giants are being co-opted to help the state build massive databases on citizens without robust legal justification.”
The EU is currently working on a directive that would force the whole bloc to adopt a similar standard. It’s working on a Digital Services Act. Though the law is yet in its early stages, indications are that the EU wants to police “harmful”—not just illegal—content on social networks. Last year the Financial Times reported—citing anonymous EU officials—that this law would create a new “centralized EU tech regulator” with “sweeping legal powers to regulate hate speech, other illegal content and political advertising.”
This would hardly be surprising. When it comes to policing online content, the EU has generally followed Germany’s lead.
Too bad for France and Germany, you may be thinking. Good thing I don’t live in Europe. But this affects you too. Even if you live in the United States, websites you use regularly already follow EU law.
In 2018, for example, the EU implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (gdpr), which regulates how Internet firms use your personal data. Facebook, Microsoft and Google have all applied this policy globally. You have probably already found yourself having to go through additional steps and verifications to open or even maintain an online account.
“Similarly, EU rules influence the types of speech that Internet companies will allow on their platforms,” wrote Bradford. “Instead of being guided by America’s First Amendment free-speech protections, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube follow the EU’s definition of hate speech worldwide when deciding which content to remove from their platforms.” Google used to have a more open direction, but now they have made “a strategic choice to switch to a more restrictive European style of hate speech regulation.”
Many of these companies have already signed up to a voluntary EU code on hate speech—under threat of much tougher regulation if they did not. These regulations have been incorporated to the firms’ official terms of service, even in the United States. When YouTube takes a video down because it violates its standards, what it’s not telling you is that those standards include rules foisted upon it by the EU.
Last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that a judge in an EU country can order content to be taken off of social media worldwide. An American can write a Facebook post aimed at Americans in America—but the ecj says European courts have the authority to order it taken down. The ecj admitted in its judgment that policing speech worldwide is a drastic step to take. What safeguard does it propose for preventing the courts from abusing that immense power? They must “adopt an approach of self-limitation” (emphasis added throughout). There is no safeguard.
This summer has shown these American tech companies are not reluctant to censor. Even if the EU did nothing, a lot of this censorship would still be going on. The Big Tech ceos overwhelmingly support Democrats. But it still matters that the EU writes the rules. It has drawn up the borders of acceptable speech, and European judges patrol them. They’re already pushing Facebook and Google toward more censorship than the tech giants would have otherwise implemented.
The Worldwide Web is changing before your eyes. It was once a free-for-all, with all the good and bad that came with it. Now the vast majority of traffic is funneled through a handful of gatekeepers, which will only allow you to see certain things. And it is the German-led European Union that is determining what you can and cannot see.
Bradford wrote that the EU’s rule-setting power means that it “remains an influential superpower that shapes the world in its image.”
So why don’t we hear more about this power? Because people are comfortable with the EU. At present, no one fears it; Brussels is not threatening. But this is naive, and it fails to recognize who is really behind this important trend.
Germany is the undisputed leader of Europe—and the most influential in its rule setting. Its environmental laws became the EU’s environmental laws, which are now having a major impact on the world.
More importantly, Germany, along with France, is the main architect behind the EU’s Internet regulation. The Germans have led the way in clamping down on hate speech. With France joining them, the entire EU is quickly following suit, bringing EU-wide hate speech laws broadly in line with Germany’s.
Imagine if the coverage of this subject had talked of “Germany” instead of “Europe” and “Berlin” instead of “Brussels.” The world would be much more disturbed about Germans writing the rules that apply from Bolivia to Belize, from Trondheim to Timbuktu.
Brussels isn’t 100 percent under Germany’s thumb. But for the Germans, having the occasional ruling go against them is a small price to pay for the invisibility cloak Brussels provides.
“We must put this issue in the context of Bible prophecy and history,” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in “Germany Is Taking Control of the Internet.” “The German-led EU is behaving the way the Holy Roman Empire has always behaved. Germany is once again seeking to impose its will on the world. This is a difficult message to accept, and many people will disagree with it, but it is the truth!” (Trumpet, July 2019).
This new power is already making itself felt, and it wants to control what you read and say. This is exactly the kind of power forecast in the Bible—and one we have been forecasting for decades.
In May 1945, as the dust of World War ii was still settling in Berlin, Herbert W. Armstrong made an astonishing forecast: Germany would rise again. But it would do so not as a sole power as it had in World War i and World War ii. Instead, Mr. Armstrong said, it would be part of “a European Union.”
He also said that it would be an economic power. Just a few years after the earliest beginnings of the EU, in 1959, Mr. Armstrong wrote that this coming German-led power “is first to start as an economic system with very great prosperity. Later it is to become a political union.”
We have seen Europe walk down exactly this path. How did Mr. Armstrong make these forecasts?
Revelation 18 describes a power that dominates world trade. “All nations” are influenced by this superpower. “[T]he merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies”—big business has become rich by working with her (verse 3). Once this power falls, “the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more” (verse 11).
You can see some of this fulfilled already. The EU is at the center of a global system of trade and regulation. It wields power to impoverish or enrich modern merchants through its regulation of one of Earth’s richest regions. It works hand in hand with big business, to the benefit of both.
Revelation 17 confirms that this power is in Europe—it gives a description of an empire found nowhere else. This empire is controlled by a woman—or, in Bible symbolism, a church (Revelation 17:3). And it rises and falls seven times (verses 9-10). Only Europe has seen the rise and fall of successive powers, led by the Catholic Church.
What is rising today is an extension of what has gone before. Verse 8 calls this power “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” There is a power with a similar, censorious character that comes and goes on the European scene throughout history: the Holy Roman Empire.
Revelation 13 describes this same power intervening in day-to-day business activity. It imposes a symbolic “mark” upon all it controls. If any refuse it, he may not “buy or sell” (verse 17), or participate in trade.
The EU already partially controls what people can and can’t say online. It’s not hard to imagine it going further and imposing heavy restrictions on those who dissent from its beliefs.
This is the real reason to fear the rise of the EU’s regulatory power. Currently the EU excels in exactly the areas of “soft power” that the Bible said it would dominate. The same scriptures tell us it will soon have the hard power to force its rules on others—rather than simply cajole, incentivize and persuade.
The result will be a brutal new economic system that dominates the world. Revelation 18 tells us that its merchants will even trade in slaves (verse 13).
Such a forecast may seem far-fetched. But so did forecasts that Germany would rise up as the head of an economic power, back in 1945. You can see so many of these forecasts and prophecies fulfilled already. Will you believe the rest before it is too late?
If you do, the Bible also holds out great hope. The same scriptures that describe this power show how it fits in to God’s overall plan for man. He is in control, He allows this power to rise, He destroys it when it is time, and in the end, He is working out a fantastic plan for the whole Earth.
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