The EU and my Aga dream

I've always wanted a red Aga, says Merryn Somerset Webb. But EU rules say I can't have one, and the "democratic deficit" means there's no real way of changing that. Unless our relationship is radically redefined, I'll be voting "out".

I've always wanted an Aga. And for sentimental reasonsI have always wanted that Aga to be red. However, as I have also always lived in cities with kitchens a tad too small to justify devoting wall space to an oven withoutan effective hob, I've never had one.

Last year, Aga read my mind and introduced the utterly gorgeous Aga City60. It's half the size of a normal Aga and, if I do the rest of my kitchen remodelling at Ikea, I can run to one. Hooray. Now the bad news: it comes in many colours, but not red. Why not? Because the EU directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) says that all cast-iron appliances that use electricity (but not gas) must be 100% recyclable. The red paint Aga uses has a tiny bit of cadmium in it. That can't be fully recycled which means you can't have an electric Aga in red.

You may say that this is entirely reasonable. It probably is. But it made me wonder what I might do about it if I thought that it wasn't. In the UK, if something happens we don't much like, we can call on our MPs and know that they have some power; we can complain to the relevant department and know there is a chance they will read our letters; or we can go public and petition for change (MoneyWeek has one up now, demanding a guarantee that cash will never be banned). And we can vote against governments who irritate us too much.

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But with the EU, I haven't even the tiniestbit of faith in getting my voice heard.The petition system doesn't enforce debate after a certain number of signatures as the UK one does; I think we know there's no point in me writing to the waste and recycling department of the European Commission; and I am not represented by any one MEP even if I was, it is hard for a single MEP from one member state to have much say inside a 28-state organisation. This distance between the voter and EU parliament creates what most people now recognise as a "democratic deficit".

But this constitutional price isn't the only one we pay to be in Europe. As Lord Bamford notes in The Daily Telegraph, there are also financial, bureaucratic and regulatory prices. These prices looked low in 1975. They have ballooned over the years. The upshot is this. Staying in the EU means, as The Times puts it, "an inexorable erosion of Britain's power to write its own laws or to control who is allowed to live and work here".

Europe's elites want to stick to the EU's founding principle of "ever-closer union". I don't think we do. Most of us don't even want quite the closeness of union we have now. We will return to these issues many times before the UK votes on Europe we'll also interview as many of the key players as we can. But right now, if negotiations don't result in major changes to our relationship with the EU (we'd like to end up in no more than a glorified free-trade zone), most of the MoneyWeek team will be voting "out". Meanwhile, I'll be downgrading my Aga dream to aubergine.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.