Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

On the EU’s “democratic deficit”

I’ve been planning a long piece on this for months, ever since that whole openDemocracy thing I did back in the autumn (which is, it turns out, what got me shortlisted for that Reuters award thing, rather than this place), but haven’t quite found the time.

The short version (guaranteed to rile the eurosceptics): nope, the EU’s not democratic – and nor should it be if Britain’s interests are going to be maintained. (I’ll try and explain in more detail at some point, but it’s unlikely to be overly soon…)

Anyway, back to the original starting point for this post. Amongst the usual stuck record of eurosceptic complaints under Timothy Garton-Ash’s latest offering about the EU over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free yesterday (I sometimes read these things just to remind myself why I’m not slipping back into full-on eurosceptic mode, despite the repeated disappointments, annoyances and embarrassments that come with being pro-EU*), this little beauty leapt out, by poster “tooter”. It’s one of the best succinct rejoinders to the perennial “the EU’s not democratic” complaint I’ve seen in quite a while, and echoes many of my own views:

I think this “democratic deficit” thing is overdone. The appointees you are on about are put there by people we elect. Great chunks of our government is run in the same way – the House of Lords being the most glaring example, but there are others, Quangos, the Judiciary (!), the PM (!) to name but a few.

Take one example, the European Central Bank. I read over and over again, as an argument against the Euro, about sinister “faceless bureaucrats” who will run our economy for us from Frankfurt. Well the ECB is accountable to no less than FOUR of the European institutions.

Who is the Bank of England accountable to? Can anybody name even two members of the MPC without googling? Are they not, therefore, “faceless bureaucrats” running our economy from London?

What do the europhobes think we are living in now?

He/she later came back with a quick, even snappier follow-up, reiterating the point:

“We British have something called a “Parliamentary Democracy”, as do most of Europe. We never elect our Prime Minister, we elect Members of Parliament. It is these Members who choose the PM. The PM is an appointee. As are the entire House of Lords. As are the Judiciary. As are the Generals, senior civil servants, heads of Agencies and othe Quangos, the Cabinet, Chief Constables, Bishops etc etc

So, europhobes, how “undemocratic” is the EU again?

I too am intrigued by the answer to this. Because the arguments against the EU employed by eurosceptics who have moved beyond petty patriotism (which, to be fair, is an increasingly large proportion these days – and to be clear I mean patriotism in the strict sense, with no nasty connotations) increasingly revolve around criticisms of inefficiencies and failures that are also invariably present at a national – even local – level of government. Because, after all, no system of government ever devised is perfect.

Yet when it comes to the EU, for the eurosceptics it seems that nothing less than perfection will do.

Or am I being incredibly unfair and/or missing the point?


* By the way, I really, really need a better term than “pro-EU” to describe my attitude to the whole thing. Because as should be clear to regular readers I’m not a loyal cheerleader for the EU by any means, and advocate fairly radical reform. I remain a supporter of a European Union of some kind, and of close cross-border political and economic co-operation – and in some case integration – of the kind the EU helps facilitate, but not necessarily this European Union.

In the good old days, this would have labelled me a eurosceptic in the true sense (inasmuch as I am sceptical of the benefits of a number of things the EU is doing) – but now that that term has become synonymous with “anti-EU”, what’s left for those of us who are neither europhiles nor eurosceptics, but occupy that vague middle-ground of being largely in favour of EU membership while wishing the whole thing was just a bit, y’know, better? Because that does, after all, account for the attitude of the vast majority of the British population – it seems very odd that there’s not a term for us all…