Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Britain and the “unaccountable” EU

A must-read piece by The Economist’s Charlemagne – more usually a columnist who leans towards the eurosceptic side – explaining very neatly why populist anti-EU rhetoric about democratic deficits and the EU being unaccountable is ignorant at best, and is poisoning British political debate:

“does he [David Cameron] really want British voters to believe that he believes that the EU is ‘completely unaccountable to the people of Britain’? I am not about to turn rabid federalist on you, but there are British ministers in EU meetings, British MEPs in the European Parliament, and British diplomats in every working group. They are not powerless: Britain is one of three Big Beasts, along with France and Germany, that wield serious clout in the EU. And they are all, at least last time I checked, accountable to the British people.

“He also says that when the EU does something, it is being taken out of “the realm of democratic politics”. Regular readers of this blog, or the column, will know I am not a swooning fan of the European Parliament. But the parliament does have say on quite a lot of European legislation. And though there is a great deal wrong with the way that MEPs are elected, I am not sure that laws approved by the EP have had no contact whatsoever with the realm of democratic politics.

If all coverage and commentary on EU affairs was like this, the world would be a much better place. Do read the whole thing.

8 Comments

  1. Nosemonkeys Utopia blog: 9 out of 10 Indoctrinated useful fools prefer it.

  2. Thanks for that, John. Useful contribution.

  3. Errr, because the UK is a model for democratic representation and not the most secreative and centralised ‘free’ nation in the Western world….

  4. EvilEuropean: I would still argue that, bad as the UK is, we’re not _as_ bad at secrecy and democratic representation as the EU.

    And as for centralisation… I hear various pro-EU folk arguing that federalism – allowing ‘decisions to be made at the appropriate level’ and all that – is a great feature of the EU. But I can’t help but notice that being in the EU effectively means _more_ centralisation, as powers get moved from somewhere almost-local to Brussels, which is local in only the global sense.

    I’m not a fan of the way the UK is run, but just because it isn’t very good doesn’t mean we should rush to embrace something that’s _worse_…

    But onto the actual subject of the blog post: I sort of agree with the article, but for one thing. In order for something to be in “the realm of democratic politics” (strange phrase) it must be supported by a demos. People who have some sort of knowledge about the process, and some sort of interest in the result. Certainly UK voters don’t – look at the election broadcasts showing now; glance through the newspapers. The biggest interest in the European elections is whether they force Gordon Brown out. Hardly the sign of a healthy democracy. And given that the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitution was blamed on non-EU issues as well (to what extent this is justified, I don’t know), I don’t think UK voters are alone in our disinterest.

    There’s no scrutiny of European legislation in the press (certainly not whilst it’s being debated in the European Parliament, anyway) which gives the impression that they’re dictats from on high, with no input from voters. And the behaviour of the political parties, the newspapers, tv – hell, pretty much everyone – makes this effectively true.

    It also doesn’t help that with the constitution voted out, various reports have been published detailing how parts of the constitution are being implemented anyway. It doesn’t mean that doing so is necessarily _un_democratic, but… it doesn’t give the best impression, perhaps?

  5. @ Stuart

    You’re right that politicians and the media are effectively freezing citizens out of the EU politically – though I’ve noticed that newspapers are increasingly not pulling their weight as the “fourth estate” nationally either…

    Alerting people to legislation going through the EP is definitely needed so people can mobilise against it (protest, pressure MPs and MEPs, etc.), or even for it.

    “But I can’t help but notice that being in the EU effectively means _more_ centralisation, as powers get moved from somewhere almost-local to Brussels, which is local in only the global sense.”

    Well, the EU has no influence on how member states can organise local government, so they can’t push power downwards to make local government more effective, no matter how much contact they try to have with local-ish government through the “Committee of the Regions”. (Not that I’m suggesting the EU should have such influence). Obviously if powers are pushed downwards, it’s (rightly) not seen as an EU thing.

    Subsidiarity definitely needs to be strengthened in the EU system.

  6. Eurocentric: I don’t really think it’s a case that the media are “freezing citizens out of the EU” – newspapers contain stuff that will sell newspapers, and EU politics is famous for being a bit dull. Admittedly it’s a bit chicken-and-egg; the newspapers don’t print EU stories because people aren’t interested; one of the reasons that people aren’t interested is because of the lack of media coverage.

  7. @Stuart

    I just find the hypocracy of politicans on the EU stunning….they complain about the secreative centralised undemocratic nature of the EU, but have no problem about doing the same or worse at home.

    Politicans dont have a problem with power as long as they have it, and they dont have to share it.

    I would argue that the EU is more complex than secreative, and that complexity has been intentional on the part of the national governments over the decades.

  8. As a EUrosceptic I know that EIU accounting methods are actually a little stricter than UK government ones, but it`s a trade off that that may not be known against the vastly greater other reasons about how the EU affects us for the worse that are not known (and your side either doesn`t know about or keeps quiet about ).