It is remarkable that the EU expects member nations to be democratic yet its own institutions are not.
At the time of our last referendum, 51 years ago, Tony Benn asked of the EU: to whom are you accountable and how do we get rid of you? These remain good questions, which haven’t been answered, because the EU is not accountable to voters and can’t be voted out. The founders were worried by the precedent of populist leaders, such as Mussolini and Hitler, being elected and becoming dictators. The structure they devised reflects this, designed to keep a steady ship on its pre-planned journey.
“Effective democratic legitimacy and accountability are crucial for strengthening the ownership in Stage 1 of the deepening of EMU and is indispensable in Stage 2, when the envisaged initiatives involve more pooling of sovereignty. In recent years, the Commission has gradually established a deeper and more permanent dialogue with the Member States through bilateral meetings, more targeted discussion in the Council and more widespread technical and political missions to the capitals.” (*2 in References)
There is no reference in this section to citizens, voters or anything that most people would recognise as representing democracy, let alone “legitimacy and accountability”. The Commissioners believe that democracy is delivered by “bilateral meetings”, “discussion in the Council” and “missions to the capitals”. References in this Communication to the European Parliament illustrate the Parliament’s secondary importance and give it the job of ensuring that members vote for the true agenda, despite only weakly representing the views of national voters. The implication is clear; real democracy is indeed dispensable.
The only directly elected body in the EU is its Parliament but this is not like those of free nations. Only the Commission is able to introduce legislation, Parliament’s role is just to scrutinise it but many (sometimes hundreds) of laws are presented at once with little time for discussion; even Britain’s House of Lords has comparatively greater power. The Parliament can suggest amendments but the Commission can ignore them.
MEPs are not directly elected by constituents but are selected from national-party lists to represent regions that may have no local logic. No wonder there is a lack of interest and low voter turnouts. The European Parliament provides an illusion of democracy to disguise the autocracy over which it has no authority.
The Council of Ministers (comprising the heads of elected, national governments) is only able to suggest laws to the Commission. The Commission consists of a single member nominated by each national government and their roles are assigned by the Commission President. The President is nominated by the largest party in the Parliament, but these “parties” do not equate with, say, our Labour or Germany’s Christian Democrats – national parties must join a block and that block must be multinational and large enough to qualify.
Representative democracy is neutered. Voters don’t know who represents them, what for, or why they should care. And yet this union is gradually becoming the most important thing in their political and economic lives. Citizens are right not to care about the Parliament but wrong not to care about the implications of its lack of authority.
National parliaments are left as the ghost of democracy, providing a Punch and Judy show to entertain the masses.