Many positions in the EU that in a normal democracy would be elected are given to retired or de-selected national politicians. Some may be appointed for their expertise but often it is for favours owed or just for time-serving. The EU’s top governing body is the Commission, with one representative for each nation. Britain’s past Commissioners include: Neil Kinnock (passed over by the British public as Prime Minister, now receiving one of the EU’s gold-plated pensions); Leon Brittan (a typical “grey-suit” in the public’s mind, if they were aware of him at all) and Roy Jenkins who was perhaps the only front-ranked, elected politician we have ever nominated, the next closest being Peter (now Lord) Mandelson. Baroness Ashton was famous for being a complete unknown (they’re not all men, though mostly) and our latest, Jonathan Hill, who has resigned following the Brexit vote from a key financial portfolio (European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union), which seems to leave the City exposed more than was necessary. (Lord Hill, like the man who nominated him, David Cameron, has a PR and government Special Advisor background.)
The top man, the President of the European Commission (the only part of the EU with the power to make laws), is nowadays chosen for his obscurity – the lowest common denominator, or least unacceptable. Recent presidents include: Jacques Santer (ex-PM of Luxembourg), José Manuel Barroso (ex-PM of Portugal), and now Jean-Claude Junker (another ex-PM of Luxembourg).
How many UK electors could name our recent ex-Commissioner? How many know who represents them in the European Parliament? We can name two out of ten for the South East region (Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan, have been at the forefront of the Brexit campaign). How many can name any of the other four Presidents, aside from Mr Junker, and what they are in charge of?
These “professionals” and their predecessors have overseen an EU of low economic growth, high unemployment and growing extremism. This despite their unshakeable confidence in their own abilities. Popular, sackable politicians could hardly have done worse. Of course national politicians risk the sack if they hand over full control of their diverse economies to others who are not responsible to the various electorates.
The resultant squabbles and compromises illustrate the underlying tension between the Commissioners’ demands for uniformity (dressed up as ‘union’) and the wish of citizens to have a say in their economic and legal systems. This tension cannot be resolved by soft words as it goes to the heart of the EU’s ambitions. In the end the people will decide, with or without the compliance of their ‘betters’ and this is the risk the EU is taking.