We are not just citizens of the EU, we are subjects of an administration that we cannot change, either alone or in the company of a majority of our fellow citizens. We examine the claim that the EU is a democracy.
Here is the definition of the term ‘democratic deficit’ from the EU’s own glossary (see also our Discontented Democrats for an extended commentary).
“‘Democratic deficit’ is a term used by people who argue that the EU institutions and their decision-making procedures suffer from a lack of democracy and seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen due to their complexity. The real EU democratic deficit seems to be the absence of European politics. EU voters do not feel that they have an effective way to reject a ‘government’, they do not like, and to change, in some ways, the course of politics and policy.”
The glossary proceeds to deny that such a deficit exists. Here is their first denial, “The current form of European governance is such that there is no ‘government’.”
This is deceitful. The ambition of the EU is to form a federal government for Europe; it is well on its way to achieving this ambition. We only have to look to the legal regime to understand this:
“Accepting and respecting a final judgement is what it means to be part of a Union based on the rule of law. Member States gave final jurisdiction to the European Court of Justice. The judgements of the Court have to be respected by all. To undermine them, or to undermine the independence of national courts, is to strip citizens of their fundamental rights.” (Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union presentation in September 2017)
This is rich in deliberate deception. The ECJ interprets Euro-law and EU Treaties, it is not independent. A “final judgement” means exactly that. The governments of 28 previously independent European nations have, by signing up as member states of the EU, given up their jurisdiction to the ECJ and through that to a federal government. “Governance” is how governments govern.
Here is our alternative definition of ‘democratic deficit’: ‘EU voters do not have any way to reject a system of governance they do not like, or to change the course of politics and policy.’
Nearly 200 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville visited America to report on its democracy and published his views in two volumes (‘On Democracy in America’). He drew on his experiences there and from his views on how democracy had been evolving in various countries over the preceding two centuries. One of his enduring conclusions was that we must beware of the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’ resulting in the oppression of minorities. One way in which this may occur is through excessive centralisation, when the federation makes a decision that ought to be made locally. This is supposedly recognised by the EU, which frequently refers to the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ but manifestly ignores it in practice. One minor but popular example is of the ‘metric martyrs’ forbidden to sell goods in imperial measures in their local (UK) market stalls; oppression may be a strong word to apply in this case but the unnecessary and excessive grasping of authority is a trend that needs to be resisted.
And we would replace the second part of “EU institutions and their decision-making procedures…seem inaccessible to the ordinary citizen due to their complexity.” with “…are inaccessible to the ordinary citizen by deliberate design.”
Appointed EU politicians are not accountable for their failures, they can (and do) carry on pursuing their agendas. In proper democracies citizens throw out those they believe have failed them, they may sometimes be wrong to do so but it’s their free choice and they suffer the consequences if they choose badly. Under the EU’s version of democracy they are not allowed to make bad choices, or any choices; the right choices have been made for them.
The problem, the EU has decided, is that voters are ill-informed and ignorant: “The public are still generally pro-European, but they do not understand the political system that sometimes appears to threaten their way of life.”
A give-away here is the phrase ‘political system’, which perhaps citizens understand too well. As for “pro-European”, if we were to ask citizens, “Are you pro-European?” and then, “Are you pro-EU?” we might expect quite different results. See our Europe versus EU for comments on the all-too familiar sleight of hand in substituting ‘Europe’ for ‘EU’.
Poll figures cited by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) show that “Nearly three-quarters believed their voice didn’t count in the European Union, and over two-thirds didn’t trust it. Perhaps that’s why turnout at the final [most recent] European election was just 36%.” As usual, facts foil propaganda.
The ERS is largely pro-EU but recognises the problem:
“The commonly cited complaint against this model [a federal Europe] is that one cannot have a democracy without a demos, a unit with which people can identify. But there appears to be little sign of a European identity and little sign of a desire for a federal Europe. This creates a fundamental problem: if European citizens do not want a federal Europe, then a democratic state should not be imposed undemocratically. A United States of Europe would therefore seem to lack legitimacy.”
“Ultimately, voters do not have a direct vote for the presidential candidates in question. They are voting for national political parties, which affiliate to pan-European political parties headed by candidates for President.”
We don’t agree that the EU can be reformed (see Can EU be Reformed?), but we do agree that a federal Europe – a United States of Europe – lacks legitimacy, if that term refers to the lack of democracy rather than to the legal regime, of which there is certainly not a lack.
The European Parliament (EP) is directly elected by EU citizens but has little power. It has the right to scrutinise and, occasionally, to veto legislation initiated by the European Commission but it does not have the right to initiate legislation itself, meaning that it cannot honestly be described as a “co-legislator”, as the EU does in its glossary. In Europe national parliaments frequently challenge their governments, and when they can’t, or don’t, such governments are regarded as undemocratic. Candidates for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are not chosen directly by voters, they are pre-selected for them by political parties so that votes are for a party, not a person. That makes perfect sense when the whole system is so remote that citizens are unlikely to know the individuals unless they become celebrities (Nigel Farage is probably the only MEP most UK citizens would recognise by name or sight).
From the same definition, the EU gives some clues as to how it interprets ‘democracy’:
“The EP has acquired considerable influence in the appointment of the Commission and its President.
“In addition, the European Citizens’ Initiative was created and the importance of dialogue between civil society and the European institutions was recognised. Lastly, certain Council sessions have been made public to improve citizens’ information.”
Key phrases here are: “considerable influence”, “importance of dialogue” and “certain Council sessions”. How condescending; in a true democracy the people’s chosen representatives would have decisive influence if they chose to exercise it. And the disdainful attitude is summed up by “to improve citizens’ information.” The problem is with ignorant citizens not with the EU and its institutions, let alone with its attitude (see Attitudes and Ideology).
The EU is not willing to give serious consideration to the view that it is not a democratic form of governance and the contempt it displays by using propaganda to cover the deficit will surely be a significant factor leading to its demise.