Still Pay, Less Say

The reaction of Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) to the latest release of the Flexcit plan—now branded The Market Solution—is a straightforward exercise in “projection”. The tendency of human beings to deflect attention away from unpleasant traits by “projecting” their fears and failings onto others is a well documented psychological phenomena. It is predictable that a campaign group should employ similar defence mechanisms when confronted with an existential threat. However, the arguments that BSE makes in defence of its own position are just not credible.

The Executive Director of BSE, Will Straw, asserts that: “Leave.EU’s new policy shows they accept EU budget contributions, would keep free movement, would keep all EU laws, but would remove the UK’s influence over the most important economic regulations we would be forced to accept”.

One wonders, could Mr Straw be any more trivial or more crass? International co-operation costs money—and that really should be the end of that; that is just the way things work.

The “remainers” do not baulk at the notion that EU institutions determine their own spending and policy-priorities. Why is the idea of democratically elected politicians in an independent Britain—ultimately accountable to the British electorate—setting spending and policy-priorities so anathema?

If Mr Straw will insist upon lowering what is really a constitutional argument to the level of “budget contributions”, he should at least get his facts right. For instance, Norway pays roughly half as much as the United Kingdom per head of GDP to participate in the Single Market. Norway also pays toward the administration of programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Single European Sky. Finally, Norway pays money directly to former Eastern Bloc countries to enhance their economic development, as a means to ease migratory pressure and increase opportunities for trade.

Which part of this does BSE and Mr Straw have a problem with? Is Mr Straw suggesting that we would not “still pay” were Britain to remain an EU Member State or does he have a more general problem with the idea of national governments setting their own spending priorities based upon the democratic will of national electorates?

Unlike the “remainers” I shall not say that Britain has “no say” in determining EU policy. That would not be true; just as the assertion that EFTA/EEA participants have “no say” in the Single Market is entirely false. However, in the EU, legislation and regulation are subject to the “co-decision” procedure of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (formerly the Council of Ministers)*.

In the European Parliament, Britain has around 8 percent of the votes, and in the Council of the EU, Britain has around 12 percent of the votes. The fact that decisions in the Council are taken under Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) means an EU Member State can be legally bound—under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ)—to enforce a decision, regardless of how it votes.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) do not have the power to initiate legislation or amend or repeal existing legislation once it has been passed.

Those powers are reserved to the European Commission, which is a body of political appointees who are empowered to act in an executive role for the European Union as a whole. By definition, these supranational institutions—above the nation-state—mean less say for national electorates.

The “Still Pay, Less Say” message better describes the position of the “remainers”. The EU will continue to set its own budgetary requirements and the EU Member States will continue to pay, as the EU assumes control over ever more areas of policy, meaning less say for national electorates. What is it that is so anathema to the BSE about the British government having the flexibility to set spending and policy priorities based upon the democratic consent of the British people?

* Not all EU legislation or regulation is based on co-decision—there is also what is known as the Comitology Procedure—but that is a point for another time.

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