The EU Is Anti-Democratic

junker

More than one person has now asked me to explain why I say that the EU is an anti-democratic union. This post is an attempt to summarise the reasons why I believe this to be the case.

First of all, it is important to clarify your terms. Democracy, from the Greek—demos and kratia—literally means ‘people power’. A democratic system is one in which decisions are taken as close to the people as possible. The UK system of parliamentary or representative democracy could be said to be a limited democracy while the Swiss system of direct democracy is what one might call a true democracy.

The EU government, for that is what it is, is not only undemocratic but anti-democratic. The people have no control over the decision-making process whatsoever.

First of all, there is no self-identifying European demos. I am happy to identify as European, but I do not regard German or French people as my fellow countrymen. Although we are all born of the same civilisation, our different languages, cultures, customs and traditions make us foreign to one another. The kind of solidarity needed to constitute a demos cannot be forced or faked and it is simply not present at the continental level. I am British first, not European.

As a result, the idea that the European Parliament represents the people of Europe is absurd. European elections are not really European elections so much as snapshots of how discontented a given people are with the politicians in charge of their respective national governments. Turnout in European elections is low, not only in Britain, and very few people take the results seriously. The European Parliament is the weakest of the five most important EU institutions: the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice, the European Council and the Council of the EU.

Moreover, the politicians people elect to the European Parliament do not represent particular constituencies, they represent their parties and the leaders who select them. Elections to the European Parliament in the UK are held under the “party list” system. Electors vote for the party not the person who they want to represent them and, based upon the proportion of the vote that each party receives, candidates are assigned in ascending order—the first candidate on the party list is the first to be sent to the European Parliament, then the second, then the third, and so on. This, to clarify, is based upon the proportion of the vote that each party receives.

Vesting that much power and control in party machines is different to the UK system of parliamentary elections in which people vote for a specific candidate to represent their constituency in Westminster.

That, however, is the most democratic part of the Brussels-based system.

What turns the EU from an undemocratic organisation, which constrains the ability of national governments to act in accordance with the wishes of their respective electorates, into an anti-democratic organisation, which progressively removes policy control from accountable politicians, is the European Commission, which acts as a “higher authority” above the governments of the historic nation-states of Europe.

There are three features of the EU system which cement the European Commission’s dominance. First of all, the EU is the supreme law-making authority in the Member States. The precedents for this are long-established in European and English law. EU law trumps British law, and where the two conflict, the judge will find in favour of the EU. In the event that a decision is disputed, the final judgement is made by what is, while Britain remains in the EU, the highest court in the land, the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Second, the European Commission has sole “right of initiative” within the EU. No new EU law can be proposed, amended or repealed without Commission involvement and approval. This is the key to the anti-democratic character of the EU. There is no way to “reform” this aspect of the EU because no initiative can or will progress without Commission consent. There is no mechanism to compel the Commission to act; legislative proposals put to the Commission by other EU institutions are advisory only.

The Commission is the executive arm of a supranational government, but the commissioners are not directly accountable to anybody. The European Parliament has the power to unseat the entire Commission, which has happened once, but there is no mechanism to hold individual commissioners to account.

Third, the Commission itself is comprised of political appointees who swear an oath of allegiance to act in the interests of the EU as a whole rather than representing the interests of any particular nation-state. Thereby does the Commission protect the body of EU law from democratic accountability.

This is the inverse of the British idea of freedom under law which is founded on the principle that no Parliament may bind its successor. Under the EU system of governance, every law is sacrosanct unless or until the Commission says otherwise.

This is not an effective or efficacious method for making legislation or policy. In a rapidly changing world, autonomy, agility and, above all else, accountability, are worth so much more.

But, while we remain in the EU the ratchet of “ever closer union” is always turning, one Directive at a time, one ECJ judgement at a time.

The only way to bring trade, aid, energy, environmental, agricultural, fisheries, justice and home affairs, foreign and defence policy back under democratic control, take responsibility for our own governance and re-engage with the global trading system is to vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

On Immigration

84308198_border_empty_pa

The current Conservative government led by Prime Minister, David Cameron, campaigned and was elected on a manifesto pledge to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands per annum. The chance of any UK government fulfilling that or any similar policy aim while Britain remains a member of the European Union is close to zero.

This is not only because of EU freedom of movement. Arguably of even greater importance are the shackles that supranational EU policy-making imposes upon disciplines and departments as diverse as trade, aid, foreign affairs and defence.

Population growth in excess of 300,000 people per year, driven mainly by inward migration in excess of 600,000 people per year is unsustainable. This is true from an ecological perspective as much as from any other; Britain simply does not have the resources—the “carrying capacity”—to accomodate and absorb that many people over such a short period of time.

Polling data shows that most of the electorate would like inward migration reduced. The next question for any responsible government must surely be, “How can we achieve that policy aim while also balancing other concerns, such as maintaining a stable economy?” The answer, as with any major change, is one step at a time.

First of all, it is important to note that immigration and asylum are separate areas of policy. The two are too often conflated and confused, especially by the legacy media, which makes promoting alternative policy choices harder than it should be.

Upon leaving the EU, the UK would almost certainly agree transitional arrangements with the remaining EU Member States. That would most likely mean repatriating the entire EU acquis—body of EU law—and stepping out of the EU’s political and judicial arrangements into an EEA type of relationship.

That may involve rejoining EFTA or it may not. Either way, such a deal would protect jobs and investment at the point of exit.

The EEA agreement is Single Market membership—on the same terms as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein—without the Common External Tariff or the Common Commercial Policy, which binds EU Member States to the EU’s “common position” in international trade talks and on global standards-setting bodies.

Free of those encumbrances, the UK would be able to deal direct with partner countries at the world level, sitting eye-to-eye with the EU, the USA and the other big players in the WTO, Codex, UNECE, the IMO, etc.

An EEA type deal would mean accepting freedom of movement as the short-term price for leaving the EU in a manner that is economically secure. However, freedom of movement within the EEA is not the same as freedom of movement within the EU.

The EEA agreement has a unilateral “emergency brake”—Article 112 and Article 113—akin to the one that Cameron tried but failed to negotiate. Leaving the EU would also put pressure on our massively dishonest government to address the “pull factors” which incentivise immigration, such as councils not properly enforcing occupancy rules. Reducing inward migration is in no small part a matter of political will and a vote to leave the EU would send a clear signal.

Leaving the EU would also give the UK the opportunity to play an active role in helping to address the “push factors” that are the real root of the problem. The developing world needs both prosperity and peace. An independent UK with an integrated trade, aid, foreign and defence policy, committed to reducing immigration, could work to bring stability and wealth to other parts of the world, repudiating predatory and self-defeating EU trade practices, such as signing one-sided deals with emerging economies. Unrestricted free trade for underdeveloped countries is simply not appropriate. Emerging industries need protection before they are fit to bear the brunt of competition from developed and highly efficient European industries.

The EU also has a tendency to add unnecessary and unwelcome political clauses to trade agreements. What do you suppose is more important for growing Africa’s wealth and prosperity, gay marriage and green energy targets or affordable energy and gainful employment?

An independent UK could work to find solutions to these global problems, rather than being but one voice among the EU-28.

The exact form Britain’s post-exit immigration and asylum policies would take would be a matter for national democratic debate, as would trade and, to a much larger extent than they are at the moment—given the greater policy agility and autonomy the UK would gain outside the EU—aid, foreign affairs and defence.

Those conversations will not happen unless Britain first leaves the European Union.

There would be trade-offs whatever policy is adopted, but outside of the EU those decisions would be taken by people who are accountable to the British electorate. That is the key reason Britain should leave the EU.

A Transition Plan

transition-planning

To complain that David Cameron, George Osborne and the Remain camp are scaremongering, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt on the basis of tenuous assertions with little—sometimes no—grounding in fact is broadly akin to complaining that fish have gills which they use to breathe under water. That is what they are, that is what they do.

If nothing else, this referendum has made clear that David Cameron and George Osborne are not fit to hold the offices of state which the electorate so carelessly allowed them to occupy. That, in time, can and will be corrected. What is less certain is whether we will have another opportunity to vote on bringing power closer to the people, by leaving the EU, or pushing that power still further away, by remaining in the EU.

We knew what was coming. The core of what became The Leave Alliance spent years preparing a comprehensive transition plan for a structured EU exit. The Flexcit plan acknowledges (may have even originated) the idea that leaving the EU will be a process rather than a one-time event. We leave in the same manner that we were taken in—piece by piece, in stages.

The plan also presupposes that a successful EU exit should be the foremost political priority of the “leave” campaign and that any, indeed, every other issue, should play second fiddle to securing a majority vote in an EU referendum. Of necessity that means repudiating many of the tired old “eurosceptic” (a word that must now be retired) nostrums that have failed to arrest, let alone reverse, the ongoing process of political and judicial integration to which all EU Member States are subject.

The transition plan rejects empty aspiration and embraces pragmatic and practical political reality. It is not a contradiction that those who are amongst the most determined advocates for Brexit sound like the reasonable centre ground. We have put ourselves in that position deliberately because we know that is where we need to be in order to convince the mass of undecided referendum voters that leaving the EU is not only necessary, but also practicable, possible and safe.

The fundamental reason why Britain must leave the EU is, was and ever shall be political and not economic. As an EU Member State, policy choices which should be subject to democratic debate are taken at the supranational level. As an EU Member State, the UK is not and can never be a self-governing democracy. Simple.

We do not need common government in order to trade and co-operate with our continental allies.

Given that the only realistic immediate post-exit deal is an EFTA/EEA type arrangement (or something that broadly replicates the same structures), it is useful to look at how Norway works with the EU. Norway, a much smaller economy than the UK, is a member of the 31-member state EEA agreement, which also includes fellow EFTA members Iceland and Lichtenstein, along with the 28 EU Member States. Norway is involved in shaping EU legislation deemed “EEA relevant” and unlike EU Member States, which all accept that decisions shall be taken under Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), Norway has a right of reservation—effectively a veto—over any new regulation that it does not wish to apply in its own market. The decision to exercise that right obviously has consequences and, for reasons that are even more obvious, such an eventuality almost never arises. But, as is the perogative of a self-governing nation-state the choice is in the hands of the Norwegian government.

Norway also has full self-representation on the global bodies where most technical standards for trade now originate, not to mention independent trade, aid, energy, environmental, agricultural, fisheries, justice and home affairs, foreign affairs and defence policies. An EFTA/EEA type arrangement provides an excellent base on which to build something even better, affording us the freedom to make policies that serve the common good rather than sacrificing large swathes of people at the alter of advancing the cause of EU integration.

The British have always adopted a transactional approach to EU membership, to the chagrin of many of the other EU Member States. That is precisely why it makes so much sense to embrace this historic opportunity to reorient our relationship with the EU. Trading and co-operating with our friends on the continent, but writing legislation and making policy in Westminster and Whitehall.

If we want more democratic and more accountable government, we need to bring decision-making closer to the people, not vest it in supranational structures which empower tiny elites to impose their agendas on the rest of us.

I Read The News Today – Oh Boy

2583

Yesterday several famous people signed a letter organised by the Stronger In campaign and the Prime Minister walked over the pedestrian crossing outside Abbey Road Studios. Just another day in the life of Britain’s unreal EU referendum.

Don’t get me wrong, I am as eager as the next man to read Benedict Cumberbatch’s political opinions. However, as I perused the impassioned and heartfelt letter to which Jude Law had also added his signature, I could not help but wonder at Aaron Wildavsky’s perennial policy question, “But is it true?”

For the most part, the letter repeats establishment talking points opposing a radical change to the way in which we do politics in this country and the biggest shake-up of the civil service in over 100 years. Echoing sentiments expressed by those selfless warriors after social justice and the public good, David Cameron and George Osborne, Cumberbatch and co tell us that: “many of us [them] have worked on projects that would never have happened without vital EU funding or by collaborating across borders”.

I would like to think it goes without saying that leaving the EU does not preclude collaboration across borders. Indeed, if we look at the Cultural Europe Programme, which provides state support for producers and distributors working in the audiovisual sector, we can see that every EEA state participates fully in the Culture and MEDIA sub-programmes, alongside EU Member States and non-EU Member States including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

The Cultural Europe Programme has an annual budget of €182.2 million (around £140 million), which it distributes in the form of grants, aiming to “foster the safeguarding and promotion of European cultural and linguistic diversity and strengthen the competitiveness of the culture and creative sectors”. That money is obviously available to projects hosted across the EU and in other participating countries. By way of contrast, UK-based film productions—that is, excluding the far larger television, radio and computer game industries—expended roughly £1 billion last year.

The UK audiovisual sector is the largest in Europe in cash terms. If there is an industry that need not be concerned about the economic impact of EU exit it is film and television. The UK government would not attempt to leave the EU in anything other than measured steps. It is once Britain moves out into the EEA that we will start to examine and adapt policies to work in the national interest.

To that end, film policy—an area I know quite well—is rife for reform. Successive governments, starting with New Labour and the introduction of the UK Film Council (since folded into the BFI), have turned British film production into a corporatist racket, distributing massive tax breaks to Hollywood studios under the auspices of a policy instrument which was supposed to promote British storytelling.

Specifically, we may wish to review the wording of the BFI Cultural Test. What started out as a mechanism to let Labour ministers ponce around London as if they were Hollywood movie executives… Sorry, let me try that again. What I meant to say was a mechanism to shuffle money out of the public purse into the wallets of the US studios that produce the Bond and Harry Potter films… Dang! Last time… a means to support British film production (phew!), the Cultural Test has been adapted several times since then, making the criteria for what qualifies as a “British film” ever wider.

The latest version of the Cultural Test, introduced by the coalition in November 2014, refers not to “British” characters, actors, locations or subject matter, but to “British or EEA citizens or residents” and subject matter. In other words, a film set in Poland, based on a German short story about Hungarian characters who speak Finnish, could qualify as a “British film”, provided that at least 15 percent of its production budget was spent in the UK.

That may sound extreme, but it is also current UK government policy. What is much more common, however, is for Hollywood studios—with the consent of the UK government—to use the Cultural Test as a means to (effectively) cut production costs. I doubt that many people outside the industry are aware that, as far as the BFI and the UK government are concerned, Inception, The Dark Knight, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are “British films”. That is something we may wish to change.

Don’t call us Benedict, we’ll call you.

Britain Will Not Leave The Single Market

ciz5syowgaazzl

For a wide variety of reasons that have been rehearsed time after time on this and other Leave Alliance blogs, the UK will not leave the Single Market at the point of EU exit. This is driven by sound political and economic concerns and, if we can be serious about the subject of risk for a moment, a botched EU exit would not be in anybody’s interests.

Two-years is too short a time frame to agree anything other than an EEA-oriented deal and EU leaders will not offer anything else. Given the make-up of the current UK Parliament, British MPs are unlikely to accept any other exit deal either.

Further evidence of this comes in the form of Stronger In’s latest piece of campaign news. “Brexit would hit UK growth and impede foreign investment,” the headline shrieks. What follows is a letter signed by a group of multinational executives.

Now, as much as I can often be heard saying that how and by whom Britain is governed is no business of business (which it isn’t), some of what the letter says is worth reiterating. This part in particular:

Recent suggestions that the UK should leave the single market if it exits the EU are particularly concerning and potentially hugely damaging. According to surveys, almost three-quarters of foreign investors cite access to the EU’s single market as a key reason for their investment in Britain.

Note that their primary concern is access to the Single Market, not the EU*. This part of the letter is almost identical to something that former Google CEO now Alphabet Executive Chairman, Dr Eric Schmidt, said in January, which I referred to at the time as a potential teachable moment for the “leave” campaign.

Regrettably, Vote Leave refused to learn that lesson and has since gone into what looks like full on self-destruct mode. That, to my mind, is all the more reason to ignore Vote Leave. We are not voting to elect the Vote Leave Party, we are voting to Leave the EU and, as has been broadly outlined during the debate, the UK government would have very few options should the “leave” side win the referendum. The future is uncertain—don’t you just love the way the Remain campaign repeats that tautology with such nursery freshness?—but that does not mean that the plausibility scope is limitless.

That is why leaving the EU is safe. Far safer than remaining subordinate to a set of supranational institutions committed to a political union from which our Prime Minister claims to have excluded Britain. As I have asked several, ordinarily very vocal Remainers on Twitter, “What is Britain’s role inside the EU outside of the euro and outside of political union?” Answers come there none.

Whereas outside the EU, Britain could play a full role in developing and shaping the multilateral trading system, working alongside similarly-minded partners such as Australia and New Zealand, playing ‘honest broker’ to the USA and the EU. It will be entirely safe to do so and we know this because the Remain side keep telling us that any deal that involves leaving the Single Market would be politically risky and economically uncertain. The UK government and their EU counterparts are nothing if not risk-averse. They will be reluctant to change anything, but a vote to leave will force the UK government to take Britain out of the EU’s political and judicial arrangements.

That is why we will leave the EU but remain in the Single Market, repatriating the entire body of EU law, while putting policy control back under direct supervision of the British people via the UK Parliament. The real revolution will centre not on the deal that we do with Brussels but on the way in which we are governed here—real domestic reform, top to bottom.

Leave the EU, keep the Single Market.

* As an aside, never mind that any such “uncertainty” would last all of two seconds (if that) as the government came clean about the fact that leaving the EU would not mean leaving the Single Market, I do find it funny to see these buccaneering business types suddenly adopting the pose of frightened little children hiding behind Mummy’s skirt, desperate to avoid the “uncertainty” associated with democracy and accountable government. Remember, they’re doing it all out of their earnest concern for the well-being and future prosperity of the British people…

Leave The EU, Into The World

containership

The notion that EU membership gives Britain more “clout” in terms of trade policy may be one of the oddest ideas to have ever taken root in the minds of politicians. There is a basic logic as work. If “clout”—and it is always that word—correlates to market size and the EU is bigger than the UK then Britain must have more “clout” inside the EU than outside.

I can see what the europhiles are saying. Indeed, politicians for the “leave” side sometimes make a similar case, arguing that with an economy of 63 million people, Britain could certainly strike a “better deal” with the remaining EU Member States than either Norway or Switzerland.

Britain is the fifth biggest economy on the planet, so it is hardly a minnow in its own right. Many much, much smaller countries manage their own affairs without the imposition of EU diktats. However, if “clout” derives solely from market size then why would the UK not be better off being represented by the EU?

The answer lies in the fact that there is more to securing good trading arrangements than the size of your domestic market. Agility and autonomy count for a lot more. Bound by the EU’s “common position” and with only 12.6 percent of a Qualified Majority Vote in the Council of the EU, Britain has neither.

Moreover, it is complete non sequitur to assert that Britain is stronger in the EU. The EU is not a co-operative venture. EU membership means surrendering policy control to institutions which act not in the interests of the British electorate, as our government should, but in the interests of advancing political union, taking ever more power away from Member States.

Trade, for instance, is an exclusive EU competency. Trade negotiations are conducted by the European Commission, acting on behalf of the EU-28. Under the terms of Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, EU Member States are treaty-bound to adopt a “common position” at the WTO and on regional and global forums such as UNECE, Codex, the IPPC, the OIE, the IMO, etc. UK self-representation at the global level is in the process of being erased. Our voice in the world is increasingly via an EU interface.

That alphabet soup of acronyms are bust some of the global bodies where an increasing proportion of Single Market rules originate. Understanding that the EU is not the top table in terms of trade is the first step towards realising that, far from enhancing Britain’s “clout”, EU membership is a barrier to self-representation.

Leaving the EU will not leave Britain “isolated” or “without influence”. Far from it. The UK is plugged into the global system in ways that most people, let alone most politicians, have not even begun to comprehend.

If we want Britain to be a modern, global trading nation, we need our voices heard at those top tables and we need the democratic protections that can only come from being able to wield our own vote and veto. Outside of the EU, Britain would be ideally placed to act as an advocate and oarsman for the multilateral trading system, developing systems and frameworks that allow others to opt-in rather than forcing independent nations to surrender their sovereign power to a supranational bureaucracy.

Leave the EU, into the world.

The EU Is A Government

eu-holds-off-on-mideast-policy-statement

In order to decide whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union (EU) it helps if you first understand what the EU is. To that end, the EU should be classified—indeed, it classifies itself—as a government. The EU is, however, unlike any other government on the planet.

The EU is a supranational government—operating above the level of the historic nation-states of Europe—with its own executive (the European Commission), legislature (the European Parliament and the Council of the EU) and judiciary (the European Court of Justice). These institutions, and others, form a political and judicial overlay which EU Member States acknowledge as superior to their national institutions in areas of EU competency/policy-making.

The range of EU competencies is vast and ever-growing. Since the UK joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, there have been nine major treaties, each of which has granted more power to these supranational institutions. That is not to mention the fact that “ever closer union” advances day-by-day in incremental steps—one legislative proposal/court decision at a time—as much as in “big bang” treaty revisions.

Indeed, the EU’s supranational character makes it an utterly unique organisation, quite unlike intergovernmental treaty organisations such as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) does not have a legislative or judicial role. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) does not assume exclusive competency in the area of trade policy. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) does not mandate that its member states adopt a “common position” on the global bodies where technical standards for trade are agreed and adopted.

The depth of the EU’s involvement in the UK policy-making process is something that is rarely, if ever, recognised by legacy campaigners, among the media, the political parties, or the official groups. The EU has exclusive competency in the areas of trade (Common Commercial Policy), fisheries (Common Fisheries Policy) and agriculture (Common Agricultural Policy); in addition to shared competency—shared in the sense that EU Member States may not exercise competency where the Union has done so—in the areas of environmental, energy, transport, telecommunications, justice and home affairs policy. There is almost no area of UK governance in which the EU does not have some involvement.

It is generally somewhere around this point in the argument that those who are unfamiliar with any of this, who do not have any of the necessary background to contextualise what that level of EU policy involvement entails, tend to either disbelieve what I am saying (look it up—the EU’s own websites are an excellent source of information) or else say, “So what? Britain and the EU work together in a large number of areas—is that really so bad?”

I have a lot of sympathy for both perspectives. The EU is all too often discussed in terms of “bent banana” histrionics. In more sensitive areas of policy, however, British politicians are more likely to deflect or even deny EU involvement in a particular outcome. Not helped by our incurious, Westminister-centred legacy media, it is little wonder that general knowledge about EU-UK relations is pretty scanty. Also, as I have learned more about how the EU works, the idea of collaborating with our partners on the continent in order to achieve shared goals or develop projects that are in our mutual interest, has appealed to me more and more.

What I will never accept, however, is that we need to live under the same laws or eliminate our national democracy in order to trade and co-operate. There is no European people, only the various peoples of Europe. The European Parliament can never fulfil its role of representing the people of Europe. Without a demos there can be no democracy.

Still more significant, the European Commission, which is appointed by politicians, has sole “right of initiative” within the EU. That means, no law can be proposed, repealed or amended without the involvement and approval of the European Commission. There is no mechanism that can compel the Commission to act, and that is why it is entirely accurate to describe the EU not only as undemocratic but as anti-democratic. Moreover, that is not some kind of accident or faux pas on the part of the framers of the EU project, taking decision-making away from national governments, accountable to democratic electorates, is in the EU’s institutional DNA. That is why it is so absurd to talk about “reforming” the EU.

Make no mistake, the EU is a supranational government which makes policy more remote and less accountable. This referendum may well be the last opportunity that we have to vote out the EU government and bring policy-making back under democratic control.