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.