– Joe Jones
I know there is an avalanche of articles on the European referendum descending on us in ever-greater volumes and it’s certainly not going to slow down anytime soon. However, I’d regret it if I didn’t add my voice to the debate, so here I go…
England is the cradle of Parliamentary democracy, a legacy that Britain, Canada, India, America, Australia and New Zealand (just to name a few) carry on into the modern day. This legacy is why I identify as a Tory democrat; I believe in preserving the old and the good of our nation and entrusting it into the control of the people. It is why I find it so upsetting that we seem to be content to see that legacy being scurried away in the offices of the Berlaymont by bureaucrats, shuffling down the pale corridors of European power. There is an astonishingly, un-European, democratic deficit within the EU. It is a betrayal of Athenian democracy; there exists a system of institutions that have effectively removed the people, the demos, but kept the power, the kratos.
The European Commission exists as an excellent demonstration of an undemocratic institution. The only elected member is the President of the Commission, being elected by the European Parliament – so it usually comes down to whichever party is the largest: currently the European Peoples Party (EPP) which doesn’t have a single representative elected from Britain. The rest of the commissioners are appointed and the irony that many of them have lost an election (or two in the case of Neil Kinnock) before appointment shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
These commissioners hold a monopoly of power on the European system and if you think I’m talking rubbish, then look at what happened when the French, the Dutch and the Irish all voted against The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (basically just the Lisbon Treaty), they were asked to take time for a ‘period of reflection’, then were asked to try voting again and again to produce an answer better suited to the Commission.
But what of the European Parliament? Don’t we elect our own members to send to the Espace Léopold and the Louise Weiss to hold the European executive to account? Well yes, if you count a turnout that had never risen above 38% in the UK, and never above 50% across Europe, as a whopping mandate. Moreover the European Parliament is not a properly functioning legislative house: it does not have the power, de jure or de facto, to construct legislation. Only the European Commission has the authority to construct legislation and regulation; the European Parliament can only accept or reject bills put before them. I cannot accept that this is a healthy way to conduct a democratic institution. It cannot be correct that the representatives of the European people cannot construct and pass legislation on the people’s behalf
Should we care? Surely this must be just a proxy government that really holds no sway in the UK: The House of Commons library puts the laws imposed on the UK from Brussels at 13% (not the 7% Nick Clegg liked to quote). This doesn’t actually seem to be that much, although personally I do think even that is too high a proportion anyway. Sadly, that number is wrong; as the independent think-tank, Business for Britain, (founded to help reform our relationship with the EU) reported in 2014, that figure does not count regulations that are imposed on the UK on a pan-European level. When these two are combined we find that that actually 65% of UK laws and regulations are imposed from Brussels, with 52% never having to be passed through our Parliament, hence why they are not counted in the House of Commons library. It undermines both the sovereignty of our Parliament and the credibility of our national elections.
In an ideal world, I would love to see massive reform in the EU in an attempt to deal with the democratic deficit. I accept that within the Eurozone there is evidently a need for more integration of central European institutions; this is clear from the euro disaster and the need for a unified economic policy across the Eurozone. I also accept that the European Parliament must be strengthened and the representatives of the people should be allowed to legislate on the people’s behalf and not be entirely dominated by the Commission. However, for those outside of the Eurozone it should be set into stone that the sovereignty of their own parliaments should always come first. There is no need for them to be dominated by the Commission or European Parliament; they are not tied into one currency. Yet, given the way the EU is developing I realise how unrealistic this plan is and it isn’t even in the current renegotiation plans – and the ‘red card’ system is a far cry from anything near substantial change.
In this referendum campaign, economic and immigration scare stories will be thrown around from both sides, but we cannot lose sight of the crucial debate: who governs Britain? As a Tory democrat I know that I want the answer to be our House of Commons, elected by and serving the people of the United Kingdom.
I know that I’ve made up my mind in this referendum: Democracy is better off out.
Joe Jones is a third year History student at Warwick and Deputy Chairman (Political) of UWCA