Brexit Musings (24) – Monkey Business


Before embarking on the perilous journey of trying to justify EU institutions, let me put two things straight.

First, Theresa May and Jean-Claude Junker are not my two favourite characters in Euroland. In fact, I would go as far as saying that I don’t like them as political figures, at all. They just haven’t got that poetic sincerity of the “real dreamers”, like Tony Benn or François Mitterrand. As for their political visions, Theresa May is doing something that she cannot believe, whilst Jean-Claude Juncker believes in something that he cannot do. For those of you who do not follow, I’m referring to Brexit and EU Federalism. Take your pick as to who is doing what, and why.

My second point, is that despite the rather ominous title of my blog, and some misplaced Facebook remarks, concerning the title, I am in no way in favour of Brexit. I have medical proof of that, having suffered from a sort of nervous breakdown that lasted from 07.05 on June 24th 2016, until…22.58 on July 4th, 2016. Anyway, if you find one article on this site that says otherwise, I will close down immediately (answers on a postcard, please). The nearest I get to endorsing Brexit, is when someone gets all excited over EU Federalism.

But I digress. The question I’m asking is whether the EU is less democratic than the UK. This, together with EU migration, was one of the main arguments of the Leave campaign, with Nigel Farage quite adamant in his opposition to the devils of Brussels,

The Commission is the executive, it is the government of Europe and it has the sole right to propose legislation. It does so in consolation with 300 secret committees, staffed mainly by big business and big capital and all the legislation is proposed in secret. – Nigel Farage

Well Nigel, I may think what I want, but you couldn’t possibly comment, having missed most of the sessions in the European Parliament. You have just forgotten one little detail: the commission does propose legislation, but this legislation is debated in the European Parliament, where it can be amended and even rejected.

Of course, the view that the UK could not raise the price of a pint of milk, without asking permission from Brussels, is nothing new, having gone on for over 40 years.

 In practice, Britain will be governed by a European coalition government that we cannot change, dedicated to a capitalist or market economy theology. – Tony Benn

Tony Benn dwelt even deeper into the subject of democracy, by saying that the EU was stifling the UK’s democratic heart,

The Humphrey Appleby’s of every country in Europe have got together and said, “You can’t do this, Minister, because we’ve agreed with the Dutch that if they do this, the Belgians won’t object to what the Italians have said to the people of Luxembourg.” So the minister has got no power anyway. – Tony Benn

“Yes, Minister”, indeed. Ironically, if you think of it, democracy in the UK is the very thing that is getting the UK out of Europe and into trouble.

The first bit of UK democracy that got the UK into a pickle, is the referendum itself. The late former French prime minister Michel Rocard, had no doubt that a referendum does not have its place in a parliamentary democracy. A referendum is just,

 …a national excitement where we put everything into one pot. A question is asked, people ask themselves others, and come to vote based on reasons that have nothing to do with the original question.

Now I understand why I failed my A-levels, all those years ago.

Anyway, voting Leave or Remain doesn’t change the fact that it was such an awfully complicated answer, for such a simple question, that even Derrida would have had trouble in deciphering the true meaning of the text.

The next question that popped up was whether parliament – a bastion of democracy, if ever there was one – would be allowed to have its say. Why the UK didn’t have a referendum on that, instead of asking three demented judges who couldn’t tell night from day, and who were “enemies of the people” in any case, is anybody’s guess.

But, what the hell. Parliament was being run by a prime minister who was offered a job that she didn’t want, and asked to finish off something she didn’t start. Her cabinet is about as split as a banana of the same name, and has no policy on how the UK should leave the EU because, like it or not, the people of the UK were not asked how the UK should leave the EU. As for the House of Lords, these unelected ladies and these unelected gentlemen, who are well passed their sell-by date, are asked to scrutinise bills, propose amendments, and be ignored by the House of Commons because, “Brexit means Brexit”.  That’s democracy, for you.

There is not doubt that the UK should pride itself in its democracy. Having a beautifully balanced democracy, is one thing. Having the right personnel to interpret and implement it, is quite another.

But is the EU any more democratic than the UK? I very much doubt it. But I also doubt whether the EU is any less democratic than the UK. It’s just, so, so much bigger. The EU has transformed itself from what it was, a cumbersome platypus, to what it now is, a huge dinosaur, struggling to keep warm, and constantly searching for food – our taxes. But the EU has its parliament that, in theory at least, is made accountable by European citizens.

The Parliament acts as a co-legislator, sharing with the Council the power to adopt and amend legislative proposals and to decide on the EU budget. It also supervises the work of the Commission and other EU bodies and cooperates with national parliaments of EU countries to get their input. – European Parliament website

The Commission only proposes laws in those areas where the EU governments have unanimously agreed to allow it to do under the EU treaty. This means that the Commission can only act where the UK government and parliament have democratically allowed it to do so.

Abraham Lincoln famously talked about democracy as, “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. But who are the people, and are they competent enough to decide, with the full knowledge of what important policies really mean, as well as the consequences of their choice? Should we also differentiate between technical regulations that affect our daily lives, and highly sensitive political questions?

There is no doubt that the EU needs to find a balance in a system that affects the status of millions of European citizens, as well as 27 member states. Ideally, the EU should try to closely resemble a parliamentary democracy, with increasing powers given to the European Parliament. A change in the composition of the European Parliament should also be reflected in a change in the Commission. This would give European citizens the feeling that their vote would have an impact on the nature of the EU executive, who would have to listen to the “will of the people”, so dear to the Brexiteers. 

It is ironic that, addressing these problems, and making the EU look more like a democratic state, is something that the Brexiteers, and other Euroseptics, are so ferociously against.  It’s that F-word again, isn’t it? No, not the one you’ve just thought of, the other one – Federalism.