A Very British Tyranny

So in conversation yesterday, I realised just how low the bar is for understanding of the EU system. Therefore today I’m going to talk about this spurious lie that the EU is undemocratic, unaccountable and not transparent compared to the UK…

Lets first separate two concepts.

1. The Council of Ministers/EU

may-cabinet.jpgThis is the primary decision making body of the EU where Executive power formally lies. Its closest analogy in our system is the Cabinet. It’s inherently democratic consisting of the elected representatives of each of the EU member states depending on topic, or the elected muppets above for us Brits.  So for example if the topic is financial affairs it consists of the 27 finance ministers including our Chancellor of the Exchequer. The cabinet analogy isn’t perfect though because it also acts like a much more democratic equivalent of the House of Lords.

2. The European Commission,


This is the one that gets all the unelected flak, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, and is the part of the EU government which proposes and implements legislation agreed by the EU Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In that regard its closest analogy in our system is the British Civil Service. The commission is however significantly more democratic than its British equivalent.

OK so let’s look at these apparently unaccountable Commissioners compared to our most certainly unaccountable British bureaucrats at home.

A) Proposing laws

The commission can only propose legislation where the Council of Ministers has unanimously agreed to allow it to do so. Therefore the Co. mission is defacto only able to propose laws that the UK Government or House of Commons has first agreed to.

The British Civil Service is a law unto itself. It sometimes supports the whims of ministers but mostly has its own agenda.

B) Elected Representatives

The EU Commissioner’s President is proposed by the Council of Ministers by a qualified majority vote and then elected by the EU parliament by a majority vote – most supported candidate wins. In this the selection is far more democratic that the election of say the British Primeminister, who can be in and out at the whim of their party. Individial commissioners are proposed by member states and subject to parliamentary assessment before being confirmed. They can and have been withdrawn if that hearing goes poorly

The British Civil Service is a law unto itself. Appointments happen behind closed doors and most positions have very loose parliamentary scrutity.

C) Throw the Rascals Out

If the commission no longer has popular support it’s in trouble. A 2/3 majority in the EU parliament can throw it out. While this hasn’t actually happened yet, the threat of a vote removed the poor performing Santer Comission in 1999.

The British Civil Service is a law unto itself. It cannot be removed or displaced on mass even by Parliament.

So. While there are legitimate concerns about EU accountability, compared to the UK it’s a haven for democracy and transparency.


For more reading see.

6 Replies to “A Very British Tyranny”

  1. 1. It’s a pity you spoil the objectivity of the article by calling European politicians “elected representatives” but the UK cabinet as “elected muppets “.
    2. Is it really true that the commission can only propose legislation that the council of ministers has *unanimously* agreed to allow it to do so? Surely that would mean that if any 1 person amongst the council of ministers objected to the proposal then the commission would not be able to propose it. I would be surprised if there was such a degree of harmony on *every* issue.
    3. While I agree that the British PM can be changed at the whim of the governing party whereas the EU commissioner is elected by majority vote, it isn’t all that different really as, de facto, a UK PM is elected by the country in a general election. You would be naive to think that most people vote for their local rep rather than the party, and hence they are voting for the PM. I find it difficult to believe that if the European elactorate were treated as a single group and asked to vote for the President of the Commission they would necessarily have chosen the current holder of that office. Also the election of a new leader – certainly of the Conservatives- is undertaken by the *elected* Conservative MPs. So not really that much different than your description of the process in the EU. What is clear is that in both parliaments the electorate have very little say in these procedures until the next election. The difference is that if we in the UK don’t like our government we can change it at the general election. If we in the UK don’t like the EU commission but most of the rest of the EU are happy with it, then we can’t do much about it.
    4. Please learn to spell commission


    1. Thank you for inputs Peter.

      1. Possibly, since this was written for EU advocates against Euroskeptics I can’t and didn’t intend to claim objectivity. That said if our current incompetent cabinet doesn’t fulfill the definition of a bunch of muppets, I’m not sure what Government would.

      2. I believe that is indeed the case. For purposes of simplification I skipped over the fact that the European Parliament can propose to the Commission but since that also needs Council support it amounts to the same thing.
      This is a key point because once you understand it, it’s clear they work for us
      and it’s impossible to sustain the myth of laws being imposed or sovereignty lost . Incidentally this also explains why the UK Government has supported over 90% of EU legislation… Because we asked for it.
      Further reading and citation here https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.europarl.europa.eu/external/appendix/legislativeprocedure/europarl_ordinarylegislativeprocedure_complete_text_en.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwiZ-pOFtvnUAhUGJMAKHXGDDRAQFghZMAU&usg=AFQjCNE-gDFKlLScwDevDqvq0mhH-g4h2A

      3. Your point would be more convincing had we not recently had two unelected and poor performing Prime ministers who in my view should not have had the job – Gordon Brown and Theresa May. However more to the point the side comparison was merely an example for effect. My point is the elected accountability of the President Commissioner is far higher than the British Civil Service equivalents.

      4. Noted and changed. I could blame typing on a phone but it was actually just being fast and sloppy.


      1. Thanks for your reply. I should say that I voted remain and would much rather the UK was not leaving the EU.
        I still find it hard to believe the “unanimously ” comment in your article. “Majority, 2/3rds majority or overwhelming majority ” would be much more believable.
        You miss my point about PMs. It has nothing to do with their competence, and I agree they have been poor performers. My comment was about the process of becoming and changing PM.
        I would also comment on the part of your post entitled “throw the rascals out”. Nice to know that a 2/3rds majority would throw the commission out. While this is clearly not so for the Civil Service such a majority in parliament would undoubtedly throw the government out. If you are talking about the inability to throw out the Civil Service it might be a mixed blessing to have the ability to throw it out- although as it employs thousands of people I am not clear if it would be practical or wise to throw it out en masse. How far down the line of seniority in the Civil Service would be acceptable to you in this throw in out exercise?


    2. the last few lines If we don’t like the commission we can’t do much about it.’ As the Commission are the civil servants , should it not be ‘if we don’t like the policies -agreed strategy of the elected leaders-we can’t do much about it. We don’t vote on our top civil servants and no party is proposing we do so. Also the European Parliament has an- increasing -say on their proposals. Thirdly, it is possible to be agreement with all of the Commission departments except one.


  2. Despite the channel we are indisputably European. Admirable as a member of a community – or pityingly as a jingoistic remnant of a long gone empire. We are all in the same boat, channel notwithstanding.


    1. Peter I believe I have the facts correct on the Council and Commission and have now linked two citations. The EU is a union of cooperating nations, it should be unsurprising that this is the set up.
      Can you show me any citations that would dispute my point?

      I think we should move on from PM, I believe I understood your point, did you understand I meant that the selection of a bunch of EU civil servants has more scrutiny than a British PM and hence vastly more scrutiny than the British Civil Service?

      On throw the rascals out, I’m not sure your point differs whether you’re discussing the Commission or the British Civil Service, both would be incredibly disruptive. However since those advocating leaving the EU tend to claim the Commission is unaccountable and uncontrollable I wanted to make it clear that neither is true and that they are far more accountable than their British equivalents.

      Hope that helps.


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