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
This 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 They can and have been withdrawn if that hearing goes poorly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.