Parliamentary democracy

Vote at the European Parliament

I was at a King’s College London European Society debate this evening on the future of the European Union. (Read my introductory remarks here.) I lost my temper, almost, at the remarks by one of the speakers on the other side, Sir Robin Williams, of the Campaign for an Independent Britain (not Robin Williams the comedian, I point out).

Incidentally, he said that the CIB had been founded in 1976, i.e. a year after the referendum that confirmed British membership of the EEC. Bear this in mind the next time the anti-Europeans complain that the result of the French and Dutch referendums is not being respected.

Anyway, back to King’s College. Sir Robin proposed that Britain should leave the EU but retain some kind of association with it, on the Norwegian model, perhaps, or like Switzerland, which has “the best of both worlds”.

Next, he objected to the secrecy and bureaucracy of the EU’s decision-making procedures. Quite right, but how can he square these two positions?

For, in criticising the bureaucratic and secret way that the EU works, that is precisely the bit that he would keep. By shrinking from the incipient parliamentary democracy of the EU back to a set of diplomatic arrangements, the secrecy is what would survive. How can that be preferable?

All the complaints that the European Parliament lacks real powers (not true even now) or that the European Commission is unaccountable (tell that to failed Commission candidates Varujan Vosganian or Rocco Buttiglione) fall away in the face of proposals for European parliamentary democracy. Read Professor Vernon Bogdanor’s report for the Federal Trust and you will see what I mean.)

Think back to last week at Davos. Various political and business leaders gathered together to debate the state of the world and what should be done about it. The participation list was by invitation only, the meetings were in private, only open to the press at the convenience of the organisers. That’s fine for a private conference, but in a Europe without the EU, that is how European-level decisions would be taken. We would be left grateful for the scraps of information and influence that might come our way. I don’t think that’s acceptable. The EU is not perfect – no-one reading this blog or this website could think that – but it is still much better than the alternative.

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