Friday, October 7, 2011

Britain and Europe

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Does membership of the European Union pose a significant threat to British democracy?

“Many years after Britain joined the community in 17.

We still have our Queen, we continue to eat sliced bread, warm beer, our police are unarmed, we drive on the left of the road, we are not forced to carry identity cards, we vote on Thursdays, milk is delivered in pines to our doorsteps, which is threatened, not by Brussels, but because we drink less every year and because British dairies have chosen to sell milk through supermarkets. Our public houses are opened d at the restricted times that we have chosen, we have our own civil and criminal law, we have Greenwich Mean Time, we play cricket and snooker, the pop has not interfered with our national churches, imported animals are subject to quarantine to keep out rabies, and so on.” (Dunn,185; p.6)

This essay will firstly analyze the system within which European Union works; it will look at the different institutions role, for example the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, European Parliament, … in contrast of this, it will look at Britain’s main decision-making institutions, for example House of Commons, the British Parliament, etc…I will look at both pro and anti EU views. Following the institutions’ analysis, I will try to see in what ways does the European Union pose a significant threat to the British democracy. Thirdly, I will talk about the democracy within the European Union, and how far Britain has been advanced by joining the European Union. To conclude, I would summarize Britain’s democratic control and will answer whether or not European Union membership has threatened British democracy.

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Democratic control of decisions made in the European Community. There are two executive bodies in the Community to take the decisions and to carry out them out. They are the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Both hold their meetings in secret. Neither is fully accountable to the public for their decisions.

The commission is run by “Commissioners” who are simultaneously appointed every four years by the heads of each national governments.

The public has no way to express its views about the choice of the Commissioners. Even their elected representatives in the national parliament cannot alter the appointments, which are the gift or party leaders. Not can the public vote directly for the appointment of a Commissioner as the American public can when it elects a President.

However the Commission, as a body, is sensitive to these criticisms. It makes a deliberate effort to consult and to listen to the elected European Parliament although it has the right (from the treaty of Rome) to ignore the Parliament’s views. The European Parliament has the formal power to vote to dismiss all the Commissioners together. It does not yet have a formal power to approve their appointment, although in 185 it took upon itself to vote approval of them in any case. (Labour Party, p.6)

As for the council of Ministers, according to the British view is a far more serious problem. It meets in secret. Neither the press, nor the public, nor members of the European Parliament can attend its meetings. In their secret meetings the national ministers or their civil servants habitually abuse the confidence of the public by awarding secret vetoes to each other. These secret vetoes, for the most part, have no legal basis. Nor are the secret vetoes justified to the public afterwards. (Fakuda; 17, p.1)

National parliaments are not able to control the activities of the Council of Ministers. This is accepted by the House of Commons, where only a small proportion of Community matters are debated. The few debates are usually held late at night, this timing being deliberately chosen by the ministers. The final motion after each debate is only to take note of the Community’s decision because no national parliament has any power to alter even a single comma of most decisions by the Council decisions are taken in secret, have immediate effect, and are not subject to parliamentary control.

An essential safeguard for stable democracy is that there should be adequate democratic control and proper separation of the powers of government.

In other words, the different powers of government should be kept separate instead of being concentrated in too few hands. Each separate power should be subject to full democratic control.

Curiously, the Unites Kingdom do not enjoy these safeguards. In Westminster both the executive and the legislative arms of government are controlled by the same person, the Prime Minister. (Britain in Europe, webpage)

The leader becomes in effect a short-term dictator between elections because they control both the decision-making machinery and the people’s representatives.

Why should we worry about the inadequate democratic control of Community decision-making. We should definitely be concerned the fundamental principle of separate democratic control of each of the powers does not exist in the European Community. The commission and the council of Ministers have executive powers; but the public’s representatives in the elected Parliament have only the right to be consulted for an opinion rather than being able to withhold powers from the executive if that is necessary in the public interest. (Wall, 180; p.57)

Therefore, the European Parliament does not need to take any powers away from the national parliaments of the member states in order to correct this situation. It simply needs an increase in its responsibilities in order that the executive decisions of the council of Ministers and of the Commission shall be made subject to separate and full democratic control.

Why are certain national leaders in the Community including Britain’s leader opposed to this increase in responsibility for the European Parliament, the answer is simple, it is because their own personal power would become more subject to control, which is something they would not enjoy.

The pro-EU view explains the EU democracy rather differently. The nature of EU-level democracy must necessarily be judged on different criteria to that of states. Weiler et al suggest that three ‘levels’ within the EU are each characterised by different forms of democracy. The first is the intergovernmental level; conventional diplomacy and international politics. The second level is the supranational level. This revolves around the institutions of the Union, and the member states. The third level is that of Union itself, where it behaves in a similar fashion to a national assembly, replete with interest groups and technocrats. I find such a view unhelpful the interpretations of democracy offered at these different levels correspond only marginally with what citizens of Member-States experience. Such conceptualisations of democracy as ‘pluralist’ or ‘neo-corporatist’ attempt to side-step the real issue. This is defining democracy with reference to the EU, when the process should be reversed a single and coherent form of democracy should firstly be defined, and then applied to all levels of the EU. A formulation of democracy should respect the principles of the separation of powers, and of broadly reaching representation. This, however, would suggest a Euro-federalist agenda. (Dunn, 185; p.6-65)

The democratic nature and mandate of the EU institutions bears consideration. The Council, as representative of the elected governments of member states has a democratic mandate. The Parliament, constituted by direct election, has an even stronger claim to legitimacy. The problem arises when one considers the Commission. It exists as guardian of the treaties and to ensure the long-term goals of the EU, without being swayed by short-term national political interest, and as the major legislative initiator of the EU. These arguments sounded hollow when advanced for the preservation of an unreformed House of Lords in the United Kingdom. As Paine suggested, representation should be directly proportionate to power; an unrepresentative body should have no power at all. Yet in the Commission we see a body with broad legislative and executive powers. (UK membership of the EU, webpage)

There is also a positive side of Britain joining the EU. EEC membership has meant a constitutional revolution in the United Kingdom. Quite apart from a major changes like the cession of treaty-making powers to the Commission, and the acceptance of the European Court as the supreme court in the British hierarchy, membership has fundamentally altered the role and function of the house of Commons over matters of Community legislation.

Legislation is no longer exclusively prepared and drafted in Whitehall, and debated and voted upon in Westminster. Legislative proposals, in many important areas, not originate with the Commission, are considered by working parties comprising civil servants from the member countries, are discussed by the European Assembly and are finally agreed upon in the Council of Ministers. (Labour party,p.65-66)

The really revolutionary aspect of the change is however the fact the House of Commons is quite superfluous to the legislative process as far as the Community legislation is concerned. The conventional doctrine that all legislation requires Parliamentary assent no longer applies and the House of Commons has to that extent seen one of its main powers and one of the main instruments by which it exercised control over the executive disappear.

Community legislation is either directly applicable in the law of member countries or imposes an obligation on member countries to give effect through domestic legislation to chat has been agreed. Once a regulation has been agreed in Brussels, there is no way in which the House of Commons can intervene, as the ineffectiveness of the House of Commons resolution condemning the notorious skimmed milk powder regulations shows. In the case of directives, however, the house of Commons does sometimes have the chance to intervene and this will inevitably lead one day to a conflict between Community and domestic law.

To conclude I would say that the sovereignty of the British people is not at risk so long as they lived democratically.

The misunderstanding about sovereignty surely arises because it is the sovereignty of the British national parliament which is shrinking. This is born out if one observes who is voicing the fears about national sovereignty the fears are voiced by Westminster politicians who blame the European Community for their own decline. There is a danger that our national British politicians are putting their own interest at Westminster above their interest of the British people. For example, a senior conservative M.P told conservative M.E.P including the author at the start of March 18 that there would not, under any serious circumstances, be an increase in Britain’s gross V.A.T payment to the European Community, whether or not that brought greater returns and benefits to the British people.

Why? because, it was specifically stated by the explainee, and increased gross V.A.T payment to Brussels would be a transfer of Westminster sovereignty.

It is true that our sharing in the greater European sovereignty will threaten some of our national British institutions. (Labour party, p.65-70)

Those threatened will included our British passport and customs officers. The public has been brain-washed by government into forgetting that these are devices for limiting their freedom. The European parliament looks forward to the day when all such restrictions on movements by British and other European citizens inside the community will have been abolished .

The major reason for founding the Common Market, which has developed into the European Union, was to build a political framework which would make it impossible to repeat the devastating wars which had torn Europe apart during the first half of the twentieth century. The irony is that it is not political structures which stop wars breaking out. It is democracy which fulfils that role. Functioning democracy allows tensions and conflicts of interest to be solved by compromise, in a civilised and generally acceptable way. It allows new ideas, new trends, and new people to come to the fore peacefully, without the use of force and coercion. The major failure of the EU is that it has tried to centralise power, without corresponding democratic control. This is why it is responding so inappropriately to the biggest dangers facing Europe. These are not nowadays the prospects of wars between Member States, although Yugoslavia, in Europes hinterland, is an awful reminder of how easy it is to slip backwards. The great threats to Europe are civic disorder and crime, racism and extremism, corruption and cronyism. Their causes always are a combination of economic failure on the one hand and on the other a breakdown in civic trust and confidence in the ability of the democratic process to respond. These are the dangers which the EU now faces as the safety valve provided by democracy is eroded away, and the EUs self serving elites foist on the EU a combination of economic prescriptions, social policies and political structures which do not work, and which are not what the people want. (Britain in Europe, webpage)

Another key point to mention is the increase of globalization, which is can threaten a country’s democracy. Which is not only the case for Britain but other EU countries have kind of partly lost their control over decision-making ,therefore loss of democracy. And few argue, loss of sovereignty because of the introduction of the Single Currency, Euro.

The Labour party , 177; The EEC and Britain a socialist perspective, chap “Membership and Parliamen”t P.6

H.Fakuda, 17; Britain in Europe, chap. “Britain, the common Market” p. 51-56

H.Fakuda, 17; Britain in Europe, chap.4 “Association with the EEC” p.1-14

W.Wali, 180; Britain in Europe, chap. “The Balance of Payments and British Membership of the European Community” P.57-7

N.Dunn, 185; Greater in Europe, chap.5 “An alarming gap in Democratic Contro”l p.50-55

N.Dunn, 185; Greater in Europe, chap.7 “Sovereignty, the Misunderstood concept” p.6

N.Dunn, 185; Greater in Europe, chap. “Who is afraid of a United States of Europe?” p.8

Britain in Europe ,

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Britain in Europe,

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History of UK membership of the EU,

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David Lennon, Tony Blair’s Britain,

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