By Rodney Atkinson, and Sonya Jay Porter
Sonya Jay Porter is a free-lance writer who joined UKIP in 1994, stood as their Surrey Candidate in the EU Election that year and has worked with the Party since then. She is a freelance member of the Institute of Journalists and over the past few years has had articles on various subjects — including those related to the European Union — published on several web sites
How many people realise that the European Union isn’t so much a democracy as a group dictatorship?
There are a total of 766 MEPs sitting in the EU Parliament, elected by various forms of proportional representation from the 28 current member states, but once elected they do not sit in national blocks but in seven Europe-wide like-minded political groups which, as stated in the EU’s guide to its institutions (2005) ‘between them, represent all views on European integration, from the strongly pro-federalist to the openly eurosceptic’.
So far, so theoretically democratic.
However, it is important to realise that, unlike the British Parliament at Westminster, the European Parliament does not have a proposing chamber (the House of Commons) and a revising chamber (the House of Lords); it’s directives and regulations — let’s call them ‘laws’ for simplicity — are arrived at by various European institutions, the most important of which are:
The Commission (unelected),
The Council of Ministers (not elected for that role), and
The Parliament (elected by some 35% of EU citizens).
A new EU Commission is set up within six months of every five-year election. But according to the Guide, the Commission is ‘independent of national governments and its job is solely to represent and uphold the interests of the EU as a whole, including the ‘ever closer [political] union described in Article 1 of the original Treaty of Rome’.
And it is here that democracy begins to falter.
To begin with, it is the member states’ governments which, between them, will agree — in secret — who is to be the new President of the Commission who will then, in discussions with the member states governments, choose the new Commissioners , one from each state. Next, none of these Commissioners, including the President, will be an MEP and none need ever have been elected to any organisation at all. Nor will the MEPs vote for them but will simply be expected to ‘approve’ them en bloc and once again, in secret.
It is the European Commissioners’ responsibility to put forward new directives or regulations (let’s call them ‘laws’ for simplicity). Before doing so they will consult up to 3,000 bodies and working groups and will be expected to consider the views of the European Parliament — yet they are also entitled to ignore them completely.
The next step is to have them ‘considered’ by the European Council of Ministers, and each proposed law will be reviewed by the appropriate Minister from each of the 28 member states. For instance, should the proposal involve finance, it will be each government’s Minister for Finance who will do so, and if it concerns agriculture, then it will be the ministers for Agriculture.
Once agreed, the proposed new law it will be sent to the European Parliament.
And it is in the European Parliament that democracy completely breaks down.
On reaching the Parliament, these laws are sent on for further study to the particular Committee of MEPs dealing with the subject involved, but only for 24 hours.
In an attempt to speed up the legislative process, the Commission will then ‘facilitate’ private discussions between the leading MEPs on the Committee, civil servants and Ministers representing the European council in a process known as the ‘Trialouge’. But this, too, will go on behind closed doors and therefore compromises emerge which may have no resemblance to amendments suggested by the elected MEPs in Committee.
When the Commission is satisfied that the proposed laws will be passed, they are sent on to the full Chamber of MEPs, known as the ‘Plenary’, which will usually have been given only a few hours’ notice of the final voting list. Each political group will then be allowed a short time to put forward their views in Parliament but the speaking time is allocated on the basis of the size of the group, with even their leaders being restricted in the time they can speak. So these cannot be termed ‘debates’ as we would see them in Westminster, but are mainly ‘sound bites designed for the media.
Then comes the actual votes. But although a proposal can be won or lost on a simple majority of those voting in the Plenary, given the scores of proposals and their amendments that can be brought forward for voting in one day, it is not surprising that there can be some spectacular mistakes. Especially as the voting is merely on a show of hands! In spite of this, should any vote be lost, this is not the end of the matter. It then goes to ‘Conciliation’ during which the Commission has another chance to broker a deal between the Parliament and the Council. Once again, in secret.
For it is the EU Council of Ministers which makes the final decision on legislation. Most, but not all, EU laws are passed jointly with the European Parliament although in some fields the Council alone legislates but has to consult the Parliament. Once proposals are passed, the Commission is asked to publish the resulting laws — directives or regulations — in the ‘Official Journal’ and sent to individual member states.
In Britain, these laws then go through Parliament in the sense that they are laid before Committees which will ‘take note’ of them. But there is no option to reject any unless Britain has a national veto on the subject under discussion, because the UK Courts are required to accept EU laws regardless of what any Westminster Statute may say.
Even the EU Commissioners admit that a large percentage of our laws come from the European Union.
This, in effect, means that whatever the unelected European Commission puts forward and the Council of Ministers agrees with, will become law in Britain.
And that they, their children and their grandchildren will continue to be ruled by what is officially called an ‘Oligarchy’ or more simply a group dictatorship, unless the UK votes to leave the European Union in the coming Referendum.