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Democratic EU - ePepys

22nd Jun 2016

10:06 pm - Democratic EU

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(Sorry for the long post. Summary: the EU is no less democratic than the UK.)

One undecided lady invited me in for a longer discussion. She seemed to be swinging towards Remain, and maybe I helped nudge her a bit further.

Her main worry was the oft-stated democratic deficit in the EU. This seemed to be the most common concern of the day (in East Oxford, even those flirting with Leave have better reasons!). My argument (far from original) was that the referendum isn't on whether the EU is well run, but whether we would be better off (in all senses) in or out. If we are in, we can push for improvements - as we have (occasionally) chosen to do in the past (with some success). If we are out, we still have to live next to/trade with/negotiate with our neighbours, but with much less influence on them.

But, thinking about it subsequently, I'm not sure that the EU is much less democratic than the UK. Compare the institutions:

The executive (EU Council; UK Prime Minister) are both chosen indirectly by Parliament. In the UK, we usually know which Prime Minister we are voting for (but maybe not if Boris takes over), and he is our chief representative on the EU Council. He chooses his UK Cabinet, who have specific responsibilities in the UK and on the EU Council.

Civil Service leadership (EU Commissioners; UK Cabinet Ministers): both appointed by the EU/UK executive. In the EU (but not the UK), the parliament can reject Commissioners. Other civil servants are apolitical. (By the way, the total number of EU civil servants is ~1/10th the number of UK civil servants.)

Parliaments: The EU parliament is directly elected by proportional representation. The House of Commons is directly elected, though not proportional to the total vote. The House of Lords is (mostly) indirectly elected (appointed for life by the elected government/opposition). In the UK, most laws are proposed by the Government, but in practice this is the Civil Service (under direction of the PM and Cabinet Ministers). Similarly, in the EU, all "laws" are proposed by the Commission. In both cases, the law must be approved by the parliament. The UK parliament can also initiate legislation, but "private members' bills" rarely pass.

There are some differences between EU and UK in the balance of power between the different branches. On the other hand, I think a Council of (qualified) equals is more democratic than a single prime minister, and a proportionally elected parliament is better than the (distinctly less democratic) mess we have.

Of course in the EU, it's not just the UK that has a say, but that's just a function of its larger size. If you object to that, then maybe I can ask for an independent Peoples' Republic of Oxford East.

The last argument (also made by my canvasee) is that fewer people vote in EU elections, and often they reflect national issues. The same could be said for UK local elections, but in any case, this is an argument for better voting in EU elections, not voting to leave the EU. It's hardly democratic to vote (once) to remove voting forever.

Comments:

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From:zengineer
Date:23rd June 2016 09:32 am (UTC)
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There is an issue that the EU is more remote even than National governments. Like all big government it is prone to a single policy for all solution. We see this most catastrophically in the effect of the single currency on southern Europe which (I think) is the root cause of mass net migration to Northern Europe. There is some understanding of this and so the move to a Scottish assembly for instance (or hopefully a Peoples' Republic of East Oxford - hold onto that dream).
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From:e_pepys
Date:23rd June 2016 09:43 am (UTC)
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That's true in many cases of large Government (see USA), which has to be weighed against the advantages of large Government (concerted action on large issues, often better protection of local minorities). But the EU "government" has considerably less control than the UK Government over Scotland [citation needed]. The Eurozone is another matter, but of course that doesn't affect us directly (and really shouldn't be an issue for deciding on the UK's membership of a different organisation).
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From:zengineer
Date:23rd June 2016 10:23 am (UTC)
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Trouble is that defending the EU as the least bad solution to supranational problems doesn't inspire. Europe has been trying this kind of thing from the Hanseatic League through to the League of Nations. I am sure we'll get there eventually.
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From:e_pepys
Date:23rd June 2016 11:12 am (UTC)
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I'm not saying the EU is the least bad solution. I'm actually rather idealistic about the EU.

Every type/level of government has advantages and disadvantages, so one weighs them up. What I said was that there are fewer disadvantages of the EU than many large nations, since it restricts itself more to areas where it is most useful. So the advantages predominate.
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