Saturday, October 30, 2004

Democracy in action

I was reading the excellent A fistful of euros blog yesterday, and was making some points regarding the eurosceptic press and its reaction to the actions of the European Parliament. My views on this are quite simple, in essence: the eurosceptic press cares not about making the EU more democratically accountable. In any case, here are some of the thoughts I posted there in the comments section yesterday, slightly edited...

The last thing that the Eurosceptics want is for the European Parliament to get any democratic legitimacy. In fact, if you want a laugh, suggest that the problem with the EU is that its overly bureaucratic and as a result more power should be given to the Parliament. The reaction you get is usually adverse, and usually very amusing. What it proves is that the arguments of the eurosceptics are against the EU (and, often, against internationalism in general) rather than the fact it is bureaucratic.

Indeed, I have long believed that if the EU in general could avoid its "rocking-horse maximum height" legislation then it would be accepted much more readily in the popular perception. This is a fault of the Parliament as much as the bureaucrats, for they pass the legislation, even if it is just about all the power they possess. (Of course, leaving the EU wouldn't change how much we were affected by these pieces of legislation - it is pure fantasy to think that we would suddenly be allowed to trade with the EU with products that didn't meet their uniform standard. The fact that they shouldn't be legislating on this is beside the point.)

Eurosceptics, especially the press, in Britain are highly xenophobic, but cover this up most of the time because it is much more convenient for them to attack bureaucracy, which is a generally unpopular thing. Basically, they want Britain out of the EU almost totally, and they think that we have "surrendered too much of our powers" already. So the anti-Parliament beef is more to do with trying to deny the EU any democratic legitimacy.

The EU needs some urgent reform. It all too often falls guilty to the dreadful French trap of centralisation, although I think to some extent this is a product of government and jurisdiction in general. There is no need for Europe-wide directives on working hours, for example. And whilst a Charter of Fundamental Rights is necessary, in my opinion, it must be accepted that there had to be a great deal of latitude given to each individual government. Of course, no national government will ever give up powers it considers fundamentally necessary - the major reason why fears regarding the EU foreign minister are totally and utterly misplaced - but there is a lot of meddling legislation that could be removed.

This is one of the reasons that British reluctance to get involved in the EU irritates me greatly. A British-German alliance could have seen the reform of the institutions so that the EU provided a governmental framework, and allowed an international outlook on issues such as asylum which are probably best sorted out through general discussion and co-operation. I am being somewhat idealistic here, I accept, but if the concept of Europe is truly to work, then it must have a popularity it does not possess at the minute.

I support the EU constitution. This is not just because I am a constitutional pedant, although this plays some part in it - it certainly makes sense to have one document detailing how an institution runs rather than an amorphous mass of negotiated treaties. And, as stated earlier, no powers will be ceded to the EU if any member state feels sufficiently protective of them. Yet we keep missing a trick in Europe. Federalism does not have to mean - indeed, I would say it does not mean - that we move towards an increasingly centralised bureaucracy. Much good is to be gained from a European outlook - greater acceptance for regional identities; an institutional framework for the positive discussion of important continent-wide issues. And Britain will be left behind. I've travelled a lot around Europe, and quite often the first question I am asked is "when will Britain join the euro?" The youth of Europe is in favour of the EU. Well, OK, the youth of most countries of Europe. Why does Britain always have to be the isolationist exception?