The EU Series No.1. How transparent and democratic is the European Union?
By themaclean, Nov 8 2016 11:49AM
How transparent and democratic is the European Union?
There are four key institutions of the EU, plus various advisory groups. Here are the main four:
1.The European Commission.
2. European Parliament.
3. European Council
4. The Court of Justice of the EU.
1. The Commission.
The Commission is made up of 28 commissioners, who are not elected, but are chosen individually by their national governments, This means it is not possible for a Commission Member or its President to be removed by a direct election.
The Commission has a President (currently Jean-Claude Juncker); unlike the other 27 commissioners he is personally elected by the European Parliament.
However, in 2014, his was the only name on the ballot paper.
The Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs) that are similar to departments or ministries.
In 2012, the Commission employed 23,803 people were employed, as officials and temporary agents. In addition, 9,230 were employed as "external staff".
The Commission is advised by the Directorate General, which along with the Commission is heavily lobbied (i.e. wined, dined and generally bribed by big business etc).
Here’s the big difference between the UK and the EU. The Commission proposes laws, not Parliament.
Is that democratic?
In the UK we encourage debate and public involvement by having two readings for most legislation.
The first reading is a purely formal stage, and there is no debate on the Bill.
The second reading is a debate on the main principles of the Bill, held in the chamber. This could then be followed a committee stage, report stage and possibly even more readings. The majority are open to the press and public.
In the past, contentious legislation in the EU, such as the Services Directive (removing legal and administrative barriers to trade) or Liberalisation of Ports, were discussed in public, thanks to being given a second reading.
However, on 21 March 2005 nearly 100,000 people marched in Brussels to protest against the Services Directive. This soon spread to Strasbourg and other European cities.
So, soon afterwards, the European Commission insisted that in future, the European Parliament would accept the undemocratic procedures of adopting European legislation in a single reading, in a trialogue between the Commission, Parliament and Council - behind closed doors.
The controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade negotiations between the EU and US will also be legislated in one reading too. Behind closed doors.
That is undemocratic.
2. The EU Parliament.
Parliament is made up of 751 MEPs, who are elected by the people in EU Member States every five years.
It also has a President, currently Martin Schulz, who was voted in by Parliament. Curiously, he too was the only candidate.
This is not a real parliament - as we know it, as they have no right to propose laws.
The Parliament does vote and can make amendments on new laws proposed by the Commission, but the Commission does not have to accept any of the amendments proposed.
And, once something has become an EU law, Parliament cannot change it. All the power is given to the Commission.
In 1999, the entire Santer Commission was forced to resign by parliament after an internal auditor, Paul van Buitenen, revealed wide-scale fraud and corruption led by Édith Cresson, former prime minister of France.
Allegations of fraud and corruption were again raised in 2004 by former chief auditor Jules Muis. A Commission officer Guido Strack reported alleged fraud and abuses in his department in years 2002–2004. He was fired as result.
The notorious EU Commission of 2004 - 2009 included Siim Kallas who was given the role of Anti-Fraud Commissioner, in spite of being charged with fraud, abuse of power and providing false information after £4.4million disappeared while he was head of Estonia's national bank.
In 2008 Paul van Buitenen (the same one involved in the Santer Commission scandal) accused the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) of a lack of independence and effectiveness.
Parliament did nothing.
Is that democracy?
3. The European Council.
It is called the European Council when the leaders of each Member State are in attendance, and The Council when only the ministers for specific policy area are in attendance.
This is the final hurdle any European proposal has to pass in order to become law.
Decision-making at this stage is done almost entirely by Qualified Majority Voting. This means the UK Government can vote against a proposal and as long as it receives enough votes from the other Member States it becomes law in the UK anyway.
The UK only has a veto to prevent EU laws impacting the UK in a very minor number of areas.
If the European Council/Council approves proposals, they become EU law. These take two forms: regulations, or directives.
If they are regulations the new EU law applies to all Member States without any of those states having to pass legislation in their own home Parliaments.
If they are directives, the national Parliaments are forced to change their national laws within a specific time limit to comply with EU law - whether they want to or not.
Its proceedings are held behind closed doors, which, as a legislative assembly, is not exactly transparent, or democratic.
4. The Court of Justice of the EU.
This is not a court like we have in the UK or US. It is supposed to interpret EU laws to ensure they comply with the EU treaties.
Unfortunately, it does not do this when pushing its own federalist agenda.
For example, all EU treaties clearly stated that bailouts were illegal, but as the bailouts helped to prop up the failing Eurozone project, the EU court allowed them to go ahead.
5. Expert Advisors
In addition to the four institutions, there is the Troika, a slang term for the 3-part commission charged with monitoring and making recommendations on policy to help solve the Euro debt crisis It’s made up of: the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission (EC), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Troika’s yet another structure living in isolation from democratic procedures, composed of economic “experts” with no democratic oversight whatsoever.
Remember the Greece bailout? The European Parliament had no say, it was left to Germany and, to a lesser extent France, when Merkel shouldered her way to the fore, claiming that as Germany was making the biggest contribution, they had the biggest say.
She’s right. After all, where does a 700 lb, sorry, 317.515 kilo gorilla sit?
Anywhere he wants to.
It may be transparent, but is it democratic?
If we remain in Europe we can look forward to a lot more undemocratic, 700 lb, sorry, 317.515 kilo gorilla posturing.
Copyright iain Maclean 2019. All rights reserved