The European Union is not a democracy. In-fact, it is anti-democratic. It is founded upon an explicit intention to override popular democracy and neutralise the constraints imposed on government by the electorate. It has its roots in a utopian ideology that envisions a supranational government run by technocrats and officials that rise above the complications, frustrations and uncertainties of democracy and national government. This dogma emerged in the battlefields of the Great War, spread in the 1930’s and 40’s, before flourishing in post-WWII Europe.
The true definition of democracy is that the power resides with the people; but the EU is a supranational construct and power is far removed from the people. In a real democracy the people elect their representatives directly and have the final say on who governs them, but the EU is specifically designed to prevent this. It is run by a Commission which sits above a Parliament and a Council with severely limited powers.
The Commission is a body that combines legislative and executive power, it has a monopoly over all but a tiny fraction of EU law and not a single member of it is elected. It has the right of initiative over EU laws; this means that no law (or legislative initiative) can be pursued without the approval and direct participation of the Commission. It cannot be forced to act, and it is accountable to no one if it chooses to refuse action.
Moreover, it has control over the removal or amendment of existing laws. In order to do either, another law must be proposed – it takes a law to remove or amend an existing law. Armed with its right of initiative, only the Commission can decide whether that happens. No matter how unpopular a law might be; if the Commission is determined, the law stays.
MEP’s are a key part of the façade of EU democracy. Yet there are 751 MEPs representing 508 million inhabitants which is wholly inadequate representation. They have no right of initiative nor can they instigate an amendment to, or repeal an existing law. Even if all of our MEP’s voted together they could still not avoid being overruled. They are systematically outnumbered on purpose. The Council of the EU is made up of elected people and this is regularly highlighted in the debate. Yet it is still in effect a government that the people cannot remove.
Ultimately this is about more than the inherently undemocratic structures and processes. For even a tweak here and a reform there cannot make this artificial construct into a democracy. Democracy is not just about a right to mark a cross on a ballot paper every few years; the relationship between the government and the governed is absolutely fundamental. It depends on a sense of affinity, allegiance, and a common culture.
Democracy means “people power”. The word democracy stems from the Greek word, dēmokratía, comprising two parts: dêmos “people” and kratos “power”. Democracy requires a demos, a people, a unit with which we identify when we refer to “we”. Without a demos we are left only with kratos i.e. without a sense of sense of unity, common good and civic patriotism; the state must use power to compel by force of law what it cannot obtain by consent.
There is no single common European identity, history or language, and no matter how much the EU may try and force the issue such an identity can never be artificially constructed. You cannot simply print banknotes, create a flag, choose an anthem, build a founding myth on revised history and create a demos. The European demos exists only in the imaginations of dogmatically committed federalist ideologues. Does a resident of Leeds and of Torrejieva share a strong enough connection or sense of loyalty to each other to engender the effective unselfishness necessary for a functioning democratic nation? For the conservation of freedom and, crucially, consent?
Without a demos as a foundation, there is nothing on which to base a democratic political union which is why deception has been the driving force behind the European project. In other words, the EU has progressed this far by lying to its peoples about what it really is and what its intentions are.
In full knowledge that the European people would never give their consent to the transfer of power from national government to a supranational entity it was done in incremental steps with economic reasoning justifying each one. It happens to this very day as the Single Market is conflated with EU membership and British voters are intimidated into voting the right way on this basis.
In the absence of a demos, the state will seek to purchase loyalty through public works schemes, sinecures and subsidies. Notice the signs across the UK that advertise the investment from the EU, neglecting to mention we are a net contributor simply getting a proportion of our fees back. With a true sense of patriotic loyalty sorely lacking, a government without a demos must buy the support of its electorate. Hence why the EU redistributes taxpayer’s money to purchase the allegiance of NGO’s, think tanks, charities, corporations and municipalities.
When voters cause problems that obstruct the goals of the project they are overruled. When Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and Ireland against the Nice Treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, they were told to go away and come back with the right answer. When France and the Netherlands voted against the European Constitution in 2005, their decision was disregarded.
The inevitable consequence of power being so far removed from ordinary people is apathy, resentment and frustration. Disengagement with EU politics is widespread and increasing to the extent that the EU has no real democratic legitimacy. There is little connection between the electorate and those who rule them and voters have no faith in their own ability to bring about change. The inevitable result of this is that turnout in EU elections is appalling; the average EU turnout was 42% in 2014 and 2009, down from 45% in 2004.
In the UK disengagement is even worse. Turnout was 35% in 2014, 34% in 2009 and 38% in 2004. Only 11% of British people would be confident in naming one of their MEPs and hardly any at all could name a political grouping in the European parliament. The EU is for all intents and purposes a government but the media doesn’t report on it as such and the public in general have little interest in the day-to-day workings of it. Pan-European politics doesn’t exist.
It is hardly surprising then that the British public vote only in protest and send mostly UKIP MEPs to the European Parliament. They do not take the elections seriously and sense that the EU lacks legitimacy; these elections are their only chance to express this sense of frustration. It doesn’t really matter who we send to Brussels and the voters understand that on some level. MEPs are powerless to change much and lack the expertise or will to apply proper scrutiny to the back end of the legislative process when most of the important decisions have already been made.
This apathy and frustration is now becoming apparent in domestic politics as the institutions of national governments are hollowed out by the “invisible hand”of the supreme government in Brussels. It acts both as an overriding government and a means for elected governments to force through laws that that national parliaments and electorates wouldn’t approve. It is far easier to impose law and policy in the obscurity of the EU institutions, the distant source of real power in Europe. The exploitation of public ignorance is the most potent weapon in EU politics. This isn’t a progressive entity; it is an elitist empire of power.
By every measure that the EU is considered undemocratic we must also apply that same logic to the United Kingdom. The whole damn system under which we are governed is rotten and need of uprooting. Yes, Ministers are restricted by Brussels, but equally our councillors have few meaningful powers and their decision making abilities are restrained by Whitehall as well as Brussels. Our town halls are mere talking shops and we don’t have real local democracy. The Executive is now far too powerful and decision making is concentrated in cliques and clans around Downing Street rather than in the Cabinet. Positions of power are obtained by patronage rather than merit and obedience is rewarded over independence of mind.
Our elections are becoming more like opinion polls, with a change of the guard seldom producing the meaningful change we need. Increasingly people feel that “they’re all the same” because the system is rigged. We are ruled on a national and supranational level elites that are remote from the needs of the people they purport to serve. There is no democracy anywhere in the system, but if we are to achieve the desirable goal of creating a democratic Britain then leaving the EU is the necessary first step.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty