By Patrick Brogan
One of the many arguments that was put forward during the debate over Britain leaving the EU was the lack of accountability in Brussels. Many Britons felt a sense of frustration that they had no say over laws that were made. Indeed, this issue has been brought up many a time before the so-called Brexit. So, how unaccountable is it?
Firstly, there is the European Parliament. It is made up of 751 members that are elected by the people from the 28 EU states. These are known as MEPs (Member of European Parliament). The parliament votes on legislation and the upcoming budgets. The president of the EP is voted in by the MEPs. Martin Schulz is the current president. At first glance, it seems like a very democratic process, and to some extent it is. Then, you scratch the surface and the problems become more obvious.
The Problem with Parliament
Consider this; obviously, not all of the members in the parliament are going to be from your country. So, when they vote it is with their countries’ best interest at heart, not yours. Countries like Ireland and Slovakia will have fundamentally different goals from nations like Germany and France. If we look at interests rates for example. The Germans wanted an interest rate that didn’t help with an economic recovery in Ireland. We have already seen the tension caused by these differences on issues like the refugee crisis and the fallout has been Britain leaving the EU with the potential for some others following them out the exit door. Another serious issue with the role of the parliament is this; it’s way down the food chain as the (dodgy) infographic below illustrates.
The Other, More Important, Institutions
The basic infrastructure of the EU goes something like what’s on the infographic above. There are other institutions like the ECB and the Eurogroup, but I will go into them in the next article. The Council of the European Union is made up one member from each European state. These members differ depending on the topic being discussed. If the issue is crime; the minister for justice or the equivalent of each of the countries will be present. The presidency of this council rotates every six months and is held by a country rather than a person. The current presidency is with Slovakia.
Then there is the European Council. This consists of the heads of states from the various member nations and the president of the European Commission and the president of the European Council itself, Donald Tusk. The council’s goal is to set the upcoming agenda in the EU. It was founded after the Lisbon Treaty was passed and it replaced the rotating EU presidency, akin to the way the Council of the European Union is run now. The president of the European Council is often referred to as the president of the European Union.
Then there is the engine of the EU, the European Commission. This is made up of the president, Jean-Claude Junker, and a commissioner from each of the 28 member states. Each commissioner has a portfolio or general directive, much like ministers. The commission is the body that comes up wth the legislation, then the parliament votes on this. The EU website states that the parliament can produce legislation, this is not true.
The Democratic Process
As already stated, the people of the EU nations vote for MEPs to represent them in the European Parliament. In terms of democratically elected officials, that’s it. The president of the European Parliament is Martin Schulz. He was elected by the MEPs. It’s almost democracy, but a step removed. I say this because the MEPs from Spain will have different objectives than those from Hungary, those from the UK different than those from Poland and so on. Another word for objective is agenda. Not necessarily a bad word, but in this case, it shows how hard it is for the EU to reach a consensus on any issue. The MEP you have elected is only one voice on a very large stage. The other institutions follow a similar outline.
The Council of the European Union is the same as a smaller country will only have one representative and may be overpowered by the larger ones and the Council of Europe is like this too. The President of the European Commission is decided by the parliament. The commissioners are chosen by the state, ie the leader of that state and are usually from the same party. The president has to give the okay on their nominations. The president also assigns them to their portfolio.
From this, you can see how the EU is a watered down version democracy, run as a bureaucracy. It is for this reason many national leaders and the ordinary citizen are becoming more frustrated with an organisation that started off by and large with simpler more achievable goals that would benefit the ordinary citizen. Now, it has become too bloated and ponderous. The level of undemocratic practices does not end with these institutions, though. In the next article we will look at those that wield the real power within the EU.
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