I Agree with Jack, End EU Elections

22nd February, 2012 6:08 pm
I agree with Jack Straw. EU parliamentary elections should be abolished.
It’s not that we object to democracy, it’s that we object to failed democracy. We object to democracy that continues to exist as a pointless halfway-house absorbing considerable revenue without delivering anything in return.
“The directly elected European parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and the European Union” is what Jack actually said at the recent IPPR event.
Jon Worth, a regular EU commentator on this website, provides a counter argument, but misses that central point. It’s not just about turnout, Jon; it’s about the failure to achieve that goal of connecting people to the institution.
For people to be inspired to engage in an election, they need to be confronted by two opposing views in a debate. They become intellectually engaged in the choice and this generates discussion at street level, in the pub, or over the water cooler.
But the EU is designed to avoid conflict and move straight to consensus. Every sinew in this post-war institution is stiffened towards avoiding confrontation. The effect of this is that decisions become a fudge, before the electorate are given a chance to be involved.
Look at the example of the recent Lisbon treaty which promised a democratically elected President of the Commission. You’ll remember the glint in Tony Blair’s eye. If Blair had run for President, the whole of Europe would have been fired up, not just in support, but huge swathes of the electorate would have been opposed to elevating the proponent of the Iraq war, and they would have looked for an alternative candidate.
It would have been an exciting election, in the true sense, that the issues that matter (whatever they are) would have been raised to the surface and the electorate across the whole of the EU would have become a part of the debate.
Yet Angela Merkel feared the comment made by David Miliband, that President Blair would “stop traffic” on foreign engagements. She ended the candidacy of Blair after pressure from an envious David Cameron, who hated the idea of being in a room with “El President” Blair. So an anonymous Belgian, Herman Van Rompuy, became President of the European Council, working alongside the President of the EU Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is currently Denmark.
In reality, all of these three Presidents of Europe are over-ruled by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, because that’s where the real power lies, in this complex pseudo democracy.
It’s not that Jack Straw is arguing against democracy. We all want more democracy, but democracy that has a point, rather than democracy that exits as a throwaway vote.
If someone calculated the amount of man hours wasted in these huge debating chambers, when decisions could far more efficiently be made in committee, we’d probably be talking about 100s of millions of Euros each year. Money which could be better spent developing the economies of the central European states, in order that we also prosper, by their success.
78% of British people believe their voice does not count in Europe. After 30 years of trying to answer that central question of “How do we end the democratic deficit?” the time has come to accept there isn’t an answer. We need to simply accept that it hasn’t worked and won’t work.
We need an EU. We need the institutions of the EU. We need to appreciate the work that the EU does. But as long as that work is seen through the prism of pointless expensive elections and pointless expensive debating chambers, the people of Europe will continue to have scorn for the European Union, rather than appreciate it as the institution that ended war, stabilised the eastern-bloc, and created the single market.
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  • Lee

    Not sure I agree with this. Of course, it is true that people feel as though European elections do not matter. There is little direct connection either with the local MEP or with the European Parliament, but you tend to get out of these things what you put in. Perhaps the rush for Proportional Representation has not helped matters. A number of people on these regional lists are now virtually guaranteed election, and a low turnout guarantees the election of some fringe lunatics too.

    I do think that the EU has a far too diffused set up, with the Council of Ministers, the Parliament etc, though the ministers are from elected governments, so there is nothing really undemocratic about that.

  • AlanGiles

    So you would have disagreed with Straw if Blair had become  President?

    A one word answer – yes or no – will do, Dan

    • Dan Mccurry

      The argument I have made is that if Blair had become president, that would have ended the democratic deficit in itself.

      • AlanGiles

        Oh come of it Dan. The man who used a dodgy dossier to encourage the country into war in Iraq, the man whose financial dealings were far from transparent, you really think he was some sort of paragon of virtue?

        Either you are very naive, or perhaps one of his friends.

        Blair wasn’t trusted by many people in this country – apart from America, I doubt he was much more well regarded anywhere else.

      • derek

        Dan, somewhere over the rainbow the munchkins may agree with you.

  • AnthonyZacharzewski

    “We all want more democracy” – really? I mean, I do, but I can’t imagine that someone who makes this argument could do, to be honest.

    After all, you’re arguing for abolishing a European Parliament and replacing it with … committees? On the basis of a poll that says 78% of British people don’t think their voice counts in Europe? Well:

    1. How many British people think their voice counts in the UK Government or in local councils?
    2. How many would think their voice counts in a committee of ministers and civil servants with no democratic elements at all?
    3. How important is it, really, how much people *think* their voice counts? Particularly given the quality of the public “debate” the UK has on European issues. I’d rather work on how much their voice *actually* counts.

    Also, you’ve forgotten that Merkel’s party has an elected EU President and bicameral parliament in its manifesto platform: given that the SPD are in a similar place, this is the argument we should be engaging with, not some pie-in-the-sky return to cosy diplomatic clubs in the name of democracy.

    The whole argument is a sort of UKIP-lite, that says “we don’t think the EP is working as well as it could, so we should get rid of the whole thing rather than trying to make it better”. 

    • Dan Mccurry

      You haven’t read the article properly.

      • Hugh

         I think he has. Your proposed answer to “failed democracy” is no democracy.

      • Winston_from_the_Ministry

        You mean he hasn’t come away from it with the impressions you intended.

  • Point by point:

    We object to democracy that continues to exist as a pointless halfway-house absorbing considerable revenue without delivering anything in return.

    Straw said he wanted a nominated rather than an elected one. Which would also absorb considerable revenue. Plus democracy has a price (although I admit getting rid of Strasbourg would help).

    It’s not just about turnout, Jon; it’s about the failure to achieve that goal of connecting people to the institution.

    No it’s not. But Jack Straw’s own argument was based on turnout, and that’s what I rebutted. My piece was not a complete thesis on all I believe about EU democracy!

    For people to be inspired to engage in an election, they need to be confronted by two opposing views in a debate.

    This is rubbish. Almost every country in Europe has a party system with more than 2 major forces, and there are nuances of opinion within parties. Apart from Westminster even the UK has a reasonable multi-party system. It’s rather demeaning to an electorate to say everything has to be presented in black and white.

    Look at the example of the recent Lisbon treaty which promised a democratically elected President of the Commission.

    It promised nothing of the sort. See article 17 (7) here.

    If Blair had run for President, the whole of Europe would have been fired up, not just in support, but huge swathes of the electorate would have been opposed to elevating the proponent of the Iraq war, and they would have looked for an alternative candidate.

    Again utter rubbish. Blair wanted the job as President of the European Council. The Treaty of Lisbon makes this appointed by nomination, not election. See Article 15 (5) here. Read the Treaties before you try to comment on EU matters, Dan!

    In reality, all of these three Presidents of Europe are over-ruled by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, because that’s where the real power lies, in this complex pseudo democracy.

    On sorting out the Eurozone crisis this is true, to an extent. But on everyday legislation on everything from working time to transport, energy to environment, the European Parliament is co-legislator with the Council. The EP has real legislative power. You might argue that it should have more, but abolishing elections to it isn’t going to help.

    If someone calculated the amount of man hours wasted in these huge debating chambers, when decisions could far more efficiently be made in committee, we’d probably be talking about 100s of millions of Euros each year.

    Once again complete and utter rubbish. The European Parliament is actually one of the most Committee-based Parliaments you can find. It could teach the Commons a few lessons about how to take decisions in Committees and then these get approved by the Parliament as a whole! As for the budget – all the EU institutions together consume a total of 8% of the EU budget, which is itself just 1% of EU GNI. So – at most – the EP budget represents something in the region of 0.03% of EU GNI. That’s not going to help Central and Eastern Europe much. Also it’s the EP that has been pushing hardest for more money for poorer regions over the years.

    • Dan Mccurry

       They sit around in a debating chamber because they’ve been elected. If they were appointed, they’d have jobs to get on with. It would save money, big time. 

      Jack’s opening line, and the purpose of his speech, was about the failure to connect. Re: Opposing view, You just don’t geddit.Blair would have called an election. And we still have 3 president’s and no one knows who they are.Hot air won’t help those regions at all. Arguing that farm subsidies are larger, as justification for other wasted expenditure, is not a sensible argument in a world of scarce resources. 

    • W G

      Jon,

      Quoting the Lisbon Treaty in defence of EU parliamentary democracy is a bit rich – none of  us had a say on that particular piece of skullduggery.  

      • Read the comment. I *know* the Treaty of Lisbon does not do much for Parliamentary democracy, and I do not say it does! I was pointing out the factual inaccuracies in Dan’s piece.

      • Dan Mccurry

        Hear hear.

  • How about taking power away from the EU and giving it back to member states who can then devolve it to local level?

    I can understand transcontinental travel networks but is there a need for the EU to make laws regarding localised affairs?

  • robertcp

    I don’t really understand the EU but abolishing an elected parliament just does not seem a good idea!

  • Daniel Speight

    Somehow I think Straw would much rather decisions be made in smokey rooms among apparatchiks.

    • Decisions made in smoke-free rooms by scallops and celeriac purée munching apparatchicks, surely?

  • It’s been a long time since I have read anything sensible written about the festering European Union which  is far closer to a dictatorship than a democracy

    MEP’s are a waste of time. That is with the exception of Nigel Farage who is a joy to behold as he berates the EU on a daily basis. 

    • Oh the irony! Without an elected European Parliament Farage would not have such a platform from which to speak. For if Straw had his way and the EP were appointed there’s no way the House of Commons would appoint a UKIP member.

    • Dan Mccurry

      Great to have some good comments from the Labour Party.

  • madasafish

    Man proposes the end of elections and puts nothing in place.

    Back to Stalin eh?

  • Martin Yuille

    For the first 20 years, MEPs were not elected at all. They were nominated.  The parliament was unelected, part-time and had very limited powers. Elections started in 1979.  MEPs became full time. The EP’s powers increased through successive treaties.

    The problem is this: there is a delicate evolving balance of powers between three entities (governments [via the Council of Ministers],  MEPs  [in the EP] and  Commissioners [appointed by national governments]). 

    Keeping this balance is essential for the EU to deliver its objectives of social cohesion and sustainable economic development. 

    But Dan Curry and Jack Straw want to barge in with policy proposals that would wreck this balance and wreck the EU. 

    Sure there is a democratic deficit in the EU and the EP. But there has been more progress in a few decades for the European Parliament than there was in centuries after the creation of the British parliament.

    The EU is the world’s leading international experiment in balancing corporate power and the democratic will.  That’s what its objectives – social cohesion and sustainable economic development – mean.

    Like any experiment (e.g. nationalisation, privatisation, autocracy, democracy) it is unlikely to be successful on everything for ever. 

    So there is always a need for reform. But Dan and Jack don’t want reform it seems. They want abolition. Why? Because achieving consensus is not as dramatic or photogenic as personality primary colour politics.  This is shallow stuff. An advanced democracy requires a population that can distinguish shades of grey: politics with nuances.

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