This is an attempt to list ten or fifteen problems with the EU, particularly its democracy and accountability. They are not in any order. This is the roughest of rough drafts.
1) No demos
There does not exist a single group of people in respect of whom the EU could be a democracy.
2) No mandate
Even if there were or is a European demos, what is done by the Commission is not in response to any expressed or felt need of the citizens. In normal democratic politics you have occasional elections, during which time certain issues are publicly discussed. Whoever wins power has some justification for carrying out whatever programme they were proposing while trying to get elected.
This just doesn’t happen in the EU. The Commission isn’t elected, and the elected European Parliament does not have a mandate to do any particular course of action. Unelected bodies should not have the right to initiate legislation. So either the Commission should be elected, or it should be deprived of any right to initiate legislation.
3) Separation of powers
The Council of Ministers must assent to legislation, like the second chamber of many legislatures. It comprises representatives of the executive branch of each member state government. This provides those governments with a means of bypassing their respective parliaments, which often constitute the primary day-to-day democratic check on their activities.
Over time, it motivates governments to hand more powers from national parliaments to the EU, and suborns national political parties into supporting the EU if they have a reasonable chance to form the executive.
EC legislation is not sufficiently contemporaneous in its passage. It is simply bad governance to allow a legislative process to span long periods of time, and the UK Parliament at least limits the amount of time which may elapse between the initiation of a legislative measure and its conclusion.
In the EU, the Commission may wait years for an opportunity to put some pet project through the legislative machine; it’s not possible for citizens opposing the legislation ever to be sure they’ve won.
The EU’s accounts notoriously never get signed off. Member States ought simply to block the provision of new money until this happens. This is basic good governance. Because the system forces taxpayers to hand over cash even when there’s no guarantee it’s being spent properly, there’s no discipline: money will and does get misspent. If misspending money had negative consequences, it would stop.
Whereas many people accused of error will retaliate illegally and immorally at their accusers, the EU has the exacerbating factor of paranoia about Euroscepticism. I don’t have good evidence on this point yet, but my impression is that fears of exposure of one scandal or another motivate even more secrecy and vituperation from the EU’s bureaucracy than would happen otherwise.
I can’t find out what happened in the Hans-Martin Tillack case, but it seems the EU Commission got the Belgian police to arrest him and hand over his notes, revealing who the whistleblowers were, and that Belgian law differs from that of other EU countries in allowing the “authorities” (and it should be noted that the EU Commission is not part of the Belgian state) to get away with this, calling into serious question the appropriateness of locating so many EU institutions in that country.
If a government needs tax money to survive (and in the present day, this is effectively true around the world), and cannot on its own authority raise this tax, then it will become beholden to whoever or whatever does possess this authority (Parliament, in the case of Westminster-style polities). Parliament has the power it does because it can bankrupt the UK government if it doesn’t get its way: a majority in the House of Commons which disagrees with this policy, that appointment or yonder exercise of ministerial authority can simply threaten not to pass the next Budget. The need for periodic tax-raising and the requirement for renewed elections keeps the system accountable to the public. Effectively, the tax-raising is on an annual basis, so on average the Government ought to be able to survive six months. (In practice I’m not sure what would happen if the Government lost its majority with many months to go before the next Budget vote.)
I don’t understand the precise way the EU’s budget works as a matter of law, but it seems that Member States are obligated to hand over money on a septennial basis; this strikes me as far too long-term a grant of legal tax-raising authority. There’s much less pressure to do what citizens want if you can legally tax them for the next seven years.
8) Platinum Plating
Gold-plating is the embellishment of EC legislation by national bureaucracies. Sometimes this is necessary on account of the poor quality of the original legislation. In other cases, measures implementing EC legislation are not scrutinised as heavily as normal legislation and may contain unjustified extensions; these extensions are invalidly waved through under the fast-track procedures, and then defended as though they were part of the EC measure as a whole.
Platinum plating is when gold-plating happens twice: unnecessary additions have to be implemented in national law because they’ve been added by EU legislators purportedly implementing some international obligation.
As a general rule, national legislation should be used to implement international rules, rather than having a three-stage process with the EU in between. This insulates the public against an additional opportunity for politicians and civil servants to pass off their pet projects as legal obligations.
9) ECJ partiality
The Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ) has held itself to be responsible for adjudicating disputes about the meaning of the treaties. The treaties empower the Community (or, later, the Union) to legislate in certain areas. The ECJ claims to have the final say on whether a measure goes beyond what is allowed in the treaties, but time after time after time, with a monotonity and regularity acquiring an almost mathematical and aesthetic purity and wholeness, this Court has decided in favour of the EU/EC/EEC against the Member State. In the fifty-year history of the EU and its predecessors, there appears to have been only one finding that a measure was ultra vires the treaties (a directive about tobacco advertising opposed by Germany).
10) Non-existent civil society
Civil society barely exists at the European level. By civil society I mean non-governmental, non-profit organisations (charities, political groups, many sports clubs, churches, universities, trades unions, business associations, foundations, institutes and so on), and mean to exclude for-profit organisations such as for-profit companies, cooperatives, and mutual societies, and all governmental institutions.
At the European level, most institutions corresponding to these sorts of things are either state-funded, or don’t exist. The best you can get tends to be a Europe-wide confederation of national civil society institutions. There are vanishingly few Europe-wide membership organisations comprising individuals, and it is hard to set them up.
This is both a problem and a symptom.
11) There is no pan-European media
This is possibly the gravest of the problems, and one which is difficult to remedy by state or private action.
Anyway, I shall edit these up and turn them into a webpage, but if I hadn’t posted them I’d never even have got started.
If you could bear reading this far, you should follow me on Twitter: