National Parliaments and EU Legitimacy

Jon Worth, Charles Grant and Ralf Grahn have been writing about the various options for giving national parliaments a role in the EU’s legislative process. This conversation between people who fundamentally agree that the EU in some form is desirable involves so many mistaken assumptions and false assertions that it’s impossible to deal with them all in a blog post of bearable length.

One feels like one’s wasting one’s breath even (re)stating all this but:

  • the EU won’t be legitimate until the people consent to its exercise of its current competences; what it will take to convince me that the requisite consent is present is a matrix showing, for every country C and subject S, that opinion polls say that the generality of people in county C are happy for their country to be bound by an EU-wide majority when laws are made about subject S; that’s how it works in real democratic federations
  • the “red card” proposals for national parliaments to have some role in blocking legislation only apply when the legislation violates the so-called principles of subsidiarity or proportionality, not when the legislation is outside the competence of the EU entirely
  • the EU does not have a demos, despite Mr Grahn’s reference to Miss Melchior’s assertion to the contrary. No test is suggested by either of them for how one might verify that the EU has a demos
  • vesting any sort of veto or consultative power in national parliaments is not going to improve input legitimacy
  • the best way to improve legitimacy is not┬áto focus on outputs; there can be no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship, in theory or in practice; the exhaustive work of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita completely demolishes the case that it’s possible to improve citizens’ wellbeing whilst maintaining a kleptocracy
  • the democratic deficit is not a perception, it is a reality, and Mr Grant should concentrate on the wellbeing of actual voters rather than the opinions of the Quislington dinner party conversationalists to whom he seems to regard himself as exclusively accountable
  • unless “do you agree to be part of this country” is counted as part of “input legitimacy”, then the two-way split between input legitimacy and output legitimacy fails to capture a fundamental aspect of real political legitimacy. People in Ireland in 1918 and today in Northern Ireland rejected government from Westminster over any and all subjects; it was never the complaint that UK government was undemocratic, and if the EU were a democracy, many countries (more!) would still not want to be part of it
More seriously, adding national parliaments just adds more veto players; the problem is that people in individual countries don’t see it as in their interests to be bound by an EU-wide majority on almost any issue. The EU has already effectively arrogated to itself the power to legislate on any issue, but cannot get this ratified by the people, either incrementally or all at once.

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