I have heard many an argument for Brexit in the last two-and-a-half years, true (“we’ll be able to create our own trade deals with other countries”) and false (“We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s give that to the NHS”) However, one that I have heard on many an occasion is that “the EU is undemocratic” and “we do not get a say in EU laws”. I wanted to investigate this, as in our western society, I do not think that would be acceptable in such a major institution.
Firstly, what does this essay mean by ‘Legislative’ and ‘Democratic’? According to Merriam Webster, the definition of Legislative is “the branch of government that is charged with such powers as making laws” meaning it is the branch that dictates to the people under any government (in this case, people in member states of the European union) the way they should behave or face the consequences. Democratic comes from the Greek terms ‘dēmos’ and ‘kratos’ meaning common people and rule in turn, meaning that democracy is the rule of the common people. Therefore, features of a democracy should be free elections of representatives or simply referenda on every subject.
First, we need to understand how the legislative branch works. The main legislative procedure is split into three groups of people: The Council of the European Union (not to be confused with the European council!), the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Commission submits a proposal to Parliament and the Council who adopt a position on the proposal. If both agree, obviously the law passes. If the Council disagrees with the position that Parliament has taken, they can amend Parliament’s version and hand it back to parliament. If the Commission and Parliament agree with these amendments, the law also passes. However, the Parliament may reject this, or amend it a second time and give copies to both the Council and the Commission. If the commission rejects any amendments, they must be voted on unanimously rather than a majority. If the Council approves the Parliamentary amended version within three months, the law passes, but if not, the Council and an equal number of members of the European Parliament get together to draft a deal they both agree on. If this does not happen within six weeks, the plan fails. This is then taken to a vote by Parliament and the Council. If it gets a majority, the law passes. This kind of system is known as a ‘community method’.
So, the next question to be asked is “how are the people in these groups chosen?” Let us start with the European Commission, or the people who decide on which laws should become legislation. There are 28 members (one from each country) who are appointed and given certain responsibilities by the President and serve five-year terms. There are also special roles in the Commission: the aforementioned President (currently Jean-Claude Juncker), 5 Vice-Presidents and a High-Representative, who goes to meetings with other IGO’s (Intergovernmental organisations) to speak for the Commission. The President is elected by the European Council (NOT the Council of the European Union), which is made up of the heads of each EU member state, along with the President of the European Council (currently Donald Tusk).
Next, this essay shall explain how the members of the Council of the European Union are chosen. The members depend on what is being debated. If the issue is education, then the education minister from each EU country will group together to be ‘the Council of the European Union’. There is also a ‘president’ of the Council, which is one member state which rotates every six months, and whichever minister is best for that debate (as above) from that state is the ‘President’ of that debate.
Finally, this essay needs to explain how the European Parliament is chosen. Every member state has elections every five years to elect their MEP. This number depends on the member state, from six in Malta to 96 in Germany. The UK currently has 73 out of the total 751 seats in the Parliament. In 2015, MEPs voted to make the inequality between different countries smaller.
Now we can see how each appointment relates back to our own vote and, in doing so, analyse how democratic each of these groups are in order to see how democratic the entire legislative branch of the EU is for the UK. In the European Commission, we (citizens of the UK) elect our own head of state, as does every other member state, who then collectively decide on a President, who then decides on every other member of the Commission. In the Council, we elect our head of state who chooses who to be in our cabinet, which makes up one of the members of the council. In Parliament, we elect directly who we want to represent our own state. One could complain that a member state does not elect the President of the Commission, cabinet members from other states and MEPs who aren’t from our state, but that would be like complaining that one does not get a say in a general election over the MPs of other constituencies. Picture each state as a different constituency. We want localised focus on our own areas in political discussion, so our own culture is accounted for, and we do not get that without separating the different cultures with different representatives. If this argument was correct, it would be futile to have more than one person elected to carry out each group’s role (unless you consider Lord John Acton’s idea that power tends to corrupt but that is a different story).
Let us take the two statements I mentioned in the introduction: “we do not get a say in EU laws” and “the EU is undemocratic”. I believe this essay has proven the former to be false, but the second? As you can see, when traced back, we vote for our representatives in the EU, but in a very convoluted way. If this essay reminds you that democracy is “the rule of the common people”, this may make you question the democratic nature of ‘representative democracy’, as, although this is representative democracy, which is the basis of many democracies, the representatives have been distanced further and further from the original source: “the common people”. So, is representative democracy, democracy? I have supplied you with evidence, but I will let you decide. If yes, then the EU is democratic. If no, we must accept that every government with freely elected officials is undemocratic.
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