Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has said that the oft-repeated claim that the EU is undemocratic is actually a lie. His view: we elect members to a European Parliament on a proportional basis, something we don’t even do in the UK, so how can the EU have any democratic deficit?
But in fact, his reasonable-sounding claim is not true. Being a smart man, Tim Farron must know this. Therefore, it looks like he must be lying.
But why is his view not true?
The EU’s democratic deficit has two majors points.
1. The numbers don’t add up. The UK gets 79 MEPS to represent the 65 or so million people of the UK. That’s one MEP per population the size of Birmingham, more-or-less. Whereas in the UK House of Commons, we have 600 or so MPs (the number has changed over the years) to represent the same number of people. Clearly, one elected representative per hundred thousand is more repesentative than one per million. Therefore, the EU parliament is less representative.
1b. The numbers really don’t add up. Remember that those 79 MEPs make up around 9% of the seats in the EU parliament. Therefore, even if all UK MEPs agreed that something was in the best interests of the UK, which is nigh-on impossible, they would still be in a 91-9 minority. Clearly, therefore, the people of the UK do not have control over their own affairs within the EU. The lack of a cogent European demos makes this point relevant not just now, but for the foreseeable future.
2. How are decisions made? Look at the chart at the top of this article. The European Parliament isn’t the prime mover within the EU, anyway. The Parliament oversees the Commission, but it is the unelected cabal-like European Commission which puts forward legislation, initiates policy packages, and imposes fines on national governments (p.45, The European Union: a very short introduction, 3rd edition, John Pinder and Simon Usherwood, 2013, OUP). The Commission is known as the “watchdog of the Treaty (p.44) and the “motor” of the community (p.45) for a reason.
Therefore, whilst there is an argument to be had that the House of Commons should move to a proportional basis (and, indeed, there a good arguments against this, too), this is not key to the issue at hand. The EU is, and by its very nature will remain, incapable of the representative democracy which it aspires to. It has a serious, inbuilt democratic deficit it cannot make up for.
© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry