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Rupert Matthews: Why is the EU so undemocratic?

Matthews_rupert Rupert Matthews is a freelance writer and is currently one of the MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands Region.

You don’t have to go very far in the EU to realise that it is an undemocratic institution. It holds plenty of public votes, of course, but real power lurks in private rooms and flits about in luxuriously appointed corridors. Try to find it, and it slips away like a phantom.

The Treaty of Lisbon (EU Constitution) will only make things worse. But how did we get here in the first place? Why are those who run the EU determined to keep the whole institution so undemocratic?

The answer lies in the past – but then I’m a historian so maybe I am biased.

Those who established the EEC had lived through two devastating world wars, both of which had as an underlying cause the rivalry between France and Germany.

They firmly believed that it was the institution of the nation state that had caused those wars. They also believed that Hitler, Mussolini and other dictators had come to power because the uneducated (as they saw it) mass of the population had been given power through democracy. Their answer was to establish an international institution that would override the nation states and to organise it in such a fashion that it would not be democratically accountable, but would be run by a self-selecting oligarchy of well-educated bureaucrats. Themselves. They live in the past, but cannot see the present still less the future.

This way of thinking seems very strange to us in Britain. Our experience of the nation state has been positive. It is the nation state that has allowed us to develop economically, politically and socially. We see it as a good thing. Likewise we think democracy is a good thing. We believe that only by holding the state to account through the ballot box will we ensure that the government generally does the right thing untainted by corruption or injustice. Things are not perfect, but on the whole we see a democratic nation state as the best arrangement.

Not so those who set up the EEC, the EU as it has become. Of course they realised that to achieve their aim for the good of the people, those same people must be misled. They knew that the ‘uneducated masses’ would not give up democratic power. So bit by bit powers have been removed from national governments and pulled to the centre in Brussels. Very often the powers are exercised through national governments, but they can do only what they are instructed to do by the EU centre. The nation states still exist in name, but not in any meaningful reality.

The EU institutions that govern this incipient superstate are deliberately undemocratic. The EU Commission is, in effect, the EU government. It meets in secret, conducts its business in secret and keeps all its workings secret. The EU Council acts as a sort of senate. It is made up of all the prime ministers of the member states. In theory the Council holds the Commission to account on behalf of the peoples of Europe. But like the Commission it meets in secret.

The EU Parliament is presented by the EU as being the democratic forum for the people of Europe. Sadly it falls far short of this ideal – and I speak as a candidate to that august body. For a start it does not have anything like the powers needed by a Parliament. It is more akin to a toothless revising chamber. In theory the EU Parliament has some impressive powers, but in practice business is managed by the elites so that it never has the chance to exercise them. That is one reason why it is essential that the Conservative MEPs leave the EPP grouping which restricts their actions so severely – as David Cameron has promised.

This might be all well and good for those European countries willing to go along with it. Many have been through revolutions and upheavals beyond imagining in the past century, making the stability offered by the EU welcome. But Britain is different.

Here in Britain we do not want to be run by a supra-national oligarchy. We are happy with our democratic nation state. What we do want are the economic links that we thought we were voting for back in the 1975 referendum.


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