How could Liberal Democrats influence EU Reform?

This question has been raised by various contributors here lately, since the Referendum result revealed the depth of anti-EU feeling in the country. Some have wanted changes so radical that, if carried out, the EU would scarcely be recognisable afterwards. However, I realised that even those promoting more modest reforms had very varied ideas, which did not neatly split Leavers and Remainers either. Broadly, opinions seemed divided as to whether competency or constitutional reform was the main issue to be tackled.

Competency arguments have focused on the EU’s painful attempts to deal with the vast influx of migrants and refugees of the last two or three years. As the Dublin Accord was quietly set aside and eastern EU states in the Schengen area set up physical barriers at their borders, it seemed doubtful that the EU’s basic rule of freedom of movement within its borders could be sustained. While states argued about migrant quotas, contributors looked on with scepticism mingled with dismay, What were the rules now, what sort of people could be free to move? Maybe the EU should allow free movement to workers rather than people in general? All this needs rethinking.

Constitutional reform questions have centred rather on the ‘democratic deficit’ of EU government: basically, that legislative powers appear to belong to the Council of Ministers, executive powers to the non-elected Commission, and not much power at all to the Parliament. Moreover, the whole institution and its courts appear remote to ordinary people, and repulsive as a trans-national body with sovereign powers over us.

That is a formidable charge for Lib Dem would-be reformers to confront, but valiant attempts have been made. Could the Parliament be allowed to propose laws, instead of just amending them? What if the Parliament elected the President and the President appointed the Commissioners, currently appointed by Heads of State? Should we give MEPs more status at home? Perhaps, though, such reforms would not make much difference, considering the entrenched and emotional views now held by so many British people. ‘The EU is a spent force.’ ‘The EU is in an existential crisis.’ ‘It’s high time we were out.’ Even, ‘The British psyche is different from the European’ – suggested on this site.

Yet, to this observer, there are still great strengths in this institution. Greece, subject to harsh economic conditions, still wants to be in the EU. The Visegrad countries of Hungary and Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia may have batted against German leadership this year but they also want to remain – and not just to be able to send workers west. The right-wing nationalists gain seats in parliaments but do not succeed in running their countries.

And now we have the YouGov mega survey, showing that no EU country is satisfied with the present balance of power between the EU and its member states. Most want a less close union, and though Britain is at the head of that queue, not far behind are Holland and Denmark, Finland, Sweden and France. Eight nations want EU powers returned to them, and of the others, Romania alone wants closer union. In this general dissatisfaction, Britain is no longer isolated.

Here is a great opportunity for Lib Dems to work with fellow EU Liberals on a better plan for our future EU. By fostering an EU less centrally controlled, a looser co-operative of nations working fruitfully together, they may persuade many more citizens that belonging is an acceptable and worthwhile part of their identity. That is surely worth our committed efforts.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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50 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 16th Dec '16 - 4:19pm

    There is a significant ‘democratic deficit’ that you do not mention. Before J-C Juncker was elected President of the Commission, he was the EPP candidate. The EPP and the S&D stitched up the election by agreeing beforehand that whichever party gained most MEPs would nominate the President and this nomination would not be opposed by the other. As these two parties had over 50% of the MEPs between them (403 out of 751) there was nothing that the other parties could do about it. As it was, Juncker was elected by about 12% of the EU electorate who voted EPP (and by no-one in the UK). There is no point in giving more powers to the EU Parliament while this attitude remains.

  • I would love to see the lib dems campaign for a reformed, looser cooperative model for the E.U. with both constitutional reform, greater accountability, repatriation of competencies and a real commitment to subsidiarity on the agenda. I could vote for that, and would have a new found respect for whichever party decided to adopt anything like this as policy.

  • Conor McGovern 16th Dec '16 - 6:21pm

    Tynan – Same here. If this option were on the ballot paper (with an actual belief it would be implemented) I doubt I would’ve voted to leave. We don’t have a liberal Europe yet and, with nasty post-colonial tariffs on goods from poorer nations, we’re yet to build a liberal world order.

  • Peter Martin 16th Dec '16 - 6:33pm

    No mention of the euro?

    That’s quite an oversight! It is not only the introduction of the euro which has caused big problems in the EU it is the rules of the ill-named Stability and Growth Pact which have been imposed on all member nations with the possible exception of us in the UK.

    The euro and these rules have a built in tendency to recession and even depression. The asymmetric nature of the inward and outward migration pattern to the UK is just a symptom of the economic malaise widespread in much of the eurozone.

    If the EU hadn’t been such an economic basket case the June result would have been very different.

  • Steve Comer 16th Dec '16 - 6:46pm

    Katherine: I think you’ll find that the Liberal in the Europe have plenty of ideas as to how the EU can be both reformed and made more democratic.
    Check out the ALDE website here: http://alde.eu/en/news/

  • The people on this thread are clearly living in the past. Every economist is saying that the eurozone needs full financial integration with a real treasury if prosperity is to return. The cold war is over, young Europeans realise that they have far more in common with each other than their parents’ generation who have done so much to destroy what their parents fought and died for.

  • Leekliberal 16th Dec '16 - 8:24pm

    Liberals instinctively believe in ‘subsidiarity’, the idea that a central authority, in this case the EU, should have a subsidiary (that is, a supporting, rather than a subordinate) function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.
    Most of us who see the EU in action will be surprised that to know that in theory the EU is formally committed to this approach, through the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subsidiarity
    Much of the resentment against the EU would be mitigated if every piece of their legislation was rigorously examined for compliance with this principle. This would not only return powers to national Governments but also to the Scottish and Welsh governments and hopefully Regional Assemblies and local government.
    A call from the Lib Dems for the EU to actually put into practice subsidiarity rather than honouring it in the breach, as it does at the moment, would be right and I suggest extremely popular with the electors!

  • Sue Sutherland 16th Dec '16 - 10:26pm

    George I’m not so sure that the Cold War is over, see an earlier post And the Winner Is by Tom Arms.
    Katharine I think this is a most useful contribution and have often wished in the past that we could be a little more critical of the EU. I now realise that really nobody was interested in the EU, the only time I remember seeing it’s corridors of power on TV was when Farage crowed about Brexit. I don’t remember coverage of environmental decisions or anything else useful or controversial except Maggie Thatcher telling them off at the same time as planning the channel tunnel. I’m afraid that we too as a party have been guilty of treating European elections as less important than national or even local ones.
    I would very much like to see Tim Farron spelling out to Leave voters how they have been conned by the right wing press etc and proposals for a better EU would have to be part of this. This is the only way we can start to appeal again to large swathes of working class voters, which is vital for them and for us if we want to address their concerns and redress the wrongs that successive governments since Thatcher have perpetrated.

  • jedibeeftrix 16th Dec '16 - 11:59pm

    “Eight nations want EU powers returned to them, and of the others, Romania alone wants closer union. In this general dissatisfaction, Britain is no longer isolated.”

    Serious question, Katharine; do you think that it is brexit itself that has enabled the EU to finally approach this question seriously? i.e. with the intention of answering it, rather than brushing the question under the carpet.

    “Constitutional reform questions have centred rather on the ‘democratic deficit’ of EU government: basically, that legislative powers appear to belong to the Council of Ministers, executive powers to the non-elected Commission, and not much power at all to the Parliament… That is a formidable charge for Lib Dem would-be reformers to confront… Could the Parliament be allowed to propose laws, instead of just amending them? What if the Parliament elected the President and the President appointed the Commissioners, currently appointed by Heads of State?”

    EUrope’s democratic deficit is not because its institutions don’t have enough power, but because we don’t recognise them as representing our interests in a manner than would justify the power they already wield! There is no single demos, to which can manifest a common-weal, therefore you’ll struggle to find a single government than govern in a manner deemed legitimate by those constituent people[s].

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Dec '16 - 12:05am

    @ George – “The cold war is over, young Europeans realise that they have far more in common with each other than their parents’ generation who have done so much to destroy what their parents fought and died for.”

    You may be right about those young europeans, George. The problem is, however, is that there aren’t enough of them. In britain, or on the continent. Everybody with a two working brain cells has been saying a common currency requires fiscal union, which can only be legitimised by political union. True. But what happens if enough people don’t want political union?

  • https://www.statista.com/statistics/266228/youth-unemployment-rate-in-eu-countries/
    Greece 45.6%
    Spain 43.6%
    Italy 36.4%
    Croatia 29.7
    Portugal 28.9
    Cyprus 26.8
    France 25.8
    Belgium 21.2
    Romania 20.4
    Finland 20.1
    Slovakia 18.8
    Sweden 18
    Luxemburg 17.7
    Latvia 17.5
    Ireland 16.4
    Poland 15.6
    Bulgaria 14.5

    These are the youth unemployment figures for Members of the EU. Just look at those figures, they are shockingly bad and blighting the lives of millions of people around Europe.
    Families are been broken, children are having to leave their homes and their countries and families to search for work in other countries out of sheer desperation as their is no hope for then in their own country, they are not doing it out of some ideology of Europe and enjoying their freedoms of movement out ideological circumstances, they are doing it, as it is in their only options left to them, out of sheer desperation. Now to me I see nothing to be liberal and proud of that.
    I keep hearing the same old arguments on these forums and elsewhere, that if it was not for the migrants, our fields will not get worked, our factories won’t get processed and our elderly and infirm will not get the care that they need, because the British are too lazy and above themselves and refuse to do this sort of work. {I do not believe that all incidentally British did these jobs for years and some still do}
    So what is it we saying here? We need these migrant workers to wipe the backsides of our elderly and infirm, plough our fields and slog long hours in factories all for poor pay and conditions, to keep our economy running?
    We totally disregard the circumstances in which the EU migrant has come to our country. That in his/ her country, conditions and opportunities are so appalling, the only option left is to leave everything you ever loved and knew behind, to go find work in another country.
    This is no better than slavery imo.
    I cannot for the life of me understand why a Liberal Democrat Party are so obsessed with the EU, especially considering the suffering that it is causing to millions of families, whom are being torn apart by this failed project

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Dec '16 - 12:37am

    Well done to Katharine and commentators .
    We need reform in the ways Katharine advocates. All pro internationalist approach moderates from right to left have been too complacent .

    Why on earth this was so is beyond me . As on the NHS , the BBC , Criminal justice.Always status quo or rampant commercialisation and huge companies .

    Big is not best but small is beautiful.

  • Great piece Katharine. A plan to change the EU is absolutely crucial to making the argument for staying involved with it.

    On the substance of change: I think proposals to strengthen the European Parliament are a huge trap and the wrong way to go. “More Europe” has failed so many times. The reality is that the Strasbourg parliament has no legitimacy except the purely theoretical. There is no pan-European politics, people never voted on European issues, and even politically aware voters can’t name their representative.

    Rather than more powers for the parliament, the bold proposal is to abolish the parliament, and recognise that legitimacy lies with elected national governments coming together in the Council. I think that’s the kind and scale of change needed to win back support in Britain and elsewhere.

  • The basic question is what is Europe for and about. Thise who argue for a united states of europe forget that the united states was forged on a collective idea, language and culture. Europe is not that, it is a conglomerate of 28 soon to be 27 states with their own history, culture and languages. Eu politicians forgot that, and tried to bring 28 different parts together, rather like 28 different pieces from 28 different jigsaws and were then surprised that it didnt fit or make a picture. Europe should not be the united states it should be a loose collective of countries supporting each other in a journey. Where countries can collaberate with each other it should be encouraged and supported. The eu parliament should be scrapped in my mind it does no good for anything. The Eu commission should propose template solutions to problems which is then down to the soverign parliaments to adapt to their own countries neess and requirements

  • Daniel Walker 17th Dec '16 - 9:56am

    I’m impressed that so many people think the appropriate response to a perceived lack of democracy in the EU is to abolish its most democratic institution.

  • I agree entirely that we must inc

  • David Evershed 17th Dec '16 - 1:04pm

    Liberals believe in freemarkets and devolved power.

    EU countries like Germany, Spain and Italy prefer a protectionist regime and centralised power.

    The UK joining the EU has always seemed a project by a minority in this country to impose a more authoritarian culture on the liberal thinking majority in the UK.

  • Sue Sutherland 17th Dec '16 - 1:26pm

    Matt those figures are truly awful. I’m not an economist but it seems to me that such high levels of youth unemployment are the result of the austerity response to recession and, presumably, to do with the creation of the Euro. Austerity isn’t working but no alternative seems to have been found so maybe we should go back to Keynes? After all his theories about investing in infrastructure worked in the last Great Recession. I do hope that our economics working party looks critically at trickle down and austerity economics. We have already seen the effect of these policies in America (although Obama mitigated austerity) and here roughly 70% of council house tenants and 60% of Housing Association tenants voted Leave in the Referendum. Change and a new way forward is desperately needed.

  • I don’t think the critical position is incoherent although the terminology may be. IMHO, what Europe lacks isn’t democracy but legitimacy. Legitimacy needs the consent of the governed and the simple act of holding a low turnout election is not enough to earn it.

    National governments are every bit as democratically elected as the European Parliament. May, Merkel and Hollande have pretty much undisputed consent to govern. Doesn’t it make sense to channel democratic control of the EU through them?

  • ethicsgradient 17th Dec '16 - 2:23pm

    An Excellent article by Katharine.

    It sums up some of the main points of contention of those who are critical of the EU status quo. I would agree that the issue of the Euro and its effects on the European Economy was missed out, but added later through various comments.

    The underlying problems and the solutions to those EU actually converge on the same thing. Becoming a single federated country.

    The democratic deficit, the remoteness from the electorate, the economic problems, the lack of accountability; all get resolved if the EU became a fully integrated single country which regional states.

    However do the demos, the regular voters across Europe want this? I would say not. People seem to like their nation states. So if the solution to the problem does not have popular support can the logical solution to the EU problems ever be pursued?

    Is it even possible to reform the EU institutions in the was we suggest? History tells us it can’t/won’t reform in the way we wish.

    So what happens next? Does the EU just stumble on in some weird limbo existence?

  • Laurence Cox 17th Dec '16 - 2:25pm

    @Simon Shaw

    Juncker only received the support of 12% of the relevant electorate (the EU, not the Parliament). If the EU Parliament had been the House of Commons, he would have been way short of a majority. If before the 2015 General Election, David Cameron and Ed Miliband had announced that they had agreed that whichever of them had most MPs (even though a minority overall) would be PM, how do you suppose that people in this country would have reacted; but that is exactly what the EPP and S&D did.

    It is quite possible that one of the other candidates would have made a better President, but they never had the chance because Juncker and Schultz had stitched it up before anyone had even cast their vote.

  • ethicsgradient 17th Dec '16 - 2:29pm

    @RBH,

    That is a very good point. Yes it is question of legitimacy. I think when I say ‘lack of accountability’ this is exactly what I mean. The clear consent to be governed from a european level.

  • @Sue Sutherland

    “Matt those figures are truly awful. ”

    I agree, they are depressing and I do not see the powers that be, in the EU are either bothered or prepared to do anything about it.
    The Single Currency has never and will never work.

    The EU is quite content to allow youth unemployment to sky rocket in some member states. They see it as a means to cheap migrant labour and to suppress wages in more affluent member states.
    Even the very poor EU member states, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland etc. They are more than happy for things to carry on as they are.
    a) They do not have to pay for their welfare
    b) A significant part of the money being earned abroad is finding it’s way back into their home countries.

    This middle class, Utopian ideal that the EU is so wonderful and all 500 Million Citizens have the freedom to live, work, travel freely among EU member states simply does not match the realities on the ground for most people.

    There are families literally being torn apart because the youth unemployment figures and prospects are so shockingly bad, young men and women are having to leave behind friends, families and communities, in order to find work in other countries. Not out of some Utopian ideal about Freedom and the EU, but out of sheer desperation.

    Kids are being brought up without a parent, because 1 is maybe having to live and work abroad in order to send money home to support their family. The Children, hardly ever seeing their parent.
    The parent, living in overcrowded unfit for habitation accommodation in order to keep down the costs in order save and send as much money home as possible to their families.
    That is the reality of the EU. There is nothing Liberating or Free about it. It is decimating families and exploiting the poorest and Vulnerable.

    The sooner were out the better.

  • @Laurence Cox – You are re-defining what a democratic election is to suit your point. Were we to apply your criteria to our 2015 election, then Cameron should never have been PM as only 24.5% of the electorate voted for the Conservatives. Given that that was under FPTP which operates in large part as an unfair “forced choice” system, it should be obvious that is an overstatement of their actual support. Equally obvious we presumably would not have May as PM since she can’t even claim the “indirect mandate” from the electorate that Cameron could.

    In fact, applying your criteria, how many governments anywhere could claim a democratic mandate at all?

  • Katerina Porter 17th Dec '16 - 6:55pm

    There is always much talk of the need to reform the EU, but what is widely missing is the knowledge of what the EU actually is and does. Since the crash of 2008 the ideology of austerity and reduced state has been general in the West, not just in the Eurozone , and although our unemployment levels are relatively good it has destroyed or badly undermined many of our public institutions. Something which we need to do is clear up Boris Johnson’s fantasy reporting which was so successful for selling newspapers and setting a fashion which has done so much damage over the last 20 years. The points made by Graham Watson in a talk in Chelsea and books by Denis MacShane are full of information on what the EU does and has done.
    Last year I checked one widely accepted comment- the “bloated bureaucracy” of the Commission. The Commission, in effect the EU’s civil service, is about 20,000 strong. If one adds the necessary translators and interpreters so legal documents for instance are accurate in the 14 languages it brings the figure up to about 30,000. I looked up Leicester – it has 14,000, and Edinburgh – 19,000, hardly to be compared to dealing with 28 countries.

  • Most countries have been brought together by force (of arms or other ways) at some time in the past. I find it very difficult to agree with the arguments of RBH, matt, ethicsgradient, jedibeeftrix etc make about “legitimacy”. When we have made voluntary treaty arrangements to work together in a democratic manner. We have had this argument so many times here – as internationalists, surely we accept the idea that we can come together to make laws and regulations to ensure that the world and regions of the world act together to deal with the many issues we share in common? What’s so difficult about that? All the stuff about it being illegitimate to work together, to vote together, rather than sending some (unelected) minister off to negotiate with no mandate, compared to the directly elected mandate of MEPs? Why do people not ask to be disconnected from Westminster – it is in many ways just as remote from our everyday lives. If we speak of subsidiarity, surely there are issues that can be dealt with at various levels of Government, from Parish Council to the UN? Why can’t people accept that they all have legitimate roles, and things that are better governed from a particular level. Representative democracy is supposed to be the best system we have discovered to channel political activity. So why can you not accept it at any level where you need rules / laws etc?

    I am sorry if the Daily Mail etc do not carry regular articles about MEPs activities – except when they are involved in some scandal, but surely this is an issue for our media as much as our politicians.

  • Andrew Tampion 18th Dec '16 - 7:33am

    A good start would be stopping giving the impression that we think that when the UK electorate voted to leave the EU what they were really trying to say in a slightly eccentric way was that they wanted to join the euro, embrace freedom of movement and adopt “ever closer union”. Otherwise we won’t get a hearing.

    Recognise that the EU has taken a wrong path and does indeed need root and bramch reform that will make it unrecognisable from it’s present form.

    Recognise that freedom of movement worked well when all the EU members were at a similar level of economic and political development but that the admission of Eastern European states was a mistake without ensuring the above. Specifically freedom of movement to take up a specific job without a work permit but otherwise only on the same basis as citizens of countries outside the EU. The right to suspend freedom of movement if specified thresholds are exceeded and the right to compensatory payments from the EU to meet the costs of providing hospitals, schools etc again if specified thresholds are exceeded.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Dec '16 - 9:45am

    Hello, everyone, I was pleased to see so many interested and interesting answers, thanks. One of the first posters, Tynan, asked for us to campaign for a reformed, looser co-operative model with a commitment to subsidiarity – echoed on that by Leek Liberal – and it does look to me to be the way ahead. Later Jedibee pointed out that we don’t recognise the EU institutions as representing our interests in a manner that would justify their power, and that seemed right. But I agree with Tim13 that our voluntary acceptance of coming together to make laws gives the system legitimacy, and I point to our shared culture and history – assimilating invaders from the Continent for thousands of years, German-derived Royal family etc. – as a basis for our continuing together.

  • Does anybody in the Lib Dems particularly in the higher echelons know what it’s like to live on JSA or worked at the sharp end of the labour market – know what it’s like to constantly compete for work in areas of higher unemployment? You see people can intellectualise all they like yet the reality is that those at the bottom just see EU migration of entry level jobs as one extra barrier to their own economic sovereignty.

    No one minds people coming here for holidays or on bona fide courses. Most don’t mind people filling the skills gaps in the NHS or IT. Good luck to them! What they mind most of all is that the liberal mindset is overwhelmingly `no borders` meaning a `free for all`. It’s as if Lib Dems don’t regard aspirational British people as as worthy as EU citizens regardless of the internationalism of their outlook. Am I right or am I wrong?

  • James – read Tim Farron’s bio details, for starters.
    The idea Lib Dems are out of touch with ‘real people’ smacks of reverse snobbery.
    Prolier than thou?

  • I have he doesn’t seem to have learned from it. I work in an Amazon warehouse by the way where do you work?

  • Ethicsgradient 18th Dec '16 - 11:58am

    I make a counter argument that the transfer of soverignty/formation of the EU has legitimacy. I will make 2 points.

    1) the donation of ever closer union/soverignty transfer has been voluntary. However all political parties supported EU during the ’86, ’92, 2006 treaties. There was never an option to vote ‘no’. The whole political establishment gave only one choice. I would say this lack of choice is one of the reasons for the growth in euro sceptism, anti-elitism. A voice was not being listened to.

    2) a simple test of legitimacy. Ask people who Is you mep? What region are the representing? Most simply will not know. And not just in this country but across Europe. In reality if there is not a connection between the demos and the representatives then there is something wrong. It is not the presses fault for not running enough good news stories. No the problem is with the system and structure of the EU

  • jedibeeftrix 18th Dec '16 - 12:23pm

    @ Tim13 – “As internationalists, surely we accept the idea that we can come together to make laws and regulations to ensure that the world and regions of the world act together to deal with the many issues we share in common? What’s so difficult about that?”

    Sure we can accept common practice where doing such is helpful. Trade, aid, climate change, etc. Nothing difficult about the principle.

    But that is not really what you are talking about in practice.

    In practice the EU is moving into areas of policy such as taxation and spending, foreign policy and defence, and these are fundamental areas that shape the society we live in, and how we choose to act in the world.

    I know a little VAT harmonisation seems harmless, but what if it is fundamental to the ordering of your tax system? Such as the scandinavian countries, which have quite punative income tax regimes, but balance with high levels of regressive indirect taxation such as VAT.

    I know a little extra financial services regulation seems very sensible, but what if fundamentally alters the business friendly regime you wish to offer? Such as the high-frequency trading markets that have set up shop in London, looking at the imposition of a tobin tax which serves no useful end.

    This a choice that must be decided by [us], so first we must ask who ‘us’ is. We asked that question, and ‘us’ did not include the EU.

  • James> any jobs going? I’m expecting to lose mine in the New Year.

  • Oh just google Amazon jobs turn up at the agency with your documents and you will get a job in October.

  • I’m also expecting to lose mine on Friday btw. This is a good guide for you http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/jean-baptiste-malet-amazon-warehouse

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Dec '16 - 6:35pm

    James, much sense in your views , agree with Cassie B, the party and members not the problem, the Amazon’s are !

    To you both , what field of endeavour are you in or aiming for ?

  • Hi Lorenzo, kind of you to ask.
    Mainly focussed on fighting my corner at the moment, but the odds are worse than previous culls I’ve survived, so hard to be optimistic.
    Next point of call if I lose will be Careers Wales, I think, as I haven’t got a clue what to do after!

  • Jedi
    Personally, I see no problem with a Tobin Tax, and I will have supported the idea many times on LDV, I am sure. But isn’t the point, not whether or not you support particular policy proposals, in which you can be defeated regularly at whatever democratic level you choose (a very wise old Council Chief Exec I knew once said “that is the point about democracy – you more often lose out than win!”) The point, surely, is where it is sensible to set the locus for decision-making on any particular topic? If we have an issue – could be climate change, could be exploitation and inequality exacerbated by tax havens or quite a lot of others – which crosses national boundaries, then surely it makes sense to have an international locus of action? Hopefully this would avoid conflicting actions? All I am saying is that if we have a democratic basis for such an international locus (eg the EP) at least people can express through their votes their feelings. It just seems counterproductive if there are many locuses of decision and action and they all cancel each other out! Could that be the meaning of “take back control”?

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Dec '16 - 9:14am

    Tim13 – ‘The point, surely, is where it is sensible to set the locus for decision-making on any particular topic?’ (and jedibeeftrix)

    Well…superficially that’s attractive.

    The article, and some of the comments, seem to me to fall into the usual internet trap of throwing the word, ‘democracy,’ around like confetti and thinking it’s a set of procedures where elected = good. But there is little to no real democracy in the process of government. Government and politics are not the same thing. Being elected does not mean everything you do is right. Indeed if I said what I think about some of my elected Councillors LDV would probably ban me for life.

    Instead of thinking about democracy, think constitutionalism. That is the real problem, I think, with the EU. What we have seen is governments, in a democratic framework, sign up to ever more open-ended, permanently binding arrangements. That may have been done in a democratic framework, but it’s a significant constitutional matter. At its most basic those governments have signed away powers that were not theirs to give away.

    And the open ended nature of the EU means this permanent outsourcing of powers gets ever bigger and ever wider, as jedibeeftrix rightly points out.

    If TTIP had gone through and a future, say, elected Corbyn government had wanted to leave would that government have been able to do so realistically? Eastern EU states have balked at taking large numbers of non-EU nationals under quotas. It does not seem unreasonable to point out that they didn’t obviously sign up to that. Italy now is showing that current governments are bound by the agreements their predecessors signed upto on banking. Yes, it may all be in a treaty signed by an elected person in some form and yes there is inevitably a neofunctionalist effect, not understood by governments I think.

    But what sets the EU apart to my mind is the open-ended and effectively binding deal here. That is a big problem. Whether one regards that as a matter of democracy or constitutionalism doesn’t matter all that much. ‘Take back control,’ might have been glib, but the underlying constitutional questions were very real.

    Having decision-making on certain well-defined issues that cross national borders is, indeed, sensible. But I don’t think that needs the rest of the open-ended and permanently binding EU political construct. At least not in its current form.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Dec '16 - 9:40am

    Katharine Pindar – ‘our voluntary acceptance of coming together to make laws gives the system legitimacy.’

    I take the point that you make and outside of the fire-and-brimstone of the internet and media comment pages most people, I think would recognise that there are inevitably areas where coming together makes sense. I’m even open to the argument that some things would me MORE legitimate when done beyond the state.

    But that is simply not what we have. We can argue about the wisdom of some EU thinking. After all for example, why exactly should Italian small investors be exempt from bail-ins because Italy has always had a, ‘different,’ system. What did the Greeks think they were agreeing to when they joined the Euro?

    The difference I think is that, ‘conventional,’ laws are not binding on successors where the EU in practice is. Add to that the open-ended deal and this is something different.

    Indeed, all 28 EU members signed a treaty with an explicit clause allowing states to leave yet the activation of that explicit right seems to have made some throw up their hands in horror and talk about punishment.

    I agree with your point that supranationalism is not necessarily illegitimate – but there really is more to the EU and the referendum, and the figures in your article, suggest to me that it can’t really be glossed over.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Dec '16 - 1:47pm

    Hi, folks, having computer problems so this is just testing whether I can comment again.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Dec '16 - 2:08pm

    Hello again! When I was cut off I had tried to write to Ethics (hi!) to say I had liked your trying to find the legitimacy of the EU, reminding us that all parties had backed the various treaties; and obviously there has just been too much complacency in all the parties, including ours. As Sue S. wrote here, way back, it seems we need as a party to have proposals for a better EU. Little Jackie, I have just caught up with your useful posts, thank you, and take your point about the ever-more binding effectively permanent arrangements being a real problem. It does sound as if radical reform is needed, with a scaling-back of central remits, and practical subsidiarity. I wonder if the party will take this on board? I will try and spread the word.

  • Ethicsgradient 20th Dec '16 - 1:06am

    Glad you were able post Katharine. I think there has some good responses to your article. Over this and past EU related articles I am glad that some of the reasons people voted to leave has been elucidated and it wasn’t just a nationistic reactionary vote it is sometimes presented as (certainly it is beyond the idea, leavers did not understand what they voted for). I wish you well with broadening out the EU debate and shaping an eEU reform agenda.

  • LJP
    I am sure there are many constitutional points could be made on “ever closer union” etc, but the idea, which we did sign up to in 1972, was that that commitment was to bind in (particularly large) states in Europe to prevent future European wars breaking out. There had from the beginning, a tendency for British exceptionalism to come through, even from the time of the famous Churchill quote, encouraging the concept, but suggesting that Britain would be a supporter, but not a member! Certainly my vote in the 70s, and I am sure many other long-time Liberals here voted to bind us in also. As a country who over many centuries has taken part as a participant in most European wars, there seems no doubt that that was to have been a desirable outcome.

    I have no doubt that the constitution and the institutional arrangements of the EU are not perfect, and they certainly will not suit everybody. I also do not think that we should centralise all topics. I do, however, think that most of the reforms needed (certainly in this country) are in the direction of more commonly shared powers, less opt outs, and particularly in the fields of economy, fiscal initiatives, and foreign and defence policy should be more harmonised. I recognise this is a huge debate, but I do think we have all been pulled on to this idea that the “EU currently has too much power, is ruled by unelected bureaucrats and needs reform”.

    I fully endorse your comment about being elected not meaning you are always right, and have had some notable conflicts over the years to oppose people who were elected and try to stop damaging behaviour by them! I do believe in properly (written!) drafted constitutions to “bind in” (those words again) elected people to try to ensure they stick to commonly held guidelines and rules.

    If you are going to operate any federal, confederal, or other decentralised system, sometimes you have to accept that others within other parts of the system will make decisions you don’t like very much. I don’t know the origin of your Italian investor example, but clearly bringing together players, whether they be countries or individuals, will mean some level of exceptionalism – consider the UK Government’s approach to tax havens, and its obstruction of changes which would make it less easy to salt money away in low-tax administrations! Something very damaging to all countries’ tax base, and therefore to our public services and support to vulnerable people.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Dec '16 - 6:54pm

    Tim 13: in launching this debate, it was plain to everyone I guess that I had no specialised knowledge myself, but has drawn out and wanted to draw out the thinking of remainers and leavers alike, and I am glad that this has happened. But I want there to be progress, and I must admit that I am not clear on what reforms you yourself would like to see our party putting forward. You are right I am sure to point out the basic security reasons for the EU’s foundation, which are of course still compelling, but ‘British exceptionalism’ has now taken over, and so far from just rejecting a federal states of Europe (which I feel sure will never happen) and a common currency, a majority would seem to want fewer powers for the centre now, less of a sense as LJP has put it of ever-more binding permanent arrangements, and then perhaps also a capacity for continuing change, so that leaving isn’t the only option. What do you think?

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