LibLink: Charles Kennedy – European ‘federalism’ isn’t what you’ve been told it is

European Union flags - Some rights reserved by tristam sparksDoes ‘federal’ imply superstate, or would a federal Europe be one of ‘nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary’? This is the question Charles Kennedy addresses in the Guardian.

What struck me more than ever was the extent to which the political meaning of federalism has been twisted and caricatured out of all recognition in what passes for British political debate on matters European these days. The true (continental as well as North American) definition was well summed up by Andreas Gross, the Swiss socialist under whose name the report was published. I doubt that even the most arch-Tory Eurosceptic could take exception to his front-cover summation: “Rather than constituting a model for an ever closer political union or a European state, federalism implies a process of balancing power in a differentiated political order which enables unity while guaranteeing diversity.”

So we see some demanding greater subsidiarity in the name of federalism, and others – largely in the UK – demanding greater subsidiarity in the name of opposing federalism. Hadn’t we ought to be able to agree on the subsidiarity?

The apparent argument between Britain and the rest of Europe is like an argument between two ships passing in the night – the same word means, politically, utterly contradictory things. It renders rational discussion of the European dimension within UK politics well-nigh impossible.

Read the whole thing here.

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39 Comments

  • Federalism is a great idea, in theory, but in practice it is very different. The practice of it is ever-increasing power grabs by Brussels. The principle of subsidiarity is barely given lip service.

    When have self-proclaimed federalists ever made significant proposals to give up any powers they already hold?

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jul '14 - 9:27am

    RC

    Federalism is a great idea, in theory, but in practice it is very different. The practice of it is ever-increasing power grabs by Brussels.

    For example?

    Look, I keep putting this question, but I have had very little in the way of response. If there have been “ever increasing power grabs” in the way you and others claim, by now there would be loads of actual things that “Brussels ” is doing that the people of this country would be getting angry about. So name half a dozen of them or so. If what you say is true, that should be easy.

    If what you say is true, then political talk in this country would be about these things that “Brussels” is doing. But it isn’t, is it? Brussels isn’t privatising the NHS. Brussels isn’t throwing people out of their homes with the “bedroom” tax. Brussels isn’t trebling university tuition fees. These are the actual things that people talk about when they get angry with government.

  • “Brussels isn’t privatising the NHS. Brussels isn’t throwing people out of their homes with the “bedroom” tax. Brussels isn’t trebling university tuition fees. These are the actual things that people talk about when they get angry with government.”

    Clearly those aren’t areas related to the EU, are they, so why bring them up in a discussion over subsidiarity? They are mostly to do with trying to find ways to cut spending and solve our huge budget deficit, dealing with which is never going to be popular, is it? And they are also to do with our own rotten voting system which swindles the Lib Dems out of parliamentary power, giving the Tories more influence than they deserve.

    However, Brussels has tried to stop us limiting benefit payments to non-UK citizens, which is something people get angry about, isn’t it?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/plan-to-cut-child-benefit-paid-to-eu-migrants-will-be-vetoed-says-brussels-9054566.html

    They have also tried to exert power over our financial sector through regulation which may be harmful to our interests. While the sector needs better regulation, the EU isn’t the best body to do it. Furthermore, it has imposed the financial transactions tax with consequential negative effects on the UK financial services sector.

    The EU also trying to usurp the prerogative of nation states in areas like foreign policy and defence and have sought (but failed) to control the UK’s national budget.

    While federalists may not have been as successful as they may have hoped in accumulating further powers over nation states, it is not for want of trying.

  • Sean O'Curneen 4th Jul '14 - 10:21am

    Great to see this article by Charles Kennedy. To those of us who are federalist and understand what it means, it is truly baffling to see how it is constantly (mis)used in the UK political discourse to mean exactly the opposite!

  • David Allen 4th Jul '14 - 10:30am

    “Brussels has tried to stop us limiting benefit payments to non-UK citizens”

    Yes, but if Stentoria limits benefits payments to immigrants from Ugonia, but then kicks up a great fuss when Stentorian immigrants starve on the streets of Ugonia because the appalling Ugonian government will not pay them benefits, Europe as a whole suffers and nasty rows between Europe’s members fester. Brussels is there to set uniform rules for all and thus to avoid conflict. UKIP paint a rosy picture of how easy it would be to get along with our European neighbours outside of the EU. In reality it would be a recipe for countless niggling conflicts. Brussels takes it on the chin for its work to avoid these conflicts. The ref is never the most popular guy on the pitch, but things would be a lot worse if he wasn’t there!

  • @ David Allen

    “Brussels is there to set uniform rules for all”

    I rest my case.

  • Off the subject but one or two better local election results this week. Are we over the very worst. .

  • Yes, but if Stentoria limits benefits payments to immigrants from Ugonia, but then kicks up a great fuss when Stentorian immigrants starve on the streets of Ugonia because the appalling Ugonian government will not pay them benefits, Europe as a whole suffers and nasty rows between Europe’s members fester

    Has anyone ever demanded that France pay British immigrants benefits? Indeed do British immigrants in France get paid benefits?

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jul '14 - 11:20am

    “Brussels isn’t privatising the NHS.”

    Perhaps not directly, but if TTIP (the EU-US free trade agreement) goes ahead with the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism unchanged, then foreign companies running NHS agencies will be able to sue our government in an external tribunal should any future UK government seek to roll back NHS privatisation, or if it refuses to enact further privatisation. This system of corporate sovereignty (where foreign investors have more rights than domestic businesses) is absolutely unacceptable, as is the secrecy under which trade agreements are negotiated generally.
    This is not an argument against the EU, but an argument for reining in our trade negotiators, who may be trying to write into trade agreements policy that they know full well they would not be able to pass if they could not say that their hands are tied by this or that trade agreement (policy laundering).

  • @ Mattew Huntbach
    “For example?
    Look, I keep putting this question, but I have had very little in the way of response.”
    How about this for EU effects on the UK?
    Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26th April 1099 on the Landfill of Waste.
    This directive dictates that the spoil from dredged rivers have to be re- categorized as toxic waste, and must therefore be put into appropriate (expensive!), landfill. This directive thus drives up the costs of dredging for the Environment Agency, which in turn means that they reduced their program of dredging rivers, which in turn contributed to the flooding fiasco in Somerset last Winter.
    And as far as I can tell the directive does not ask that the spoil is actually checked for toxicity. It is simply assumed to be so, under their new (EU directive !!?), classification.
    Perhaps we should send Brussels the bill for repairing the damage caused by their hapless dabbling in our affairs?

  • jedibeeftrix 4th Jul '14 - 1:27pm

    “It should be nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary.”

    That is all terribly twee, Charles, but monetary policy is within the power of the ECB for eurozone nations, and as part of the post euro crisis convergence it looks increasingly likely that fiscal powers will go the same way as rules on taxation and spending are harmonised. Regulatory control is likewise being ceded to the ecb via the tools of the EBU.

    These things being subject to QMV.

    Is this something you would advocate for Britain as part of ‘sensible’ federalism?

    No…. Maybe not. But even if we reject that, can you tell me having the ECB ‘manage’ consensus on these matters on behalf of eurozone nations, as it has said it intends to do, will not become a caucus that overrides any possibility that Britain can reject elements it does not want for itself?

    No, you cannot. No one can promise this under the current settlement. So do not presume to tell me that we are having a pointless semantic debate of little practical consequence.

  • British emigrants living elsewhere in the EU are entitled to support from the benefit systems of those countries

    Okay, that’s the second question. However, I do doubt that there would be a big outcry if France stopped paying benefits to those ex-patriots; I rather suspect the general British public’s attitude in that situation would be, ‘Well it’s their own fault for emigrating.’

    Sympathy would, I suspect, not be forthcoming.

    On top of which, immigrants from the EU pay far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and other public spending.

    On aggregate, yes. But wouldn’t the net figure be even better if they weren’t paid benefits, but still paid taxes?

  • Dav,

    this Daily Mail article has a summary of what Brit’s are entitled to across the EU http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2468189/Dont-mention-ze-dole-One-tenth-Britains-expat-population-claiming-23-000-unemployment-payments-Germany-benefits-Europe-revealed.html.

    This is the whole idea of free movement – you can work and live anywhere in the EU and participate in the social insurance schemes that are there to provide a safety net for all.

  • This is the whole idea of free movement – you can work and live anywhere in the EU and participate in the social insurance schemes that are there to provide a safety net for all

    Right, but the point is that, contrary to the assertion that ‘if Stentoria limits benefits payments to immigrants from Ugonia, but then kicks up a great fuss when Stentorian immigrants starve on the streets of Ugonia because the appalling Ugonian government will not pay them benefits’, I do not believe that Britain would kick up a fuss if other EU nations stopped paying benefits to those ex-pats (provided that Britain also stopped paying benefits to citizens of other EU nations at the same time, so it was fair).

    The tone of that article, after all, from headline on down, is not so much ‘look how good it is that we are in the EU and these ex-pats can claim benefits’ but ‘look at these chancers living off the German taxpayer’.

    Do you really think there would be a massive outcry in Britain if British ex-pats stopped being paid benefits by foreign states, as part of a reciprocal deal which say foreign citizens in the UK having benefit payments stopped too?

    (Obviously there would be an outcry if foreign states stopped paying British ex-pats benefits but Britain kept on paying benefits to foreign citizens, on the grounds of fairness, but no one would propose that).

  • I am delighted that a long last a senior Lib Dem is taking the question of language and what words mean seriously. Generally speaking it’s an excellent article but I disagree on a few points.

    Firstly, the idea of having some sort of “Queensbury Rules” governing the meaning of words just isn’t going to work. The meaning of words is quite beyond the control of any politician. King Canute would have understood this.

    Then there is what Brussels has actually been doing. It’s all very well to quote Andreas Gross, “Rather than constituting a model for an ever closer political union or a European state, federalism implies a process of balancing power … “ but the EU establishment has consistently pushed towards “ever-greater union” giving the lie to claims about subsidiarity which were only ever window-dressing anyway. RC makes this point in the first comment on this thread.

    To compound all this there is the invariable Lib Dem cheer-leading for anything EU which signifies an unwillingness to rein in Brussels if/when it oversteps the mark. That is prima facie evidence of a push towards a more centralised EU.

    There is a perennial Lib Dem belief that convincing the voters about the “facts” is what matters, whether the facts in question are about the dictionary meaning of a word or about what particular directives do or don’t say. This is mistaken. Facts are like pebbles on a beach; there are millions of them and anyone can pick up and use just the few they want which is exactly what ALL politicians do every day. Voters actually respond to emotional connections, to a perspective that is close to their own and to a vision of a better tomorrow. On Europe the Lib Dems have only ever offered a relentless grind towards more centralised, opaque and unaccountable bureaucracy coupled with vague but blood-curdling warnings about the alternative. The voters’ verdict is all too clear.

    So, my suggestion would be to give up on trying to push back the tide defend the original meaning of “federalism” and use other clearer words like “devolve powers” and “pool powers” but – and this is clearly crucial – they must be placed into a proper context (which Lib Dems don’t yet have) of a vision of the sort of EU we want or people will conclude that these new words also mean something different that the established dictionary meaning – a conclusion UKIP and others will actively foster.

  • Dav,

    a lot of the Brits in Spain and France are retirees getting their social and medical care in those countries. Most of the Europeans here are working age and paying the taxes we need to cover pensions and social benefits here.

    We also get a lot of trained doctors, nurses and other skilled migrants that have had their education and training paid for by foreign states.

    Why look a gift horse in the mouth.? If all the retired Brits in France and Spain start coming back to the UK because European countries will no longer cover their social and medical care costs, how does that help anyone?

    UK immigrants have to be resident here for three months before they can be eligible for out-of-work benefits. That’s probably a sensible policy and in line with Germany, France and Italy.

  • Richard Dean 4th Jul '14 - 4:16pm

    If people don’t understand what federalism means, it’s not the people’s fault, it’s the fault of the politicians who have not bothered to explain it. So it’s welcome news that one of them has realized that politicians have a duty to explain themselves in a democratic society, and is doing something about it. Perhaps MEPs could do more explaining too?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 4th Jul '14 - 5:46pm

    @ John Dunn,

    I’m intrigued by your suggestion, as I am aware that the Harwich Haven Authority, which is responsible for keeping the port of Felixstowe dredged for the use of the biggest container vessels in existence, takes its spoil out to sea and spreads it there.

    Might it be the case that you are not entirely accurate in this instance?

  • My thanks to Matthew Huntbach who asked the question which has bothered me for a long time. We have had a series of answers. The benefits answer was shot down and the dredging landfill challenged without response. Isn’t it amazing that the Europhobes demanding the return of our sovereignty never seem to specify precisely which bits. Obviously the issue of the City of London will be on everyone’s lips at the doorstep.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '14 - 10:40am

    GF

    To compound all this there is the invariable Lib Dem cheer-leading for anything EU which signifies an unwillingness to rein in Brussels if/when it oversteps the mark. That is prima facie evidence of a push towards a more centralised EU.

    Nonsense.

    What you and others who say this sort of thing mean is that the Liberal Democrats do not take the default position that the EU is our enemy and everything it does is bad. I am just fed up with this. I am fed up with this constant accusation that anyone who does not pour abuse on the EU at every opportunity is somehow an uncritical supporter of everything it does. There is a HUGE range of possible positions between the sort of lazy “EU is all bad” line that dominates press coverage in this country, and what you are accusing the Liberal Democrats of being.

    It seems to me there’s a big gap between the claims put the anti-EU people such as RC in the first message here, and the actuality. When asked to justify their claims there’s always the same few issues brought up, which seem to me to be a bit random and rather far removed from the idea that most state power that used to reside in Westminster has gone to Brussels. It doesn’t mean I think all those things the anti-EU people raise are things where the EU has done well, though also we have the problem that these people’s anti-EU mania means it can be hard to see the reality behind what they are saying.

    The problem for me is that I feel the anti-EU side is so biased that I cannot believe anything they say. The gap between the reality of the Liberal Democrats taking a fairly pragmatic and certainly not uncritical position on the EU as it is presently constituted, and GF’s words about “cheerleading anything EU” is an illustration of this. Part of the issue, it seems to me, is that because what the EU does is actually quite limited so most people in the UK aren’t particularly aware of it, it’s easy to whip people up into a frenzy about it because people don’t have the knowledge to be able to judge whether the anti-EU attacks are realistic or not. As I keep saying, if the EU was really the massive oppressive things that its opponents claims, wouldn’t the people of the UK be able to put forward many example of its oppressive behaviour, wouldn’t actual things it is doing be major topics of conversation here?

    So I am driven to be more pro-EU than I might otherwise be because of this cacophony of anti-EU stuff coming from the right-wing press in this country. I can’t help thinking that if those papers who I know print outrageously biased stuff in favour of the party of big money are so against the EU, then it must be a good thing. I can’t help noticing that the driving force underneath the anti-EU mania, which is hardly mentioned in the anti-EU stuff produced for the plebs but is talked about much more at the elite end, is opposition to the idea of international collaboration to challenge the way big money can now push nation states around, playing one off against another, as we are forced to kow-tow to the big global bosses out of fear they’ll take their money away from us. I can’t help noticing that the mainstream political right in the rest of Europe takes a VERY different approach on this than does the political right here – which suggests to me that the political right here (I mean in economic terms) is very, very right-wing indeed.

    So, while the anti-EU people make a big claim about being all in favour of UK independence and against domination by outside forces, it seems to me that underneath they’re part of that movement which we now know is being handsomely funded by assorted Russian plutocrats, Bahrainis and the like. Why are they so interested in pushing our country in a particular political direction? How come the supposed defenders of UK independence have nothing to say about control of our country being bought up bit by bit as it is privatised and big foreign money comes in and buys it up?

    Oh no, let’s not talk about that. Let’s instead talk about the EU and the threat to our independence it is imposing due to some obscure ruling on waste disposal.

  • Hear hear, Matthew. I can’t count the times I have had this type of argument with people, down from the local UKIP agent, through europhobe tories, our own phobes (yes, I am afraid we have them, and racists) to non-political people on the doorstep who have read too much redtops or Torygraph.

  • Part of the issue, it seems to me, is that because what the EU does is actually quite limited so most people in the UK aren’t particularly aware of it

    If what it does is so limited, if it’s honestly not trying to become a super-government of a federal state in Europe along the lines of the USA, then why does it need a hugely expensive Parliament to do it?

    I will believe you that the EU is only interested in being a trade organisation and has no ambitions to replace national governments as the highest level of sovereignty when it abolishes the Parliament.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Jul '14 - 4:10pm

    @Dav: So you’d rather EU laws were made only by unelected bureaucrats with no input from democratically elected parliamentarians?

  • So you’d rather EU laws were made only by unelected bureaucrats with no input from democratically elected parliamentarians

    No, I’d rather (1) the EU didn’t make any laws, it stuck to its function of specifying such regulations and standards as are necessary for the functioning of a free trade area, and (b) those regulations and standards were made by representatives of the democratically elected parliaments of the member states (which are actually democratically elected, rather than the farce that is trying to pretend there is a single ‘European election’).

  • Matthew Huntbach

    “What you and others who say this sort of thing mean is that the Liberal Democrats do not take the default position that the EU is our enemy and everything it does is bad. I am just fed up with this. I am fed up with this constant accusation that anyone who does not pour abuse on the EU at every opportunity is somehow an uncritical supporter of everything it does.

    This is a complete strawman argument. You infer, quite wrongly and based on no evidence I can see, what you suppose I must mean and then go on to attack that.

    For the record, and to be absolutely clear, I am very much a supporter of the EU but that doesn’t mean that I think everything it does is right anymore than I think that about the Westminster government. The point you object to was about “if/when it oversteps the mark” and what was actually in my mind when I wrote that was the introduction of the euro which was, in my opinion, a very big overstepping. You may or may not agree but either way it’s not about hostility to Europe as you imagine. I am not and never was ideologically opposed to it as such but the euro project from the outset owed far too much to naïve enthusiasm. It was too much too soon and without the proper institutional framework which, as we have seen, has turned into a disaster for much of ‘southern’ Europe.
    What is so particularly galling about this is that it wasn’t even terribly difficult to spot that the design of the euro was fundamentally flawed; I did and so did lots of others so why not the Lib Dems? Had we done so we would have done much of Europe a huge favour (although in a parallel universe where it never existed that might not have been appreciated).

    For what it’s worth I agree with you that much of the opposition to the EU comes from the big-money hard-right camp but they also use it when it suits them. As it happens there is a biggie in exactly this category coming down the track which they are actively pushing, the TTIP and TISA trade agreements which the EU is negotiating with the US. Actually, I think it’s the member states that are pushing them rather than the EU but the EU is heading up the talks and so it’s the EU which will take the blame when people twig what’s at stake. These represent a MASSIVE transfer of power away from the democratic sphere into that of big money and once again the Lib Dems are on the wrong side of this without any debate worth mentioning. What is one to conclude?

  • Paul in Wokingham 8th Jul '14 - 6:59pm

    @GF – quite. The internal pressures within the Eurozone continue. The Bundesbank currently has €460 billion outstanding TARGET2 claims right now – essentially money owed by other Eurozone central banks to Germany – and yet we are constantly advised that the Eurozone crisis is over. Equally unreported in the UK is the ongoing collapse of significant parts of the Austrian banking sector led by Erste Bank (although the markets caught up with that in today’s equity bloodbath). The cause of Erste’s woes? Bad loans to Eastern countries – especially Bulgaria – which is now experiencing PIIGS-like issues as it ties its currency to the Euro and sacrifices control ofof its own monetary policy. A bad currency that is causing Fisherite debt-deflation for some, propped up by obscure intra central-bank settlement systems that have racked up eye-watering imbalances.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jul '14 - 8:59am

    A “single market” is not the same thing as a “free trade area”, and functioning of such an entity proper requires common rules and laws. And these need to be made and scrutinised democratically, by directly elected and accountable representatives, rather than laundered through back-room deals among bureaucrats. And no, the involvement of national governments in the Council does not count as democratic scrutiny, because (i) ministers are not directly elected, (ii) it’s often a civil servant rather than a minister who puts the country’s position, (iii) there is no guarantee that the government position has been scritinised by the national parliament, and (iv) it’s no good (for instance) if you are a centre-left voter in a country with a centre-right government (whereas you would probably still have centre-left MEPs in your electoral region).

  • A “single market” is not the same thing as a “free trade area”, and functioning of such an entity proper requires common rules and laws

    Rules and standards, yes; laws no.

    Rules like ‘all electrical appliances must be double-insulated’, or ‘all food additives must be certified safe’ or ‘bananas must bend no more than this amount’, yes, those are needed for a single market. That’s what a single market means, a single set of rules and standards.

    Laws about how long people are allowed to work, or whether to have a minimum wage and at what level, no. How is that any business of the EU’s? The EU’s job is to set the standards for goods and services. It is not to poke its nose into how individual nations want to go about meeting those standards.

    (i) ministers are not directly elected,

    Yes they are; they are directly elected to Parliament.

    They are then appointed as Ministers by the government, which was elected.

    (ii) it’s often a civil servant rather than a minister who puts the country’s position,

    Under instruction, presumably, from the democratically-elected government, no?

    (iii) there is no guarantee that the government position has been scritinised by the national parliament,

    Why does that matter? The government was elected democratically in order to put these international positions. Parliament is the legislature, it scrutinises legislation, not foreign policy positions.

    (iv) it’s no good (for instance) if you are a centre-left voter in a country with a centre-right government (whereas you would probably still have centre-left MEPs in your electoral region)

    You might as well say it’s no good for a Conservative voter in a safe Labour seat. That’s how democracy works.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jul '14 - 8:53pm

    @Dav: What exactly is the difference between “rules and standards” and “laws”? To have a rule saying “all electrical appliances must be double-insulated”, or whatever, you need a LAW to say that. To try to say this doesn’t involve legislation is splitting hairs.
    What regulations are and are not required in a single market is subjective, and depends on what you think is most important politically,. So whether there should be EU laws about working time or minimum wage is a legitimate political question , and one that I think should be considered by an EU-wide democratically elected legislature.
    Of course it matters that government positions are not always scrutinised by national parliaments. We elect PARLIAMENT, not the government. MPs are elected as MPs, not as ministers, meaning that they are not directly accountable to the electorate for their work as ministers. And the practice of appointing ministers from Parliament is how we do things in this country, but there’s no constitutional requirement for this, and it’s not necessarily how things are done in other countries. Where is the accountability there?
    Whether you call them “rules” or “laws”, they are matters of legislation, and certainly not foreign policy or anything else that the executive can decide without consulting parliament. This is what happens with many free trade agreements, and what is worse is that the negotiations for those happen in secret. This is not made acceptable by the governments on whose behalf they are being negotiated coming from elected parliaments. We need proper direct parliamentary scrutiny of legislative proposals. I find your idea that the EU should not be directly democratically accountable because that would make it too powerful, bizarre.

  • Oh look, as if on cue:

    What is wrong with being in the EU? Well, an ECJ ruling on an area that has nothing to do with the EU (seriously, why on Earth should the EU be involved in data retention laws? How has that anything to do with a single market?) has caused Parliament this week to have to rush through legislation.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jul '14 - 2:10pm

    @Dav: You clearly haven’t a clue what this ECJ ruling is about, you have just seen “EU” and “ECJ” and assume they are somehow to blame without making the slightest attempt at finding out what the issue is actually about. For your information, the ECJ ruling struck down the EU Data Retention Directive, which required ISPs to retain user telecoms data (you know, phone calls, emails etc) for a set time. This is the ECJ saying that the EU was wrong to pass the law in question. In general, governments rather like data retention and surveillance, so they (including ours) were rather quick in transcribing this directive into law.

    Therefore, this ruling means that our law does need to be changed. However, there is absolutely NO NEED for the government to rush emergency legislation through Parliament. It is not the EU that is forcing a quick timetable on changing our law, it is our OWN GOVERNMENT that is CHOOSING to rush the change in law to avoid public scrutiny, as the government wants to continue to practice surveillance on its citizens as much as it thinks it can get away with.

  • What exactly is the difference between “rules and standards” and “laws”? To have a rule saying “all electrical appliances must be double-insulated”, or whatever, you need a LAW to say that.

    Rules and standards are things where, if your product doesn’t meet them, you can’t sell it.

    Laws are things where, if you break them, you can be fined, put in prison, or taken to civil court.

    Or another way of thinking about it: rule ans standards govern products and services, laws govern people’s behaviour.

    The EU should have no say in how we govern our behaviour; all the EU should be concerned with is setting standard that our products must meet. It is not business of the EU’s how those product are produced (for instance, how many hours the people who made them worked, or what they were paid for each of those hours); only that the end result meets the standards.

    So whether there should be EU laws about working time or minimum wage is a legitimate political question , and one that I think should be considered by an EU-wide democratically elected legislature.

    Why? Why do you think that how Germans or Greeks vote should have any influence over what the minimum wage, or the maximum working hours, are in this country? Surely how many hours Germans are allowed to work is a matter for Germans and Germans alone? What business is it of mine how much Italians are paid?

    We elect PARLIAMENT, not the government

    I don’t know about you, but I elect the government. I cast my vote for whichever party I want to form the government, whichever leader I want to be Prime Minister. So do most people who bother to vote. If you don’t, you are very odd.

    I find your idea that the EU should not be directly democratically accountable because that would make it too powerful, bizarre.

    That’s not my argument. My argument is that the EU should not be directly democratically accountable because you can’t have democracy without a demos, and there is no ‘European nationality’ like there are German, French, Polish, Irish and British nationality, and the Great Lie of trying to create one by pretending there already was one has failed.

  • For your information, the ECJ ruling struck down the EU Data Retention Directive, which required ISPs to retain user telecoms data (you know, phone calls, emails etc) for a set time. This is the ECJ saying that the EU was wrong to pass the law in question.

    But my point is that that law should have been made at national, not EU, level to begin with, and therefore the ECJ should not have been able to shut it down and this legislation would not have to be rushed through.

    (As I understand it it does have to be rushed through in order to stop legal challenges which may lead to the ISPs destroying data: the longer the delay the more chance that data will be lost because of challenges.)

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jul '14 - 5:23pm

    I see. So you think it’s acceptable for a government to rush legislation through in order to avoid any proper scrutiny of its proposal, and to prevent people from effectively challenging its legislation in case it is exposed as legally unsound. No, the legislation does NOT have to be rushed through, except that the government wants to make sure that no-one gets the chance to scrutinise it.

    And what on earth makes you think I necessarily support an EU-wide minimum wage. As it happens, I ain’t persuaded of the sense of such a proposal, for various reasons (mainly because it would be too rigid in a Europe where the economics of different regions vary enormously). Your “Why haven’t you stopped beating your wife” question on this shows that you only see two modes when it comes to the EU: pro-EU (which means uncritical support of any EU-level legislation) and anti. Well, it’s more complicated than that. There are political differences about what SPECIFIC PROPOSALS for directives should look like. Deal with it.

  • So you think it’s acceptable for a government to rush legislation through in order to avoid any proper scrutiny of its proposal, and to prevent people from effectively challenging its legislation in case it is exposed as legally unsound

    No, I think in this case it’s acceptable to rush through legislation because a delay could quite easily lead to data whihc may be useful in future criminal investigations being deleted.

    Imagine a bomb goes off in Newry next month (not that far-fetched, given that one destined to be set off somewhere north of the border was found and disarmed back in May). A dozen people are killed. Within a few weeks, some possible suspects are identified…

    … but because of this ruling, the telecoms company had started deleting data after the billing period and so their mobile telephone traces cannot be used to plot their movements and put them at the scene, and neither can their call history be used to find their co-conspirators.

    You think that would be acceptable? I don’t. So if legislation has to be rushed throuh to stop that happeneing, then legislation has to be rushed through.

    And what on earth makes you think I necessarily support an EU-wide minimum wage

    The problem isn’t whether you happen to support or oppose that particular idea, it’s that you even think it’s an area which the EU should be considering.

    It doesn’t matter that you personally would vote against the EU mandating that all EU states have a minimum wage: the point is that the EU has no business even considering the question. You simply should not get a vote on whether there is required to be a minimum wage in Hungary, even if you yourself would vote against the requirement.

    And that’s the problem with the EU: it gives Britons a vote on what regulations govern working conditions in Poland. This is something they should not have. It doesn’t matter whether they defend themselves by saying that they themselves would vote against the proposal: the point is that they have no standing or authority to address the question in the first place.

    Whether Poland has a minimum wage law at all, and at what level it is set, is a matter for Poles and no one else.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jul '14 - 7:34pm

    You’ve obviously bought into the government’s excuse for rushing through surveillance legislation without any opportunity for proper scrutiny. I, however, believe that any attempt by the government to grab power to snoop over peole should be properly scrutinised, otherwise you are putting the government above the law. Anyway there is already at least one thread on this blog to discuss the data retention law, so if you want to discuss it, then do so there. But whatever you think of it, the EU is NOT to blame for the rushing of legislation, since the ECJ did not mandate such a tight timetable for changing the law. It is OUR GOVERNMENT that is choosing to do that, in order to avoid accountability. And you think that is acceptable.
    Your distinction between “rules and standards” and “laws” is irrelevant (even if it was valid, which it isn’t) as both require legislation, and I would expect that to be shaped by a directly elected legislature, whether in the UK or the EU. I do not want standards to be decided solely by civil servants and not voted on in Parliament (something that unfortunately happens too often in the UK, as it did when the UK government decreed that e-cigs should be regulated as medicines, so that they would only be available in pharmaceis (whereas the European Parliament voted for a more light-touch regulatory approach ). Incidentally, the EU does not usually make “laws” directly; it makes directives which national governments have to adapt into their own laws, and they often have considerable leeway in doing so.
    And on the minimum wage, well I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that; I think that in a single market with free movement of goods, services and people the question of common employment rights and working conditions is a legitimate one, in the same way as we need common standards for products, or intellectual property law, or competition law, or consumer protection. This does not necessarily mean that I agree with the EU’s current rules or proposals on such things, just with the principle that these are legitimate EU competencies. On the other hand, I would not expect the EU to have any say on national education, healthcare, welfare or local government policy, and surprise surprise, you will find it has none.
    The claim that there is no common EU demos makes no sense; you could just as well argue that there is no UK demos since one part of the country votes for completely different parties frmo the rest, and the main governing parties do not even organise there. If people choose not to take Euorpean elections seriously, that is their lookout; I can only channel Matthew Huntbach by pointing out that if the EU is as all-powerful as you seem to think it is, then people ought to take them seriously.

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