Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jack Straw does not go far enough

A little late in the day but some Labour politicians have been making noises about the democratic deficit at the heart of the European project. Jack Straw, speaking at Labour's favourite think-tank, the IPPR, said that had the peoples of Europe been consulted about the euro, many of the stresses could have been foreseen.

Actually, had the peoples been consulted, there would have been no eurozone. Greece might have voted for it but not Germany or such countries as the Netherlands.

Furthermore, added Mr Straw, former Foreign Secretary, the European Parliament needs to be overhauled and the farce of direct elections abolished. Of course, that does not go far enough, in my opinion. The European Parliament needs to be closed down for good. Enough of this expensive toy parliament whose dual role is to provide some kind of a democratic mask to the whole project and to tighten up the Commission's proposed regulations.

The European Parliament was not always directly elected. It started off as a Parliamentary Assembly and its members were chosen by the member states' parliaments, that is elected indirectly. This did not change till 1979 and I recall Lord Stoddart of Swindon telling me that he had opposed that change, not wishing to give the European Parliament or any European institution the semblance of a democratic institution. He and his cohorts were absolutely right.

Since 1979 the European Parliament has acquired more power with every new treaty, though the Commission remains the sole proposer of legislation in the EU (that includes every form of it, directives, regulations and all others) and the Parliament is neither a debating chamber or a legislating body in the way we understand it. It does tend to be more extreme in its demands for regulation of whatever is on the table than the Commission or the Council. Some dim understanding of this has filtered through to the various countries' electorates and with every new acquisition of power the European Parliament has lost voters. The turn-outs have been sinking over the years.

Here is a somewhat misleading account of what the European Parliament can and cannot do.

It is idiotic even to suppose that one can have European democracy or accountability when there is no European demos, no European understanding even of what such a beast might look like. And let us not forget that candidates are chosen by the various parties in closed lists. Time to stop pretending that the European Parliament is in any way a parliament. We can go back to the old system of deputies being chosen by the various legislative bodies across the EU. Or we could just simply scrap it as a first step towards scrapping the whole project. This one will be easy as the Toy Parliament's disappearance will affect no-one except its members and employees.


  1. Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary in the post war Labour government was similarly wary of European institutions. He said of the then proposed Council of Europe
    "If you open that Pandora's box, you don't know 'ow many Trojan 'orses will come flying out".
    Wasn't he right?
    Unfortunately he was overruled - by American pressure, I believe.

  2. Ernie was my father's first boss. That quotation is at the start of the brilliant "The Great Deception" by Booker and North, the only account of the genesis of the EU that one can trust. Highly recommended, Guest.

    Discussing the European Parliament seems to me to be a classic europhile distraction from the fact that the entire project, not just its "parliament", is undemocratic.

    Incidentally, the IPPR's accounts show that it had 800,000 GBP funding from the EU.

    As for Straw and "Europe" – here's Peter Oborne writing in 2009:

    People occasionally ask me why I regard Jack Straw as a third-rate politician who has done grave harm to British public life over a long period. The perfect answer comes in his attitude towards the Human Rights Act.

    As Home Secretary, ten years ago, it was Straw who pioneered the Bill into law. Yet some months ago he gave an interview to the Mail in which he repeatedly criticised the Act. He labelled it a 'villains' charter', laid into what he called 'ambulance-chasing lawyers', promised to wage war against the compensation culture that it had spawned and attacked judges for being 'too nervous' about deporting terrorist suspects.

    He concluded that the Act had been such a travesty that he planned to rebalance it with a 'declaration of responsibilities'.

    Last Saturday, however, Straw attended a conference arranged by Liberty, which campaigns (very honourably) for civil rights and is one of the fiercest supporters of the Human Rights Act. Yes, Straw changed his tune again. He told this fashionable, metropolitan audience that the act was 'one of my proudest achievements'.

  3. Let me just add that I consider Ernie Bevin to have been the only good post-war Foreign Secretary. He was absolutely sound on the Soviet Union and had all the right instincts about the European project. The Foreign Office wallahs hated him.