“We want our country back”, “the EU is undemocratic”, “unelected bureaucrats run the EU”. These are just a few of the claims I hear shouted out by brexiteers. But are they in fact true or just more lies spread mainly by the media and some politicians?
I would first ask what is meant by “unelected”? We know that we vote MEPs in, so it can’t be that. So is it just that “the people” (you and me) don’t get to vote every single person in? Here in the UK we don’t vote for the officials in the House of Lords, judges, senior police and of course our Civil Service; we don’t even get to vote who is to be Prime Minister, only for the party! So why should anybody expect it to be different in the EU?
Leavers often say, “The unelected European Commission which runs the EU...”. The thing that is fundamentally wrong with this statement, is that the European Commission (EC) does NOT run the EU! Rather than take this article up with how the EU runs, you can read about it by clicking here.
Basically, whilst the EC is an important part of the EU, it only has a limited role in making legislation. Whilst it is the only institution that can propose new laws (the other institutions can put requests to the EC), the EC does NOT have the power to pass them, and there is certainly no guarantee that their proposal will actually become law.
So who DOES have the authority to make EU laws?
Well, that starts with the European Parliament, who, funnily enough, are directly elected by the EU citizens – you and me! The Parliament, together with the Council of the European Union, debate, amend and pass EU laws, and each has a veto. This means that no law proposed by the EC can become law unless it receives a majority in the European Parliament AND a vote of at least 55% of EU countries, and 65% of the EU population, in the Council of EU.
So, we now know that it is the MEPs that play a very big part in whether or not a particular EU legislation will be passed to become law. Now, it was said to me that the problem is that there are more MEPs in Parliament than we actually voted in. Whilst that is true it is also surely what democracy means. But lets take a look at how much influence the UK actually has.
The Full Fact organisation state that, according to the official EU voting records, the British government has voted ‘no’ to EU proposals on 57 occasions, abstained 70 times and voted ‘yes’ to legislative proposals 2,474 times since 1999. In other words, UK ministers were on the ‘winning side’ 95% of the time, abstained 3% of the time and were on the losing side just 2% of the time. BUT, stating that the UK ‘lost’ on 57 occasions is somewhat misleading…
First of all, EU legislation passes through several ‘readings’ in the Council AND European Parliament, so it could be that the UK voted ‘no’ to begin with, but then the legislation was amended enough for the UK to actually support it.
Secondly, the records from the Council only relate to votes on legislative proposals that eventually become law. This means that we can not know how often the UK successfully opposed proposals as they are not recorded.
And there’s yet another complication! The UK is represented in the EU by ministers in the EU Council AND British MEPs in the Parliament. Apparently, its relatively common for a UK government minister to vote ‘no’ and for the MEPs to actually support it! So who is actually representing the UK on such occasions and whose vote gets recorded?
Chatham House report that, apart from EU immigration, the British government still determines the vast majority of policy over every issue of greatest concern to British voters, including health, education, pensions, welfare, monetary policy, defence and border security. The arguments for leaving also ignore the fact that the UK controls more than 98 per cent of its public expenditure.
So it seems that the UK did not lose its sovereignty. However, if people are unhappy with EU legislation then perhaps they should surely contact their MEP!