Letter: A centralised, secret Community

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The Independent Online
Sir: Since the outcome of the French referendum on Maastricht became known, a number of illusions have been peddled in Britain and these have served to blur the choices before us. Not least of these is that the Government wants to make the EC 'more democratic' before we ratify the Maastricht treaty. In reality, we are being deluded.

The British Government believes that democratic reform simply means less regulation from Brussels. The regulation it objects to is primarily that which it rejects on ideological grounds (eg social policy), rather than on the basis of national democracy. Indeed, it has already surrendered its autonomy in many other policy areas under the single-market programme.

The Government uses the rhetoric of democracy but it blurs the reality. It is the British government above all that has blocked reform of the EC institutions and perpetuated the so-called 'democratic deficit' in the Community's operation. It has helped to keep the Community centralist and secretive, while it flirts with illusory notions of national parliamentary control.

Greater democratic control will not come through the House of Commons. Successive British governments have left it out on a limb, with little input to EC policy-making and little choice on EC legislation. Instead, ministers comfort themselves in the knowledge that whatever they and their 11 partners decide in the Council of Ministers, it will be done in secret and with little accountability to anyone outside. They behave more like Vatican cardinals than champions of the people's rights.

Making the EC 'more democratic' therefore requires the relationship between the EC institutions themselves to be changed. It is the Council of Ministers that exercises the greatest power in the EC: accountability must start with it. The test of democratic commitment would be for the UK government to propose opening up the meetings of the Council of Ministers to the public and allowing greater power to the European Parliament to check the council's decisions.

The UK government prefers the European Parliament to be a 'talking shop', not because it wishes to defend the rights of the House of Commons - in reality, it has near domestic autonomy in EC matters - but because it wants to protect its own power in the Council of Ministers. In this way power is centralised and wielded in secret.

Let us have a stronger emphasis on 'subsidiarity' in the EC by all means, but by the same token those decisions best made at EC level should be taken by the Community institutions, operating on an open and democratic basis.

Yours sincerely,

KEVIN FEATHERSTONE

Department of European Studies

University of Bradford

28 September

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