Letter: Towards a democratic Europe

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Sir: The most significant sentence in Andrew Marr's article 'Unlikely partners in Europe's mating dance' (27 August) is where he writes that: 'European union has several times come close to collapse because of its abstruse elitism, the lack of involvement of Europeans outside its governing groups.'

Yet, oddly, the proposals for reform that he finds so attractive are based on precisely the type of inter-governmental approach that is responsible for the present situation.

People in all member states criticise the Commission for what they see as petty bureaucracy but which is invariably the result of intergovernmental decisions made by the Council of Ministers. The EC is also criticised for its inability to take effective action on Bosnia and ex-Yugoslavia and this also arises directly from the intergovernmental approach. In politics as well as at sea the speed of a convoy is dictated by the slowest ship.

Clearly the Community must become more democratic and responsive to its people. It must also find a way of acting effectively on matters of common concern. But these aims will never be achieved by giving yet more power to conclaves of ministers, each negotiating from a national point of view, and collectively accountable to no one. Such a policy only strengthens the governing elite.

Two steps are necessary if Europe's citizens are to gain some degree of democratic control. First, the Commission must be elected, possibly by a system linked to the European Parliament elections, thus giving electors the right to rid themselves of an unpopular executive by refusing to vote for it. Second, all Community legislation should require approval by both the European Parliament representing the electors and the Council representing member governments.

The proposal to expand the present bicameral system (the Council and European Parliament) to tricameral, by the addition of a necessarily part-time Senate of national parliamentarians, risks diluting rather than strengthening parliamentary control - unless, of course, the Senate were to take over the Council's legislative functions, which is hardly likely.

National parliamentarians' primary duty in European affairs is to hold their ministers to account - a regular exchange of views in a European consultative assembly of some sort could well improve their effectiveness in this respect.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the proposal that heads of member governments would be the 'highest political authority in the Union and define its direction' in effect repeats Maastricht title 1, Art D, on which - significantly - the UK parliament was denied an opportunity to vote. Elitism clearly begins in Westminster.

Yours sincerely,


Chairman, International Relations Committee, European Movement

London, SW1