THE EUROPEAN UNION - Whatever happened to democracy?

The E.U. has seven major institutions.... yet only one has its members directly elected, and even its role is secondary to the most powerful of the unelected institutions. Now read on......

COUNCIL OF MINISTERS - meets behind closed doors.

Although its individual members are generally, as in the case of Britain, elected members of national parliaments, as a body, it is not answerable to any elected institution.

It is the policy making institution of the EU, backed by the powerful and influential Committee of Permanent Representatives - a body of appointed paid EU civil servants. The make up of the Council depends on what is being discussed – foreign ministers discuss foreign policy, agriculture ministers farming, the Common Agricultural Policy etc. Decisions are made unanimously, or by "qualified majority", which has been extended to new areas in place of unanimity by the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty, thus removing the power of national veto, and is being extended still further by the Nice Treaty.

The Maastricht Treaty introduced and made mandatory, co-operation between member states in criminal and civil justice and home affairs. Common positions and joint actions in this area are implemented by the Council acting alone, the other institutions at best are "associated" with the work as in the case of the Commission, or just make recommendations, as in the case of the European Parliament.

(This process of reaching agreements at meetings, and then what has been agreed being implemented by legislation or otherwise across the EU by governments of member states, is a very important method of developing the EU and its policy. It is also employed at the six monthly EU summits attended by the heads of governments of member states.)

EUROPEAN COMMISSION - meets behind closed doors.

Appointed - 20 members, 1 to 2 per state.

It alone initiates legislation by turning the policy decisions of the Council of Ministers into legislative "proposals" which eventually become "Community acts" binding on member states. It is backed by about 13000 appointed paid civil servants (excluding translators). Commissioners are forbidden by the Treaty of Rome to represent their national interests – they must promote and represent the interests of the Union. (whatever they may be – their own and those of big business perhaps which in practice has easy access to the Commission, not readily granted to anyone else.)


626 elected members of which Britain returns 87.

It is an assembly rather than a parliament, because it cannot initiate legislation, (it can only "ask" the Commission to do so) and it has no control over money supply or taxation.

It gives opinions on some matters, can be "consulted" on others but only in certain cases can it amend or reject a legislative proposal with the "co-decision procedure", a very complex procedure involving strict time limits which favours legislative proposals going through unchallenged, especially in view of the very large numbers of proposals that are put forward. The Amsterdam Treaty extended the areas in which the "co-decision" procedure applies, but it did not simplify the procedure itself or affect the Commission’s sole power to initiate legislation.

In fact the number of legislative proposals in the form of regulations and directives is so enormous that MEPs have to vote on large numbers of them at a time with little or no knowledge as to what the proposals involve. Furthermore, for those few proposals which do get debated, strict time limits of just a few minutes are imposed on how long an individual MEP can speak. The parliament is thus often regarded as no more than a rubber stamp.

Democracy also requires accessibility – originally, each constituency has an electorate of about half a million people, but these have been replaced now by larger regions having a set number of MEPs, making these people even more distant than they were before. The Parliament sitting in Brussels and Strasbourg is very remote as far as the electors are concerned. Lobbying is much easier for big corporate interests through organisations such as the European Round Table of Industrialists and almost impossible for individuals and small interest groups.

EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK – meets behind closed doors.

Members of the Executive Board are appointed from private banking circles, by agreement of heads of government of member states after "consultation" with the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

This is the most powerful institution in the E.U. It has total and independent control over the amount of money and credit in circulation, and thus the general level of economic activity, at a given time throughout those member states who sign up for monetary union. It will also fix interest rates.

What it decides determines levels of direct and indirect taxation, spending in every area of economic and social activity, wage deals, government borrowing, the budgets to be allocated to the newly created regional assemblies etc. National Central Banks become an integral part of the European System of Central Banks and must act in accordance with its instructions. It therefore controls cycles of "boom" and "bust". Its regulations and directives do not require the approval or consent of any of the other institutions, which are obliged to recognise its "independence", by not seeking to influence it. The only control is a judicial one exercised by the European Court of Justice which is limited to deciding whether or not it has acted in accordance with its very wide powers. Any changes to those powers would require a new treaty.

The economies of the various member states of the EU are as diverse and different as the states themselves. Such centralised and uniform control will be totally lacking in flexibility to suit local conditions. There will be winners - probably big corporate interests who seek to locate and sell across the entire EU. There will also be losers – probably smaller businesses who, in total provide many more jobs than big corporations, but who do most of their trade within their home state. They will be burdened with the cost of the changeover and suffer most when centralised policy creates adverse local conditions. In the meantime for states not yet enrolled in monetary union, their economies must always be run in readiness for entry regardless as to when if at all this occurs. In practice this means tight controls on public spending so health and education tend to suffer.

The granting of full independence, and control of monetary policy to the Bank of England by the Labour Government immediately after it was elected in 1997, was done to prepare for the handing over of power to the ECB and the incorporation of the Bank of England into the European System of Central Banks.


NOT to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights which is quite separate and not an EU institution.

It interprets the rules of the treaties and all community legislative acts, regulations and directives made under them. The courts of member states have no jurisdiction in these areas. The only law it applies is that contained in the treaties which is designed to further European integration, thus it is often more of a political court whose decisions and interpretations are designed to assist in that process. It can fine member states, companies and individuals for non compliance.


222 members (of which Britain has 24) appointed by the Council of Ministers from the ranks of producers, manufacturers, farmers, the professions etc. It has to consulted on legislative proposals in certain areas, but its recommendations are not binding.


222 members (of which Britain has 24) appointed by the Council of Ministers from the ranks of local government.

It has to be consulted on legislative proposals in certain very limited areas, but its recommendations are not binding.

Devolution, Subsidiarity and the Committee of the Regions

Under the COR, the EU is divided up into 111 regions, of which the U.K. accounts for 12. Eventually each region is to have an assembly. The assemblies set up for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are therefore a vital part of this political process, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have each been designated a region under this plan. England has been divided into 9 regions, making up the total of 12. The first English region to have an assembly is Greater London – the rest are presently represented by regional development agencies, with assemblies planned to follow in due course. Under the principle of subsidiarity referred to in the Maastricht Treaty, the heads of governments of the member states will agree basically what powers will be devolved to the regions. Although elected, the assemblies play no part in the EU legislative process - they simply decide how a budget (presently allocated to them by national governments) will be spent in areas such as health and education and certain aspects of economic development. Their voice in the EU is confined to the COR - to which each region sends 2 members - and just lobbying the other EU institutions and national representatives in the Council of Ministers.


Tory MEP Roger Helmer elected in 1999 was told by a fellow MEP that in 10 years Westminster would be gone, and by then, the U.K. would be 12 regions governed from Brussels. This objective was confirmed at an European Movement meeting in Bristol on 16/3/01 by Tory MEP Caroline Jackson. With major constitutional and law making powers being transferred to EU institutions, and limited spending powers being devolved to the regions, elected national parliaments are already becoming just "clearing houses" for passing on EU made policy, rules and regulations – part of a global trend of depriving democratic structures of any real power and substance. The fact that appointments systems are used for many of the EU institutions ensures that only those who support the centralised EU state are appointed. Throughout Europe successive heads of state, prime ministers and other senior ministers have secretly pursued the creation of a single centralised European state. In Britain, the rest of Europe is presented as being united, with dissent very rarely reported in the media. Our 3 major parties have all supported the European Treaties that have led us to where we are now. No real choice has ever been offered to the electorate. Do we get out or try to reform from within? At the moment, the power to change the treaties or even rewrite them completely still rests with national governments. Presently, the European Parliament by a two thirds majority can dismiss the entire European Commission, and nearly did so in 1999 – the Commission did resign, although several Commissioners were re-appointed, and it is now very much a case of "business as usual". However what happened suggests that the rigorous use of such powers as the Parliament has by a majority of MEPs truly committed to representing ordinary people and democratic principles would send shock waves throughout the most powerful institutions. However the greatest difficulty would be to break existing party lines. Generally the major parties throughout the EU select their candidates on the basis of their support for the EU. Once elected, an MEP’s role is to promote the EU, for which they are well paid with lavish expenses. However, the new system of proportional representation does enable small parties to get members elected, but will this be enough to mount a challenge to the power of the other institutions and the corruption and cronyism that we now discovering pervades every EU institution including the Parliament itself?


1) The Abolition of the Council of Ministers has been proposed by German Foreign Minster Joschka Fisher to be replaced by a President who should have the power to appoint a cabinet. 2) A Written Constitution for the European state incorporating the existing treaties. These would mean member states’ governments no longer having any involvement in any EU policy making, or being able to amend the treaties or a future constitution of the EU.

Richard Greaves - "The Old Stables", Cusop, Herefordshire, HR3 5RQ E-mail:   Updated: October 2001.