Internationalist political parties need to be much more robustly critical of the failings of the EU. Failing to identify the faults of the EU and hoping things will ‘turn out alright in the wash’ is just playing into the hands of UKIP and the BNP.
The Liberal Party has for at least a century been at the forefront of internationalist political parties. It has constantly advocated that nations should co-operate with each other and find suitable structures for co-operation rather than resort to war.
In recent years the Liberal Party has been very critical of the democratic deficit within the EU and the waste and bureaucracy created by that body. It has campaigned against the centralising of power. It is particularly critical of Ireland being asked to vote again in a referendum because they didn’t get the “right result” the first time.
The “F” word for many years has been “Federal” yet this word has been used as one of abuse rather than with any correct understanding of federal structures.
It has been nonsensical that those reactionaries, who did not want devolution to the nations of Scotland and Wales, complained at the time that if we had a “Federal UK” it would tear the United Kingdom apart. Those same reactionaries, when talking about Europe, talk of “a Federal Super State” and complain that this would destroy the individual nations’ rights and tie the countries much too tightly to each other.
Clearly federalism cannot both “tear apart” and “tie too tightly” at the same time.
This reactionary politics is particularly evident if we look at UKIP. It claims to support the rights of individual nations yet its very name suggests it has little regard to the different nations which make up the United Kingdom. In fact its website refers to Scotland and Wales as “regions”.
One can imagine the shock horror with which they would lambast the EU if it called England or the UK a “region” of Europe. If UKIP were consistent they would have separate English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh organisations. They would then need a structure to hold them together and the sensible way to do this would be for UKIP to have a federal structure.
Federal structures are an integral part of British organisations (see Appendix). A properly constituted federal structure can ensure that the powers of the constituent bodies cannot be usurped by the co-ordinating body. They therefore reinforce the powers of the member bodies and keep power at the level at which it is designed by those constituent bodies.
The Democratic Deficit
The fact that nations who had been regularly at war with each other for centuries decided to work together and for this to be influenced by democratic elections is a step forward in the progress of democracy.
The problem is that the power of those elected, i.e. the Parliament, is severely limited. The real power lies with the Council of Ministers rather than the “faceless bureaucrats” which is the usual criticism.
All legislation coming out of the EU has been agreed by Conservative and Labour Ministers over the years. The problem is that it is done in negotiations behind closed doors and not open to the public. Open debate is an essential safeguard in any democratic system.
The Conservative and Labour Ministers therefore enjoy exercising their power without public accountability in the knowledge that whatever they have done will not be blamed on them but rather on the faceless bureaucrats of Europe.
The parliament is a fairly toothless body where the MEP’s, though elected for the purpose, have very little power to exercise on behalf of their electorate’
That the power to agree legislation be put in the hands of the European Parliament where it is subject to open debate and public scrutiny.
That the EU be re-formulated as a federal structure in which there is a presumption that power resides with the nations of the EU and can only be exercised by the EU where the nations agree there is a need for strategic level action at the European level.
One of the obvious failings of the EU is that, particularly in the large regions, the vast majority of the public have no idea of the name and views of their MEP. One of the reasons for this is that there are too many and so they do not regularly appear on local television and radio.
It can be seen from the elections for the Mayor of London that where there are a small number of candidates there is quite a large recognition by the public of those candidates. There would, therefore, be a benefit in reducing the number of MEPs so that they are more recognised and their views are better known and in this way they would be more accountable.
The other advantage of having fewer MEPs is that they would thereby be forced to concentrate on the larger strategic matters which are important rather than the petty bureaucratic matters which the public find so frustrating. It would also save money. Their constituencies are already so large that they cannot know intimate details of their area , what they need to understand are the strategic issues rather than encroach into the domain of local Councillors.
The number of MEPs be reduced to approximately half the current number. We accept that for small nations and regions this may be problematic. However it is a problem to be overcome rather than continuing with the current massive number of MEPs.
Because the EU debate tends to be on the mainland of Europe, the British media take very little interest in it. It is rare to see MEPs speeches and for the positions they have taken to be publicly questioned.
Reducing the number of MEPs would make it more likely that they would be covered on local radio and television. However there should be some structure for them to be answerable within the UK.
Requiring them to answer for their actions would reinforce the idea that they are accountable locally but it would also mean that important issues would become the subject of local public debate and interest
I recommend that there be a Committee of Parliament to which the MEPs are required to attend. At this Committee Members of Parliament could question them on the decisions they are making and on their voting record.
The recent elections showed the public is very critical of the EU. They also showed that the political parties avoided debate on issues with which the EU is concerned. There was also no debate about what internationalist alternatives there might be for co-operation between the countries of Europe which left the field open to those whose outlook is narrow, nationalistic and negative
This paper aims to open up discussion to what positive steps forward might be taken.
A brief list of federal organisations from within the UK, extracted from a Google search of the internet. The list could have been considerably longer as there were hundreds listed. No attempt has been made to check the status of their constitution or even if each organisation is still active. However, it can be seen that the idea of a federal structure is one which people in the UK happily live with.
- The Federation of Small Businesses
- Federation of Master Builders
- Food and Drink Federation
- National Housing Federation
- Retail Motor Industry Federation
- Biosciences Federation
- Glass and Glazing Federation
- British Plastics Federation
- The Law Centres Federation
- Metropolitan Police Federation
- Federation of Tour Operators
- British Marine Federation
- British Motorcyclists Federation
- Police Federation
- British Equestrian Federation
- Commonwealth Games Federation
- English Chess Federation
- British Property Federation
- Home Builders Federation
- Carers Federation
- English Federation of Disability Sport
- The Organic Food Federation
- The Football Supporters’ Federation
- Children’s Heart Federation
- The Packaging Federation
- Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens
- Builders Merchants Federation
- National Trainers Federation
- The Police Federation for Northern Ireland
- Talking News Federation
- National Market Traders Federation
- National Federation of Fish Fryers
- National Federation of Women’s Institutes
- British Triathlon Federation
- Federation of Sports and Play Associations
- National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs
- General Federation of Trade Unions
- Scottish Fishermen’s Federation
- The Federal Trust for Education and Research
- Federal Union
- Free Church Federal Council
Again this is a very brief list and many more could have been added:
- International Guide Dog Federation
- International Hockey Federation
- World Croquet Federation
- International Banking Federation
A confederation is a form of federal structure
- NHS Confederation
- Confederation of British Industry
- International Student Travel Confederation
- Construction Confederation
- The Confederation of Aerial Industries Ltd
- British Ceramic Confederation
- Agricultural Industries Confederation
- Confederation of Roofing Contractors
- Confederation of Passenger Transport
- Confederation of British Metalforming
- British Glass Manufacturers’ Confederation
- Confederation of Community Groups
- Confederation of Co-operative Housing
- National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations