The EU and Tony Benn’s 5 Questions

By The Brexit Door

Yesterday on Twitter I was sent a link in reply to a line of argument about democracy and self governance to an article by Richard Corbett MEP (Labour) which resides on his web page. It’s not actually particularly well signposted on his home page – I couldn’t find it alone, which rather suggests the level of confidence he has in it. But seeing as it was used in reply to me, I thought I would take this opportunity to analyse Mr Corbett’s findings.

Tony Benn had five questions – all of which are important in the current debate, but are largely being ignored by the mainstream media in favour of personality politics and economic falsehoods. It’s a bit of a willy waving contest between different groups of the terminally deluded.

Let’s take each question one at a time:

What Power Have You Got?

Looking at the EU commission, it has the power to propose laws, and the ultimate power to block laws also. Richard Corbett makes the following point:

The power to draft proposals for European legislation, which are then submitted for a decision to the EU Council (made up of ministers from elected governments) and directly-elected MEPs in the European Parliament.

The power to adopt delegated measures to implement such legislation, provided these are not rejected by the Parliament or Council.

He is referring to the EU parliament in this context (as he is a member). The ability for the EU parliament to be able to draft measures is a more recent innovation, technically strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty. However, does that mean that the EU parliament can draft a proposal, and pass it, without the unelected executive’s approval? The answer to that is in the EU’s own writings:

The Commission has the legislative initiative. However, under the Treaty of Maastricht enhanced by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has a right of legislative initiative that allows it to ask the Commission to submit a proposal.

The upshot of this is that the Commission retains total power over the legislative framework of the EU. It has ultimately, a veto over any legislation that it does not like. In this way, it holds all the real power in the EU legislative structure.

So when we assess Benn’s five questions, we cannot as Richard Corbett does, address them to the Parliament. We must address them to the real power – the Commission itself and the mechanisms that support its authority such as the European Court of Justice.

Where Did You Get It From?

Richard Corbett says this:

The power to make proposals derives from the treaties, which have been approved by the national parliaments of every member country.

Power is derived from the treaties. The current treaty is the Treaty of Lisbon. This is actually a rewriting of the failed EU constitution of 2005. Because it was such a dramatic shift towards the European Superstate, the government of the time pledged to offer the electorate a vote on its ratification. However, the French and Dutch rejected it in advance, so the vote was never held. The Lisbon Treaty was in nearly every respect, the EU constitution. This article in the pro EU Independent explains this well, quoting Valéry Giscard d’Estaing as revealing just this point.

So the power of the treaty is one that was gained not democratically, but by deception – not just of the British people who were never offered that vote which we had been promised, but  also to the French and Dutch who by a fair margin had already rejected it.

In whose interests do you exercise it?

That is a complex question with a complex answer. Many things that the EU commission does are actually quite reasonable, and have had some beneficial effects in the past. I wouldn’t argue that the commission is somehow inherently malevolent. It is designed as a benign dictatorship of the elite. But do they actually exercise that power for the benefit of the citizen, or do they just believe that they do?

One recent area where you can see the circular thinking of the EU commission is in the regulation of motor vehicle emissions. The obsession with ‘carbon’ as the main polluter has skewed policy towards the promotion of diesel vehicles, thus raising the levels of much more directly harmful substances in our cities air. One reason for this is that the fight against climate change is seen as an issue that cannot be fought by individual governments, it is one where supra nationality has effect, and therefore justifies the EU’s centralisation of control over certain environmental matters.

But the way that tests were carried out also suggests another stronger player – the corporate auto manufacturers. The fact that it was the USA which picked up the problem with Nitrogen Dioxide emissions shows how in thrall the standards setting in the EU is to the corporate interests, and how they work together for particular ends. The testing regime was designed in such a way as to allow the abuses that were made of it – because it was politically expedient to do so. In this we can see the locked embrace of the the corporate and political interests.

More telling is the level of lobbying that goes on in Brussels, despite the fact that most of its standards setting authority is leaking away to the global level. The Guardian cites a figure of 30,000 lobbyists in the EU capital. When you consider that is about the same as the number of staff employed at Brussels, its a staggering figure. But probably only about a tenth of that are at a level you could call decision making, most are just administrators or below. That draws a much more stark contrast.

So it is clear that Corporate interest must be well served in the Capital, because such a level of representation is not cheap, and business doesn’t waste money of cosmetic exercises in this way as a rule.

To Whom are you Accountable?

The simple answer in regard of the Commission is largely, ‘Nobody’. Technically the EU parliament can remove the Commission, but it must remove it as a whole. That then is very unlikely, a real ‘Nuclear Option’.

Commissioners are appointed by the nation states. So in principle then they must have been accountable to at least one democratically elected government at some stage. But these people have not been subjected to scrutiny of the electorate directly, nor can they be removed by it. Once in post, they are effectively untouchable for the entire term.

Corbett likes to cite the EU Parliament as being accountable, but even here his argument is weak. We don’t choose our MEPs directly – the party list system ensures that the core of the ‘Right People’ get in first. Independents cannot be elected, and even if we did have the people we wanted in the EU parliament they must have their parties aligned with others into EU groupings with a minimum number to have the right to be heard at all. This squeezes out dissenting voices in the UK by forcing them to ally themselves with people you just wouldn’t want to have a drink with – because the main groupings are dominated by pro federalists.

Even then, by size alone , representation is unlikely. At over 650,000 people to each MEP, they can hardly make themselves easily accessible to the public at large. Have you ever attended a constituency meeting with your MEP? So in many ways, this entire method of elections removes a great deal of accountability for those at the top of the party list system, and even more so one they are elected.

How do we get rid of you?

The simple answer is, you can’t. Commissioners are unelected, the MEPs that support their appointment are only very partially in the grip of the electors, and they have little power anyway. The sheer distance of power from the elector is vast. But let’s explore the dynamics of MEP elections and the ability to remove any particular individual.

This is the Labour party candidate list for Yorkshire and the Humber (2013):

Yorkshire and The Humber

1.    MCAVAN, Linda
2.    CORBETT, Richard
3.    TUNNICLIFFE , Eleanor
4.    KHAN, Asghar
6.    HUGHES , Darren

Look at the name second on the list. How do we remove Mr Corbett from his seat in the EU parliament? Well if you are a Labour voter in Yorkshire and the Humber, you would have to vote Tory, and your fellow voters would also have to vote Tory in overwhelming numbers. As he is second on the list, Labour would have to be trounced in a more comprehensive manner than they have ever been for Mr Corbett to fail to be elected. This is the effect of a PR list system. You choose your party, but the process is not like a GE where you make a choice on the candidates themselves.

Little wonder then that Mr Corbett likes things the way they are. He will have a seat in Brussels for as long as the Labour party put him on that list. In a Labour heartland, he is potentially in place for life, despite the fact that probably nobody actually knows who he is, or what contribution he has made to the EU parliament. Just 29% of British electors turned out to vote for their MEP. He must please his party chiefs, if he does so he need not worry about the electors too much.

So how do we get rid of Mr Corbett?

There is clearly only one way. Leave the EU.


Any detailed analysis of the EU in respect to the five questions set by Tony Benn prove without a shadow of a doubt that the EU is not a democratically accountable method of governance.

Its power is held by an unelected elite, for whom there is no practical method of dismissal. The EU parliament has no real power of legislative direction, and cannot remove the commissioners. And in itself, the process by which it is elected and constituted cannot be seen as compatible with the processes by which British democracy has evovled in the era of universal suffrage.

It operates for the benefit of the elite, of which Mr Corbett is now a member, along with the corporations and the politically powerful in the member states. It may believe it exercises this power in the fashion of benign autocracy, but try to make that point to a Greek or an Italian, who have seen even their own parliamentary democracy usurped by the Brussels government.

Tony Benn’s five tests for democracy are as valid today as when he proposed them. And the failure of the EU institutions to pass this test, or even to come close to passing it, should be enough reason for you to vote to leave it.

If it is not, then you must accept the fact that you have given up on democracy as the best method of government, and will accept the rule of assumed benign kings as the model of the future – the coming of a post democratic age.

Tony is a Musician, Luthier, Teacher and a Brexit campaigner. He blogs at The Brexit Door. Follow him on Twitter here: @TonyE_42

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty