What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It by Simon Hix

Simon Hix is one of my all-time favourite academics. As well as the usual academic virtues of rigour and accuracy, Simon Hix attempts to find solutions. His is analysis with an active conclusion, a rare quality made even more valuable by its scarcity.

Published in 2008, What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It is Hix at his best. As one of the most incisive and well-informed commentators on EU matters, he eloquently explains the EU’s often slow decision making processes and explains that the requirement to keep all member states on board makes it difficult to break out of the status quo.

Unlike the unthinking eurosceptics Hix is convinced that we need the EU principally for its economic benefits. It is therefore necessary to improve the way it works and deal with the policy gridlock and the lack of popular legitimacy.

Hix’s recipe for EU success is indeed radical. Advocating democratic politics in the EU with political parties fighting European Parliament elections on EU wide policies and not national platforms as at present with each of the candidates for President of the European Commission issuing a political manifesto before the European Parliament elections, Hix is nothing if not creative.

Moreover, Hix’s arguments are backed up by an impressive array of data. The book is full of diagrams, graphs and charts, enough to convince any rational person of the benefits of EU membership.

However Simon Hix’s ideas are more than pie in the sky. Britain needs to get real about the EU and understand that there is no way we can leave. Given that, it makes sense to be as fully involved as possible and shape the agenda. Hix’s ideas would help further that aim. This book is therefore essential reading for anyone with any kind of interest in EU matters.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It by Simon Hix

  1. I couldn’t agree more Mary. I especially liked the Appendix where he showed what the outcome of an election for the President of the Commission might have been had candidated been put up last time.

  2. Will Scobie

    This is one of my favorite books and I think Hix’s analysis is very forward looking and creative. One of the best aspects about his approach (although things may have changed now that the Lisbon treaty has come into force) is that it doesn’t require a treaty change. The people of the EU are sick of treaty after treaty, and another one would just create anger amongst the public and cause more people to simply turn off to the EU. Hix’s proposals could be achieved without a treaty and are mainly procedural changes that would just need to voted through by the relevant institutions. This is the key point for me, and I totally agree Mary that Hix has vision where others simply say no.

  3. Daniel Oxley

    A very interesting piece, as usual there is much food for thought. I do try to keep my comments brief and to the point but there are so many interesting points here that I might have to be a little less pithy than usual.

    I enjoyed the now traditional slapstick EUphile demonisation of EUsceptics. ‘Unlike the unthinking eurosceptics Hix is convinced that we need the EU principally for its economic benefits’ – unthinking! – not sure about this, I am an Eusceptic and I have thought about the ‘economic benefits’. I think that they are a Euro Myth, there are no benefits, we trade at a loss with our fellow members of the EU.

    All this condemnation is quite funny. You don’t agree with us so you are ‘unthinking’. We know best, so disagree with us and you are a deranged madman. Funny certainly but not as good as Rory Bremner’s take on it with his TV statement to all UKIP members. He begins with tapping the camera lens to wake up the ageing UKIP member and then says in an exaggerated loud voice. Hello Dear, wake up now listen to the telly – an important announcement, the War is over, yes, yes dear its over, we won.

    Mr. Hix’s views on policy gridlock and the lack of popular legitimacy are both absolutely spot on. The ‘what is chocolate policy’ was certainly gridlocked and the EU’s powerless parliament and its appointed Head of State do point to a distinct lack of democracy.

    I did consider buying a copy of the book but then it occurred to me that it might not be all that impartial. A quick check on google confirmed my initial view. I read that in 2002 the author received £53,700 from the EU Commission for his work on Domestic Structures and European Integration. One wonders if payments like this would dry up if the book had been called ‘Whats Wrong with the EU and Why We Should Dump It’. I might be wrong but I certainly have not heard about any EU Parliamentary awards being offered to Marta Andreason for wrtitng ‘Brussels Laid Bare’. What do I know though, I am unthinking.

    In my typically unthinking way, I was also struck by Mary’s assertion that ‘there is no way we can leave’ (the EU). This was great. It is not very long ago that the EU’s advocates did not engage with such an idea. It was all about further integration, how Britain should get more involved, etc. Clearly a sign of the times and of even more widespread hostility to our federal institutions. The asssertion was about the UK leaving the EU but a different country did manage to get out. Greenland escaped a long time ago.

    Will Scobie’s comments were also interesting, especially when he wrote that ‘Hix’s proposals could be achieved without a treaty and are mainly procedural changes that would just need to voted through by the relevant institutions’. This is pure EU in my unthinking view. I presume the relevant institutions do not include the electorate – those unthinking proles like me who just pay for it all. What a problem the European public are to the relevant institutions, without us they could decide and vote on everything and it would be so good for us all. So good because of course the EU knows best.

    It is not the number of treaties which annoys the public. It is the deceitful why in which they are presented as being for an entirely different purpose to the one the EU intends and the annoying way in which we are either denied a vote, have our vote ignored or have a vote and then get told to vote again until the correct vote is cast.

  4. You should not be so hard on yourself Daniel: you just think you are unthinking. Loved the Rory Bremner story – so true, but he forgot about the World Cup. Bye the way the UK can leave any time it wants – thanks to what? The Lisbon Treaty!

  5. Daniel Oxley

    David, If you think that the benefits of the Lisbon Constitution are so obvious perhaps you should start pushing for a referendum. The Labour Party did promise one.

    I hope that you will continue to contribute to the Honeyball Buzz. It does not, in my view, get anything like the attention it deserves.

  6. Mary – couldn’t agree less.

    Daniel – spot on.

    David – So we can leave any time we want – decent of them isn’t it?
    Lets start the ball rolling as soon as possible – what do we need to do?

  7. Daniel Oxley

    Geoff,

    I am glad that my comments met with your approval. May I answer your question asking what we need to do to start the ball rolling? It was addressed to David Martin but as he has not yet replied, allow me to make a couple of suggestions.

    If you want to see the governance of this country returned to this country you could visit http://www.ukip.org On the bottom right hand side you will see an invitation to ‘Sign the Pledge’. The pledge states that those who sign it want a referendum to determine if Britain should be ruled from London or from Brussels.

    Should you want to go further you could scroll up to the top of the same web page and accept the offer to ‘Join UKIP’.

  8. david@martinmep.com

    Daniel,
    Lisbon is a Treaty not a Constituion.
    Geoff
    You forget the ‘them’ includes ‘us’. It is up to the UK Government to take action through the Council. The Lisbon Treaty greatly enhanced the power of the European Parliament thus further reducing the democratic deficit – so I would say the ball is rolling nicely in the right direction.

    I would be happy for you to visit my Blog Eutribune where I have several pieces explaining the benefit of the Lisbon Treaty.

  9. Daniel Oxley

    I visited your blog to read about the Lisbon Constitution. I read about Nicholas Ridley and Margaret Thatcher, You even got onto Adolf Hitler and WW2. Did you get Rory Bremner’s caricature EUsceptic to write it for you?

    You tell Geof that the Lisbon Treaty greatly enhances the power of the EU Parliament and thus reduces the democractic deficit. Before the Lisbon Cositreaty, your fellow federalists always told us that the federal institutions were democractic. Have you gilded the Lily? Of course you haven’t, there was a democratic deficit before the Lisbon Treaty and we are still short of democracy now.

    Your interesting assertion that the Lisbon Treaty is not a constitution deserves further consideration. It is not the view of some leading EU figures.

    Angela Merkel said that the two documents were ‘practically the same’; a view shared by former president of France and EUphile par excellence, Valery Giscard d’Estaing. Monsieur d’Estaing should know he wrote the EU Constitution!

    The pretence that the EU Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty are completely different documents is just a Euro Myth dreamed up by the Lib/Lab/Con Party to excuse their broken promise of a referendum.