Jack Straw appears to be the latest prominent politician to jump on the EU for what he perceives as its “democratic deficit”. He even went as far as calling the EU a “system of political elites leading people by the nose that worked when it delivered jobs and welfare” at a seminar organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday, as reported in the “Guardian”.
Much though I respect Jack having worked with him as Shadow and then Home Secretary while I was General Secretary of the Chief Probation Officers’ Association, his views on the EU have always been towards the extreme end of the spectrum.
His main contention at the IPPR seminar was that the European Parliament should be abolished in order to help put right the EU “democratic deficit”. If democracy in the EU structures is not as healthy or as representative as it could be, it strikes me as peculiar to recommend doing away with the only directly elected body.
Straw does not stop there. Once the only truly democratic institution, the European Parliament, has been consigned to the dustbin of history, it will be replaced by an assembly of national parliaments. I defy anyone to make a case for an indirectly elected body over an elected one. Indeed, I truly believe the EU has become much more democratic since the role of the European Parliament has been augmented and the Parliament now has equal decision making powers with the Council of Ministers over a range of legislation.
There is, of course, the problem that people do not believe their voice counts in the EU. As Straw said, only eight per cent of the population think they are heard. No-one can deny this. However, the answer surely is better communication and accountability for the democratic institution, the European Parliament, not its abolition. No-one knows better than me how tough a nut this is to crack, and I fully accept that we are not there yet. But you don’t get rid of something simply because parts of the way it works are not up to scratch. What you do is hang on in there and work to make it better.
Sadly Jack Straw shows woeful lack of knowledge about how the EU functions when he says, “the EU should not be involved in issues like the working time directive, health and safety and so on” while at the same time calling for the completion of the single market. The EU legislates on issues to do with work in order to ensure a level playing field across Europe for the single market. It is about time Labour politicians in the UK understood this basic fact and stopped spouting the Tory rhetoric on employment legislation. The Tories do not like rights at work per se. Labour stands up for fairness and proper working conditions. It’s as simple as that.
Finally, polling evidence at the seminar from YouGov showed people do actually want more EU co-operation on terrorism and national crime, climate change, poverty and immigration. Let’s concentrate on these important issues and stop attacking the EU as an institution and its only directly elected arm, the European Parliament.