This is one of a series of short posts looking at different aspects of the EU, trying to set out facts to help you decide which way to vote on 23 June. I am a committed 'inner' so I can't pretend that the info is unbiased but I have tried to be more factual than emotional.
The Democratic Deficit
The EU is often called undemocratic. This is partially true, but it is far more democratic than many would think.
An obvious rebuff to the charge that the EU is undemocratic is the European Parliament – directly elected MEPs who sit in either Brussels or Strasbourg. The fact that the parliament shifts between those two cities is an unforgivable waste of money. The parliament in Strasbourg is purely a sop to French sensibilities that should be shut down so that the parliament only meets on Brussels. It is not very powerful. It reviews, comments and endorses – but it is not the source of new legislation. The president of the parliament is currently Martin Shultz.
Another rebuff to the charge that the EU is undemocratic are the various councils of ministers. Opposite numbers from all 28 member states get together regularly to agree common solutions to common problems. So, for example, all the finance ministers meet, all the agriculture ministers and so on. It is in these councils that Qualified Majority Voting may apply so that, yes, there are times when a country will be voted down by the others. But … Britain is one of the most powerful voices in those meetings. Agreements made in those meetings will very often be heavily shaped by British interests, or rather, what the UK is arguing for. The council of the heads of government is the European Council and that has a permanent chair, known as the president, a position currently held by for Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk.
And then there's the European Commission. This is the body that gets all the press. It's the executive body that puts into effect the decisions of the ministers. So if the agriculture ministers decide on a change in farm subsidy rules, it's the EC that is responsible for implementing that change or, if legislation is required, that the national governments pass it. The current head of the EC is former Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker.
The top people in the Commission are the Commissioners themselves. There are 28 of them: one sent by each member state. These are not elected by the citizens, they are proposed by the member state governments and then approved (or not) by the parliament. The UK's Commissioner is someone called Jonathan Lord Hill who is responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. As far as I can tell, few outside the Hill family have heard of him, despite him having been leader of the House of Lords before going to Brussels. Former UK Commissioners include Peter Mandleson, Neil Kinnock and, going back further, Roy Jenkins who was president between 1977 and 1981.
So, yes, he is not elected, but he is proposed by the democratically elected government of the country and confirmed by the directly elected parliament.
So where is the power? It's the councils. It's those meetings of the ministers. They, not the Commission, set the agenda. Yes, the Commission can propose legislation, but that's a close analogy to a civil servant saying to the minister that a new law is needed in order to put into effect what the minister just decided.
And then on top of the presidents of the Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission… there's the rotating presidency. Every 6 months. the baton is handed from one country to another in rotation around the EU28. On 1 January this year, the Netherlands too over from Luxembourg. In July it will be Slovakia's turn, then Malta and in July 2017 it will be the UK – if we're still a member.
You can get a more formal – and much better informed version of this – on the EU's own website of course.
Why I'm voting to remain
It is a fact that unelected people, like Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker have substantial power and influence. However, like all powerful people their power is constrained. They cannot 'tell Britain what to do.' Like any council – from a parish council to the cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, the European Institutions can only do what their constituents – the member states – want and broadly agree on. They do not come up with strange ideas and then impose them on us. Ideas are discussed and common solutions found. Is there some compromise? Of course, there has to be, but Britain is there at the table for every decision – and we pretty much always get our way. The democratic deficit caused by Britain's ridiculous voting system is far, far bigger. I live in a rock solid safe seat that everyone knows will not change party at the next election, or the next, or the next. Although I always vote, it is genuinely pointless – that's where I feel disenfranchised.