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Schadenfreude – Notes on the EU’s democratic deficit

Freedom of movement is a cardinal principle of the European Union, although there would be support from several member states for restricting immigrants’ access to the employment market as well as to social welfare benefits – reports our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude

The public should never take too seriously what candidates for electoral office say they will do, if they win. With that reservation, the front-running candidate for the post of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has stated that he wants to help Britain to remain a member of the European Union. Since Juncker’s reputation is that of an arch-integrationist, his declaration is noteworthy.

Just what a Conservative Party administration would need by way of reforms to secure what British Prime Minister David Cameron has called a “new settlement” is still unclear. It seems that the primary changes would include deleting the aim of ‘ever closer union’, which is the unique selling point of European Economic Community and European Union treaties.

Diehards would not like the slogan to go but it would not be a sticking point if other reforms were agreed – such as restoring controls over immigration from other EU member states, plus restricting the access of EU immigrants to national welfare schemes.

Freedom of movement is a cardinal principle, although there would be support from several member states for restricting immigrants’ access to the employment market as well as to social welfare benefits. It would need time and flexibility to work out the new rules but if the principle of such restrictions were approved the details could be worked out in the normal way – requiring new legislation to be approved by national parliaments.

This is the nub of the so-called ‘democratic deficit’ typified by messages like ’85 per cent of our laws are made in Brussels’. That it is not true is immaterial. Submitting commission proposals to debate and vote in some 30 national legislatures would effectively mean stasis.

There would have to be agreed criteria for adoption. Unanimity? Qualified majority for both the proposal as presented as well any for amendments voted through in national parliaments? Conciliation if responses were incompatible? Final collective decision taken on whose authority? The time-limit for responses? There would be a new democratic deficit if the response of a national parliament or of a minority grouping of them were outvoted, once only or consistently.

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