Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Vote is on Thursday...

A fortnight back I considered that the people wanting exit were doing well, that the in camp had shot so many missiles that for a time they had run out. Now I think that the wheel is coming off the exit wagon. One wheel, that is. It might well limp in front.

It didn't take a murder to do it, but the murder of Jo Cox MP has allowed Nigel Farage to conduct his politics from the gutter, accusing the stay side of exploiting it. That's what he was doing by raising the matter. His poster of refugees would have been enough to show the gutter.

Like it or not, the company the exiters keep, or won't keep with their own, drags them in. It is because they bang on about immigration.

The person I blame for this, however, is David Cameron. He or advisors must have known that to go for this in-out referendum, regardless of powers moving to the centre, would dig up the nasty underbelly of racism in this country. Whilst it is perfectly legitimate to talk about resources and work availability under pressure, the fact is that the right wing in order to get former Labour voters have to play a tribalistic nationalist card. They are playing on the 'downtrodden white working class' and at this UKIP is a clever operator.

In the end, it is about who 'we' are. The argument of 'out' is about the UK and its right to determine its power. But the UK is fragile, and not clear that it is a 'we' at all. Come out of the EU and the 'we' starts to crack very badly. The Scottish will want out, the Northern Irish situation will be confused when, in all reality, the EU underwrites closer relations between the north and south. The Unionists know this, which is why they want out. It makes more division, more clear defence of their little tribe.

I also blame the stay side for the narrowness of vision. The people who were pro-Europe in 1975 talked about "new institutions" that were to replace the simplicity of the Nation State, after the Nation State had consistently failed to prevent conflict. The idea of the European Union is semi-economic determinism: that if we share economic interests we cannot fight what we share. And we do this politically too, just to make sure. Having a Europe-wide view also is deliberate, but so is sharing sovereignty. It is good to share.

Instead the stay side have become narrow with economics. They have not promoted the idea and reality of Europe.

This blog ends with an overview of how decisions are taken. Most people voting will not know how Europe works, because no one will tell them. It is as if no one will break the bubble of ignorance. Informing that Brussels is NOT run by bureaucrats is the first step to having a more positive view.

The major policy guidelines are set in The European Council where the heads of state of the European Union and the President of the Commission meet to discuss general matters. It does not take formal binding decisions but influences the agenda. It meets at least every 6 months and it takes all actions unanimously. Its presidency rotates every six months between all the EU members. it is not the same as the Council of the European Union.

The Council of The European Union - the Council of Ministers - has executive authority, mainly delegated to the Commission, and legislative authority. All regulations and directives must be approved by the Council, either jointly with the European Parliament or after consultation.

The Council of Ministers is composed of one representative per country meeting between 80 and 90 times in a typical year. It is attended by the national executive minister in charge of the issue under discussion. The Council decides by unanimity for crucial issues, and in most cases by Qualified Majority Voting that assigns votes to member countries as a function of their population size, but weighted to benefit small countries. Majority voting is also 'qualified' because when Qualified Majority Voting applies and yet a country invokes its vital interests, the Council of Ministers should then try: "within a reasonable time to reach solutions which can be adopted by all Members of the Council while respecting their mutual interests and those of the Community." This puts more pressure on smaller countries than larger. ECOFIN is the meeting of the all-important finance ministers to discuss, monitor and coordinate the budget.

The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament cannot approve legislation if it has not been proposed by the European Commission. Neverthless the European Commission is not going to block the main demands and trends of the Council of Ministers - it tries to give a European wide view and represent all the countries as one. The Commission monitors and regulates the implementation of the main legislation adopted by the European Union. It defends the Treaties and can take suspected infringements to the European Court of Justice. The Commission recommends actions to the Council in case of non-compliance with policy.

The European Commission is accountable as a whole to the European Parliament: if the European Parliament passes a motion of censure, the European Commission must resign all together. The President of the European Commission can dismiss a Commissioner, if a most Commissioners agree.

The European Commission and its President are first nominated and then appointed by member countries after approval by the European Parliament. The five largest countries have two commissioners and the rest have one each.

The European Commission was once a Europe-wide think-tank body designed to be rather independent. Now it arguably needs more regular means of accountability.

The European Parliament is directly elected for 5 years. It shares legislative and budgetary authority with the Council. The Council of Ministers’ opinion prevails in matters of “compulsory spending” (especially agriculture), while the European Parliament’s vote prevails on lesser matters.

The European Court of Justice interprets European Union laws and demands their application. Yet its judicial rulings do not have legal stature in the European Union. Court cases can be initiated both by governments and private citizens. It has had much to say on forcing competition policy.

The Treaties are the primary source for legislation and must be ratified by all member governments. There are three main forms of binding secondary legislation: regulations, directives, and (Council of Ministers' etc.) decisions. There are basically two procedures to pass regulations and directives: consultation and co-decision. In all situations, the Commission has the right of initiative.

Consultation applies to the Common Agricultural Policy, competition, taxation, guidelines for employment policies, industrial policy. Thus the power of the European Parliament is limited to a consultative role, and unanimity in the Council is required in all issues except agriculture and competition.

Co-decision was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 to boost the European Parliament. The Commission’s proposal must be accepted by both the European Parliament by majority and by the Council by Qualified Majority Voting except unanimity in culture, social security, and freedom of movement. If the Commission’s proposal is amended, an extremely convoluted process is set in motion where agenda setting is confused. Maastricht also introduced subsidiarity, an emphasis that decisions should be taken as low down to the people concerned as possible, so that the 'beyond borders' issues become European level. In practice little has changed.

Co-decision operates for about 80 percent of the main legislative decisions, in particular all the issues decided by QMV, except agriculture and competition policy.

The Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice are supranational bodies. The European Council and Council of Ministers are intergovernmental bodies. The result is more confederal, in that sovereignty is shared from the countries. Smaller countries tend to look to the European Commission for extra support; it takes the European wide view. Increasing the powers of the European Parliament is also more federal.

In general, if Qualified Majority Voting increases, so does the federal aspect, incrementally. The greater the role of Council of Ministers and even national parliaments, the greater the confederal aspect. Veto powers do exist in matters of key importance, limiting the sharing of sovereignty to co-operation. Smaller countries may find it difficult to exercise a veto; it matters more when a large country effectively says no in advance. Nevertheless, a veto is a veto. QMV can be introduced by larger countries without effective loss of sovereignty.

Even a European Commission directive gives freedom to national legislation as to how to achieve its objectives. A decision applies to specific individuals, firms or countries; it is binding and directly applicable.

No comments: