The EU and the ‘who should rule’ question
February 3, 2016 7 Comments
In political and moral debates people often make false assumptions that limit the set of options they can imagine as a solution. I think this is happening in the debate over whether the UK should remain a member of the EU. The issue is being framed as whether bureaucrats from the EU should be able to dictate what sort of laws the British parliament should pass or whether the British government should control its own laws.
But this way of framing the debate makes a false assumption that the most important issue is who gets to make a decision about UK laws. As Karl Popper pointed out in The Open Society and Its Enemies Chapter 7, this question makes the false assumption that there is a single person or group who has the knowledge required to dictate what everyone should do. A better question to ask is ‘How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?’ How do the EU and the British parliament compare by that criterion?
The short version of how the EU works runs as follows. The heads of EU states form the European Council. The European council picks a group of politicians called the European commission who are responsible for originating and writing EU regulations and that sort of thing. The European parliament is an elected body who can vote up or down legislation written by the European commission, or amend it, but are not allowed to originate legislation. So the people who are legally supposed to originate and write all the laws can’t be voted out of office by the public. The people who are subject to being removed by the public always have the excuse that they aren’t allowed to originate laws, so they can’t deliver any specific policy.
By contrast, an MP in the British parliament can originate, amend or revoke laws and can be voted out for failing to deliver on policy promises.
The competition for which set of institutions is better isn’t even close. The EU is a bad idea and the British public should vote to leave. If we don’t vote to leave, then it will be extremely difficult to remove bad policies or leaders.
The poor quality of the EU’s institutions shows in its decisions. Take the recent deal made by David Cameron on behalf of the UK. One part of the deal says that EU parliaments can block EU legislation if the EU deems that the decision could be made at the national level and 55% of the parliaments of EU member countries vote against it. Getting one parliament to agree on something is a challenge, getting several to do so is going to be extremely difficult. This is a terrible idea that should have been shot down, but it wasn’t because there is nobody who can be held accountable for it. Why make waves if you can’t benefit?