Mr David Davis got it wrong. The UK Brexit Secretary of State resigned because, he said, the UK Parliament’s voice in European and global trade policy was “illusory“. UK was being dictated to by “Brussels”. This system was contrary to British democratic interests and tradition. It is fundamentally undemocratic, he said.
He is pointing his finger in the wrong direction. The blame lies nearer to home. The core issue is the lack of democracy in UK. Add to that, lack of political courage. And not only in the UK. Every European capital is to blame in the same way.
What is wrong with European democracy? What is the core problem? When democrats get to Brussels they shut the doors and become anti-Democrats.
Democracy is about open government. Seventy years ago to this month, the French government of Robert Schuman made a proposal that astounded its European neighbours. It also saved Europe from the ravages of further wars and invasion. The powerful Soviet Red Army had not demobilised after WW2. It was set on invasion of a demoralised, divided and disarmed Western Europe.
The French government suggested on 20 July 1948 that Europe create a parliamentary Assembly and a Customs Union. It would create not only democratic solidarity but create the infrastructure for peace and prosperity.
This was the first time in European history that a sovereign government had proposed a European Parliament. (The rare proposals in the past were made by what Schuman called “utopian thinkers,” not practical leaders.) Schuman’s proposal was made at the meeting of Western Union in The Hague by his Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault. The Western European Union or Brussels Pact was also the forerunner of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
So if the Schuman government was first to lay plans on the table for a European democracy, what were its basic principles? He made clear that it must consist of the most open and transparent discussion possible (Pour l’Europe, chapter 3).
He said that true democracy has three characteristics.
- The objectives at each stage of democratic governance must be set by the people.
- Then the people must define the means it wishes to use to attain each goal.
- And thirdly, it must pass the the moral and ethical Litmus Test. It must be at the service of the people and act in agreement and consent with it.
So where did the UK government and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU go wrong?
Firstly, the UK government did not properly analyse the five institutions of the Community system. It is the most advanced democratic system in world history. This heart of European democracy is enshrined in the Treaties of Paris, 1951 and Rome, 1957. Even then political scientists called it sui generis. It is like nothing else before it.
But if you do not know how the aero-engine of democracy works, it is no use applying spanners to tighten the bolts, strapping additional devices to it, or filling the tank with diesel instead of petrol.
The UK did not reassess or remove the sand and gravel dumped in the Community system by autocratic Gaullists. One of the three deliberate bodies is the Council of Ministers. It is there to represent open democracy of States. Charles de Gaulle tried to use it for his own dictatorial purposes — whether by “empty chair” threats or furtive strong-arm wrestling with the smaller States.
Many politicians, however, liked his idea of deciding about money matters in secret. “Post-Gaullist” politicians preferred “secret democracy”. Shamefully UK was silent. But the founding principles of how the Council of Ministers and the other deliberate institutions should deliberate cannot be buried.
Because corrupt politicians, including but not exclusively the Gaullists, continuously tried to have secret government, others insisted the principle of open debate be written into the so-called Constitutional Treaty, 2004 that later became the Lisbon Treaty, 2007. It says all aspects of the deliberative process — consideration of Commission proposals, debate and formulation of a common Council position — should be OPEN to the public! The Council should act exactly as the Parliament with open committees. It should publish a written record of debates.
It was ignored. It is still ignored today.
Article 15 TEU:
“In order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society, the Union institutions, bodies and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.”
And just to make certain the politicians in the Council of Ministers got the point, the article 15 repeated in its paragraph 2;
“2. The European Parliament shall meet in public, AS SHALL THE COUNCIL, when considering and voting on a draft legislative act.”
The main reasons that the British Parliament has been emasculated of powers of supervision and control are twofold. Firstly the “Democrats” from London acquiesce to the secretive Continental practice where Council debate takes place behind closed doors. Parliamentarians back in London are not able to identify the issues being discussed. For example, what another country is saying on any issue.
Secondly, when they return to London (and the other capitals), ministers do not open up the debate in the national Parliament. That is their duty. That step is essential if governments can be sensitive to the needs and real desires of the electorate.
Instead, ministers prefer to make sure that Brussels provide taxpayer money for the national economy. They can then take the glory of initiating the airports, agricultural purchase programmes or other possibly useless systems. That’s how Europe has motorways that go to Nowheresville and airports that have no passengers. That’s how the Gaullists bequeathed he European taxpayer corruptly with Beef Mountains, Wine Lakes or Grain stockpiles. And then sold them off at a massive discount to the Soviet Union, our Cold War enemy!
The first step to resolve the Brexit dilemma is to have open debates in the Council of Ministers and its committees. The debates should be recorded and published like the House of Parliament record, Hansard.
Open, democratic governance is the only way forward out the Brussels/ Brexit logjam.David Heilbron Price