Herman Van Rompuy, President Emeritus of the European Council and former Belgium Prime Minister, has led the charge on analysing the value of ‘Democratic Accountability in the European Union’ at Regent’s University London’s annual Jean Monnet Lecture [Wednesday 6 April, 2016].
In the opposite corner Chris Grayling MP, Leader of the House of Commons and a key supporter of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, offered a very different vision and personal experience of the EU.
Comments from the expert panel of speakers included:
Herman Van Rompuy:
“The feeling of a ‘democratic deficit’ exists in each of our Member States. The origin of this malaise lies in the output of policies rather than processes.
“Compromise is a way of life that an isolated individual cannot learn on their own. Public life is much more complicated than a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and a tablet screen or Twitter are no guarantees of democracy.
“Exchanging opinions is an indispensable element of public debate. Aggressiveness, hatred and lack of respect have nothing to do with democratic debate. Democracy is about solutions and a better life, not about fighting or verbal war.”
Chris Grayling MP:
“I don’t believe we have to be members of the EU to be close friends and allies. We don’t have to stop working together on issues, national security, or academic and scientific programmes.
“The political union of 26 nations will dominate the map. It’s hard to see how the EU institutions we have could credibly be used as the heart of a political union, and yet at the same time be seen as fair, impartial and dispassionate by non-participating states.
“The national interest of one or two member states outside the core will inevitably be of marginal importance. It will be like being a shareholder in a company where somebody else holds 95% of the shares. You have a seat at the table, but you have no say over how things are run.”
Vicky Pryce,Greek-born British economist, and former Joint Head of the United Kingdom’s Government Economic Service:
“It isn’t so much that there is a democratic deficit, but that different countries within the EU have different views of what they want.
“We move forward by compromising. Although the Greeks wanted to say no to austerity, they also wanted to stay in the Eurozone and the EU.
“There is no doubt that being part of the single market has had benefits for most countries in Europe and particularly in the UK, where the result has been greater competition and lower prices for consumers.”
Andy Lebrecht,Member of the Senior European Experts (SEE) group, and former UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union in Brussels:
“For an institution or government to be democratic it must have accountability from the decision-makers through to the electorate. Secondly, it must enjoy the confidence of that electorate and be seen as trusted and legitimate.
“The democratic accountability of the EU matters because our countries have conferred upon the Union the power to make laws governing significant parts of our lives, especially the economy, environment, security and justice.
“There are some in this country who claim that the EU is not democratic. One explanation is that recent areas where the EU is perceived to have performed poorly – the Eurozone and refugee crisis – are highly visible to a critical public. The second is the woeful absence of political support shown by successive governments to the EU in recent years.”