Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Democratic Deficits in both the EU and the UK

As an active campaigner during the 2016 referendum I argued passionately for the UK to leave the EU. I campaigned not from the right, but as a member of Green Leaves, the Leave campaign supporting Green Party policies. Until the recent volte-face by the leadership, the Green Party had long been a Euro-sceptic party, its policies reflecting the Party's unease at the undemocratic nature of the EU.

Indeed the number one issue I discussed with voters on the doorstep and in meetings during the referendum was not immigration, but the lack of democracy in the EU.

As the former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso (now employed by big EU lobbyists Goldwin Sachs) said in 2007: “. . . I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire.”

The European Commission is the most powerful pillar of a complicated EU structure. According to the Economist magazine it is "it is the guardian of the treaties, the originator of almost all legislation and the sole executor of the EU’s budget." But its members are appointed rather than elected. From Brexit to CETA it is always the Commission that represents the EU.

The parliament is made up of elected MEPs from across Europe, but it is a weak parliament, with no real power over legislation. Indeed the majority of the legislation drafted by the Commission is not discussed in detail in the EU Parliament before it is enacted. From there it goes directly into domestic UK law. Even arch remainer Nick Clegg admitted that: "probably half of all new legislation now enacted in the UK begins in Brussels."

Meanwhile, EU citizens are led to believe they are voting for true representation in Brussels, when in fact they are voting for a weak Parliament unable to fundamentally change EU policy set by the Commission. Realisation of this has led to disillusionment amongst EU voters. Less than half the EU electorate bothered to vote in the last European Parliament elections. Indeed, many national parliaments have cast doubt on the European Parliament’s democratic credentials, as has the German constitutional court.

The real power in the EU lies with the undemocratically appointed Commission. To put it another way, power is vested in an unelected and unaccountable elite who make laws to preserve the status of their paymasters in large multinationals. Multinationals achieve this preferential status by spending enormous sums of money on lobbying. With over 30,000 corporate lobbyists in Brussels, they are estimated to influence 75% of European legislation. Large numbers of former Commission staff (like José Manuel Barroso) end up employed by these large corporations.

A classic example of this was CETA, the Canadian/ EU trade agreement, which not even MEPs were allowed to scrutinise before its final draft. One of the strongest arguments against CETA and TTIP (the US/EU agreement abandoned by Trump), made by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and others, was that the structure of dispute resolution, in the form of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, was biased in favour of multinational companies. It allowed corporate lawyers to be the final arbiters in disputes between business and governments, usually upholding the right of business to make a profit in all circumstances. Other criticisms of the system are that it’s secret, that it’s dominated by unaccountable big-firm lawyers, and that global corporations use it to change sovereign laws and undermine regulations.

Both Labour and Green Party leaders appear to be ignoring the fact that any new trade deal between the EU and the UK would also have to have a dispute settlement arrangement. It has been shown that ISDS has increasingly become a way for rich investors to make money by speculating on lawsuits, winning huge awards and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill. All of which is a long way from the democratic will of the people.

The democratic deficit in the EU is indisputable, but to be consistent we must also address the democratic deficit within the UK.

Two thirds of the votes cast in the last general election were wasted, in that they made no difference to the outcome of the election.

In the UK's undemocratic "first past the post" electoral system, most constituency MPs are voted in by a minority of the electorate and often more people vote for opposition candidates than for the winner.

The democratic case for Brexit has no legitimacy without electoral reform of the UK parliament to ensure it accurately represents the British people, something this appalling minority Tory government clearly fails to do.

Power should rest not with Parliament, but with the British people. That means not only respecting the outcome of the EU referendum, but also ensuring that Parliament properly represents the electorate in direct proportion to citizens' political opinions. True Democracy depends upon proportional representation (PR).

I cannot agree with the Tory Brexiteer who said that the British people fought in two world wars to uphold the supremacy of the House of Commons. They fought for democracy, which was why the most reforming British government in the 20th century immediately followed World War 2.

The time is right for a new reforming Government, elected by PR and using the limitless possibilities given by Brexit to truly reflect the hopes and aspirations of the British people.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Green and Economically Successful Solution to the UK Trade Deficit

It is one of the great ironies of this world that the most successful capitalist country of recent times is the communist controlled Peoples' Republic of China. The reason for this is not difficult to see. As Irwin Stelzer said in the Sunday Times (19/11/17), "subsidised Chinese Companies have an immense competitive advantage".

As Jeremy Clarkson was so fond of telling us, China has been making knock off copies of European cars for years. How many people realise that the new MG cars now being sold are made by a Chinese company in China? If a foreign company wants to sell cars in China, they must manufacture them there with a Chinese partner, or pay a 25% duty on imported cars.

And yet China has been a member of the World Trade Organisation since 2001, so presumably what it does is within WTO rules?

It is one of the great mysteries to me that the UK does not do the same thing. A 25% import duty on cars would reduce the number of imports and encourage manufacturers to make the cars in the UK. With all parties committed to facilitate the switch from petrol and diesel to electric cars, now seems an ideal time to introduce the measure and ensure the new factories are built in the UK to service our 60 million+ consumers.

Of course, such a tariff is contrary to EU rules, which are designed to help the multi-national companies to source their goods from low wage economies. With 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels, the multi-nationals have ensured that their economic growth is enshrined in EU law. But the UK has voted to leave the EU, which brings forth a multitude of opportunities to have much greener policies. And there is nothing greener than reducing the number of vehicles and the miles they have to travel to get to the customer.