The two main complaints about democratic processes in the EU are about loss of sovereignty in the national sphere and lack of influence at the EU level.
Individual member states of the EU have lost sovereignty over their lawmaking and over key areas such as migration policy. Every time a state signs up to an international agreement, it loses sovereignty. The key point is whether that loss of sovereignty is worth the expected benefits of signing up to the treaty. Some would argue that it is difficult to operate alone in a globalised world. And if the UK were to exit the EU it would still be party to many international agreements where it gives up sovereignty in exchange for concrete benefits or simply building up its reputation as a responsible and dependable member of the international community.
A great deal of the legislation is required by membership of other organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations Economic Commission in Europe and in these cases, the EU is standardising across member states what would be required anyway. So some argue that the EU is not needed as a middleman.
On the specific issue of migration, approximately half the immigration into the UK is not regulated by the EU and therefore under the UK’s control. So in theory, immigration could be halved and still meet the requirements of EU freedom of movement. In practice, it is doubtful that the UK would want to jeopardise the income that it gets from international students which account for a substantial part of the immigrants to the UK. See more on the topic of immigration to the UK here.
Influence within EU
Council of the European Union
These are the ministers of the individual member states and which minister attends is dependent on the area being discussed. So for example, finance ministers meet to discuss financial matters. In some countries, their minister’s position is discussed in the national parliament first. This does not happen in the case of the UK but could be included as an additional safeguard that ministers are fighting for what the national parliament wants. The Council of the European Union suggests new legislation which must then be worked out in detail by the Commission and agreed by the European Parliament.
The EC is the civil service of the EU. They ensure that the EU is functioning as intended and do the work of creating the legislation which is proposed by the Council of Ministers. These proposals will come from the suggestions of individual member states but also from above, such as the United Nations Economic Commission in Europe, UNECE which aims to facilitate trade in 56 member states that include the US and Canada! This makes it easier to understand why the EU is working on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, with the US.
The EU is supposed to legislate only in areas where supranational policy makes sense, such as pollution and animal migration, that do not respect borders. This principle of subsidiarity, that issues are decided as locally as possible, was strengthened when the new Commission president took office at the end of 2014 where he outlined 10 areas of priority.
This means that the EU should not be concerning itself with areas outside of these priority topics.
The European Parliament
The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by the people of each member state. The UK has 10% of the total number of MEPs and therefore potentially a great deal of influence if they worked together. MEPs vote on suggested legislation that comes from the Commission. They do not propose legislation but no EU legislation can be approved without their support. They may amend or reject legislation.
Just as in national parliaments, MEPs tend to group together in like-minded blocks eg all the socialist parties together. These blocks then tend to work out how they should vote on specific issues. There are complaints that some MEPs just blindly follow the recommendations of their groupings. There are also complaints that not enough time is allocated to discussing each vote.
The European Ombudsman
If you have a complaint about how the EU is affecting you, you can lodge a complaint to the Ombudsman by sending an email.
The European Citizen’s Initiative
If you can gather one million signatures, you can force the EU to consider a topic of concern to you. Since this was introduced in 2009 there have been successful petitions about vivisection, water and sanitation. Currently open is an initiative to stop so much plastic getting into the sea. And you can start your own petition here.
Information by freephone
Ring 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 and ask anything about the EU