EU Law Making Throughout 2016 Undertaken In Total Secrecy
By Graham Vanbergen – Recognise this description of your Democracy? Wikipedia: (Greek: δημοκρατία, Dēmokratía literally “rule of the commoners”), in modern usage, is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. Democracy was originally conceived in Classical Greece, where political representatives were chosen by a jury from amongst the citizens: rich and poor.
No, I don’t recognise this in either Britain or the European Union. Today, citizens are more often than not bypassed by their so-called elected officials, usually on a manifesto that is more representative of a raft of lies (nowadays often called pledges) than a set of hard promises. However, in most democracies the ruling party can elected back out of power sometime later.
The EU itself does not provide such luxuries. It supposedly operates a democracy through a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making. The seven principal decision-making bodies – the institutions of the European Union—are the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Auditors.
The interesting word in this Wikipedia description of the EU is ‘Supranational,’ in other words “having power or influence that transcends national boundaries or governments.” It is here that we see that power and influence is so overwhelmingly abused that democracy has been completely circumvented and along with it any understanding that might represent the ‘rule of the majority’.
In 2016, EU lawmaking, according to figures obtained by EUobserver, was conducted entirely in secret. The usual method of passing laws is via the representation of member states. It starts with a proposal from the EU Commission, then through the European Parliament and if accepted passed to the Council of Europe, where, if the proposal is deemed good and proper and supported by MEP’s, rubber stamped and enshrined into EU law.
If a bill proposed by the EU Commission at stage one is deemed unacceptable it is sent back for amendment and resubmission and a second proposal is submitted if enough support exists. Stage one submissions are conducted behind closed doors. If challenged, the proposal is resubmitted as a stage two document and opened up to the public to be scrutinised and theoretically debated.
According to the EU’s own parliamentary figures not one single bill proposed by the Commission was challenged in 2016 – not one. In other words, all laws passed were passed in secret.
“That is quite astonishing, but it is just a continuation of a trend that we have been seeing for quite a while now,” said Vicky Marissen of Pact European Affairs, a Brussels-based consultancy specialising in EU decision-making procedures.
By the nature of the EU Commission not challenging a single proposal, not one was seen by any member of the public. The public was relying on leaks and whistleblowers to find out what laws were being proposed and by whom as this information is conducted in secret. It just so happened the EU was challenged on the protection of whistleblowers in previous years, twice between 2013 and 2016. Both times it rejected reforms and then finally it passes one that effectively legislated against leakers and whistleblowers. How very convenient.
What most do not realise is that a decade ago more than half of all bills were challenged and were forced on to a second reading making the proposals public. They were challenged by a system that was functioning as it was designed. In 2014, that number had dropped to zero, just four went to second reading in 2015 and back to zero again last year.
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Lobbyists have unprecedented access to the process as very often the proposed Bills are written by them in the first place acting on behalf of their corporate clients. Lobbyists are also not allowed into the chamber but obviously they are aware of the subject matter – the public has no such privilege.
“We have the short-cutting of the democratic process, going to an extreme now,” said Jorgo Riss, director of the Brussels office of Greenpeace, an environmental pressure group.
Riss said the first and second plenary debates and votes are “where the issue can get outside of Brussels, so into the papers, on to the radio, across Europe, that is where a lot more citizens can hear about it and can get engaged with it. If you are not pursuing public interest, if you are pursuing more private interest, then the system works I guess much better for you,” he added.
During the course of last year, 20 proposals for legislation even went through some degree of ‘negotiation’ with EU Commissioners. These proposals were amended without the need for a second reading and then rubber stamped.
Malcolm Harbour, a former conservative MEP from the UK, has had extensive experience in the EU political arena. He has probably chaired more meetings of this kind than any other MEP during his 15 years at the assembly and although he retired in 2014 his view is clear;
“When I started in the parliament in 1999, if you look at the figures, my first five years in the parliament, probably half the dossiers I worked on went through the second reading agreements”.
Harbour said this changing trend was due to ten new member states arriving just over a decade ago and there was a need to speed up the process.
“There have been quite a number of members of the European Parliament, including myself, who are rather alarmed by this trend,” he said.
These proposals (at first reading) are off limits to the public, but again, not for the lobbyists. Minutes are are not taken but documents drawn up by lobbyists are held very closely to their chests. Where negotiations are required to amend a proposal, meetings are scheduled, these dates are not published either. In fact, because the existence of first reading meetings are not officially recorded they therefore do not officially exist. The entire process is designed to disorientate and frustrate democracy.
Any attempts by public interest groups, activists or citizens to obtain any documentation at all are almost entirely thwarted by this system.
And as if this was not bad enough, a recent study Transparency International has revealed there are nearly 40,000 lobbyists working in Brussels – roughly the same as the total number of EU employees.
The TTIP negotiations were conducted in much the same way, but as TTIP was considered one proposal it was almost entirely discussed in secret where public interest groups managed to be represented in just 4 percent of 560 recorded official meetings but lobbyists got access to 92 percent of (official) meetings, much to the subsequent protest of millions of European citizens.
After nearly 60 years of increasing European integration, an acceleration of lawmaking has been taking place within the EU in a desperate attempt to reach full unification. But as we are witnessing with a refugee crisis, dissent and disagreement is not just prevalent, it is now quite publicly prevailing as the EU enters the age of disintegration.
Future elections and referendums such as Brexit will decide the fate of the EU. If not, the banks may well, as expected, push the Euro into an existential crisis anyway.
The European Parliament is made up of 751 Members elected in the 28 Member States of the enlarged European Union and they are supposed to represent over 740 million people. There are now more than 40,000 legal acts in the EU, an average rate of lawmaking of 1,212 per year. There are also 15,000 Court verdicts and 62,000 international standards, all of which must be respected and obeyed by citizens and companies in the EU.
If the political elite within the institutions of the European Union had based their lawmaking and rules based system around real democratic principles maybe survival of that particular club would have been more assured.