Although Britain has been a member of the European Union since 1973, there are still many areas of contention regarding conditions of membership and levels of participation. Sceptics use issues surrounding sovereignty, democracy and accountability and interventionalism both on a bureaucratic and socio-economic level as a tool to beat pro Europeans, citing these areas as a direct affront to the ethos of the contemporary British system. Birch draws out the idea of a ‘democratic deficit’.
He goes on to explain the European structure as being one of multi layered bureaucracy and hints at the idea of veiled misrepresentation as the process of democracy, although seen to be carried out, is in fact ineffective.
The explanation given refers initially to the European Parliament, which although democratically elected is directly answerable to the European Commission who are in turn limited in their exercising of power by the Council of Ministers, whom although are democratically elected hold closed meetings.
The comparatively recent British turn about from heavily bureaucratic systems, initiated in the Thatcher era and championed by today’s government seems to sit uncomfortably within this system.
One particular bone of contention is the structure of the Common Agricultural Policy, initiated largely by the French and the Germans in support of their huge farming industries.
This been extremely successful at turning around the fortunes of EU agriculture resulting in a virtually self sufficient Community, which, not surprisingly as a structure of subsidies had been used had lead to massive overproduction and the flooding of world markets causing global trade imbalances.
The current British position is one of being out of pocket as one of the largest benefactors and initiating change whilst the French as the largest beneficiary is extremely anti-reform.
However, in best Orwellian tradition the statistics speak for themselves on the abuses of the system. Far from the promotion of the interests of the struggling agricultural community, the Guardian published the following figures, 70% of CAP funds were allocated to 20% of (EU) farmers and whilst small farms made up 40% of the total, they received only 8% of the available subsidies. The findings for the British allocation of CAP funding are exceptionally alarming. It was discovered that five farms in Britain had been allocated over 1million pounds for that year to date.
The abuses in the system could hardly be seen from these figures to promote the idea of universal prosperity and far from the ideal of the democratic system stresses more of an overt elitism and bureaucratic mismanagement. The stringent economic and social requirements set out within the Union, from admission criteria through to attempted enforcement of convergence set out in the impending Maastricht Treaty was successfully opted out of by Major in 19915 and followed by Denmark and Sweden.
However, as if in waiting Britain stuck stringently to the conditions it had chosen not to sign up to and the social chapter of the treaty although modified signed by Britain on the ascension of the Labour government in 1997. The issue of the Euro is the major thorn in the side of today’s government. The debate surrounding the Euro has many strands not least of which is the strength of public opinion.
The concept of further Europeanization is a potentially hazardous one, which requires careful handling against the anti Europe lobby as other issues for example opening of borders, and asylum seekers often dominate the popular press drawing attention to a perceived loss of national identity. Another political minefield is the issue of a referendum, potentially politically fatal if not timed correctly and not given the right ‘spin’.
The pressure group running the ‘No’ campaign are accusing the Government of Thatcher type tactics in their anti Euro campaign, using the passing of legislation, namely the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act. This act limits the ‘No’ campaigns’ spending to i?? 5 million and leaves the Government free to spend as much as they deem necessary to further the support of their own cause. This targeted use of bureaucracy has lead to proceedings in the High Court against the Government under the Human Rights Act.
A further issue is that of equity and legitimisation. The European stability and growth pact is at present coming under intense scrutiny as recessions in Germany and France have resulted in both of these countries not being able to keep to the terms of the agreement and have committed the cardinal sin of increasing taxation in an attempt to boost their economies, whilst bilaterally being non committal to the timing of their re-compliance. The obvious conclusion is that of some being more equal than others.
The domestic aspect of the resistance to the Euro and relinquishing of economic sovereignty rests largely upon the housing situation in Britain compared to other member countries. Britain has a large percentage of the population owning their own homes with variable interest rates. This in mind, changes in the interest rates can be of huge consequence. Moving from domestic to business issues the arguments again are predominantly in favour of staying out.
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