Sovereignty and Democracy in the EU

by George Hatjoullis

I find it interesting that people continue to conflate the concepts of Sovereignty and Democracy in the context of the EU and the eurozone. If you substitute the word Sovereignty for Democracy in much of what is written and said it makes sense but is irrelevant. Democracy is a process. It is a way of organising a society. Sovereignty is a quality of societies, such a nation states. The EU has removed much sovereignty from its nation states. The process by which it did so was democratic. The nation states asked to join. The nation states held referenda about joining. They chose to join. They chose to give up sovereignty.

The EU is organised democratically. The idea of a democratic deficit is an anti-EU myth. The EU is more democratic than most of the member states. It has rules and laws which are democratically arrived at by all the member states. Power sits with the Council of Ministers and the EU Parliament more or less equally (the council has a slight edge). The commission has the power to introduce legislation but only these two bodies can accept and validate. The Council of Ministers consists of the prime minister of each member state (or a representative), each democratically elected. The voting structure is complicated with adjustments for population (qualified majority voting) and vetoes, but arguably tends to favour the smaller nations. It is thus pluralist, which is the best kind of democracy.

The EU spawned the eurozone which is a subset of this structure. Membership is voluntary but it has rules and procedures. Membership requires adherence. The eurozone was not properly constituted and this is why it is such a mess. Still, no one had to join and the UK did not.It was always understood that the eurozone would have to impose fiscal orthodoxy unless it moved to federal structure . It was also understood that moving to a federal structure was always going to be the most difficult step. If people claim they did not grasp this then it reflects badly on them not the EU. Monetary and fiscal orthodoxy imposed on a poorly constructed system has led to the mess we see today in the eurozone. It has nothing to do with democracy. The decision to move to this structure was implied by the poorly constructed union. The decision to continue with this structure was democratically arrived at. In order to more away from austerity or fiscal orthodoxy the eurozone must move to a federal structure and diminish national sovereignty even further!

The cries for democracy are from people who do not understand that the situation that their respective governments, past and present and all democratically elected, have placed them in. They have given away sovereignty. The EU/eurozone now runs their lives and they do not like. The only way to get better eurozone policies is to give up more sovereignty and accept a federal eurozone. If they want to restore national sovereignty they need to leave the eurozone and the EU.

Why is democracy and sovereignty being systematically conflated and by people who must know the difference? It cannot simply be ignorance. It may be because sovereignty is a more difficult battle-cry. The people of EU secretly like being ‘european’. The one achievement of the EU is to make most of the people of the EU feel part of something big. So whilst UKip et al can appeal to a significant minority, many do not want to lose this newly re-discovered common heritage. Sovereignty is a poor battle cry and opens up pejorative responses such as xenophobia etc. Those that wish to challenge the policy direction of the EU find a wider audience if they appeal to democracy. However, accusing the EU and eurozone of being undemocratic will not make it true.

The current structure of the eurozone requires fiscal orthodoxy for some stability. The only way to avoid this is to set up a federal structure. However, this removes even more sovereignty from nation state members. Be careful what you wish for in the name of democracy.