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The EU Has Been a Good Fall Guy

Over the weekend we were discussing how people view the EU and, in particular, the idea that it is somehow undemocratic. I don't intend to go into detail about how this is silly when compared to Westminster with its First-Past-the-Post voting for one chamber and complete lack of voting for the other. As others have pointed out, the EU is a democratic institution; it is just that, as the general public, we don't see that much of it.

We don't hear how votes in the EU parliament have gone. We rarely see our MEPs giving speeches in favour of or against a proposal in the parliament. We don't get feedback on how the different alliances and voting blocks within the parliament are pushing their agendas. It is not that this stuff is kept secret, it is available if you go looking for it, it is just not reported in the main newspapers or shows.

I used to think that this was a bug with the system, a problem that just wasn't getting solved. But, over the weekend, when discussing the perception of the EU, I have changed my mind and believe that it was a feature. A flawed feature that led to the issues we now see, but one that was useful while it lasted.

The faceless beast of the EU was useful to national governments who needed to implement policies that, while are the right things to do, would be unpopular. Things like environmental legislation or health and safety standards. These would be unpopular with the companies that have to comply with them, unpopular with their shareholders, unpopular with their customers if all they see is a price increase.

There is a generally accepted view that politicians are guilty of short-term thinking. Of only looking as far as the next election. But the truth is that voters are also looking at the short term. If they weren't, politicians would quickly switch to looking at the long term as well.

The types of legislation mentioned earlier would be difficult to pass at a national level, not only because of the attention it would receive but because, if only one country implemented it, that country would be at a competitive disadvantage compared to those that didn't. So getting it implemented at the EU level has had a double benefit if protecting your businesses from being at a disadvantage and protecting your own popularity. Governments have managed to avoid making the hard decisions and instead blamed them on those nasty people in the EU.

The ruse worked for a while but may now have caused more harm than good.

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