Saturday, 16 September 2017

The European Union Proves Once Again it is Not a Democratic Institution

by Owen Martin

As European citizens who care deeply about the democratic values of the EU, we can only feel a sense of shame that the EU has gone into an international forum with a position that threatened to undermine democracy and accountability in a range of countries extending throughout the wider Europe and Central Asia. And the primary reason for this is the European Commission’s stubborn resistance to having its decisions on environmental matters challengeable before the EU courts in the way that the decisions of national authorities may be challenged at national level [Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General].

The EU constantly portrays itself as a beacon of democracy and law in the modern world. But it often does not live up to this ideal. This week, at the meeting of the parties to the Aarhus Convention, an International Treaty which grants the public certain rights in environmental decision making such as access to information, participation and access to justice, the EU failed to accept a ruling made against it in relation to access to justice for citizens. 

The "Remainer" crowd in the UK and the Guardian tell us that it is not the European Union which is the problem but individual Member States :

If the EU does have a democratic deficit, that is because it is made up of countries with their own problems with public engagement in politics. Plus governments have a habit of blaming “Brussels” when things go wrong, which feeds the idea of an unelected, untamed bureaucracy. As one senior EU official puts it: “Anything you like you claim for yourselves and anything you don’t like you blame on Brussels [The Guardian].”

 However, here we have a situation where NGOs from various Member and Non Member States are trying (unsuccessfully) to hold the EU bureaucratic behemoth to account. Indeed, Norway and Switzerland (both outside the EU) were both forceful in their condemnation of EU's refusal to accept the ruling made against them :

Today during the plenary not a single Party or stakeholder supported the EU position. On the contrary, every delegation that spoke on the issue made very explicit that these amendments were not acceptable to them as they would undermine the Convention in the long term without any legal grounds justifying such amendments. 
Any EU decision to call for a vote on this issue would:

• Destroy the consensus-based spirit that is the fundamental bedrock of the Convention.

• Send a clear signal to all other Parties that their views do not count.

Enable the EU to force the rejection of a legally correct decision on the basis of political motives.

• Undermine the rules of procedure of the Convention.

We firmly believe that the amendments of the decision proposed by the EU would strongly undermine the Convention and its compliance mechanism. [Furthermore] the EU would return from Montenegro with its reputation in disgrace, having lost all credibility as a proponent of democratic norms.

[Statement from Norway and Swiss delegation].

But it gets even worse. As one NGO noted

 A day after European Commission President Juncker declared the rule of law to be one of three principles that must anchor the European Union in his State of the Union address, the EU has been heavily criticised for its failure to accept an international panel’s ruling that it is not ensuring adequate access to justice for its citizens at EU level.

I have to be honest. I didn't think the NGOs had it in them to stand up to the might of the EU Commission. I'm happy to be proved wrong. 

The reality is the European Union is just like any large State Power that has ever existed in the world. It dislikes immensely the idea of the individual citizen having a say in it's affairs or challenging it's decisions in the courts. It seeks to consolidate it's power, rather than divest it. We saw this during the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. We are seeing it again in relation to it's obligations to the Aarhus Convention, the ultimate citizen empowering Treaty.

The full statement made by the coalition of NGOs is well worth a read for those interested in the technical details of what happened during last weeks events :


  1. We are frequently told that the European institutions are what distinguish the union from lesser structures and that directives that can at times seem onerous are necessary to protect the ordinary citizens of the member states. How disillusioning then to see that after more than eight years of disputing its non-compliance over access to justice, the commission seeks to dilute and weaken the resolution of the Aarhus Committee.

    The arrogance of the unelected commissariat (as evidenced in this as well as in the case by Pat Swords) is yet a further boon to the rise of polarising movements such as UKIP, Front National and AfD.

  2. The EU did not adopt this approach without a full assessment of the reaction to it. A key forecast of this assessment was that it knew that only a few back-woods dwellers would complain and that their complaints would not be noticed by the general public. I predict that not one member of the EU parliament will raise this issue in that parliament. Not one newspaper, one public broadcasting outlet and not one member of the government of any member state will highlight what has happened. Strangely, in all its condemnation of the EU, the British United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) never mentioned it. They were made aware of it.

    If this denial of citizen's rights were generally known, the EU would have to pay a political price for it, but it is not known generally.

    The effect of this is to prevent the citizen going directly to the European Court of Justice leaving only one way decisions of the EU environmental policies can be challenged. That is from the bottom up. A project forming part of a public plan of programme can be challenged at member state level through the courts there and the court may refer it to the European Court of Justice. That is however a long and rocky road.

    All that can be done is to do what ever is possible to end the nightmare of the EU as soon as possible by attacking it at each and every opportunity with a view to getting Ireland out. The concept of citizen's rights is alien to the EU, these rights were central from Magna Carta to the French revolution, the American Constitution and the Irish Constitution. There was no tradition of such rights in Mainland Europe centuries past and mainland Europe was all the worse for it. The concept of state control has been the norm to citizens of countries like Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Latvia etc., but foreign to Britain, Switzerland and Ireland. Switzerland is not a member and Britain is escaping leaving poor old Ireland heading further into the EU lion's den, having spent 800 years struggling to get out of the perceived British equivalent. The difference is that the new den has no sign over the entrance. Only the direction of the footprint leading in can serve as a warning that there are none leading out, who will observe that and who will interpret it's meaning?

    1. Roger Helmer of UKIP did raise the issue of Aarhus non compliance in the European Parliament after I contacted him. He got the usual non response.

  3. They also fail to enforce the corrupt Machinery Directive giving manufacturers leeway to produce any type of junk they can get away with. 12 manufacturers have been adjudged as not compliant with the directive in Sweden. Being banned from importing into Sweden. The HSA when informed of this say that they need permission from the EU Commission to enforce the law. Which is a bit of a joke as 2 years ago gave us a written reply to a question that member states have responsibility to enforce the directive . This shows how corrupt the EU has become. That the HSA is prepared to allow dangerous work places to continue operate because of its fear of the commission. Any body injured by a wind turbine talk to a solicitor and ask about the advisability of seeing the HSA because of non enforcement of the law. Then there is the legal issue of allowing non compliant wind turbines being sold in Ireland .