What Brits must know before casting their vote on the EU referendum
Britain’s EU referendum next Thursday is a momentous decision that could have huge implications for the country – and the continent – for years to come.
The choice we must make looks simple enough, but it masks a difficult and complex decision that entails weighing an imperfect status quo against an unknowable alternative future.
Obviously the wilful half-truths, wild extrapolations and baseless assurances both sides have been peddling have not helped. Here are five key questions, on five fundamental issues, worth considering before polling day.
1) Bureaucracy and democracy:
Claim:The European Union is bureaucratic, unaccountable and undemocratic.
But: “Democratic” can be defined in different ways. The EU looks less democratic than most countries, for example. But some might also say a country with a hereditary monarchy, an unelected upper house and a parliamentary majority based on 35% of the popular vote is not very democratic either.
(“Bureaucratic” is also a relative term: the EU has 55,000 civil servants; the UK 440,000.)
But in any case the EU is not a country, so it may not be fair to compare it to one. At the same time, however, it is a lot more than just another international organisation, and is hard to compare to other administrations or bodies – including Whitehall or Westminster.
Brussels works like this: the (unelected) commission, headed by 28 commissioners appointed by the member states, proposes laws, in areas where national governments allow them to. To come into force, these must then be approved by majorities in both the council of ministers, made up of (mostly elected) EU ministers, and parliament (elected).
This certainly constitutes some measure of democratic oversight, although there are legitimate questions about whether it is enough. The accountability of the commission is clearly also a concern.
Many member states have recognised the problem, though, and want change, so this might improve.
Question for voters: The EU is different, and differently democratic. Does this make it undemocratic and unaccountable beyond reform – and if so, would that justify leaving?