Why the EU is an exemplar of democracy, not anti-democratic

In the next blog in our Brexit Debates series Richard Corbett MEP tells us why he thinks the EU’s approach to negotiating trade deals is far more democratic than if the UK has to negotiate independently.

Contrary to much anti-European rhetoric, the EU is the most democratic of all the international structures to which the UK belongs. UK sovereignty is not undermined by our membership, but enhanced by it.

Being part of the EU enables us to take some decisions jointly with our neighbours on subjects we cannot deal with alone - neither environmental issues nor security threats nor many aspects of economic policy take heed of national borders – which increases our influence on issues that would otherwise be beyond our control.

So not only do we have a greater influence to shape policy direction and contribute directly to the decision making process, being a member of the EU means that one these decisions can be made more democratically and enforced more effectively than in other international organisations such as the G7 or G20.


Well, traditional methods of international co-operation are slow, cumbersome, opaque and, frankly, not very democratic. They involve long negotiations among officials, leading eventually to government ministers’ signatures. In most cases, nothing can be agreed without consensus — thus creating a bias towards weak, lowest common denominator agreements, if agreement is reached at all. And when an agreement is reached, it is submitted as a fait accompli to national parliaments on a take-it-or-leave-it basis — if it is ever submitted to parliaments at all – and even then doubts about whether every signatory will ratify often plague the implementation of such agreements.

Furthermore, even if all do ratify, there are constant questions about whether countries are applying them in good faith. Many international structures theoretically create binding agreements, but the procedures for verifying whether everyone is playing fair, and for settling any differences, are weak, if they exist at all.

Contrast this with how decisions are arrived at amongst member states of the EU.

It has far more developed mechanisms than any other international structure for informing and involving national parliaments; all legislative proposals are sent out eight weeks ahead of ministerial meetings enabling national parliaments to mandate their minister before they go to Brussels. Secondly, the directly elected Members of the European Parliament who are involved in the decision making process represent both governing and opposition parties in each country, ensuring that views from across the political spectrum can be heard, and the decisions are taken in public, not behind closed doors.

Furthermore, as many, but not all, decisions are taken by qualified majority voting there can be broad consensus without having to settle for the lowest common denominator agreements. And when these decisions are reached, they will have a legally binding force within the legal systems of all member countries, which means it can be relied upon directly by citizens, businesses and consumers.

So, far from being undemocratic, remote and a threat to sovereignty, international agreements between member states in the EU are arrived at by consensus, in public, by a directly elected parliament of all political colours and once agreed upon are legally enforceable.  And you can’t get much more democratic than that!

Sadly, despite what anti-European campaigners have over-promised, Brexit means less transparency, less influence and less effective decision making on bilateral and multilateral agreements.  It doesn’t increase our sovereignty, it decreases it. Theresa May’s oft repeated insistence that she will not provide a running commentary on negotiations significantly reduces the sovereignty of our Parliament.  That democratically elected MPs are being denied the opportunity to hold the government to account over these negotiations is not just the thin end of the wedge.  It is a poor precedent for less effective negotiations and a less democratic process which will inevitably lead to lower quality agreements that we cannot be sure will be enforced equitably.

We are moving away from democracy, not toward it.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Unlock Democracy