On Monday evening I heard a lecture given by Judge Lenarts, Vice President of the European Court of Justice.
He began by conceding many thought there is a democratic deficit in the EU. He argued that the Council and Commission are not directly elected. More power to the EU undermines national Parliaments. There can be a lack of transparency in a complex decision making process. The EU Parliament does not have full powers of control over the EU government.
So far so good. However, the thrust of his lecture sought to establish two propositions. The first is that the EU is not a state and does not intend to become a state. The second is that the ECJ, Parliament and Council between them do offer appropriate democratic accountability for the institutions of the Union. He argued it with several audience pleasing genuflections to UK democracy and court systems, with intelligence and numerous case examples of ECJ decisions. Each was designed to show how in his view the ECJ tried to uphold or strengthen democracy at both EU and national Parliamentary levels.
I found it unconvincing as an argument. It is difficult to maintain that a set of institutions that have a flag, a supreme court, a currency, a central bank, a Parliament and a vast law code is not seeking to be a state. It is also difficult to argue that a Court which sets out to judge and decide against the wishes of national Parliaments is other than an attempt to impose a superior international law and discipline on unruly democracies that think differently about problems. It was interesting to see UK Judges, UK Supreme Court judges and a Minister sitting at his feet to hear how he thinks the superior jurisdiction of the EU will develop and affect them.
The problem with this dispute is that it is fundamental to understanding and tackling the problems of the Euro and the current disagreements between EU states. The Judge took an altogether very laid back approach to it all, as if the EU has all the time in the world to evolve answers to its democratic deficit. Meanwhile the system is posing crucial questions of why should citizens in Greece or Spain obey the policies and laws of the EU when they feel powerless to change them?