One argument we hear from Europhiles is we must stay in the EU to avoid losing our influence. This would be an interesting argument were it actually true. In reality, British influence in the EU is small and actually getting even smaller. Perhaps the best illustration of this is an analysis of the three main organs of the EU (Parliament, Commission and Council) and the ‘influence’ Britain has there.
The Parliament is the only organ of the EU where the public have a direct say in who is elected there. It is also considered the weakest institution. In the European Parliament, Britain has just 9% of the MEPs. These MEPs are drawn from 10 different political parties, so the chances of them ever agreeing on an issue as one are almost non-existent. Even if they did, the remaining 91% of MEPs are drawn from countries that can simply overrule them all if our ‘partners’ there choose to do so.
The Commission is the EU’s Civil Service and where the laws that impact on EU member states are made. Publically available statistics show that less than 5% of the staff in the Commission are from the UK, despite the UK accounting for 12.5% of the EU’s population. By contrast France, with an almost identical population to the UK, has nearly 10% of Commission staff. Whilst Britain has a Commissioner, the Commissioner is banned by law from placing our national interest into his or her calculations.
The Council is arguably the most powerful institution as it is here governments meet to decide how they will (or will not) implement EU Commission rules. In 1973, when Britain joined the EU, we had 17% of the votes in the Council. Today, Britain has just 8.24% of the votes. Furthermore, the Lisbon Treaty abolished many British vetoes and changed the mathematical formula to achieve majority status, making it easier for our ‘partners’ to reach majorities against Britain’s wishes. Our influence in Council therefore is smaller, and declining.
In addition to all this, there are many countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus and even Central Asia who have said that EU membership is something they would rather like. As more and more countries join, the seating and votes in the institutions will have to be re-calculated accordingly. Britain’s already weak voice will be drowned out further.
Europhiles may then retaliate that the Lisbon Treaty contains clauses that allow member states to object to EU rules and also even allow private citizens to lobby the commission with petitions. Maybe this is a way people can influence the EU if the British government’s place in the institutions is weakening. However, this is not so.
Embedded in the Lisbon Treaty was a clause allegedly giving member states’ national parliaments the right to object to legislation. Objections may indeed be made but on very limited grounds only. National parliaments can object only when an EU law breaches the principles either of subsidiarity (some things are better handled by the individual countries) or of proportionality (any EU laws must achieve the goals of the treaties with minimal side-effects or restrictions on the member states). They cannot object for any other reason. Even then they need several other EU member states’ parliaments to back them up, all within a conveniently tight window of time. Needless to say, this means there is little chance of influence via that route.
Also in the Lisbon Treaty were citizens’ initiatives. This stated that if a minimum number of signatures from several member states could be obtained, then the Commission would have to consider their request. Please note that, yet again, you need other countries to help you out. Also, the number of signatures is very high (1 million), and the Commission has only to consider the request, not actually enact it. When the citizens’ initiative was discussed in 2008 in the European Parliament, it was made clear that the Commission would automatically reject things it just didn’t like, regardless of the size of the petition (restoration of the death penalty being the example given, but one imagines not the only one). Furthermore, there are already 2 million signatures gathered to end the by-location of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and Brussels. Yet the fact more than double the minimum signatures have been gathered has changed nothing.
In short, it can be seen that our influence is small, and declining. It is best to leave while we still can.