EU: Name that institution

EU Commission

 

Probably the most annoying aspect of the so-called debate about the EU referendum is how easy it has been for the Beleavers to trot out lies willy-nilly, without being troubled by the people – and much less the press – to verify their ridiculous claims. Many of these whoppers have been truly gob-smacking, including Boris’s 350 million quid, Farage’s “… we’re all agreed that most of our laws come from Brussels” and Banks’ “I’m on the side of the people.”

Indeed, most of what has been splashed around like little boys peeing up a wall has been taking the piss with our intelligence… well, not mine… but most of the uninformed of the Untied Kingdom.

Much of the blame should be aimed at the press:

“I don’t even know who my MEP is!” – to which the correct answer to this Guardian journalist is, “Then go and find out you sad excuse for a journo – how come you don’t know the name of the person you voted for? Oh, you didn’t vote? Then how bloody inconsiderate of the entire EU to be getting on with running Europe without letting you know all about it first!”, and most of the rest at the people:

“We have to stop the gravy train.” – to which the correct answer is, “You mean the one full of Ukip MEPs on salaries in excess of £10,000/month nett taking the money out that you put in… so that they can use it to campaign against the very organisation that is paying them… paying Nigel Farage specifically to sit on a fisheries committee that he has only attended once… plus your mate the fisherman is mad as a box of frogs because the EU is paying foreign fishermen to come and take our fish so they can sell it back to us… that gravy train?”.

But then, as I said to the missus soon after arriving here, the EU’s biggest problem is how it communicates with the population. It is true that the workings of all of the institutions are almost completely open to scrutiny by anyone… that is, anyone who has the time and patience to trawl through the astonishing amount of data on their websites. But it’s much more fundamental than that.

Whenever I would dip back into the Untied Kingdom, I’d invariably wind up in a conversation about the EU – or as it is usually called, Brussels. Or Mordor. Just to see what I was dealing with, I would ask a very simple pair of questions:

Name the three (or possibly four) core institutions of the European Union; describe briefly what they do and what their relationship is with each other.

Of all of the people I asked – professional, educated, experienced adults – not one ever even came close. Not one. But every single one of them had an opinion about ‘Brussels’. Or Mordor.

Furthermore, soon after Robert Peston got the ITV gig, he was Tweeting live from a meeting of the Council of the EU from the EU Council building. What’s wrong with that, you will probably ask (they’re two separate buildings). But in mitigation, I would suggest that the European Union gets its shit together (or reform, as it’s quaintly known) and deal with its simplest problem first: making the names of the institutions reflect what their actual function is.

Like this:

THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

Renamed: THE EU COUNCIL OF HEADS OF GOVERNMENT*

  • Role: Defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union
  • Members: Heads of state or government of EU countries, European Commission President, High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy
  • President: Donald Tusk
  • Established in: 1974 (informal forum), 1992 (formal status), 2009 (official EU institution)
  • Location: Brussels (Belgium)
  • Website: European Council

Note that this has only been an official EU institution since 2009, before when heads of government got on with managing their proper jobs (being heads of government). Since then however, this institution has increasingly been abused by government heads as being a forum within which they can use the rest of the EU as a scapegoat for their domestic problems.

* Or possibly THE EU COUNCIL OF COUNTRY LEADERS, as heads of state (e.g. France) are often included.

Not to be confused with…

THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

Renamed: THE EU COUNCIL OF MINISTERS

  • Role: Voice of EU member governments, adopting EU laws and coordinating EU policies
  • Members: Government ministers from each EU country, according to the policy area to be discussed
  • President: Each EU country holds the presidency on a 6-month rotating basis
  • Established in: 1958 (as Council of the European Economic Community)
  • Location: Brussels (Belgium)
  • Website: Council of the EU

Easy to get this one mixed up with the previous one – hence the change of name (I wish). Manned by government ministers (hopefully) expert in specific policy areas. Following extensive meetings, this is where laws and policies are discussed, changed and made – the ministers are responsible for committing their governments to these laws and policies.

Consider that, of all of the EU laws, the UK voted for the vast majority and sponsored and/or campaigned for most of them. Indeed, since 1999 the UK was outvoted 56 times (gasp, shock, horror).

But it was on the winning side… 2,466 times (er… let’s just ignore that as an irrelevance, shall we?).

The presidency of the Council changes on a strict rota basis every six months, with each member state taking its turn.

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION

Renamed: THE EU COMMISSION

  • Role: Promotes the general interest of the EU by proposing and enforcing legislation as well as by implementing policies and the EU budget
  • Members: A team or ‘College’ of Commissioners, 1 from each EU country
  • President: Jean-Claude Juncker
  • Year established: 1958
  • Location: Brussels (Belgium)
  • Website: European Commission

“Bah! Unelected Eurocrats!” Yes they are: just as your local civil service is unelected.

Again, the nomenclature is the problem. The Commissioners are nominated by their respective countries to be in charge of individual Directorates, and are therefore political appointments (as are their heads of staff). The staff at the Commission are scapegoats tied to bunch bags – or what have become known as ‘Eurocrats’.

These are the super-qualified people who actually do the donkey work of implementing the laws, directives and regulations that have been agreed by your elected representatives in the Parliament of the EU and the Council of the EU (or the EU Council of Ministers as I would prefer it to be called). It is also true that commissioners can propose laws and policies, but these must then go through the process of being discussed and ratified by the Council and Parliament.

The Commission in no way imposes so much as a fart on the EU member states, unless it has gone through that process.

BIG IMPORTANT BIT!

Many of you will be repeating, “Bah! Unelected Eurocrats!” even having read the above, because of the austerity imposed on all of us, plus the frankly nasty way the Commission was perceived to have dealt with the Greek thingy. Understandable, given the role the European Council (as in the heads of state – keep up) had in all of this.

The Commission can indeed impose extraordinary sanctions on member states, but ONLY (this is the Big Important Bit) with the express guidance, permission and go-ahead from the Council. In other words, it’s your elected heads of state, government leaders and ministers what done it, in Sun parlance.

Think of it this way:

Some kids are playing football. The bigger ones are in charge, but there are lots of smaller ones – less powerful, but much better at playing football. The bigger kids tell the smaller kids that they should kick the ball against a wall.

“But – there are windows in it and they’ll get broken!”

“That’s not your concern. Your position is that you play as we say you should. Now get on with it.”

The windows get broken.

The occupants come running out, complaining that they’re going to be cold – plus they’ll have less to live on because they will have to pay for the windows.

The bigger kids point at the smaller kids and say, “They did it, we were powerless to stop them”.

That’s what happened.

 

THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Renamed: THE EU PARLIAMENT

  • Role: Directly-elected EU body with legislative, supervisory, and budgetary responsibilities
  • Members: 751 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament)
  • President: Martin Schulz
  • Established in: 1952 as Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community, 1962 as European Parliament, first direct elections in 1979
  • Location: Strasbourg (France), Brussels (Belgium), Luxembourg
  • Website: European Parliament

This is the body that ultimately makes the EU’s laws… the body that is made up of MEPs who are directly elected by the citizens of the EU.

I should gently suggest that it would be in your interest to vote for MEPs who would best represent your views within a properly functioning EU, rather than find someone who wants to kick his/her toys out of the pram because immigrants/laws/diminishing sovereignty/straight bananas.

COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (CJEU)

Not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights, which comprises 47 countries and was set up in 1959 under the aegis of the Council of Europe. It is based in Strasbourg, France.

EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK

Renamed: Central Bank of the European Union (CBEU)

  • Role: To manage the euro, keep prices stable and conduct EU economic & monetary policy
  • President: Mario Draghi
  • Members: ECB President and Vice-President and governors of national central banks from all EU countries
  • Established in: 1998
  • Location: Frankfurt (Germany)
  • Website: European Central Bank

The Central Bank manages the euro and maintains economic and monetary policy for the European Union.

 

EUROPEAN EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE (EEAS)

Renamed: DIPLOMATIC SERVICE OF THE EU (DSEU)

  • Role: Manages the EU’s diplomatic relations with other countries outside the bloc and conducts EU foreign & security policy
  • High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy: Federica Mogherini
  • Established in: 2011
  • Location: Brussels (Belgium)
  • Website: European External Action Service

 

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (CoR)

  • Role: Advisory body representing Europe’s regional and local authorities
  • President: Markku Markkula (EPP/FI), City Councillor of Espoo, Finland
  • Members: 350 from all EU countries
  • Established in: 1994
  • Location: Brussels (Belgium)
  • Website: Committee of the Regions

You could describe the Committee of the Regions as a kind of feedback loop. It comprises locally and regionally elected representatives from all of the 28 member states. These good people monitor and report back on how EU laws impact locally.

When drawing up legislation, the Commission, Council and Parliament must consult with the CoR.

This is not supposed to be a comprehensive breakdown of all of the EU institutions, so a few have been left out.

Another institution that has been left out is… the Council of Europe. One more time, and with feeling: this has NOTHING to do with the European Union.

There. Now I truly hope that has given you a clearer insight into the most important aspect of the EU: what it says on the tin.

And don’t forget: I will be asking questions later.

(If you’d like to check on some (that is, all) of the garbage spouted by the Beleavers, use the links to the relevant websites, why don’tcha.)