Monday 28 August 2017

EEA: putting the power back where we can see it

A very clever fellow, a remainer, put it to me very recently that we should think of sovereignty as gold coins of power – you can either hoard them like a miser (mine all mine), or invest a sensible proportion in systems which buy you an increase of power to act in the wider world (on behalf of your citizenry & businesses).

One would be inclined to agree. Every single treaty we make is, to an extent, a binding restriction on the exercise of absolute sovereignty. Each interaction is a sovereignty spending decision.

But that to me does not describe the EU relationship at all. To use the framework of this analogy, this is not the UK expending its sovereignty, rather it is granting licence for the EU to spend it on our behalf. This becomes more apparent when you examine the EU's interactions in global forums where the UK has no means of voting independently.

You could liken this with hiring a fund manager - but with this fund manager the terms of the contract can be unilaterally amended (ECJ rulings) and all the while you have no idea what you are invested in, nor the terms of the contract. You only find out what the small print says when it is too late to change anything.

This is why the EU is intolerable to a democracy. Democracy is the safeguard measure; the agency of the people to control what is done in their name. If that agency is removed, and the people have no power, they have no control, thus do not have democracy in any meaningful sense.

That is where the EEA option is the superior model. It really is about "taking back control". When the EU brings a new piece of legislation into being (likely adopted global standards), it is not automatically adopted by Norway. There is a constitutional process whereby the Norwegian parliament debates and decides whether or not to adopt a measure. We know that there is a penalty if they do not adhere to single market rules, but ultimately it is their decision to consider the balance of trade-offs according to their own strategic trade goals and domestic values.

Effectively there is a firewall which preserves agency and repatriates the "sovereignty spending" decision to domestic assemblies - where the process is more understood and likely to garner more media attention. That way, the foreign aspect becomes domestic politics. Restoring the media input is the crucial part of democratising the process.

As much as anything this is about the future. One thing about the Lisbon Treaty, which I have only recently understood, is how the EU effectively becomes merged with the frameworks of the WTO in terms of trade. Every post-Lisbon trade treaty is now effectively a formalised commitment to converge on WTO regulatory aims. Any future relationship with the EU would be on those exact same terms.

It therefore makes the "Norway has no influence" meme obsolete. You will have read arguments that the Norway option is "fax democracy". As others have noted the fax machine is long redundant which gives you some idea how old those arguments are.

In the new order, government is more like your solicitor who goes to court to argue your case and bargain for you. You might argue that the EU is a bigger law firm with better lawyers, but in this analogy, the EU is the solicitor representing several clients and does not necessarily have your interests in mind - and is not giving your case its full attention.

We are told that Norway has no formal say in whether an EU law passes. I would point out that the substance of the law has already been debated by international standards bodies long before it enters the EU legislative process - and early participation in shaping the law matters more than simply rubber stamping it into being. Going to the top tables directly with our own representation is far more significant.

Combined with the ability to refuse adoption, or register exceptions to it in the treaty, it means that we have a much more controlled process where consent must be sought. In the EU model, if you lose a vote, you're still lumbered with bad law. Law you don't get to change.

This is not to say that we cannot licence sovereignty to the EU for mutual advantage if we choose to, but the notion that all of it, all the time, is ceded to the EU is one that I simply cannot live with, especially knowing that the transfer of sovereignty is always away from the people.

We all want the maximum level of cooperation, freedom and collaboration, but ultimately the off-shoring of decision making by recognised, understood and accepted parliaments is an abdication from good governance. This to me explains how our own parliament could have withered so very badly over the years. I believe Brexit will restore some of its vitality. It is on that singular principle I believe the UK must leave. We must repair our own democracy and that is not going to happen without a seismic catalyst like Brexit.

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