Paisley: The only solution for those of us who believe in democratic accountability is to Vote Leave

The European Referendum campaign, on both sides, has focused largely economic issues and immigration. Those are important and valid issues which deserve to be fully debated, but they are not the only factors people should weigh up when deciding how to cast their vote.

Even the most ardent Europhiles are usually forced to admit there is a democratic deficit in the European Union. They will usually accept too that public awareness of the European Union institutions is low, but of course we’re usually told that is the public’s fault for not educating themselves.

In a single interview on Radio Ulster on Tuesday Claire Hanna unwittingly highlighted the remote and unaccountable nature of the European Union. Whatever the arguments about politics in Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom as a whole there are few people who couldn’t name at least one Cabinet Minister or who could not give you a reasonable explanation of how laws are passed in our country.

The contrast with the European Union is striking. How many people could tell you what the European Commission is let alone identify a single member? Similarly, how many people in Northern Ireland know the difference between the European Commission, the Council of the European Union or the European Council. Do they know how European directives are formulated before they are imposed upon all of us?

The difference between all those people and Claire Hanna is that they would not blame a so-called “senior moment”. Our older people deserve better than to be referenced by a flailing politician searching for an answer.

The name of Jonathan Hill should be tripping from the lips of people in the United Kingdom, but there are reality tv contestants from five years ago who would be more recognisable to the general public. The agriculture commissioner is possibly the only person whose name might have some degree of recognition within the farming community but the scope of the European Union goes far beyond the Common Agricultural Policy.

When Claire was pressed by Stephen Nolan for the name of the British Commissioner it is Jonathan Hill’s name that should have been on the tip of her tongue. After all, he is the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union.

It is a not insignificant role, with obvious and direct economic consequences for us all. I don’t actually criticise any MLA for the fact they mightn’t know his name however and I suspect many Members of Parliament would be similarly stumped.

The European Union influences virtually every area of our lives yet is remote and completely unaccountable. One of the real reasons Claire Hanna or anyone else will struggle to name any of the European Commissioner is because not a single member of the public ever casts a vote for them to take up that post.

Whereas Ministers, either locally or nationally, can be held to account by the media and ultimately by the public in an election there is no such pressure on those who take the decisions within the EU. If people would not support government formulated like this in Stormont or Westminster, then they shouldn’t accept it from Brussels.

The only solution for those of us who believe in democratic accountability is to Vote Leave on Thursday.

Ian Paisley is the MP for North Antrim

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  • Are these things being kept secret, and by whom?

    If people in the UK do not know the difference between the major EU institutions, then I suggest the schools in the UK are not doing their job. This is ordinary general knowledge.

  • Harlequin

    So if we put some people on the spot to name various members of the UK’s cabinet and they couldn’t, the UK would cease to be democratic? Is that how democracy works then?

  • There is no “Bristish Commissioner”. Commissioners are bound to serve only the common interest of the EU and not any national interests.

    On the tip of my tongue I can name Violeta Bulc, Phil Hogan, Johannes Hahn, Frans Timmermans.

    I have always got rapid replies when I have tried to contact MEPs. Many aspects of the EP put national parliaments to shame, e.g. by holding committee meetings in public.

    The intransparent layer in the EU are the councils of ministers who negotiate behind closed doors. That’s the national governments and you did vote for them, but most of us don’t know what they*re up to.

  • hgreen

    Seems to be a typo in the headline. I’ve fixed it below.
    Paisley: The only solution for those of us who believe in democratic accountability and dislike foreigners is to Vote Leave

  • mickfealty

    Good piece Ian. You put your finger on a key structural weakness in the EU: though, I note the backhanded compliment in highlighting the contribution of Claire Hanna who has been one of the most effective advocates for Remain both in NI and in judging from her performance on Nicky Campbell this morning, in GB.

    It seems to me there’s a clash here between the Brussels based technocracy and the homegrown, in touch with the classic parish pump politician like yourself. Hill’s a bit of a trick question in a way, since he virtually had no public profile before David Cameron appointed him, nor was he hugely associated with EU (indicating a certain cavalier approach to the whole European matter by the PM) prior to his appointment.

    It’s this lack of visibility that makes the EU such a hard sell. I’ve argued here before that if anyone thinks Scotland will springboard out on foot of a failure to sell the EU in England, they have another thing coming to them. It’s a bureaucracy, and an avaricious one at that.

    But let me put this counter back to you? The parish pump is not where the key national and international resources are. We see from the south which is at a much older stage of development under STV PR than we are in the north and the power of the Parish in terms of preventing anything from happening (especially in terms of infrastructure renewal) is becoming acute.

    Technocrats are unlovely, boring people who cannot communicate to save their lives. But they are generally not ill-intentioned as bad (over communicative) populism often is. If everyone operates on the NIMBY or backyard clientelist model, then we have no overview of how things can operate on wider or macro level. That’s what’s missing from the debate. And that is the structural effect of reducing the management of complex system to a single binary choice. As Ruth Davison said last night, we need a bigger conversation than this narrow one.

  • mickfealty

    Behave Hugh! I love ya, but there’s limits (as you very well know)…

  • hgreen

    A country that has the house of lords shouldn’t really be accusing others of a lack of democratic accountability.

  • hgreen

    Ok. Will wind neck in.

  • Sharpie

    This is a nonsense argument. Despite me working with the public sector in Northern Ireland over many years I just about know the names of the Permanent Secretaries and it is fairly impossible to find out who any other civil servant is for any function.

    I would say the UN agencies and the World Trade Organisation and the IMF and World Bank have had a huge impact on the world, including our over the last half century, even Nato. Now are we going to do a who’s who in each of those?

    I don’t feel one bit of suffrage in UK politics, despite being inside it. I do see international problems that are caused by globalisation and that can only be resolved on an international platform. To me the EU has a conscience and a mandate to work in that direction. Ironically I have a greater level of trust in a multi-national body like the EU than I do in a one-state populist government. If I have a frustration with it – it is because it moves so slowly and we know it does that because it inches forward with consensus and compromise – the only solution for diplomacy and progress outside of conflict and the threat of it.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    What’s your opinion on TTIP?
    Why was it negotiated in secret and not mentioned on mainstream media?
    Do you agree that it puts power into global business interests and takes away from national governments?

  • Sharpie

    yes I do.

    I’m wondering why national governments are supporting its development so assiduously; I have not heard the UK or Irish Governments campaigning against it although I do believe it will be diluted to take away the most egregious aspects. Outside of that the UK values free trade and wants more of it internationally and the Tories have an itch caused by the NHS that they are continually scratching with privatisation. In general more trade is good. We sorely need the EU environmental regulations to shape that trade in an environmentally sustainable direction.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Searching the web for info, it looks like the main objection to TTIP is that it gives business power over government. Do you agree?

  • Sharpie

    Outside of generalisations I don’t understand what that means.

  • Jag

    Good man yourself Ian Og brilliantly criticising unelected bureaucrats for imposing their rules here. The sooner we tell those pen-pushers in Westminster to push off the better.

  • The issue of tenor of the debate lies in that technocracy which has restricted the body politic in appealing at all to the ‘issues’ in any ideological or principled manner. The technical solution always trumps the political one, albeit the technical goal is often framed in political terms to create an illusion of common goals e.g. ever closer union to which Greece (for example) has been put on a spit and is being roasted on the fire of the technical demands of the Eurozone – though I would accept that has more to do with politics in Germany than the demands of the ECB, but no-one is going to argue that. And don’t say Ireland, whose economy is a duality of interest of the UK and the USA which is why it has continued to grow in recent years tied as it is to almost the only Western economies that have been growing and that much of that GDP is based on funds ‘resting’ in global corp accounts before bouncing off to another jurisdiction.

    Technocrats may not be bad people, but that is not to say that the goals they pursue do not have bad consequences that unelected and unaccountable, they have no way of being reset. This is especially when an original goal is so vague it can mean a plethora of different things to different people and mission creep means no one can quite work out how we got to where we are now.

  • How many of your MEPs can you name? I could only name 3 of the 10 in the SE England constituency, the ones who are always in the news. But I am sure that 6 of the 10 work hard (the other 4 are UKIP including the one with the lowest attendance record, initials NF).

  • Of course you got a rapid reply from an MEP. What else have they to do. They were probably only too grateful that anyone would know who they were at all.

  • Nevin

    The referendum result is proving very hard to call. Should the UK vote to leave would it be treated with the same level of contempt by the power brokers in the EU as Ireland experienced back in 2008/9?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    That it allows business to sue governments. The government then has to make its laws around what large global businesses want to do.

    Much detail explained below, and google search has loads more. Are you saying you are not aware of this power issue?

    TTIP: big business ‘could sue governments over tax on profits’
    “The fact multinational companies would be able to challenge and undermine that is testament to the terrifying extent of the corporate grab embedded in this toxic trade deal.”

    “The obscure legal system that lets corporations sue countries”

    “Most international investment treaties and free-trade deals grant foreign investors the right to activate this system, known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), if they want to challenge government decisions affecting their investments. In Europe, this system has become a sticking point in negotiations over the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal proposed between the European Union and the US, which would massively extend its scope and power and make it harder to challenge in the future. Both France and Germany have said that they want access to investor-state dispute settlement removed from the TTIP treaty currently under discussion.”

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well the DUP just lectured me on democratic accountability, that 0.000000000000000001% chance I had of voting Leave if I survive this day and make it to a polling station in one piece tomorrow for an active election that will run its course until then, has been diminished even further

  • Sir Rantsalot

    How could it be treated the same? UK would be outside their control. Do you have anything in mind?

  • Sharpie

    This could be a great topic for a post on Slugger to see how much can be gleaned from deeper reading of the TTIP beyond a scan of the polemics.

    I cannot see how it offends a Tory or right wing sensibility given that they refuse to pursue large companies for compliance on tax avoidance strategies, off shore holding shells, or tycoon asset stripping or allowing foreign sovereign funds to take over strategic infrastructure assets like power generation and investment in nuclear plants.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What’s your opinion on the Iraq War, a unilateral act of British sovereignty that went against both the majority of NATO and EU?

    No one is driving TTIP more than the UK government is, but if it’s free from having to water it down for the sake of 27 other nations then this government is going to opt for TTIP Plus when Brexit becomes Rexit.

    I think it’s clear there are Tories who are more Thatcher than Thatcher and they don’t want their wings clipped by anyone between elections, not an EU Nash-Equilibrium, not public accountability with a referendum on trade deals.

    That’s the problem with the UK-topia, yes the UK can make bad decisions, but it is far worse for civic democracy as it stands, with the 3 recent referendums a precedent I doubt the UK is going to add to in the rest of its tenure.

  • mickfealty

    I’m agree with you TD, up to a point. It is an old problem when we are faced with innovation and change in technologies, not one that actually comes solely with the EU:

    Indeed, one of the invalidating aspects of the Leave campaign lies not so much the hyping of stats, but in the pretence that technocratic blockages in the UK (NHS being the primary example) relate to Brussels rather than a preference in both main parties at Westminster to devolve rather than take tough governmental decisions.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    TTIP would be a great topic, maybe a slugger person could pick it up ?

    It is a level above parties and what they will or won’t do. It wouldn’t matter what party is in charge , big business would have the power. I’m not aware of this type of power flip ever being put on paper. That’s we it’s done in secret without any voting from the people, cos the people wouldn’t want it.

  • Msiegnaro

    Do you not feel regardless of the author, the unaccountable nature of the EU is of concern?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Let’s dissect the pillars of the EU into democratic accountable trauches … shall we?

    EU Parliament …
    Is Diane Dodds Not accountable?
    Is Luke Ming Flanagan Not accountable?

    EU Commission…
    Is Lord Hill Not accountable?
    Is Phil Hogan Not accountable?

    EU Council …
    Is David Cameron Not accountable?
    Is Enda Kenny Not accountable?

    EU Council of Ministers …
    Is the Fianna Fáil government that bailed out the banks, had a bank guarantee and damaged the Irish economy Not accountable?

    Is the Labour Party that did the same short of copying the bank guarantee Not accountable?

    EU Treaties …
    EVERY new EU Treaty including the Fiscal Compact has to be passed by a referendum in the Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom is playing “all or nothing” with EU Membership in terms of the UK’s affairs.

    What would happen without the EU, UK governments and maybe Irish governments too would be doing international treaties in Europe in private away from the people.

    If this Federalist Nazi Superstate Boris Johnson really moans about really existed these referendums would be banned, but they are not!

    In terms of the other national governments …
    We can hold them to account because we have the ability to move freely within Europe … We have Embassy and Consulate connections and loads of ExPats to connect with.
    We can petition the EU Parliament

    The main reason why governments are not held to account is because figureheads within politics keep us depressed and deny us any ability to assert our own global visions through any open channel we can make

    Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    As much as I respect the mandate he has as a constituency MP for North Antrim, I’m not taking lectures on Democratic Accountability from someone who abolished the Civic Forum, opposed the Alternative Vote, and defends the un-elected House of Lords.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Iraq war decisions were/are in the hands of the elite so they can make lots of money. Nothing to do with what British politicians wish. That’s why a false reason of weapons of mass destruction was created and peddled to MPs and the public. Otherwise why would Iraq be invaded?
    Same reason with TTIP, the corporate elite are pushing for businesses to have power over governments. More lovely money for them and screw the consequences for everyone else.

  • Kevin Breslin

    British politicians voted for the Iraq war, that was a sovereign democratic act of Parliament.

    And Let’s be honest here, it’s only because the German Government, British Government and French Government wants it and are driving it that the TTIP is on the agenda with the United States Government. The Irish Government are of course in on it too.

    People voted for these people because they didn’t believe there was a Left Wing Alternative we could make. However there is a strong Left wing voice that can grow within it.

    Vote Brexit for Lexit and you’ll end up with Rexit.

    Switzerland hasn’t become more left-wing, neither has Norway, nor Iceland nor oligarch run states like Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. In fact the most Keynesian economy in the whole of Europe, the one that utterly rejects the Austrian School Economics the most is actually the one the Leave movement uses to dog whistle over: TURKEY. Erdoğan while undoubtedly an authoritarian still has a government that practices fiscal stimulus rather than austerity.

    And like it or not the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is and CETA are being driven by national governments both in Europe and North America. Both of these blocks and the countries within are being held to account by the public.

    I don’t see what else the people who have elected right wing leaders (and I include Obama on this list because he’s right on the European Spectrum) within these regions are going to be able to do, if they are simply confined to a mono-national way of thinking.

    I would severely doubt we would even have a magnifying glass into TTIP if it wasn’t for the EU. At the end of the day National Governments are mandated to make a cost-benefit analysis on passing TTIP.

    National governments can do whatever other national governments let them, but I feel there is greater transparency possible from the European union than other meetings of governments because there’s a European Parliament to hold these governments to account.

    The Leave camp ideas of a unilateral Free Trade Bill means the UK not simply getting rid of a few mere tariffs and customs but other internalized trade barriers that the British people and their politicians themselves put up against outside markets.

    Effectively the FTA Bill Leave suggest is a legislative declaration of war against the UK’s own protectionism.

    Effectively their campaign is based on the fact that protectionism is easier within the EU than outside of it.

    I’m happy for Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland to veer towards communism if enough people buy into it. However we love having purchasing power, freedom to choose what we spend our money upon, the ability to compete for the jobs we want and governments at most steering markets rather than controlling them by taking the three previous freedoms away.

    I’m a social democrat that believe in the power of co-operative enterprises, ethical purchasing, direct democracy and the dissemination of facts and opinions. I believe also in the social part of democracy, where people don’t have to make that democratic choice alone, where they are free to make networks and associate, where they are not limited simply by a national culture or even a national affinity. I believe in learning from other nations and nationals rather than hiding from them.

    The EU gives people the opportunity to master these skills.

  • Declan Doyle

    You could be describing the relationship between NI and London.

  • Katyusha

    It doesn’t matter if you can’t name a particular European Commissioner. I can’t name any Permanent Secretaries of the UK Civil Service either.
    Unelected, unaccountable Whitehall bureaucrats, drafting policy for the UK when the British people never voted for them.

    The European Commission is not the equivalent of Westminster. That role belongs to the European Parliament, and we did vote for our MEP’s. Yes, there is a democratic deficit, in that the European Parliament should have more executive powers, but the main stumbling block to this is that it would require further transfer of sovereignty from member states. Still, the elephant in the room is the democratic deficit of Westminster, with first-past-the-post and the lack of devolution throughout England. Indeed, the referendum we are currently holding has precisely zero legal weight, and can be ignored or twisted by Westminster in whatever manner they please. So much for direct democracy.

  • eamoncorbett

    Ben , your submission is the only one i actually understood.

  • Angry Mob

    In terms of being democratically accountable the EU commission is not. The electorate did not vote for them and as the commission has right of initiative they have one of the most important powers.

    Until this is rectified the EU cannot be considered democratic.

  • Brendan Heading

    That it allows business to sue governments

    Investor-state dispute resolution was rejected a year ago by the European Parliament.

    Any other aspects of TTIP you don’t like ?

  • Brendan Heading

    This is an argument often used by Irish republicans. The electorate in Northern Ireland did not vote for the NI Secretary of State and cannot remove her. Does that make her position illegitimate ? Does it mean NI is not a democracy ? Of course not.

  • Brendan Heading

    I don’t think this is a good argument at all. It is an attempt to dumb down the debate into something that oversimplifies the issues in order to make people who don’t understand them (most of us) feel good about taking a decision out of ignorance.

    Off the top of my head I can’t name any of my local DUP councillors in Newtownabbey council. I can name the MP and a couple of MLAs. That does not mean that Newtownabbey council isn’t legitimate. It means that I haven’t been so concerned with anything that it has been doing to take an interest in who represents me there.

    The reason why I can’t name any EU officials is because most of their activity behind the scenes is either benign or doesn’t effect me. I don’t take an interest in their regulatory activites, because most of the time I know they’re working for the common good across several countries and because the UK government has to approve any of the major decisions.

    It is because the EU has no real power that we don’t take a lot of interest in who is running it. But, of course, that is not an argument that Ian Paisley would like to be seen making.

  • Brendan Heading

    No country has ever negotiated an international treaty in public.

    Most government business is done in secret. The NI Executive and the UK cabinet both meet and make decisions secretly. They are accountable for those decisions, but we aren’t allowed to hear how they arrived at their conclusions. Secrecy is normal.

    When TTIP is actually done, the EU member states will get to debate and ratify it. I’ll wait until I’ve seen what is being proposed. Until then, everything you read on conspiracy theory websites about it is just so much flim-flam.

  • Angry Mob

    Does she have the sole right of initiative? Of course not.

  • Brendan Heading

    I smell a strawman. What do you mean “the sole right of initiative” ? She has extensive and sweeping powers.

  • Angry Mob

    Are you aware what the straw man argument is, it is you that put up the straw man argument.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You forgot to mention bankers too Jag.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    TTIP is still a very worrying thing:

    The US has not accepted the current situation and is still demanding similar ISDS agreements to those in place in NAFTA. As Sir R’s article from Feb this year says, “In September 2015 the commission proposed an alternative system, but US negotiators and the business lobby are insistent on keeping the original ISDS in TTIP.” One has only to look at the world wide cave ins over earlier FATCA/GATCA demands by the US that have ensured that the IRS has open access to scrutiny of every bank account across the world with powers to fine punitively for non compliance, while shielding their own US banks from similar scrutiny, in order to see just where any temporary EU rejection of ISDS must inevitably lead. The US is still insisting on ISDS as an essential component of TTIP and already has ISDS agreements in its trade deals with nine EU states. Simply because the European Parliament has rejected this once, it does not mean that when TTIP is eventually agreed this will not be contemptuously set aside in the interests of international trade. The US usually gets what it demands in these negotiations, which are (laughingly) presented as “for the greater good of all”. For myself, Brendan, I simply cannot see from past experience of such things how the EU will hold out against insistent US pressure on this issue.

  • ted hagan

    This is pretty feeble stuff, predictably, from Paisley, focusing mainly on what Claire Hanna did or didn’t say rather than putting his own case forward. Lightweight stuff from a party that doesn’t appear to have much conviction on the Leave cause withSammy Wilson simply sounding like a Farage parrot.

  • Thomas Girvan

    What is Diane Dodds accountable for? She is opposed to the EU.
    David Cameron accountable, yes, to the British public for lying about his ability to control immigration, which is zero.
    Lord Hill and Phil Hogan, you have got me there ,who are they?, maybe we should ask MLA Hanna.
    Who do you think you are kidding Mr Breslin?

  • Brendan Heading

    The US has not accepted the current situation and is still demanding similar ISDS agreements to those in place in NAFTA

    Given that the negotiations are taking place in secret, how could anyone know this ?

    The US is still insisting on ISDS as an essential component of TTIP and already has ISDS agreements in its trade deals with nine EU states.

    How can that be the case, given that EU member states are not able to make trade deals on their own ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While the negotiations are taking place in secret, information about the positions of those involved is necessary knowledge for how banks make long term investment decisions. The regular leaks both sides are using to stoke up support for their positions clearly show that the US have over the last year insisted on their unwillingness to accept any constraint on their ISDS demands, and this is pretty common knowledge amongst those like my banker cousins who discuss these things professionally for me to overhear. In addition there are certainly any number of references to leaks regarding this current deadlock due to US refusal to budge across the internet of you are looking. Just one example:

    The US negotiators, on past showing, will not budge on this and if the EU is to have the benefits of TTIP they will have to swallow the US position in its entirety. Look into the dire situation regarding the FATCA/GATCA negotiations if you still have any doubts about how unremittingly the US presses such issues on behalf of those multinationals for whom they are acting as “enforcer”.

    “Nine EU states have treaties involving ISDS clauses with the US.”

    I can check this out more with my cousins this weekend if you require detail.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    Lets face it a small country like the ROI benefits from EU membership. However I can see immigration becoming a major issue in the ROI in the next ten years.

  • I suggest you look up an MEP of your choice and see what their schedule looks like. Here’s one that I know:

    Don’t forget to open out the different sections. And he is a pretty new and junior MEP.

    Now add to that speaking engagements and meetings all around Austria most weeks, and you may be able to see that he’s probably pretty much forgotten where home is.

    I’d never cope with the amount of travelling involved, never minde working as well. But I guess you’d take it all in your stride.