Is the media failing European democracy?

By Gregory – I’ve had enough. Enough of the whole EU referendum debate that is dividing the UK. I am a staunch supporter of the European Union and the values it represents. The EU was created by six nations back in the 1950 with one goal in mind: to argue, talk and debate about their differences and about what binds them, to work together to face the challenges of the new world order, but most importantly to never return to the horrors and demons that destroyed the European continent during the two World Wars. Europe was to unite, not divide. Europe was to promote and embrace democracy, human rights, and dialogue. And it succeeded. It succeeded ‘Big Time’. Member states are currently enjoying one of the longest periods of peace in history.

I’ve had enough. Enough of the lies being thrown into the debate. Not just one, two or three. The Leave campaign have become masters in misleading the public with lies and distortion of facts. For a few weeks now I’ve been questioning myself about whether to write this article as I feared – and still fear – that it won’t make any difference. So much has been said already and people are fed up. I physically cannot write and correct all of the lies that have been aired by the Leave campaign as there are just too many.

However there is one lie, just one, that I must rectify. Not for my own benefit, but in defence of the spirit upon which the European Union was created. It’s the lie that is told whenever a politician or Brexit supporter talks about the EU as being an undemocratic monster led by self-serving unelected bureaucrats who work against the interest of its member states, and in particular against the UK. A sense that Brussels imposes legislation on the UK.

Each and every EU citizen democratically elects his or her representative in the EU parliament in a vote every five years. The parliament forms the EU’s legislature which means that it is responsible, together with the Council of the European Union, to pass European law. Of the 731 MEPs sitting in the EU parliament, the UK elects 73 of them, meaning that the UK with just under 10% of the entire vote exerts heavy influence on decision making within the parliament .

The Council of the European Union, also referred to as the Council, consists of elected government ministers from each member state. UK ministers (elected UK MPs) responsible for different policy areas such as the environment, justice, employment, agriculture etc., will meet together with their 27 counterparts from the other member states to discuss and agree European-wide legislation. Thus both of the bodies responsible for passing EU legislation, the parliament and the Council of Ministers are elected –  either through European elections or through national elections.

The European Commission is composed of 28 members, one commissioner per member state. It is not directly elected by the citizens of the EU, however each country’s commissioner is appointed by their democratically elected national government. The commission is the EU’s executive arm and is responsible for initiating legislation, not debating or passing legislation, which is the sole responsibility of the Parliament or Council.

The European Union is a group of 28 members states discussing issues and making decisions with equal control. In reality and behind the scenes lies the recognition that the largest members states in this union take a lead and influence EU proceedings in more than equal share. These states are in a category of their own. The “Big Three” as they get referred to are France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

So the United Kingdom is not ruled by Brussels. It’s rather the opposite. The United Kingdom participates in the European democratic process through its MEP’s in the European Parliament, government ministers in the European Council and its Commissioner in the EU Commission. Through these positions the United Kingdom leads the way in so many areas of decision making across Europe.

And yet the question of democracy remains,  because the majority of UK citizens associate the European Union with words such as undemocratic, bureaucratic, self-serving, unaccountable, uncontrolled immigration and many other negative connotations. The EU is not perfect, and should be reformed. It should be more open and closer to its citizens. For a democracy to work the citizens who are part of that democracy need to be informed so that they understand the various sides of the political argument and as such make a considered decision. Citizens need to feel part of the process and not feel they are some kind of sideshow.

In my opinion that is where things in the UK have gone wrong. It’s in part the responsibility of the 4th power, the media, to inform people about the ins and outs of the EU. About what legislation the Commission is working on and which parts of it are being debated and voted in or out by the European Parliament. We need to hear this in the same way the UK media reports on legislation being passed in Westminster. But this rarely happens. Even the highly respected BBC fails in it’s duty to inform UK citizens about EU matters. It has rarely interviewed UK MEP’s and asked them which way they have voted on certain issues and how this will affect UK citizens. Only when a meeting between the 28 heads of states and government gather to discuss headline-grabbing matters such as the Greek crisis, the eurozone crisis or the refugee crisis is the BBC present and reporting to a wide audience. Routine EU parliamentary work isn’t deemed important enough for a mass market.

A large proportion of the UK tabloid press is staunchly eurosceptic as it sells newspapers to be anti-European and provides the public with a fake sense of patriotism. Over so many decades they have used Europe as a scapegoat for the ills of this country instead of reporting about the EU in a more balanced way. Headlines that refer to the NHS and the country as a whole crumbling under the pressure of uncontrolled EU immigration, jobs that are being taken by EU immigrants and unelected Brussels bureaucrats running the UK against the interest of the UK are not uncommon.

Given that the lies, misinformation and disinformation spread by the media has been going on for decades, it comes as no surprise that a growing number of UK citizens are left to feel disillusioned about the European Union. When the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (supposedly respectable politicians), jump on the EU-bashing bandwagon for their own political gain during this referendum, then we end up with a very toxic mix where blaming the foreigner for the country’s woes suddenly becomes acceptable.

In the event the UK leaves the EU, the UK’s woes won’t be so easily solved. Immigration is likely to remain an ongoing issue. The media will have to, and will, find a new scapegoat. So the question that arises then is – who’s next?

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2 responses to “Is the media failing European democracy?

  1. A good read, although I must reiterate your point on democracy.
    The EU does of course have a democratic element but as a supranational organisation, it does indeed have the power to override parliamentary sovereignty. I note this no from the Qualified Majority voting system aspect for the Council of the European Union, which can lead to specific countries attaining legislation that they didn’t vote for – as there is no veto. Whilst this can be said to be realistic of a cooperation between 28 different states, it does undermine your argument that Brussels doesn’t impose legislation on the UK. Arguably, the bonus cap for bankers is very reasonable, but in 2011 Osborne (as a British representative) voted against this. However, the legislation was still put in place due to the EU’s supranational nature. The same goes for the social chapter. It’s important not to over-play the democracy of the EU. As a supranational, multi-institutional and multi-national state there is undoubtedly going to be some degree of national sovereignty lost. But to me, this is the compromise needed so we can understand and adapt culturally between different member states on a social, economic and political scale, ultimately for the greater good of humanity.

    • I understand your argument but it’s a false argument. I’ll give you another example: Westminster might vote for a certain piece of legislation that no-one in Scotland wants for example, and the Scots still have to accept it as they are part of the UK. This is how democracy works…these are the foundations of democracy.

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