It might be stating the obvious to say that we are unlikely to make much progress on the debate about Europe without first getting our facts right. And yet this is a point that seems to have been overlooked by many of its critics.
It happened again in a recent BBC interview with Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, during which he said that he had little interest in the outcome of elections in the UK because Britain was governed from Brussels, not from Westminster. He also suggested that Britain no longer had any influence in Europe, which had been ‘hijacked by a gang of unelected bureaucrats’.
Farage is famous for his colourful rhetoric and lack of diplomacy, neither of which would be so much of a problem were it not for the fact that he and his party so routinely misrepresent the way the EU works; or perhaps they just misunderstand. Judicious criticism is a legitimate and essential part of the conversation about the EU, but when it is based on myths and fallacies it ceases to have much value.
Anyone who has studied the EU institutions with any care will know that they lack independent powers, that two of them (the European Council and the Council of the EU) consist of the very national leaders and ministers who have allegedly lost so much of their power, that one of them (Parliament) is directly elected, and that two of them (the Commission and the Court of Justice) are headed by national appointees. And all of them are held accountable by treaties agreed by the member states.
What we have here is a pooling rather than a loss of decision-making power, and to suggest that ‘Brussels’ is some kind of independent level of government is wrong, and does not move the discussion in a useful direction. Farage’s more outrageous assertions may be good for a laugh, but they lack either veracity or credibility.