The European Union and Democratic Balancing
Revised 20th March 2016
Democratic balancing – a mechanism for creating a democratic balance between the European parliament and the member state parliaments of the European Union which would allow, in certain circumstances, an opt out from legislation. The decisive factor permitting opt out would be whether opposition to the legislation in the member state Parliament was stronger than the support for the legislation coming from the European Parliament.
Where support for legislation at the European Parliament level was strong – for example 70% of the Parliament voting in its favour, then, it would be difficult for a member state to opt out; in this example an opt out would require more than 70% opposition to the measure to be registered by a vote in the member state parliament. It seems unlikely that a measure so strongly supported elsewhere would not have a substantial basis of support within the member state. On the other hand, where support for legislation in the European Parliament was weak – let’s say 51% then it would be relatively easy for a member state to opt out.
For the most part national parliaments would not waste their time attempting to opt out of legislation which is broadly uncontroversial and in the mutual interest of the community. However there are issues, such as the right of prisoners to vote, where the UK population, for example, does appear exercised by the imposition of European Law and where the UK Parliament might just take a contrary view. Should the UK Parliament gain an opt out on the basis suggested, no great harm would be done to the general function of the European Union and a sense that member state parliaments can challenge the view from the centre would counter the widespread belief that the European Union is an inevitably undemocratic steam roller.
Of course it follows that if such an opt out was considered damaging to the wider interests of the European Union that the matter could be challenged at the centre and a further European Parliament vote taken in an attempt to trump the opt out. Needless to say, British MEPs would have their say on the matter.
Such a measure would create a greater acceptance of the decisions made at the center and would be intended to lead to a more relaxed response to the idea of “ever closer union” which would be less likely to be seen as synonymous with the idea of an overbearing European super state.