The European Union and the Promotion of Democracy

1. The Basics of EU Operations

The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by their home countries. For example, the UK is represented by 73 MEPs which are elected by the British every 5 years1. These sit in the European Parliament and vote on all news laws.

EU legislation is proposed by the European Commission, which is staffed by non-partisan experts (one per EU member). This prevents party politics influencing laws in order to give home nations unfair advantages. The Parliament can vote-out the entire Commission with a 2/3 majority if the Commission becomes untrustworthy. After corruption charges, the threat of this action once caused the entire Commission to resign en masse. All new legislation is then voted upon by the elected MEPs in the European Parliament. If you want better laws from the EU, the trick is to elect better MEPs.

2. The Successful Promotion of Democracy and Regional Peace

From the way it is taught in schools, many would think that European History could correctly be called a military history of war and division. Many of its countries have had centuries-long series of wars between themselves and their neighbours; culminating in the two world wars. But, as of the founding of the European Community over fifty years ago, the political and cultural environment has completely changed. European multilateralism has commandeered regional peace and stability of the kind never seen before.

The Copenhagen Criteria for membership include democracy, free market economy, observance of human and minority rights, and political stability2. The main push towards this was in the frantic activity of the EC from 1957. From then, the benefits of joining the fledging EU became so apparent, that a country would change its political institutions and character in order to have a chance of joining. Democracy is now immovably established in so many countries that it is easy to forget that it was once only a fragile tapestry. Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal both joined in 1986 only after "discard[ing] their previous military governments and dictatorships"2 as the EU spread to its south. "Enlargement of the EU southward and eastward has consolidated democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece and created a zone of peace and prosperity in former communist central and eastern Europe"3.4. Because of these successes, the ProEuropa website lists "Peace and democracy" as its 8th reason as to why the EU is a worthwhile endeavour5, especially as there are still more semi-stable countries on the fringes of the EU. A strong EU, acting as a single democratic and commercial body, can massively help curb the destabilizing antics of anti-democratic countries such as Russia, who often seek to undermine democracy in the space between the EU and Russia. The stronger the EU is, the less the power of Europe's enemies.

The prospect of joining played a critical part in ensuring a smooth transition from dictatorships to democracy in Greece, Spain and Portugal. More recently it has transformed the east European countries as they moved from communist central planning to liberal democracy. The countries of the western Balkans have been pacified and stabilised after the bloody 1990s thanks mainly to their hopes of EU membership. And Turkey has made wholesale changes in its politics, economics and society largely to boost its chances of joining. Indeed, judged in terms of success in exporting its values to its backyard, the EU has done much better with its neighbours than the United States has with central and south America, largely because of the carrot of enlargement.

The Economist (2007)4

There is also the fact the liberal markets themselves tend to reduce violence between neighbours. 18th and 19th century political theorists have long observed that if two countries become closer economically, they are less likely to engage in war. Montesquieu (1748) believed that commerce “weakened the grip of xenophobia and bigotry [...] and since '[t]wo nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent ... [t]he natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace.' ”6. Even such great minds may not have predicted the accuracy of their statements nor the European-wide scale on which they would one day apply.

3. Strengthened National Democracy Against Multinationals

My page Multinational Corporations Versus Democracy: The Fight Between Commercialism and Nation States (2006) examines the problems faced by national governments in legislating industries that are dominated by multinationals who can simply move production and manpower from one country to another in order to evade new laws (even human rights ones). I believe this failure of national-based democratic government is overcome through multi-national democratic institutions such as the Europe. The conclusion reads:

Massive corporations can outmanouvre governments and therefore evade the law. Multinationals organisations like the UN and EU can fight back. The heads of large companies have massive power over staff, employment, industry, national economies and the environment and yet are not elected nor publicly accountable for their actions. Supra-national organisations, staffed by those on the pay roll of elected governments, empowers democracy with renewed control. National democratic consolidation of power is required in order to reign in multinational corporations that are presently beyond the law because they can avoid the laws of any one particular government.

Book CoverNation-states, some argue, are too small to be able to influence global change, and too large to respond effectively to the pressures for increased flexibility and competitiveness, or as Giddens put it 'too small to solve the big problems, but also too large to solve the small ones'.

"A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics" by David Held (2004)7

We clearly need multinational governmental bodies to control multinational corporations. Not only will this bring capitalism back under the protective arms of democracy, but it will also solve the second problem identified by Held and Giddens: It will allow national governments to concentrate more on the small problems of national well-being.

"Multinational Corporations Versus Democracy: The Fight Between Commercialism and Nation States"
Vexen Crabtree

It was not always international commercial powerhouses that were the source of self-interested disharmony: once upon a time, the rising nations-states of Europe were themselves the problem.

We have nations (these communities growing in self-consciousness) who refuse to acknowledge any laws between themselves. This is the international anarchy. Each state maintains it is complete judge of its right. This was bad enough. It becomes almost a desperate condition when these conflicting judges maintain that they may use any means to enforce their verdicts, and when science puts in their hands methods which allow each judge to destroy his fellow.

"The Third Morality" by Gerald Heard (1937)8

Gerald Heard was writing not long before the start of World War II, somewhat proving the author to be correct. Since then, the United Nations and EU both attempt to reign-in this chaos with a long series of international accords such as the Geneva Convention, and the attempted European Human Rights charter. As the rise of nation had to occur to curb tribalism and bloody and unstable feudalism, now, the rise of the supra-nation curbs the organised self-interests of nation-states themselves.

By Vexen Crabtree 2016 Mar 14
(Last Modified: 2016 Jun 01)
Parent page: United Kingdom: National Successes and Social Failures

References: (What's this?)

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The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See for some commentary on this source.

Heard, Gerald. (1889-1971)
(1937) The Third Morality. Hardback. Published by Cassell and Company Ltd, London, UK.

Held, David
(2004, Ed.) A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics. 2nd edition. Originally 2000. Published by Routledge for The Open University.

Horspool, Margot
(2003) European Union Law. 3rd Edition. Published by Lexis Nexis, UK. Margot Horspool is professor of European and Comparative Law at the University of Surrey; Fellow of the Centre for the Law of the European Union, University College London and professor at the College of Europe.

Loughlin, Martin
(2000) Sword and Scales: An Examination of the Relationship Between Law and Politics. Hart Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK. Prof. Loughlin is Professor of Law at the University of Manchester, UK, and Professor of Public Law-elect at the London School of Economics & Political Science, UK.

The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. This ebook is drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013.


  1. (1) accessed 2016 Jun 01 and (2) accessed 2016 Jun 01.^
  2. Horspool (2003) chapter 2.^
  3. Financial Times (2013) concluding chapter.^
  4. The Economist (2007 Mar 17) Special Report on the European Union.^
  5. page Reasons to Stay, accessed 2016 Feb 11^
  6. Loughlin (2000) p230.^
  7. Held (2004) p7.^
  8. Heard (1937) p17.^

© 2016 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.