Tony Benn famously proposed five questions to be asked of anyone who holds power of one kind or another.
One of the many organisations to fail his democracy test at the time was the European Commission. But, since then, the EU treaties have been changed to increase the accountability of the Commission. How would it fare now under Tony Benn’s test?
Let’s ask his five questions.
1. What power have you got?
The power to draft proposals for European legislation, which are then submitted for a decision to the EU Council (made up of ministers from elected governments) and directly-elected MEPs in the European Parliament.
The power to adopt delegated measures to implement such legislation, provided these are not rejected by the Parliament or Council.
2. Where did you get it from?
The power to make proposals derives from the treaties, which have been approved by the national parliaments of every member country.
The power to adopt delegated measures is conferred in individual pieces of legislation approved by the Council and Parliament. This is a power which either can revoke at any time.
3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
The citizens of all EU countries.
4. To whom are you accountable?
To the European Parliament, elected by all EU citizens. Parliament elects the Commission President, confirms the Commission as a whole, and can dismiss it in a vote of no confidence.
5. How can we get rid of you?
By a vote of no confidence from elected MEPs.
The EU may not be perfect — but it now stands up quite well to Benn’s five tests. I elaborated on this further in my blog post about the so-called democratic deficit.