September 1, 2011
The sale of 60 watt incandescent light bulbs is banned in the UK from today, as part of an EU-wide strategy. A report on the BBC website was accompanied by a comment from a shopkeeper:
“This is not a democracy, it’s becoming like a dictatorship, ordering you to do this, do that. You should have a choice.”
To which the only answer can be, no it’s not like a dictatorship. Here’s why not.
The intention to ban incandescent light bulbs was agreed, unanimously, by the European Council (composed of the heads of the national governments of the member states) in March 2007, as part of a strategic plan to reduce the environmental impact of lighting. The new light bulbs are much more efficient users of energy and so will lead to a reduction in the emissions of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to climate change.
That strategic decision was enacted in a regulation drafted by the European Commission with the formal involvement of stakeholders such as consumer and environmental NGOs, approved by a committee of experts nominated by the member states, and then approved by the European Parliament. It is hard to think of a process less like that of a dictatorship.
As to the issue of choice, let us remember what the regulation will do. Carbon dioxide is in effect a pollutant, and this regulation will reduce the amount that is emitted. The primacy of “choice” here would mean that people have the choice whether to cause more pollution. It would undermine democracy if a majority against pollution was unable to take effective action against it because a minority was free to carry on polluting.
Incidentally, let us imagine that the wishes of the anti-Europeans were granted. The EU institutions are reduced to a forum for cooperation among the national governments and nothing more. How would this issue be dealt with?
There would be an agreement among the national governments to phase out these polluting light bulbs (this is a single market matter to be dealt with at European level because otherwise a company in one country could sell them to consumers in another country undermining that second country’s own ban), followed by a meeting of the national government technical experts to sort out the detail. At which point, that would be it. The possible role of the directly-elected European Parliament in scrutinising the new law would be eliminated, because all political power rests in the hands of the national governments and none in the hands of the European institutions. Is that a better system?
Ah, but there are national parliaments: they would have a role instead. But what kind of role could that be? If a national parliament is entitled to reject the European decision, then the single market falls apart. And if a national parliament is not entitled to reject the European decision, then it is reduced merely to a rubber stamp. Neither of those outcomes is acceptable.
The pro-European case is that the parliamentary debates on European decisions should take place at European level. The role for national parliaments on these issues is to scrutinise and hold to account the actions of their respective national governments, in the European Council and in those committees of national experts. It is on the work of those latter committees that more light needs to be shed.Author : European Movement UK