A piece in the European Parliament magazine entitled “Plans for big shake-up in European elections branded ‘absurd’” caught my eye. It concerns ideas that have been rumbling around in Brussels about how to improve European elections, and the idea to create a transnational top-up list system comprising 25 MEPs of the total 751 in the EP from 2014, meaning some countries would lose a few MEPs. There’s more about the plans here, and I’ve always been broadly in favour – anything that europeanises European Parliament elections (so often fought on national issues) is a good thing, although I do think that the main proponent of the plans, Andrew Duff, rather over-sells the case.

Anyway, the MEP branding the ideas ‘absurd’ in the article in Parliament Magazine is Tory MEP for the South West Ashley Fox. It’s worth looking at Fox’s critique:

“At a time of economic austerity the last thing the British taxpayer wants to pay for is an extra 25 MEPs elected across Europe plus the cost of a European electoral authority to oversee the process.”

Erm, no, Ashley. The Treaty of Lisbon – which one would hope that you would have read as a MEP – limits the numbers of MEPs to 751. So if this were to happen these MEPs would replace MEPs elected under the current system. Plus there is a system already in place for the Europe-wide declaration of the results – so just sum those up, work out the party scores, and hey presto, you see who is elected. There is a cost to democracy, but it’s also vital we get our institutions to work.

UPDATE – thanks to a comment left by Cédric below, I’ve looked into this further, the wording of the Parliament Magazine piece not having been clear. Duff is indeed proposing extra MEPs, something that needs a Treaty change to accomplish, and would also be subject to the UK’s referendum lock. Which means there is not a hope in hell this sees the light of day, especially as even the 736-754-751 change has taken months of wrangling. Which does – in fairness to Ashley Fox – make the proposals absurd…

But the rest of the statements from Fox are absurd, so I’ve kept those below:

“This shows how out of touch with the real world these proposals are. I cannot remember a single person on the doorstep who has told me they would ever support such a move.”

This too is utterly absurd, and could be applied as a critique to just about any policy. I’m sure most Tories cannot remember a single person who would ever support a policy called the Big Society on the doorstep, but that’s precisely what we’re getting. I know this concept might be alien to Mr Fox, but it’s actually about political leadership – proposing an idea and making the case for it.

“MEPs should be sent to Brussels to defend their national interest but clearly Duff thinks they should be there to defend the European interest. Maybe that’s why he wants a mechanism that would allow him to stop representing the UK and start representing Brussels.”

Once more Fox does not seem to understand how the EU works, so perhaps I might enlighten him by referring to Article 10, para 2 of the Treaty on European Union (PDF here):

2. Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament.
Member States are represented in the European Council by their Heads of State or Government and in the Council by their governments, themselves democratically accountable either to their national Parliaments, or to their citizens.

It is not the job of a Member of the European Parliament to defend a country’s national interest – that’s the job of the European Council and the Council of the European Union. Fox’s job is to represent the citizens living in his part of the UK.

As if that were not enough, a quick glance at the excellent Votewatch website shows that Fox has a 93.69% loyalty to his transnational political group (ECR) in the European Parliament, against 97.85% loyalty to the Tory delegation in the EP. So Fox’s own behaviour in the EP shows he’s behaving in a way that runs contrary to his own statements anyway.

So – in short – if there’s anything absurd in the piece in the Parliament Magazine it seems to be Ashley Fox’s positions!


  1. Martin Keegan

    Jon, you claim that Fox’s statement re doorstep opinion is absurd, but this is untrue. The fact that Fox’s party may itself have policies which fail this test is irrelevant to whether the Duff proposal has any input legitimacy as measured by this informal gauge.

    You err more seriously by confusing “is” and “ought” in Fox’s other argument, about what MEPs “should” do. Fox implicitly disagrees with the treaty over the proper role of MEPs, just as Duff disagrees re their number. It’s no good quoting the treaty at Fox; he’ll just say “so what, allI was saying was how I wanted to change the treaty”.

    The treaty is counterlegitimate, at least in its operation in the UK, so you’re on rather shaky ground.

  2. Cédric

    Personally, I believe people don’t think anything about what or who MEPs should represent, if they know there is a Parliament at all.
    And if they believe MEPs should represent national interest, then what is national interest? Who defines it?

    Anyways, these theoretical considerations opposing EU-focussed Euro-sceptics to EU-focussed Europhiles are nonsense. Because all these self-proclaimed MEP, be they Andrew Duff or Ashley Fox, represent not more than a portion of those 40% of EU voters voting in the EP elections. So they should all stop pretending to speak for the People.

    The good question is: if we need a European Parliament, how do we elect it so that voters feel it makes sense to cast their vote. If we don’t want this Parliament to be well-elected, then why do we keep paying more than €1Bn /year for it?

  3. Evil European

    Sorry, but the first thing I thought was CONEHEAD! Are we sure that Mr Fox is actually human? Is he actually representing another planet and not the South-West?

  4. Gawain Towler

    It is not the job of a Member of the European Parliament to defend a country’s national interest – that’s the job of the European Council and the Council of the European Union. Fox’s job is to represent the citizens living in his part of the UK.

    You and the Treaty might think that, but that is certainly not what the electors think. They think that MEPs are in Brussels to represent them and the national interest. Oddly enough most people seem to conflate the two things.

    I amused by your votewatch stats though

  5. Cédric

    Making EU institutions democratic does not require any sacrifice of any sort from people, only from bureaucrates. What kind of sacrifices would represent a european constituency, or the presidentialisation of European election, for a normal person on the doorstep?

    If we prefer a Parliament that is elected according to the principle “divide and rule”, and a Commission that is simply not elected, we prefer bureaucracy.

    Two remarks, though: Andrew Duff wants indeed to establish an electoral authority (but, let’s be honest, an “electoral authority” of 9 persons working intermittently over 6 months every 5 years wouldn’t be that expensive).
    And his proposal is not to create transnational lists of 25 seats out of the current total of 751 seats, but in addition to it, by changing the treaties. Don’t ask me why, I’ve never been able to understand why MEPs are considering such a terrible mistake. Certainly because nobody is ready to sacrifice his own seat to such a reform.

  6. Martin Keegan

    “There is a cost to democracy, but it’s also vital we get our institutions to work.”

    Is this saying that it’s worth being less democratic just so that the EU can be effective? Or less democratic now to be more democratic in the future? Is there a list somewhere of things it’s *not* worth sacrificing for the EU? Is there anything on it?

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