Monday, 29 January 2007

Liberal Democrat MEPs are being seduced by centralised power

It was an unusually good edition of Liberal Democrat News (the in house tabloid that Mark Valladares once referred to as “our very own Pravda”) – if by good one means that it gets the pulse racing.

The story on the European Parliament’s report on rail transport earned my particular ire. According to Liberal Democrat News:

‘Liberal Democrats have backed (CHECK) [sic.] a crucial European Parliament report that will vastly improve rights for rail passengers…

‘The Lib Dem Economic Affairs Spokesperson Sharon Bowles MEP said: “The
Parliament has stood firm and is calling for this directive to apply to all rail
journeys regardless of whether they are international or not…”

Liz Lynne MEP, Liberal Democrat Employment and Social Affairs Spokesperson… has tabled and amendment to this report on behalf of the entire ALDE Group… to ensure accessibility for… people with reduced mobility…’

While the objectives being sought here are undoubtedly laudable, it is another unfortunate case of the European Parliament arrogating powers that should be exercised at a national level. There is absolutely no reason why policy regarding the railway system of the United Kingdom – which is, except for one discrete rail line, completely separate and independent of the rest of Europe – should be set at a supranational level.

There may be a case, because of greater connectivity among our continental European partners, for an agreement binding transnational rail travel. But when the European Parliament specifically suggests that such a ruling should apply to purely intra-national railway journeys (such as “Cornwall to London, Edinburgh to Southampton”, as Ms. Bowles enthused) it is a clear violation of the much-vaunted but rarely-seen principle of subsidiarity – that decisions should be taken at the effective level nearest the citizen.

It is deeply disturbing to see Liberal parliamentarians championing this un-necessary centralisation of power, decision-making and regulation. It is also disturbing to see Democrat parliamentarians using the European Parliament to pass into law what is effectively domestic regulation, rather than seeking to do so through national parliaments – where, presumably, they would expect to meet more resistance.

No matter how worthy the aims or how desirable the outcomes, they do not justify the use of inherently illiberal and undemocratic means. It suggests that our MEPs, like all too many of those who find themselves in positions of authority, have ‘gone native’, becoming co-opted by the institutions they have joined and seduced by the power to ‘do good’, irrespective of the principles of liberty and democracy that first brought them there.

The Liberal Democrats should be promoting subsidiarity in Europe just as we seek localism in Britain – irrespective of the urge to reform society from the centre. As I argued last week, Britain’s place is in Europe. But it is in a liberal Europe.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

They've 'gone native'. Its a problem with all politicians - they tend to start thinking in the normal way of thinking at that level of government which is currently centralise as much as possible.

It also highlights a problem with the accountability of MEPs, they're too remote from their constituents and they have no real local party to try and keep them in line...