Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A load of Balls

They may be on opposite wings of the Party, but they both have the same (bad) ideas when it comes to the EU.

The one is Ed Balls, Gordon Brown's closest adviser, who last night told a fringe meeting organised by the New Policy Network that he wanted to enhance “the legitimacy, accountability and understanding of European decisions". To that effect, he argued that British MPs should be allowed to question individual commissioners and other senior EU officials.

The other is Blairite Stephen Byres, who put exactly the same idea in a piece in the Observer last August, which we dealt with in an earlier Blog.

Predictably, the idea has not improved with age, which has not stopped the Guardian remarking in its own report that Balls' suggestions "would mark a major change in the way that European commissioner…are held accountable." Clearly, the newspaper, in common with Ed and Steve, does not understand the difference between accountability and scrutiny.

Hauling a commissioner up in front of a Commons select committee - or, if Balls had his way, Wim Duisenberg, the president of the European Central Bank – and asking them questions is a process of scrutiny, and a relatively ineffective one at that. It does not make them accountable if, at the end of the process, Parliament has no power to require changes to be made.

Then, even if this process could increase the "legitimacy" of the EU – which is unlikely – Balls seems to think that commissioners should be given greater powers, to achieve politically determined targets, which would have the opposite effect of that which he appears to be seeking.

An observer at the fringe, who managed to question Balls on this and other aspects of the EU gained the impression that neither he nor his boss, Brown, were really Eurosceptics. Whether that is the case remains to be seen – even if I rather tend to agree. But what was is absolutely certain is that, whether it is Brownite Ed or Blairite Steve, they both talk the same load of Balls.

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