Thursday, July 22, 2004

Another nail in the coffin

While such attention as is given to the EU is focused on the circus in Strasbourg, it is as well to remember that the commission fonctionnaires continue labouring at the coal face in Brussels, churning out their never-ending stream of legislative proposals.

One of the latest models to come into force is the directive setting out new environmental impact assessment rules herald new era in public planning. This directive in the words of a briefing put out by, will "force" national and local authorities "to take environmental considerations into account for all major public projects from agriculture to transport, industry, energy or tourism."

Note the use of the word "force". Perhaps Mr Jim Dougal would again like to reconsider his comments about the commission not being a government.

Anyhow, this new bit of law rejoices under the title "The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive" and, as of 21 July, impact assessments will formally be required for every project listed in the directive.

At first sight, the directive might seem unexceptional, requiring information on proposed schemes which, in normal democratic governance, should be made available to people who might be affected by them.

But, as with everything to do with the EU, nothing is quite what is seems. The directive gives special status to what are termed NGOs – otherwise known as Non-Governmental Organisations or more familiarly known as pressure groups. They must be allowed actively to participate in the SEA process., and public authorities are obliged to take their views into account. 

This might be good for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, et al, but it is actually very bad for representative democracy. There is no similar provision for either local elected councils or even parliament to be consulted, so these bodies are effectively marginalised. Officials speak directly unto the people, and are effectively represented by the unelected NGOs. No wonder people see their elected officials as less and less relevant.

Thus, what looks good in principle, is in fact another attack on representative democracy. This is very much part of the broader Commission plan. It sees national and local elected representatives as barriers to integration and has been subtly undermining them, in preference to a Europe-wide network of NGOs, which its euphemistically calls "civil society".

Its objective is to replace "representative democracy" with "participatory democracy", with the participants approved and organised on a EU-wide basis. So subtly is this happening that very few people even begin to understand what is going on so.  Thus, while this directive hammers another nail in the coffin of our democracy, many activists will laud it as another benign measure from the commission, promoting consultation.

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