Sovereignty – What’s the issue?
Robert Lowson - Co-Chair Cambridge for Europe on Cambridge for Europe:
In the UK we have a very centralised system of government. Parliament is supreme and can make whatever laws it chooses. The Government dominates Parliament (for example because so many MPs either hold, or would like to hold, Government appointments).
So it’s not surprising that we have all or nothing view of sovereignty. We fear that there is nothing to stop the EU assuming more and more powers, because that is what can – and does - happen in the UK.
But the EU isn’t like that. The Union’s power doesn’t derive from a monolithic centre. The EU does only what its member states agree that it should do, expressed in the Treaties. The Member States collectively decide the issues on which it makes sense to share their powers and allow the EU to act. The Treaty says that they can only do this where there is an objective case for collective action. And in those areas where the EU is allowed to act, major policies are decided jointly by the representatives of Member State governments and the European Parliament. The UK has in the past pushed for new areas of EU intervention because of the benefits they could bring, notably the Single Market.
There are vast areas of policy where the member states haven’t given powers to the EU – including in those which account for the bulk of government spending, like education, health, defence or social security. Member States pool their sovereignty where it makes sense to do so – for example to promote free trade, or to harmonise competition that might be distorted by differing standards, to promote innovation by stimulating cross-border research, or to promote regional development.
No-one should see national sovereignty as something to be defended no matter what. Its value is increased if it is shared.