If 51% of MPs wanted to reverse the UK smoking ban, they could do it tomorrow. But if 100% of British MEPs wanted to reverse an EU smoking ban, they wouldn't be anywhere close to a majority in the European Parliament.
British MEPs control just 72 seats out of 736 (9.8%). Even if they were united on an issue, they would need to convince 297 of their European colleagues. For 60 million Britons to re-allow smoking in British pubs, we would need to consult the representatives of 440 million foreign residents, many of whom will never even visit Britain, much less live and work here.
It's actually worse than that, since the European Parliament doesn't have the power to initiate legislation. They only 'debate', and occasionally seek to amend, the legislation handed down to them by the Commission.
The EU's Europa website explains their "unique institutional set-up":
Setting the agenda
The European Council sets the EU's overall political direction – but has no powers to pass laws. Led by its President – currently Herman Van Rompuy – and comprising national heads of state or government and the President of the Commission, it meets for a few days at a time at least every 6 months.
There are 3 main institutions involved in EU legislation:
- the European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them;
- the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the individual member countries. The Presidency of the Council is shared by the member states on a rotating basis.
- the European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole.
Together, these three institutions produce through the "Ordinary Legislative Procedure" (ex "co-decision") the policies and laws that apply throughout the EU. In principle, the Commission proposes new laws, and the Parliament and Council adopt them. The Commission and the member countries then implement them, and the Commission ensures that the laws are properly applied and implemented.
I don't know whether "in principle" is a tacit admission of the fact that the Eurocrats don't respect their separation of powers, but if anyone's leaning on the unelected Commission to propose new laws, it's not the people's representatives in Parliament, but rather the ministers on the Council of the European Union and the heads of government on the European Council (two different but similar-sounding councils, there's also a third: the non-EU Council of Europe; the confusion is deliberate, I'm sure).
Lord Tebbit's latest blog highlights a worrying feature of these executive Council gatherings:
The British are powerless on the EU Councils, powerless on the EU Commission, and powerless in the EU Parliament. Is that the way our leaders in Westminster like it?
Last Monday, I asked in the House of Lords whether an agreement by the seventeen eurozone member states to make agreements outside the Council of Ministers and then to vote in the Council as a bloc for such agreements would constitute a transfer of powers sufficient to trigger a referendum here. Lord Strathclyde, the Government Leader in the Lords, understood my point clearly enough. That was that the eurozone group can always outvote the remaining member states. What we said or how we voted would have no effect on the decisions which they reached.
Tom Strathclyde confirmed that as no treaty amendment was involved, no referendum would be triggered. Now it seems that the Prime Minister has understood the problem. We and the other nine states outside the eurozone have been disfranchised on many of the key questions of taxation and commercial regulation.
Whoever rules Europe, it's not us!