The Benefits of Collective Decision-Making in the EU

The only powers which national politicians have pooled, and which are therefore exercised jointly, either require co-ordination to achieve the objectives of the group or require extra safeguards before changes can be made.  It can be beneficial to cede authority over some issues, to gain the advantages of free trade and mutual security.

Amartya Sen, in chapter 7 of his book The Idea of Justice, argued for the value of bringing additional perspectives to bear.  Decisions about justice and standards are more likely to be objectively sound – to be “position-independent” in Amartya Sen’s terminology – if they are carefully negotiated on a collective basis, in contrast to decisions made by a single government with short-term political pressures upon it.

The EU has a wider perspective than national politicians and is less likely to make hasty tactical decisions that might have adverse consequences later.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, given many politicians’ love of power, Sen’s argument isn’t often explained – so people tend to be unaware of the force of it and to be too trustful of national politicians to be the best guardians of their interests.  As described earlier (, national politicians don't always perform well in representing their countries on a wider stage – and their decisions are quite likely to be challenged by subsequent governments, whereas EU decisions tend to be more stable and dependable.

A possible downside of collective decision-making, though, is that it is inevitably slower than can be achieved by a single country.  This was illustrated during the coronavirus pandemic, when it was reported that “The UK approved the Pfizer vaccine in November 2020, nearly three weeks before EU regulators” – although that was not a benefit of Brexit, as was claimed by some politicians, because individual EU members are allowed to make their own decisions in the absence of an EU decision.  The benefit of collective decision-making in this instance was that each individual country was spared the effort and the responsibility of undertaking its own approval process.

(This is an archive of a page intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  The latest versions are at book contents).