Thinker's Corner

Making Decisions in Britain by Graham Mather (The European Policy Forum, 125 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5EA, £10) examines the consequences of a "remarkable" shift in power in British government which has resulted in a diminished role for primary legislation. Major decisions are now taken by non-elected members of regulatory bodies, such as the Monetary Policy Committee and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, rather than by ministers, Mather argues. He sees this development as beneficial, using technical expertise and independence not available to government, but concedes that it has resulted in an "accountability deficit". He suggests reforms including clear remits for each regulatory body, ministerial "clawback" powers and a shift to longer but non-renewable terms of appointment. With such reforms, Mather believes the depoliticisation of government decisions could be "one of the most promising developments in British public life since the last war".

How the EU can help Russia by David Gowan (The Centre for European Reform, 29 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL, £10) analyses contemporary EU-Russian relations since Vladimir Putin took office in late 1999. Gowan argues that, since then, the Russian approach to the European Union and the process of enlargement has been more pragmatic and businesslike. Gowan suggests that there now exists an unprecedented opportunity to establish a framework for dialogue and to set medium-term targets on issues such as trade, investment, immigration and transit. Indeed, structural economic reform within Russia will require closer co-ordination with the EU. Gowan is guardedly optimistic, but perhaps underestimates the potential of more divisive issues, such as Chechnya and the link between EU and Nato enlargement, to destabilise EU-Russian relations. None the less, as Gowan maintains, Russia and the EU may at times be talking past each other, but at least they are doing so in the same room.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Dotcoms will rise again