Thinker's Corner

Seven Theorems in Search of the European Parliament (Federal Trust, available from Kogan Page, 120 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JN, £9.99), by David Coombes, makes a comprehensive assessment of the democratic standing of the European Parliament. Coombes elaborates on the problems posed by the unique nature of a transnational democratic institution, attempting to understand why the parliament has failed to inspire social and political loyalties among its electorate, why indirect representative mechanisms such as the European Council have come to the fore, and what might be done to make good the democratic deficit. The paper suggests that an effective European demos may only be mobilised by channelling further public powers through the parliament. MEPs should make a priority of defending and extending the role of directly elected representatives, against national executives which too readily use Europe as a whipping-boy.

Wanted - A New Consumer Affairs Strategy (Social Market Foundation, 11 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QB, 0171-222 7060, £10), by Mark Boleat, examines the gulf between the free-market prescription of caveat emptor and the pragmatics of a sophisticated commodity society, detailing the haphazard set of institutions that has grown up to protect the consumer. Boleat, with special knowledge of the financial services market, finds a compelling case for centralising consumer protection under one overseer, suggesting the DTI as the natural candidate. Such a move would enable gaps in the coverage of the marketplace to be filled, prevent wasteful overlaps between regulatory bodies, bring consistency to the policing of different sectors and standardise the interface for the consumer. The paper considers the practicalities of such a move in some depth, making several concrete recommendations. Boleat's experience as director general of a trade association adds pith to the argument.

This article first appeared in the 19 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, We are richer than you think