Saturday, 26 September 2015

We need a voice at the top table - and that's not the EU

Sovereignty is one of those words that keeps popping up. It's a tough one to call in that there are clear examples of national sovereignty overriding citizen sovereignty, and national sovereignty can often be a barrier to enjoying greater freedoms through increased cooperation and trade. Thus from the outset it is necessary to recognise there can be no absolute sentiment on the notion of sovereignty.

A great deal of the regulation of social life does not involve sacrificing one party's interest for the benefit of another. When you are driving south and I am driving north, it is in the interests of both of us that we comply with a regulation about sticking to the left hand side of the road. A direct analogy to global law is the regulation of satellite orbits by the International Telecommunications Union. No one wants to put up a satellite that will bump into another one - but as regulation becomes more complex, there are always winners and losers, thus the process must transparent and fair and where possible, democratic.

I have advocated greater parliamentary scrutiny on treaties in the past, but in practice a treaty in its final form is the only document that can be piratically scrutinised thus a large deliberative assembly can only ever add reservations and exceptions which may not be agreed, and the whole process can then stall depending on the veracity of parliaments objections - leading to many years of delay and reduced growth while banking up requirements for new agreements as industries row and develop.

That points to the necessity for a better consultative process. Philip Alston has it that in the ratification of the Geneva Protocols in Australia the Red Cross, working on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in lobbying to have the ratification occur was supreme over any elected assembly.

Their work was mirrored by the ICRC internationally, and it is unlikely that we would have come as far as we have on the development and spread of humanitarian law without the ICRC and the national organisations linked through the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

While parliamentary processes do not provide, and may never provide, for a formal input from relevant non-government organisations (NGOs) and lobby groups, Alston argued in 1995 that their role needs to be recognised and processes improved for consultation with them. NGOs dealing with issues ranging through the environment, international law, indigenous peoples and so forth are an important part of the new realities of international power politics.

Since that time, NGOs have indeed been consulted and recognised, so much so that they integral to the formulation of international conventions - some even acting as executors of national and EU policy over and above national governments. We have come full circle whereby NGOs are the fullest extent of consultative process and are in fact alien entities accountable to nobody, often funded by the very governments (national and supranational) they seek to influence. That's actually nothing new.

We have long known that the transnational NGOs have long since become corrupted by the junk science of climate change and a broadly Malthusian agenda. Thus we now have a nexus of bodies far from the reach of those we elect acting largely off their radar.

At the end of this process we have a chamber of MEPs who are neither equipped with the intellectual capacity or the time to give such agreements any real scrutiny and thus major treaties are either waved through on vague sentiment along party lines or blocked on the basis of half understood minutia, often wilfully distorted by media. This is the part of the process they laughingly call democracy.

But ahead of this stage is a battle for the soul of regulation between corporates and NGOs. Giants in a playground. A game of regulatory cat and mouse as each measure produces untended behaviours and means to duck the spirit of the law, as indeed this weeks Volkswagen scam demonstrates.

So here we are with foolhardy moves to rush through the creation of a global single market by way of TTIP, brushing aside the multitude of complaints without means of national veto, to create a regulatory supergiant that the rest of the word has no chance of evading or resisting. For sure it raises standards for the rest of the world, but mediocratises our own. We have seen this before with the deregulation of fireworks in the mid nineties. As a pyromaniac and budding arsonist teenager, this was a dream come true. As a marginally well adjusted adult, I am less enthused by any lowering of standards, especially in auto safety. My faith in our own standards facilitates my enthusiastic driving style.

We do not yet know if TTIP will succeed in its aims but and as we have discussed there are many genuine criticisms of TTIP which mean it may never come to fruition in its current form. Frankly I see no way an agreement on pharmacology, chemicals and the automotive industry can ever pass in tact. In light of the buried report on US automotive safety, I can't see Strasbourg being in a hurry to wave it through. So in due course, reality will have overtaken much of the content of TTIP and we'll be back to square one.

In that regard the EU is overambitious and unrealistic and is rushing this as indeed they have done with every major agreement - recently with devastating consequences in the East. TTIP may prove to be the bridge too far. If that then is the case we've wasted a lot of time, killing growth potential, to accomplish little when multilateral alliances could have been brought together to create a regulatory forum, possibly even encompassing the far east. And we could have bypassed the NGOcracy in doing so - while retaining a veto.

Industry alliances transcend borders of nations and blocs and leave the EU standing redundant. If we want a global single market it will have to be done carefully, one industry at a time concurrently. It cannot be hammered through to create a global hegemony as the EU has attempted.

What we actually need is an automotive and chemical equivalent of the Cairns Group with nation states and trade guilds alike presenting evidence as a counterbalance to the NGOcracy. This is infinitely more flexible that a formalised treaty bloc and doesn't even exclude us from cooperating with the EU in temporary alliances. More to the point, insofar as sovereignty and democracy goes, a national veto is about as good as it gets.

The truth is sovereignty is overrated, unrealistic and in a globalised world, increasingly implausible. So the question is how we get the best results in the shortest time with the greatest respect for cultural and political differences. In any such estimation, if your design was only half decent, it would still be an immeasurable improvement on the EU - and institution that exists purely for the sake of promoting its own hegemony through a process of hubris and coercion - where all concerns are secondary to the perpetuation and survival of its mistake currency. Though it is an artefact of its own accord and we can do little about that, we have no business being members of it. Not now, not ever. This referendum is an opportunity to correct our historical mistake.

The new global market means we will never have full sovereignty over our own affairs and we're not going to have a bonfire of regulations, but as EU members we are almost powerless to prevent bad regulation from becoming law. At least by having an independent veto we can put such affairs back at the heart of our political discourse where they belong, where they receive the necessary attention and scrutiny.

The global nature of trade rules makes the EU redundant in many respects and if we are not going to be at the heart of the new Europe, then we need our voice back at the top tables. We cannot rely on the mechanisms of the EU to produce fair and transparent regulation. Our independence is the best way of holding the EU to account and influencing the rules it will eventually codify into regulations. As a major global player, we cannot afford to be subjugated and sidelined and we can't be part of any club where we have no real say in the rules we comply with. Australia and Norway have a voice at the top table. Why can't we?   

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