Wednesday, 9 March 2016
You can have democracy or the EU. You can't have both.
We all know that cousins shouldn't marry, but even today people ignore that most important rule - and the results can be quite distressing. We know that intermarrying can cause serious disabilities and birth defects, but there is an as yet unexplored social phenomenon as to how their offspring invariably end up working as Members of the European Parliament.
While it's all too easy to mock the afflicted in Ukip clan, when you look at the rest of our MEPs your realise that being a knuckle-scraping primate is not unique to Ukip. Clearly from the Green party pictured above we can see the family tree has been reduced to a shrub. This is quite serious. If any of these people were counter staff at your local B&Q and you had questions about an electrical appliance you would ask to see the manager or a supervising adult.
I suspect the reason for this is twofold. Firstly nobody with any gumption wants to be an MEP if they can succeed at something else in politics. Media follows people of influence, and MEPs are certainly not influential either at home or in the EU. Secondly, nobody cares about the EU.
With a turnout of only 35.6% at the last by-elections it is fair to say that the vast majority of the British public have no real interest in EU affairs and in the main only turn out to make sure mouth-breathers from the loony fringes get in. In this, you can hardly blame the EU for resisting any moves to make it more democratic. With so much power concentrated among so few it would be like handing a loaded Uzi to to a toddler. If this is what democracy might look like, you can almost understand their phobia of it.
Now you could say that it was our own fault for not taking euro-elections seriously but the public know all too well that there is no real point in sending MEPs at great expense when they are structurally outnumbered. and cannot in any way unite to block legislation. The chances of us seeing anything like a democratic result from the European Parliament are nil unless you buy into the fiction that there is an EU demos that transcends national concerns (as if!).
So what you are actually seeing here is not the embodiment of democracy but rather what happens when you have nothing even approaching democracy. These people have no power and no mandate from the public. The consequences of this are clear for all to see. A self-reinforcing idiocracy that needs to be supervised by functionaries appointed by the Commission.
In this the EU is acutely aware of the so-called democratic deficit and this keeps all the EU think tanks scratching their heads as to how to bridge that gap. How do they make the profoundly undemocratic a democracy. It's a quest for the holy grail. Nobody concerned has ever seen it, nobody knows what it looks like, and wouldn't recognise it if they saw it.
Like most things, you have to go back to basics and ask what the European Parliament is actually for. Since the EU is a legislative entity, the parliament is notionally the people's line of defence to prevent laws they do not want. If it works then it's a democracy, if it doesn't, then it isn't.
For it to work it would require an adequate means of early warning so that interested parties knew what was on the legislative agenda, and for members concerned to have the necessary collective powers to block on behalf of the people they represent. It fails on both counts - and since the public will never really embrace the EU as their government there will never be parliamentary legitimacy.
To have truly legitimate decisions within the limitations of representative democracy we would need to see the decisions made by the more legitimate national parliaments and for a measure to legitimately apply to all of Europe, there must be unanimity. We'd then have more eyes on legislation, far better scrutiny and a better early warning system in that media relates to national parliaments in ways that cannot be replicated in the EU.
In fact, were the EU to reform along these lines I think I could almost live with it. For sure, Westminster is only marginally more legitimate and representative democracy is really only the freedom to appoint ones own dictator, but it would be a better defence mechanism than the EU parliament.
But the EU is never going to reform along these lines. It has convinced itself that the presence of a parliament is the embodiment of democracy and to abolish it would be to remove its only figleaf. More to the point, if it required unanimity, nothing would ever pass and the whole thing would fall apart. Put simply, if the EU were democratic it wouldn't exist, and to make it democratic would be the act of abolishing itself.
On that basis, for the EU to survive it can never work on the basis of unanimous and approval. That means entire countries are going to be overruled and lumbered with legislation it does not want. By definition that is not democracy. If we had a system of opt outs it would be anti-ethical to the concept of a single market. So it would appear that we can either have a single market or democracy but not both. Certainly a supranational authority in this regard can never be a democracy.
This brings us to the question of the referendum. The real question. Democracy or a single market. The needs of people vs the needs of commerce. And that's a tricky one because the two are interchangeable. People need commerce. And so we must look outside of the EU to see how things get done.
In global trade we can see that non-EU members enjoy the right of reservation where certain rules do not apply, but they pay a penalty in either tariffs or market access. Democracy always has a price tag, compromise brings profit. It is for the people to decide which they trade off and in what circumstances. This is why Norwegians, while unhappy with the EEA, can stomach adopting many of the EU rules but would utterly reject EU membership by a wide margin. It gives them control and they are willing to pay the price for that.
In the wider world, there is a global single market emerging sector by sector. By way of ratifying global conventions and legislating on a domestic basis to embody common standards and practices as defined by global regulators and technical committees, through mutual recognition agreements and MOU's, nations can opt in of their own volition without having to grovel before a supranational entity for acceptance.
In order to avoid adopting clauses they do not want, they can either lodge reservations to the conventions or they can attempt to shape the standards and regulations at the top tables by joining ad-hoc alliances. You may not always win but you then have the choice of not adopting the conventions. It means that the people decide the pace of globalisation and what is subject to it. Make of that what you will but at the very least, it is democratic. In the long run, it may even be a faster path to global harmonisation.
So what would happen if the EU worked along these lines? Well, again, it would simply disintegrate. That is not to say there would no longer be a single market in that there would be a network of mutual recognition agreements and a Europe wide agreement on tariffs, simply because nobody wants to turn that clock back, but parliaments would start asking what the actual point of the EU was.
It's a good question. Since all the EU does as a legislative entity is formulate laws on the basis of global conventions, OECD recommendations, UN regulations and ISO/Codex standards, what is the actual point? For sure, there is value in pooling resources in drafting the laws and having a regional forum to coordinate the rollout, but why does it need to be exclusive and to have its own flag, anthem, foreign policy and border force?
Put simply, it doesn't. But this isn't about trade and it never was. This has always been about pushing the idea of a supreme government for Europe, and that is why it needs its Potemkin village parliament and all the other pieces of quasi-democratic furniture. It is entirely agenda driven, and that agenda takes primacy over any other concern regardless of how at odds it is with democracy and global free trade.
It is the idea of a walled-garden Europe. An impenetrable fortress where the EU government controls what and who gets in, gradually sucking the powers of national parliaments to the centre, assuming competences one at a time, claiming credit for the victories but accepting none of the responsibility for its failings. What we are looking at is obsolete twentieth century euro-imperialism and dogmatic supranationalism. The very opposite of multilateralism, dynamism and cooperation.
In this we should note the insistence of the Remain campaign that this is an economic issue. Such is a deception. Their agenda is that Britain should be subordinate to a supreme government for Europe. For them that cannot happen without the eradication of democracy, they know this, and for them the ends (their utopian idealism) justify the means. They assume the removal of choice will expedite their New Jerusalem and that we shall have peace in our time. You would think humanity would have learned by now.
This is really why this referendum is so critical. We stand at a crossroads in history. Do we embrace modernity and join the emerging global single market, or do we retreat deeper into fortress Europe, dispensing with democracy as we go? Will we use our own voice at the top tables or will we have the EU political entity speak for us? Will we choose freedom of choice over mercantile convenience? Will we choose democracy or the EU? We can have one or the other, but we can't have both.