What do you do when one of the fundamental things you’ve believed in for years, have spent ages working towards, is actually not anywhere near as desirable as you previously thought?
That’s basically the predicament I find myself in these days, and it’s not a very pleasant place to be.
The old federalist argument, repeated ad infinitum at Ventotene, drawing on Spinelli’s manifesto, is that the nation state is broken and only supranational democratic structures in Europe (a European federation) can fix it.
That’s all very well if your systems of representative democracy work OK, but what if they don’t? What if political parties are tired and hollowed out, and beholden to narrow interests and are in awe of the power of the markets? With election turnouts decreasing? With messy multi-party compromises, and leaders ready to ditch the few principles they once had? Why should we expect leadership to be any more enlightened at EU level than is the case nationally just now?
Make the EU a representative democracy in the classical sense (government contingent on a majority in parliament, executive proposes legislation that the legislature approves and amends, parties run in elections etc.) tomorrow, and we’re just going to replicate all the disfunction on a continent wide scale.
But – conversely – the alternatives are worse. We cannot rely on the illegitimate technocracy of the past that has lacked citizen involvement and democratic control. Equally direct democracy is not the answer, as I am yet to see a fair and partial referendum campaign. And – with the world faced with an economic crisis and the impending damage of runaway climate change – it’s not as if we don’t need political solutions to our many problems, and with so many of these being cross-border in nature, it’s not as if we can do away with the supranational institutions we have.
Where, please, out of any of this, is there any small sliver of optimism?
The EU is, IMHO, a step in the wrong direction. Democracy works best at a small, local scale and indeed most societal control also works best at a small, local level. To make democracy work well, we should be shifting most of the democratic control down to city-wide or smaller control systems, and minimising the amount of clout that country-wide organisations have. The EU really hasn’t got any real reason for existing, apart from as a sop to a lot of political egos; it doesn’t achieve much except to redistribute a lot of money, and effectively act as a parasite.
Far better to simply dissolve the EU, disband the Euro in favour of a lot of small, competing currencies (and revert to standardised measures of gold as an international currency) and effectively dismantle all these huge, supra-national organisations. After all, it isn’t as if we don’t now know how they behave. We’ve done the experiment, and the EU has demonstrated its self to be a step in the wrong direction, so let’s learn from this and move on.
“You don’t seem to get that finding out what 99% of the population really want is difficult. ”
Well they managed it in Gibraltar in 2002. OK, it wasn’t quite 99%, it was actually 98.48% who voted against shared sovereignty with Spain.
The example of the slavery was, in fact, quite good, if you think about the relationship between public opinion and the abolition of slavery. Sorry, but you seem to be unable to follow a logical argument through.
So, you would find it democratic to reinstate slavery if the majority of the population supported it?
And yes, what I am stating is my opinion. Whose opinion could it be, anyway? You also state your opinion (unless, of course, you are a directly elected MP and speak for your constituents in which case accept my apologies :))
You don’t seem to get that finding out what 99% of the population really want is difficult. Translating it into policies is even more difficult. Oh, and there are very few topics on which you can get 99% of the population to agree.
I think I should stop clogging up Jon’s inbox with comments….
@ European Citizen – I am responding to both your recent posts.
EC: “Anyway, my definition of a democratic state would be one which respects human rights.”
Well, Humpty-Dumpty, words can indeed mean what you want them to mean. But for the rest of us, the word “democratic” is an adjective relating to the noun “democracy”, of which the following is as good a definition as any, “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”.
EC: “Don’t forget that your idea that democracy means the majority of British citizens getting what they want assumes that there are well-functioning institutional mechanisms which transmit people’s real preferences to the level of government”
I make no such assumptions. All I said was that if 99 per cent of the population want X and instead they get NOT-X then this is not democratic.
EC: “Just think about the many ways in which people can be manipulated into voting for or against something.”
This is the argument used against giving plebs the vote by tyrants throughout history.
EC: “Somehow everybody picks up on the death penalty, not the slavery example.”
I felt the slavery example was so bad it was best ignored. But since you insist on pursuing it… Slavery has existed for thousands of years through Africa, the Middle East and Europe and, from what I know about them, the ancient civilisations of America too. It was first abolished in Britain and then throughout the British Empire by democratic means thanks to the work of Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament. The next significant step in the abolition of slavery took place in the USA when Abraham Lincoln asserted the constitutional right to prevent southern States from leaving the union. Again, this was done in the name of democracy as expressed in the American Constitution.
EC: “The abolition of the death penalty does make a country more modern and civilized.”
You don’t seem able to get your head around the idea that what you’ve stated is merely your opinion. I’ve never done any surveys on the subject, but I suspect that the majority of people who support the death penalty do not share your belief that its abolition is “modern and civilized”.
My example was given just in order to suggest that blindly following the will of the majority may lead to undesirable outcomes. Just think about the many ways in which people can be manipulated into voting for or against something.
Somehow everybody picks up on the death penalty, not the slavery example.
The abolition of the death penalty does make a country more modern and civilized. I doubt whether the public opinion was ever supportive of this measure. Are you saying this was a bad decision because it was not ‘democratic’?
Regarding the inalienable rights in the UK: I don’t feel qualified enough to argue but I think the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty notwithstanding, the possibility of taking away some basic rights is largely only theoretical. I’d be happy to read more on the subject though.
Your idea of democracy seems to include not being allowed to reinstate the death penalty? Was Britain not a democracy before the death penalty was abolished, which de jure was about twelve years ago? Are the US and Japan not democracies now?
We could all come up with our favoured definition of democracy, e.g., “a democracy is a country which isn’t a member of the EU”, or “democracy means whatever I want it to mean to win the argument” or “democracy is the system of government which obtains in Burma”. I’m not sure limiting the definition of democracy according to which human rights are available is helpful, as recently the US and Ireland had irreconcilable rights in relation to abortion.
Whereas “democracy” does of course cover a spectrum of cases, in its usual acceptation it doesn’t cover the case you mention in relation to the death penalty. The UK is a democracy, and there are no inalienable rights in our unwritten (or rather, non-statutory) constitution.
There are — believe it or not — many definitions of democracy. Anyway, my definition of a democratic state would be one which respects human rights.
Don’t forget that your idea that democracy means the majority of British citizens getting what they want assumes that there are well-functioning institutional mechanisms which transmit people’s real preferences to the level of government, which, in turn, can implement the will of the majority without any impediments. There are many problems associated with each element of this assumption which is why most societies find it necessary to have some absolute inalienable rights enshrined in their (unwritten) constitutions.
@ European Citizen
“The majority of British citizens also want the death penalty back but I doubt it would be democratic to reinstate it.”
Really?? I’d have thought the majority of British citizens getting their way on an issue is the definition of “democratic”. That’s my definition at least. What’s yours?
@ Martin Keegan
The majority of British citizens also want the death penalty back but I doubt it would be democratic to reinstate it. At some point, the majority of the people also believed that slavery was acceptable. I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to people’s opinions, of course 🙂
I think you are conflating being in the EU with “more decisions taken at the EU level”. I agree that the majority of British citizens would indeed want to repatriate some powers; however, I’m fairly confident that given an honest debate they would not want to leave the EU because on the whole UK still gains from EU membership. Many people don’t realise the benefits of EU for various reasons (one being the dishonest politicians, see my posts above).
Is it reasonable to suppose that the EU might one day become acceptably democratic? What grounds would there be for such a conclusion? Is it reasonable to suppose this might happen within the next few decades?
The majority of British people want less decision-making to be done at EU level. If these opinions do not change, would it be democratic to keep Britain in the EU, under the current or similar terms? Is it democratic to keep preventing them from having a say on any constitutional developments since Thatcher’s Single European Act?
It seems to me to be a contradiction in terms to want affairs within the EU be conducted more in accordance with the wishes of citizens, when the citizens don’t want affairs to be conducted within the EU in the first place.
Is it logically consistent to say that it’s Ok for the USA, Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, South Africa, Cyprus, Israel, Southern Rhodesia, etc to become independent of the UK, but that it is not Ok for the UK to be independent of the EU? (I mean, obviously, if one is just an anti-English racist bigot, it’s intellectually consistent, but is it intellectually consistent with a sane and reasonable world view?)
@blingmun and @Martin Keegan: thank you very much for your replies!
I sincerely appreciate your commitment and effort toward the UK!
In particular, if you’re motivation is to bring the deepest and lasting benefit for all UK people, I wish you a complete success!
@ Mr. Violet
“Personally I do not like the idea to destroy it in order to get back to the old system.”
The old system in Britain was one of evolution towards greater democracy and more equality. The Bill of Rights in 1688 established that the House of Commons – not the Monarch – is sovereign, and then the great reform Bills of the 19th Century extended the vote to all men and then in the early 20th Century to all women. The new system of “ever closer [European] union” is contemptuous of elections, fudging referendums and fighting tooth and nail to avoid them where the likely outcome will not result in more power for itself. Unelected bureaucrats replace elected Prime Ministers and the fates of nations are settled days or even hours before general elections are due to take place.
Just because one system is newer doesn’t mean it’s better or even as good.
I understand your discouragement, it’s normal under such a kind of crisis, but I think we need to resist to it. I mean that it seems to me we are risking to enter in a kind of “Weimar” mind-frame. I do not want to get trapped in the usual reduction ad hitlerum (aka Goldwin’s Law) but democracy has always been partially disappointing. The famous quote by Churchill “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” was coming exactly from the same understanding we’re been remained today: democracy is very much flawed and always working in a kind of sub-optimal equilibrium apparently far worse then it’s own potential. This was something apparent also to the Europeans in the 20s and 30s. But the alternatives our ancestors tried has proved to be even worse than this. So I think we need to continue our effort to point the faults of our system, but also to remember the good worth to be remembered.
In particular, about the EU: well, it’s already here, and given that it’s producing effects on our everyday life it’s better to work in order to make it a better working democracy even if it will never become a perfect democracy. Personally I do not like the idea to destroy it in order to get back to the old system.
@ European Citizen
“You might be surprised to find out that you have more in common with a Bulgarian/Protugese student who loves travelling than with a British person who left school at 16 (just an example)”
Having much contact with British teenagers and having travelled Europe and lived in London for years where many Europeans reside — yes, I would be surprised.
“It’s time to move away from ethno-national identities”
Oh THAT’S what you think. That’s what YOU think.
Thanks for clarifying. It wasn’t clear because you referred to Mandelson who has been both a Commissioner and a Cabinet member.
Both sides just say what their respective audiences want to hear, unfortunately and rarely reveal their real motives.
You might be surprised to find out that you have more in common with a Bulgarian/Protugese student who loves travelling than with a British person who left school at 16 (just an example). It’s time to move away from ethno-national identities 🙂
@Eurocentric My comments about the UK / Ireland were not 100% serious 🙂 I am as aware as you of the historical circumstances driving Irish nationalism (for many it was originally a means to the end of agrarian and other reforms) in the C19, and don’t really dissent from your rebuttal, except to say that the EU *does* suffer from problems analogous to those the UK faced in the 1910s: the majority of the population of the UK no longer accepts the constitutional position of the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU.
I’m not sure I saw you cite any quantitive data about democratic consent for EU-level majoritarian ordering of particular policy areas.
As to national parliaments and subsidiarity, it’s a moot point given that there’s no effective mechanism for rejecting EU legislation which is ultra vires the Treaties, let alone EU legislation in areas of legally legitimate EU competence which happen to violate subsidiarity.
Your point about subsidiarity being too political for judicial decision is fair enough and I guess I agree.
@ European Citizen
“So the pro-EU politicians are the deceptive ones while the anti-EU ones are the honest ones”
No no no and in case you still haven’t got the hint…NO. You have completely missed the point. Bureaucrats and commissioners in Brussels argue — and possibly even believe — that they are producing perfectly sensible legislation but that as soon as it gets across the channel it is magnified and extended by overly officious Brits. Westminster politicians and civil servants argue — and possibly even believe — that many problems passing over their desks are the result of ill considered legislation from Brussels.
I don’t think one lot is inherently better than the other. I think they are less than the quotient of their parts.
Re Devil’s Kitchen’s comment – I broadly agree that centralisation is a big part of the problem with society and politics today. But I see the multitiered nature of government as an additional problem, letting local councils off the hook say for problems to do with housing, while Westminster and Brussels play a mutual blame game.
Re your previous article – thanks for the link, I had not read that before. I think the article misses the point of what a demos is. Like it or not but the French and the British watch and listen to different news programmes, read different newspapers and blogs, follow different people on Twitter, laugh at different comedians etc. All these things are fundamental elements of political discourse. It is foolish in the extreme to underestimate their importance in influencing the drafting of legislation, putting grassroots political pressure on MPs, and generally creating a channel of communication between politicians and those they purport to represent.
We can all call ourselves Golgafrinchans for what identity in that narrow form really matters. The important thing is how — or whether — we are rooted in a democratic culture. The UK’s political culture may been less vibrant than in the past but the popularity of the likes of This Week, 8 Out Of 10 Cats or Mock The Week, Private Eye, Daily Mash etc. shows beyond any doubt that many of us are sharing similar thoughts, ideas, experiences and concerns. Can I say the same with regard to Bulgarians or Portuguese?
Come on, Jon, if it has been established on Question Time that it is EU’s fault then it must be true! Don’t try to counter it with rational arguments 🙂
BTW, there is a strong connection between ‘active citizenship’ and a common European civic identity (in very crude terms, participating citizens) and your idea that “people will vote for things if they understand its relevance to their lives”.
So the pro-EU politicians are the deceptive ones while the anti-EU ones are the honest ones 🙂 You should check how the EU works and you might be surprised that very often governments (including the UK one) indeed vote in favour of some legislation, which they are afraid of implementing domestically, in Brussels and then say that they were ‘compelled’ by Brussels to implement it. You should also note that when the EU does something good, this would not be acknowledged by the government which would then try to say it has been their intention to implement such policy all along.
On another note: EU legislation is jointly decided by the Council (where national ministers sit) and the EP (directly elected MEPs) so saying that some policy is the fault of faceless Brussels is a bit disingenuous.
On multiple identities:
Identity was originally a sociological concept which made its way in political science and political discourse. People do have multiple identities in the sociological meaning of the term: one could be a father, a teacher, a volunteer, a musician etc at the same time. Similarly, people can feel Glaswegian, Scottish, British and European at the same time.
“people have multiple identities, including belonging to a particular city/region.”
Multiple identities? This is the con trick the political elites like to sell us. For them it makes life more interesting and increases the number of sinecures on offer. But for the rest of us it makes it nigh on impossible to hold anyone to account. So many issues come up for discussion on BBC Question Time and it turns out this or that is the fault of Brussels – nothing to do with the current government at all. Then if you listen to Mandelson or any of the euro-slime they blame Westminster for “gold-plating” perfectly decent legislation. The hapless voter is caught in between growing more cynical about politics with every passing year.
It is in THEIR interests that we buy into this multi-identity lark and have tiers upon tiers of government. But it is in OUR interests that the ways our laws are made are simple.
@blingmun – what do you make of Devil’s Kitchen’s comment above? I would also refer you to this on identity and politics.
@ Martin Keegan
I don’t think that judically-enforce subsidiarity can work. It’s not that the ECJ is an inherently untrustworthy institution to enforce subsidiarity: rather, it’s a vague political concept and you can’t really enforce it through clear legal rules. Subsidiarity comes into play when there’s a shared competence, so it’s pretty much always a political decision whether the decision should be made at EU/national/local level, and it’s too political for the courts to handle safely. Instead of trying to legalise it, we should come up with a political understanding of what should and shouldn’t be done, which would require a lot more open debate than what we have at the moment.
On an institutional level, increasing the time national parliaments have to consider subsidiarity issues, and building an institutional network between them would help create a stronger political voice for subsidiarity within the institutions.
On Ireland, I disagree with your comparison. In the “pre-split” UK, the parliaments of Ireland and the other UK nations where unified, but there wasn’t really a proper common approach to legislative policy or executive power. What you find in Irish and British history is that positive reforms were brought in in Britain long before they were brought in in Ireland in a much watered-down form (such as municiple reform, landlord-tenant reforms), and that on issues of civil rights and enfranchisement, Ireland was treated differently. It was the legal, social and economic inequalities generated and maintained by the way the UK union operated that encouraged the growth of nationalism in Ireland. Given the inclusiveness when it comes to identity of the EU, and the general equality of laws (with differences mainly being locally-imposed ones), the EU doesn’t really suffer from the same weaknesses as the UK union. Not to say that the EU doesn’t suffer from all new weaknesses, though.
I think there can be pan-EU majoritarianist democracy, but in a limited form (mostly to what is co-decision now and to some economic policy for the Eurozone) – for the foreseeable future every member state will have to be represented in the Commission, for example, but that doesn’t mean that they should be nominated and picked by national governments, rather than by the Commission President and EP.
@Jon Again, good to see an intellectually honest approach to EU matters from the Europhile camp. I’m a little concerned that your position is one of “democracy isn’t working too well at Member State level, so there’s no point fixing anything at EU level”, which presumably isn’t what you meant to say. As it happens, I think democracy is working pretty well in most member states (the notes are somewhere on my blog), is feasibly fixable at member state level, but that there’s no prospect of adequate democracy at EU level.
There’s a logically prior question about *what* ought to be decidable democratically at EU level.
Is there much evidence that citizens want to be bound by EU-wide majorities on particular policy issues, e.g., quantitative studies, broken down by policy area or country?
If there’s no demand for trans-EU majoritarianism, increasing the powers of political institutions which can impose trans-EU policies is only going to decrease the extent to which government is by consent, and government without consent is unsustainable. Indeed, Europe’s main supranational state, the United Kingdom, fell apart in the 1920s as most of Ireland did not consent to being governed from London. Never let it be said that supranationalism prevents war 😉
@Nils You say a legitimate EU democracy requires a directly-elected executive. That’s setting the bar pretty high, as most Member States have indirectly elected executives – all the constitutional monarchies have to, and there are great parliamentary republics such as Germany and Italy. There’s more than one legitimate structural model. We do not, *always*, have to copy the French and the Americans.
@Mary Subsidiarity is, in practice, non-existent. To have actually existing subsidiarity, you need an enforcement mechanism. I think the enforcement mechanism needs to be judicial. (The ability of Member State legislatures to be able to block Directives on subsidiarity grounds is really a mechanism for preventing those legislatures from blocking Directives on non-subsidiarity grounds such as legality). The ECJ in Luxembourg has proven, beyond any doubt whatsoever, that it cannot be trusted to enforce subsidiarity. I think it’s a waste of time; subsidiarity was basically just borrowed out of Catholic Social Teaching to help get Maastricht past the nay-sayers, and has never been taken seriously by the authorities.
It seems that you’re still stuck with a democratic EU as your goal from what you say (and I agree fully), so luckily there’s no serious crisis of faith 😉
On bad leadership: I’ve a feeling that we have a generation of leaders that thought that most of the ideological battles were over and that they just had to settle down into a comfortable managerial role. I hope that the next generation of leaders will be a bit more political (in the sense of having stronger political beliefs), though it’s too far away for the current crisis. I think the EU also mitigates against strong national leadership of the EU, since each summit is framed in win-lose terms where leaders can blame each other (witness the latest EU summit, and the last 20 as examples….). So politically, the focus is hardly ever on the ideas behind the solution, but on the nationality of the solution (though of course the market pulls it apart afterwards as inadequate).
Since a more democratic EU would have a counterweight in pan-EU parties based on ideology, this should be mitigated a bit, though a lot of the summitry mentality would remain.
Personally I think there should be more focus on making the Europarties work more as coherent ideological parties, since most of the attention seems to be on the structural power of the EP. A functional democracy requires a substantial multi-party political culture that we’ve not done much to advance (though I’m not a party member so I haven’t seen it from the inside).
It depends on which problems we’re talking about. The EU is showing, as perhaps we’ve always known, that government by hackneyed compromise is no government at all. This may have seemed a manageable problem when Brussels concerned itself with obscure economic regulations and spending c. 1% of GDP, but the euro crisis has shown this kind of regime – in particular rule by the European Council with its national vetoes and non-decisions masked by impenetrable bruxellois – cannot be trusted with policies of vital interest.
As a result, Europe now has what no other developed region/country has: a double dip recession. Lets see how the debt crisis goes with GDP shrinking, revenue dropping and unemployment benefits rising!
This isn’t new. It’s just that, if we can avoid it, rule should be by a democratically-elected Leviathan (a government capable of decisive, coherent action, that can be held to account by the public) not by a Polish Sejm endowed with a liberum veto. I note that the U.S. Senate, another institution that incarnates the dictatorship of the minority and the status quo, has been the source of unending disaster in American history (the maintenance of slavery, rejection of the League of Nations, defense of Jim Crow, rejection of health reform…).
Today, speaking of the eurozone, we have a Polish Sejm (the Council) and a wholly undemocratic (not to mention blisteringly ideological) Leviathan (the ECB). If one or the other were democratic, I dare say decisive action would have been taken long ago, while the EU and its image would not be as ruined as they are.
Brussels is doomed, and we shall reclaim our independence and our birthright; liberty!
There’s a sliver of optimism for you, Jon.
In so far as there is a solution it seem to me it has to be linked to a revitalisation of the principle of subsidiarity. So at one end of the scale we need a more decentralised, active, local politics with more visible local politicians and more local accountability for decision-making. In my view re-engaging the electorate has to begin here. Rediscovering subsidiarity also empowers us to make the case that there are some issues at the other end of the spectrum that can only effectively be tackled at supra-national level: from creating the right conditions to allow trade to flourish, to transport and the environment and many more.
And in many ways the failings of representative democracy you identify present the ideal opportunity to start making these arguments. It’s not about the nation-state, or a supra-national federation, or a loose association of local authorities and municipalities. It’s about having a clear rationale for decision-making and making the right decisions at the right level.
People face a dilemma. Their nation states cannot really decide anything of importance anymore. Because the capital has gone global and it is setting the rules: How much free time, social security, cost for educations etc. a society is allowed to have. The national politicians are deduced to “managers” who can maybe make the best out of the circumstances they find.
Europe could be a solution, bringing politicians to a level where they could define the rules and not just the market. But Europe is organised in such a technocratic way that almost no one understands how decisions in Brussels are taken. There is no face, no person that is responsible for success and/or wrong doings. I bet that 99.9% of the people in Europe do not know the majorities in the European Parliament or in the European Council. And 80% do not know who Barroso is. A European democracy can only be legitimate as soon as the executive is directly elected by the people. And if they are fed up with the politics done by this European executive, they vote for a newone. Now, if people don’t like what the conservative majority has decided and done in the last ten years, what can they do and say? We are tired of Brussels and the EU…
I don’t think we need to put EU identity above the national one; people have multiple identities, including belonging to a particular city/region. We need more active citizenship which, as Jon correctly points out, should not be hijacked by private interests. I think once we accept that a solution to a problem is either good or bad, regardless of whether it was proposed by the French, the Belgians or the Romanians, then we can work together. Of course, some solutions will be better for some countries than for others but this can be mitigated through side payments.
How to achieve that? We should be encouraged to make use of our four freedoms (esp. freedom of movement within the EU), have more genuine debates via blogs/social media etc. Oh, and we should be reminded of the past of this continent as something we never want to go back to.
@ Jon: it’s not all that bad. The EU has always moved in “two steps forward, one step back” mode. I’m sure the time will come when we will debate an EU constitution again. Also, more often than not, EU action is reactive, not proactive so I suppose we need to be patient. It’s frustrating, I know, because most of us want the EU to lead….
It was a bit of a depressing post to start the New Year with but I wish you all the best for 2012! I look forward to your posts and the ensuing debates 🙂
@Jon, I agree with you on the issue of Croatia’s sovereignty. It’s a joke, with or without EU. EU will give our small country an oportunity to sit with some of the most successful countries in the World at the same table, to be a part of descision making process in Europe, where we belong.
I maybe am critical of the EU, but I also stand firmly on the ground. Problem is I don’t think further integration is possible, not without some kind of political obtrusion which would be catastrophic for Europe on the long run.
Your point is quite valid Jon. Problems from the national level will be transferred to the international one. And since European people will be an amalgam of national people behaviors will not change radically. What will change though is the number of options -in a real federal union- and the power a federal government will have to deal with problems that are today more global than national.
It might also change in a long term the way people understand politics, since the old nationalistic arguments will be invalid after some decades. In the end it is not the system it is the people that have to change to see dramatic changes in politics.
I also do not believe in the enlighten leadership -leaders (even Kings) are “products” of their people. But we can change the system now, ensure security and prosperity (to a certain extend) for the next generations and hope that those (generations) will do better than us.
Your argument for supranational government is much the same as Nosemonkey’s—and one that I have debated with him for some years.
My objections have always, actually, been much the same as the problems you raise above, i.e. if nation states’ governments are tired and corrupt, how does a supranational government differ.
For what it is worth, I have always argued that national governments are too centralised—hence the lack of power and influence of the electorate. My argument has always been that there should be far smaller units of government—with far more power than, e.g. our local authorities currently have—and that this would create greater engagement.
The electorate would be able to see the changes that they have voted for—for better or for worse—much more immediately and, as such, would be far more inclined to vote and otherwise engage with the political process.
So, having identified the problems that you have done, my answer is smaller, more local democracy—not bigger, more remote governments.
Jon, well written, I’ve been also reflecting on this a lot. On the EU I totally agree – the enthusiasm that the EU has “corrected” the Greek and Italian dysfunctional politics is dangerous. We might like the departure of Papandreu or Berlusconi, but the method reminds me of imperial times or of “enlightened” 3rd party intervention. The EU is itself dysfunctional and we should not immediately rush to praise something it does if its good – we should then advocate the abolishment of democracy, since non-democracy can perform better, sometimes.
But, history tells that democracy has always performed better on the long-term. It is however a relatively new method of government and by no means perfect. I would therefore not shy away from looking in how to improve it. Let’s see, few ideas: a) should we consider reviewing the rules for who can run for elections? b) should we not seriously limit election campaign finance?…
Democracy is a method, not a goal. And sometimes methods need adjustment.
@Fitch – your argument is the traditional one against supranational cooperation, but how well are our countries actually doing in terms of their scope to deal with the problems we face? 61% of Croats in a country of less than 5 million people were motivated enough to cast their vote this year, but how much control – genuinely – over the economic and political future of the country do Croatia’s politicians actually have – EU or no EU?
National states are by far the best political system for Europe. What’s important is to find a right dosage of integration and cooperation between them, everything more is some sort of dictatorship cause European nations are still not ready to put their European identity before the national one.
Another important thing is to stop this rotten kind of capitalism full of state interventionism. Giving the state so much power over the market makes politicians a big and important link in the chain and that’s the open door for massive corruption.
Cheers form Croatia