Europeanism is based on two assumptions:and
Nearly all European Leaders, whether left or right have accepted this argument.
- Nation states are a left over from the past, they have no future.
- The individual cannot be responsible for his own actions, he must be controlled from the centre.
The idea that opposition to the EU can only be from Nationalism is a cheap argument. It reminds me of Soviet era politicians who always tried to claim there was no alternative. The real alternative is friendly cooperation between states.Anyway to get on with the job of pointing out paragraph by paragraph where Mr Palmer is wrong
The level of public debate in Britain about the future of European integration, since the rejection of the European Union constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands, has been abysmal. The main political parties ignore the issues raised by the de facto suspension of a treaty which all EU governments held to be essential for the governance of an ever-expanding European Union. Even “pro-European” politicians make no serious attempt to argue the case for strengthening the efficiency and the democratic accountability of the EU and its institutions – even as they prepare to negotiate the accession of more new member-states.
It is worth pointing out that the level of public debate in one of the nations which rejected said treaty (France) has been non-existent. The position of France subsequently can be summed up by Vile Pin & l'Escroc's statements that "CAP reform will only occur over their dead bodies" (whicn increases my desire for CAP reform dramatically :) ) and any debate has been effectively about whether Polish plumbers can be kicked out or not.
Gisela Stuart, the Labour member of parliament is to be congratulated, therefore, for engaging at a serious level – in her openDemocracy article “The body of democracy” – with the arguments about whether it is possible to build a serious transnational European democracy. As a former participant in the Convention on the Future of Europe she saw at close hand a fascinating attempt to create at least a building-block of a future European demos which engaged both European and national parliamentarians as well as EU governments and the European Commission in an extended debate about democracy and EU governance.
Omitted is the question of why we should have a "serious transnational European democracy". Mr Palmer seems to think that the benefits of this are self evident but I would think that it might be worth trotting out the Helen Cannam arguments about prvention of war even though they are readily debunked. Perhaps he is hoping we won't notice it if he doesn't call attention to it.
As a close observer of that process over many months I was struck by the extent to which national parliamentarians (from all the EU’s then fifteen member-states) developed a fuller and richer understanding of the need to strengthen European democracy at the supranational as well as the national level. Gisela’s own evolution has proved very different. The experience seems to have led her to conclude that any attempt to build a European Union democracy is misguided and doomed to failure. She cites with enthusiasm the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton who believes that the “nation”-state alone is capable of generating that sense of community without which no democratic polity can be built.
If the EU is not intended to morph into a genuine nation itself then it's proponants do a bad job of disguising that fact. Constitutions, flags, defence forces, not to mention common passports, driving licenses etc. make the EU look more and more like a nation than a federation of independant states. Indeed the fact the EU law is generally held to supercede national law looks remarkably similar to the way the federal US law supercedes state law in most cases.
This is an ominous conclusion, not just because European Union member-states have already agreed to pool sovereignty and take collective decisions in very important areas of policy (in some of them by forms of majority-vote decision). It also has implications for the future of the global system of governance.
The fact that the EU member states have agreed to pool sovereignty is precisely the reason that we are having this debate. The EU is taking on many of the trappings of a nation (see above) without this being approved by the inhabitants of its nations. The Dutch and French referenda showed clearly that the population is far from convinced that they will benefit in any way from this pooling of sovereignty. Surely a democratic body that its people disagree with should disband itself?
Are we really saying that it is inherently utopian to work to some appropriate form of supranational democratic accountability for the emerging global decision-making bodies? Do we, for example, really see a longer-term future for a strengthened United Nations without at least the foundations for a future global democratic assembly? We are – rightly – adding to the number of global governance institutions in an effort to manage globalisation. We may add more in future. Can this really be done while responsibility for democratic accountability rests with purely national parliaments?
Surely the real question is whether the world wants supranational global decision-making bodies at all, not how responsive they should be to individuals. To be honest many of them seem to turn into giant sinks of bureaucratic unaccountability and corruption, which seem to try and spread their reach further and further without consideration of whether they are wanted or not. Why, other than to provide jobs for the boys, should we be increasing the number of global governance institutions? Globalization could be managed, it seems to me, with at most the WTO, the BIS and perhaps the world bank. Most transnational bodies seem to be designed more to impede progress by means of bureaucratic red tape than anything else.
Gisela Stuart and those (on the left as well as the right) who think like her are investing a great deal indeed on their single wager for democracy – the “nation”-state. At this point readers will notice that by insisting on inverted commas around the word nation that I have some difficulty with this language. In truth Gisela Stuart also has her concerns, for she admits that she is worried by the number of United Kingdom citizens she meets who prefer to describe themselves as “English” rather than “British”. Could that have something to do with the fact that “nation” is not an unchanging phenomenon but something which is being constantly revised through history? Certainly the rise of an English national consciousness must have something to do with the increasingly self-confident assertion of their distinct national identity by our Scots and Welsh fellow-UK citizens.
Gisela et al are not investing a lot in something that is a high risk investment. The "nation"-state is the only successful body in the world today when it comes to democracy and for that matter for governance by non-democratic forms too. There is variety between nations; in addition to the democracy/tyranny divide, some nation-states are federal in various forms while others are effectively unitary nations, but entities that are not "nation"-states seem to be rather thin on the ground and to fail comparitively quickly. Perhaps the only non-nation state to exist today is the People's Republic of China but that is busy trying to turn itself into a genuine nation state and not an empire. It is true that the nation is not an unchanging thing but other than the USA 200 years ago the trend amongst nations seems to be to split rather than join - witness precisely the "English" vs "British" question. The fact that the EU seems to be alone in attempting to reverse this process seems to indicate its chances of success as a potential single entity.
In Europe today people feel themselves to possess multiple identities: local / regional / national / Europe, depending on the circumstances where the question of identity is posed. Only the other day (in London) I heard one person introduce himself to another by saying: “I am a Basque, a European and I hold a Spanish passport.” To which his new acquaintance replied: “Well, I am Welsh, a European and I hold a British passport.”
Odd circles you move in Mr Palmer. I rarely hear people introduce themselves while mentioning their passport and I don't think I've ever met anyone who said unprompted that they were "European".
Power and weakness
No one would deny that the cultural and public-awareness foundations for democratic politics at the European Union level are very fragile. On the other hand the scale of population movement for settlement between EU member-states is enormous and is steadily growing (I am told there are half a dozen Anglophone mayors of French communes).
One of the main streets in Nice is called the "Promenade des Anglais". Both Nice and nearby Menton have Russian Orthodox graves and churches. Cannes was chiefly developed by a Lord Brougham. All of these developments date from the 1800s. The "grand tour" is even older. The difference is that today more of us have the disposable income and the transportation to do the same.
Gisela Stuart is right to be worried about the weakness of democratic legitimacy at the European level. But is the picture so much better at national level – given falling voter turnout and rapidly declining party membership across the board? In all European countries, voters perceive parties to be capable of offering an ever more restricted political choice. Globalisation is indeed shrinking the space for national politics to offer real alternatives as it forces parties into an ever smaller and more overcrowded ideological telephone-box.
What forces parties into "an ever smaller and more overcrowded ideological telephone-box" is the fact that the more wacko policies have been tried and have generally failed. When you add the fact that the current political elites do their best to demonize those who propose alternative solutions - witness the reactions to the Vlams Blok and to Jor Haidar - it should not be a great surprise that politicians seem to be remarkably similar.
The low level of voter turnout in European parliament elections cannot be written off simply as a function of a low level of collective political awareness. It has much more to do with the fact that voters have come to realise that European parliament elections are simply not about enough. As Gisela Stuart points out, European votes – unlike other elections – do not elect an executive or government. In reality successive European parliament elections have been tired, low-key affairs where national parties have tried to fight over the warmed up leftovers from domestic elections (do I like or dislike the national government holding office at any given moment in my member-state?)
I fear Mr Palmer is getting the cart before the horse. The reason why we don't throng the poling booths for MEPs is because we can tell they are a waste of time, space and money. The fact that most of them seem to be total non-entities or national politicans who have fallen out of favour is surely an indication that the political elites also see Europe as less importsnt that national politics. Maybe Mr Palmer should consider that the fact that rulers and ruled unanimously treat the European Parliament as a sideshow might be a symptom of a lack of belief in the Euronation platitudes he and his transnational buddies are trying to peddle.
This is not what European elections should be about. They should be about the strategic choices about the future direction of the Union and its policies. Ironically, at the level of twenty-five EU member-states the potential space to explore alternatives is far greater than at the national level of even the larger individual countries.
To the extent that parties such as UKIP or the Vlaams Blok prosper in these elections I think that the European elections are about strategic choices. The problem for Mr Palmer is that the strategic choice preferred by the voters appears to be to move away from his supranational Euronation
This weakness was understood by the convention and – in a diluted form – provision was made to encourage the development of genuinely European political parties which would (in effect) be able in future to propose their candidates for the post of European Commission president in future. This would offer – for the first time – a way for voters to shape the political leadership of the EU executive (by electing the president of the commission.) I wish they had gone one step further and said that the proposed future president of the European Council should also be directly elected.
It may be that – with or without the proposed constitutional treaty – something like this will anyway come to pass when the next European parliament elections are held in 2009. Events are forcing the embryonic European parties to define themselves and their programmes ever more clearly. The appointment of the commission led by José Manuel Barroso has resulted in a clearly right-wing dominated executive and this is pushing the social democrats and other parties on the left to take their stand as the “opposition.”
The opposition of the left to Barroso and co is not as obvious as the opposition of the Eurosceptics who mostly seem to be on the "right" and who are frequently maligned as fascist.
The pretence that the commission is somehow “above politics” is being abandoned. This trend is revealed in a recent study from the London School of Economics which shows that voting divisions in the European parliament have become less and less defined by national differences and more and more by cross border party-political differences.
I was unaware that the comission had ever been "above politics".
Constitution and identity
Gisela Stuart may want to defend “neo-liberal economics” as an essential concomitant of her commitment to democracy, but in the argument over the future of the European economic and social model those demanding stronger, more integrated and more democratic Europe will be on both sides of that debate. She is right, however, to imply there is something unhealthy about the European parliament having a big role in decisions about how EU money is spent but no power to raise taxes. It would be far more transparent if EU revenue was raised not by the present, Byzantine system of national “contributions” but by a hypothecated tax which should be subject to open European parliamentary scrutiny and decision.
So, having stated earlier that nations are passé, Mr Palmer seems to now be doing his best to create a new nation by the back door. Mr Palmer seems to have missed something though. Given that I think it is 66% of the EU budget is spent on the CAP and that this money is effectively agreed on at intergovernmental meetings the idea that the European parliament has a big role in the spending of the budget is at odds with reality. If the European parliament were to somehow reject the current budgetary agreements and (say) refuse to disburse any CAP money until member nations had provided an audited accounting of the money disbursed over the last ten years then I would believe that the parliament had a big role in spending. Since the idea that MEPs would dare to tinker with the budget as agreed by Messrs Blair Chirac and co in their intergovernmental negotiation is laughable the entire thesis proposed is a joke. However I'm not against the idea of an EU tax, I think that the introduction of such a tax, assuming it were to be paid by the majority of EU citizens, would help raise demands to rid ourselves of this bureuacratic nonsense. Imagine a pan-European party running on a plank of cutting said hypothecated tax and cutting the Brussels Eurocracy commensurately.
What is worrying is that Gisela Stuart seems to think that the essential burden of ensuring that European governance should fall to national parliaments. It is vital that national parliaments make a much better fist of holding their own governments to account in the wider EU decision-making process. But the same member-state governments want many key decisions to be taken at EU level. Indeed Tony Blair and others are even now talking about the EU taking some further – largely undefined – responsibilities in the field of justice, security, energy and the creation of EU wide centres of higher-educational “excellence.” How much further does this process have to go before Gisela and others recognise that we refuse to demand a serious element of supranational democracy at our own peril?
No what is worrying is that Mr Palmer sees no alternative to a (supra)national EU. Politicans may try to propose additional EU competencies but I don't see a commensurate demand from voters. The problem is that no ever seems to propose less Eurocracy - or if they do they seem to get shouted down by the pigs desperate to keep their trough filled.
In the conclusion of her openDemocracy essay, Gisela Stuart says that the key question is who “we” are in the European Union. It is a mistake to imagine that until the peoples of Europe have a fully developed sense of their collective identity that we cannot build a democratic polity. As the architects of the American constitution recognised, a collective American identity did not create the constitution, rather the constitution generated a collective American identity. It will take time in Europe as well – but maybe much less: since we are not seeking to create a national identity, but a legitimate European democratic identity alongside all those other identities which define us in the modern world.
I think that drawing parallels between the nascent United States of 225 years ago and the EU nations today is rather a stretch. The American states had a clear external enemy (England and to a lesser extent other European powers), a clear benefit to stick together, a shared heritage (English) and their populations were miniscule. The total population of the USA in the first census of 1790 was estimated at under 4 million people (for comparison the population of England and Wales alone in 1801 was nearly nime million). Twentieth century attempts by the Soviets and by the Arabs to instill some sort of larger identity on their populations failed miserably. It is unclear to me why Mr Palmer thinks that the diverse nations of Europe, which mostly have centuries of history as separate nations, should somehow find a common European identity thanks to some hypothetical constitution. And given that the consitutution we were supposed to sign up to ended up having a table of contents half the length of the entire US constitution, it seems rather unlikely that it will inspire Europeans to anything other than a collective desire to somnolence amongst all who read it.