Thursday, February 24, 2005

"The EU constitution expresses the will of a phantom European public"

A quicky link to an interesting Spiked article from a few days ago, Euro-elites desperately seeking demos, which follows on nicely from Spain's low voter turnout in last weekend's referendum and my latest moan about the state of the debate. Some highlights:

The principal danger for the EU in the constitution referendums is not a 'no' vote, though this may be a problem in the UK. It is that too few people vote. For a constitution intended to forge a sense of common identity and belonging, disinterest would be even worse than rejection...

The right has attacked the constitution as eviscerating national parliaments, and paving the way towards a Brussels-based super-state... But the strength of this argument comes less from the public's passionate euro-scepticism, than from a more generalised disenchantment with politics...

Meanwhile the left argues that the constitution goes too far in consolidating the neo-liberal economic model underpinning the EU's Single Market...

Both critiques serve only to deepen public cynicism. The idea of a Brussels super-state panders to people's sense of disempowerment - the invocation of a Trojan horse can only lead to a 'don't be duped!' rallying cry. This is conspiracy theory masking as critique, with the same effect on public cynicism as the 'no war for oil' claim made over Iraq. Perpetuating this grubby vision of politics driven by private interests can only encourage a further withdrawal from politics.

The EU Constitution should instead be understood for what it is: an attempt to infuse the EU, and the whole project of European integration, with a degree of popular support...

The difficulty lies in the fact that, regardless of the wishes of Eurocrats and the fears of euro-sceptics, the EU is not a state. The state today must be democratic, and democracy is only possible with popular sovereignty. Yet there is no European demos, no European constituent political power.
There are some good points in there - no matter what opinion you may have of the thing.

6 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

Feh. Does anyone else wish somebody would say something original about Europe? The "European demos" meme is getting dull, and the uses some Europhobes put it to are outrageous. Didn't we have someone here arguing that the European Parliament couldn't possibly be democratic because there was no European demos, in a neat leap from reality to assertion? Pah.

There's nothing sacred about political science/philosophy models of states that means the EU has to be squeezed into them. It's not a state. It's not just an international organisation. It is different from both, but has features of both. I'm with Tim Garton Ash on this; let's just call it a thing. It's far more important what the thing does than its philosophical/theoretical classification.

2/24/2005 11:00:00 am  
Anonymous Hew BG said...

Alex,

??? I rather hope people will continue to bang on about the European Demos (or lack thereof) for three reasons:

1) This matters because civil society/peace/security etc depend upon the rule of law, and the rule of law depends - ultimately - upon the willingness and consent of the minority to be governed by the majority. This only happens where the minority are able to see themselves as fundamentally the same as the majority but with some different views/opinions on top this same "base". This is what is called a demos. Often, the fundamentals that allow a group to form a demos are expressed in a constitution. That is why all other law (which often reflects the views of a passing or transient majority) is subservient to a constitution (which should reflect the views of a permanent, enduring, all encompassing majority).
2) there is no European demos - this is an unavoidable fact. The French would not consent to be ruled by, say, the Greeks.
3) The existence of a demos is blithely and falsely assumed by the EU political elite and by the proposed constitution.

Thus, the whole premise upon which this constitution is founded is, I believe, false.

To suggest that this is some trifling irrelevance or boring is certainly wrongheaded and probably dangerous. It is the single most significant issue at stake.

2/24/2005 12:02:00 pm  
Blogger eulogist said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2/24/2005 01:15:00 pm  
Blogger eulogist said...

I go a long way with Hew on 1, but not on 2 and 3. Habermas makes the interesting point somewhere that almost none of the existing constitutions came about without the prior existence of a corresponding demos. Instead, the two developed over time in conjunction, with one influencing and strengthening the other and vice versa.
So you would not need a full-fledged European demos before you create a European constitution (and, considering the situation in many existing federations, especially the multi-lingual ones like Switzerland and Belgium, you could wonder if you even need one at all). Nor does one have to assume (as the EU political elite allegedly does) that it already exists.
Note that Hew's point that the French would never accept to be ruled by the Greek is a strawman as that is not even remotely what is proposed even by the staunchest "federasts". Perhaps the problem with "you Brits" (and I mean that in the nicest possible way ;-)) is that you fail to understand the concept of a federation as opposed to that of a centralised state, as you keep interpreting it from your own experience of living in a centralised superstate (i.e. the UK) - which is not a federation.

That said, I second Alex that we should stop trying to squeeze the EU in any existing predefined concept and just start calling it a "thing". It would certainly help focusing the EU debate on issues that really matter.

2/24/2005 01:30:00 pm  
Anonymous Hew BG said...

Eulogist is very probably correct in most of his analysis. I have some comments:

Firstly, and slightly nitpickingly, my "french ruled by Greeks" is not really a strawman - I use it to illustrate the effect of a lack of a demos, not to suggest that that would happen in its fullest sense. The illustration is still valid: the key factor as regards the consent of the minority to governed is crucial.

This then leads to the second issue: that "us Brits" fail to understand the concept of a federation. I think you are spot on here in identifying the problem, but maybe I disagree with your solution. Maybe there just is a fundamental difference between the British and continental models, legal traditions etc and thus Britain has to move much further that some other member states to fit into the proposed federated model.

I had deliberately avoided using the British in my demos analogy above, because I wanted to make a demos point, rather than an incompatability point. Maybe I should be clearer: I submit that the residents of this poor benighted island WOULD feel like a minority inside a federal EU: we do not feel part of the demos and my point 1) above is therefore of the highest importance.

As regards point 3) - again, when seen through the - possibly distorting - prism that results from being perceived as a minority, any attempt to suggest to the British that they are in fact just part of a wider demos of 450M serves only to strengthen their resistance.

This brings me to Nosemonkey's excellent post a few days ago: that sensible debate about the EU is now virtually impossible in the UK.

There is a vicious circle at play: for whatever reasons, misguided or otherwise, the UK has over time been more hostile/sceptical than not towards the EEC/EC/EU (it goes back easily that far). As a result, British politicians tend to play down both the benefits AND THE IMPACT of membership. Any politician who makes any noises about political union will be torn to shreds by the papers. But this is self defeating as the noises that successive governments have made are so obviously completely at odds with statements from every other EU leader.

Thus old T Blair is trapped. If he wants to sell the constitution, he is going to have to fess up: he will have to formally retract the frankly insulting "tidying up exercise" line and come clean on the exact balance of power between the UK and the EU. He is going to have be crystal clear (he is going to have to say that the "No" camp has been right all along) on what this "thing" is. Once he has done this, he can then say: right, in return for the transfer of power, we get x, y and z. He will also have to demonstrate that membership of a political union is necessary to deliver x, y and z and further that x, y and z CANNOT be delivered if we left the EU, but remained inside the EEA (Norway, Iceland) or even EFTA (Switzerland).

Unless he does that, he is unlikely to make headway, because his fundamental starting position (the UK remains a sovereign independent nation) is a total fabrication. The "no" camp have only to demonstrate this fabrication and they have won: Blair cannot build any benefits without this stable foundation.

Once he does come clean (and it will take a very great deal of courage to do so), then the debate will move to the existence and/or plausibility of the benefits x,y, and z. I suspect that this would split the "no" camp straight down the middle. I doubt, though, that it will come to pass....

2/25/2005 10:04:00 am  
Blogger Anoneumouse said...

Hew BG, I couldn't have put it more eloquently myself. And that is the problem with our politicians, telling the truth and coming clean.

2/25/2005 11:44:00 am  

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