Sunday 11 May 2014

The undemocratic pedigree of the European Union

For some the European Union cant do anything right at the moment. From austerity to the Ukrainian crisis, it's the European Union that is to blame. That does not bode well for the European election that are taking place in a few weeks. It appears likely that voters across Europe (that is, those who can be bothered to turn up) will send a strong signal of discontent to their national governments as well as the European political elite. What has happened to Europe? Where did it all go so horribly wrong?

There are several factors that encourage voters to send a 'fail' on the report card to Brussels. For a start, and despite what UKIP tells British voters up and down the country, it is the irrelevance of the European parliament that makes this a perfect mechanism to punish national governments for national policies. Voters in European elections are usually political anoraks through and through. Those who will turn up and cast their vote must have a serious gripe about something, since usually less than a fifth of eligible voters in many UK constituencies are ever bothered to make their cross on the ballot paper. Yet, insignificance of the vote makes it a perfect weapon for the expression of discontent with all things under the sun.

But there is a wider context which motivates people to use their vote for 'protest voting'. Many are genuinely fed up (rightly or wrongly) with the way in which Europe (allegedly) operates. It is widely perceived to be un-democratic, clientelistic and run as a club of bureaucrats far away from the real issues people face in their daily lives. At best, Europe features in the day to day business of ordinary people as a nuisance, telling them to do this or that (mainly things, like, to use metric measures or not buy bananas of a particular bent). The European Union has form in this patronising attitude (exemplified by the current president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, nicknamed the 'Kapo', who prefers to shout at people and lecture them from above) and it is its history and origin that contributed to this largely parasitic existence of its institutions on normal European life.

Martin Schulz - nicknamed 'the Kapo' for his tendency to shout and talk down to people

At the beginning of Europe lie some pretty unsavoury debates about how to transcend nationalisms that ravaged Europe. I do not mean Nazi Germany's love affair with the idea of European integration, which should be enough to make you feel slightly queasy about the European project. More importantly, the real drivers for European integration were old liberal politician who instinctively mistrusted democracy and clung to an elitist vision of modern politics. This resonated well with the founders of Europe, such as Adenauer, who conceived of the European project after the war as a gentlemen agreement between the French and German political elites. The German Chancellor was on record saying that people (in particular, Germans) could not be trusted with politics anymore after having voted Hitler into power, so the 'enlightened' elites of France and Germany had to create an institutional bulwark against democratic decision making.

Europe as a project of integration between nation-states never recovered from this un-democratic impetus and retained its elitist thrust right up to now. Watch, as the 'European' elites fall over themselves to condemn those who vote for the 'wrong' parties in a few weeks' time. As political parties largely critical of further European integration may capture about 25 percent of the vote across Europe, the easy way out of this 'distraction' emerging from democratic decision making will be to stifle democracy even further. If only people could be so enlightened as their political leaders, the world would be perfect, wouldn't it.

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