The EU appeals to those who want to exercise power & who think they’d so more successfully if they didn’t have to be accountable to voters.
Later this week the British people will vote on whether to remain a self-governing democracy or to ratify their absorption into an undemocratic European polity.
It may sound extreme to state the choice so bleakly, but that has been the immanent reality since 1950, when Clement Attlee, Labour’s greatest prime minister (and Churchill’s wartime deputy), rejected British membership in the proposed European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).
In a House of Commons debate, he said: “We on this side are not prepared to accept the principle that the most vital economic forces of this country should be handed over to an authority which is utterly undemocratic and responsible to nobody.”
Attlee was more perceptive than he knew.
The ECSC was designed to morph in stages from a limited industrial cartel into the present unified European “entity” of 28 member-states, which is supposedly neither a state (though it increasingly exhibits the attributes of statehood — flag, anthem, the power to sign treaties, etc.) nor a diplomatic body promoting cooperation and arbitration between independent states, but something new under the sun.
Moreover, the lack of democratic accountability in its political arrangements underlined by Attlee was entirely by design.
Its founders were suspicious of national sovereignty and popular passions, on which they blamed the recent war. They quite consciously set out to avoid submitting their grand design to democratic debate and the verdict of the voters.
Instead it would proceed “functionally,” treaty by treaty, regulation by regulation, committee vote by committee vote, largely shielded from oversight, until one day the peoples of Europe would discover they were living under a new “European” government. That bright new day has now dawned.
Not coincidentally, their new government is one they can’t vote out. The European Commission, which has a virtual monopoly on proposing European legislation, never submits itself to elections. It is an appointed body of unknown bureaucrats and failed national politicians.
Nor can British, French, or German parliaments reject or amend the Commission’s laws and regulations or the European court’s decisions. Nor can their voters repeal them.
European law is superior to what are still quaintly called “national laws.” And if a national referendum (one of the few escape hatches in this panopticon) rejects a European decision, the voters are asked to vote again until they get it right.
In short the EU’s defenses against democratic accountability are pretty watertight.
Increasingly, the Commission’s laws are defended with frankly anti-democratic arguments rather than covert maneuvers in the wilderness of committees that is Brussels. There is no right, said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently, to vote against Europe.
Similar statements by EU leaders could be multiplied to infinity (in innumerable languages). So the EU’s democratic deficit, long admitted, has not been cured but deepened. No leading EU figure now promises to eliminate it.
As John Fonte argues, the EU is probably best described as a post-democratic entity. Almost the only body that can override EU law is the European Union itself. Almost all the rules governing the operation of the single currency, above all the “No Bailouts” rule, were swept aside by the European Central Bank in the interest of safeguarding the euro against the currency crises it had invited.
EU institutions backed by the French and German governments removed two democratically elected prime ministers under the thinnest veil of constitutionality. They replaced them with technocrats (one of whom, the Italian, received a derisory share of the vote in the subsequent election).
Chancellor Merkel’s unilateral decision to invite the world to Europe broke the Dublin Accords on refugee reception. In a bow to German economic power, however, the EU endorsed Merkel’s move and embraced a scheme to compel all Schengen member-states (including countries that had kept the Accords) to receive quotas of refugees under pain of fines amounting to several percent of their GDP.
So the EU is a lawless organization as well as an undemocratic one. Why might the British people — who among their historical achievements are pioneers of constitutional parliamentary liberal democracy — wish to exchange their successful self-governing democracy for this constitutional abortion?
What arguments is the Remain campaign able to mount in favor of doing so?
On this central question Remain has only lies and obfuscation to offer. It denies the plain fact that EU membership means a loss of sovereignty. When that proves unpersuasive, it argues that “sovereignty” is an outdated theoretical concept unusable in the modern world; instead the British should choose effective “power” over it.
Scholars will recognize this argument as the typical socialist confusion, exposed by Hayek among others, between freedom and power, applied to relations between states. It’s odd to hear this classic socialist trope from supposedly conservative politicians such as David Cameron. But things are worse than that.
In exchange for its democratic sovereignty, the EU offers Britain not power but a one-twenty-eighth share of collective decision-making with countries whose interests are badly aligned with those of the Brits. That is why Britain is continually outvoted in Brussels even when its major national interests are at stake.
Far from being an outdated theoretical concept, sovereignty has been shown in the campaign to have very serious real-world consequences. Loss of sovereignty inside the EU means, among other things, that Britain is not free to control immigration. Official figures released in the campaign confirmed this, showing that immigration has been far higher than the government had realized and that as a result its target for reducing immigration levels had fallen short by hundreds of thousands.
Given the disparity between standards of living in Britain and Eastern Europe, this inflow would be potentially endless if the country were to remain in the EU. Remain’s response to this massive embarrassment has been, first, to obfuscate, suggesting that small and temporary changes in welfare policy would deter future migrants.
When that argument was laughed out of court, Remain suggested that those opponents who raised the issue were racists or, as Chancellor George Osborne put it, “Nazis.”
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