Europe. A democratic deficit. Or two. November 7, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, European Politics, Irish Politics.
As I’ve noted here on numerous occasions previously, I’m not instinctively euro-critical, let alone euro-sceptic, or at least I wasn’t the former until Lisbon II. But the events subsequently have certainly put a great big dent in my former attitude towards the European Union, and I say that as someone who has largely voted Yes in referendums which have gifted greater and greater degrees of power to the EU. Indeed I’d tend to argue that the EU remains a potentially progressive force. Problem is the ‘potentially’ in that sentence. The reality seems to be something else again.
Last week I pointed to the bizarre situation where France and Germany appear to have largely taken upon themselves responsibility for dealing with the current crisis, or is it crises? And gratifyingly Vincent Browne takes a similar line in the Sunday Business Post this weekend where he notes the truly strange sight of…
Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy summoning George Papandreou to account, and threatening Greece with expulsion from the eurozone.
Browne argues that this ‘was a chilling insight into the new reality in the European Union’.
Perhaps so. But it really points to the continuing failure of that union to… as he puts it:
…be a safe haven for smaller nations, whose interests would be protected by the EU’s institutional structures… which [outcomes] were rendered nought.
Merkel and Sarkozy had no authority to summon anybody outside their own jurisdictions to anywhere. They had no authority to threaten any member state with expulsion from the eurozone and no authority to dictate the question that might be put to the Greek people in a referendum.
And he notes that…
…none of the office holders of the EU – not Barroso, president of the EU Commission, not Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, not he PResident of the European Parliament, nor any other head of government in the EU – uttered a whisper of concern about this impertinent usurpation of power.
I think I find that most disturbing of all. The institutional EU doesn’t, to all intents and purposes exist in the context of the events of the last week. And even if one simply ascribes this to show-boating by both France and Germany, a France and Germany keen to assert, or reassert their leadership of Europe, it still provides an example of bad practice that is very difficult to believe can have anything but negative outcomes for the EU as a whole.
It explicitly pushes the discourse in the EU from one of equal and independent nations working together to one where the central states take precedence. I noted last week that the cleavage in the nature of the EU, between nation states and institutional structures led to problematic outcomes, it is neither entirely democratic nor entirely representative but caught somewhere between federalism and national representation. But this display by Merkel and Sarkozy seems to point to a dynamic where the institutional EU is at best an irrelevance, at worst a fig leaf to cover the demands of France and Germany as regards other states in the Union.
And it’s not as if, rightly, Browne gives a free pass to Papandreou, who appears to have had the political equivalent of a nervous breakdown in pulling the referendum stunt out of the hat, although to my mind exacerbating it by not having had the good sense to see that his own people would support him in such a move and see it through to its conclusion and instead been left swinging in the wind. Though one wonders if perhaps this was his way of making an exit… perhaps he reckons that the situation is now so grave that he doesn’t want PASOK to be the one left holding the baby and hence we now have a situation where, very unwillingly, the right is being brought into a government of national unity.
If I were they, the Greek right, I’d run a mile from this, because while the situation has gone from bad to worse, and one can easily see the parallels between PASOK’s lamentable stewardship of the crisis [from any political vantage point one chooses] and Fianna Fáil, if Greece defaults on the watch of a unity government that could delegitimise much of the political spectrum in that state, just as FF was, and one hopes still is. And that being the case step forward the KKE and other left forces as the only opposition.
Actually on that line of thought small wonder that the please of some of the great and good in this state in the run up to 2011 for national government went unheard by Labour and Fine Gael. Far better to leave the mess with those who made it.
But returning to Browne, he points to a basic truth which is that:
… it seems that not alone are the people of Europe to be sidelined but so are the institutions and protocols of the EU and the other governments of the EU, leaving the way forward for Germany and France to do as they wish.
It’s not that I harbour any apocalyptic visions of the future, or those based on the past. It’s simply that this is not the way this was meant to be – at least as we were told it was meant to be – and as Browne notes:
A spin will be put on all this to soften the appearance, but the reality is that Germany and France – if not Germany alone – are the powerhouses of the EU and will act, if they choose to, without the restraints on which the EU is constructed.
That should make any democrats more than queasy.