In London yesterday morning an eerie calm fell over Whitehall. No traffic, not even pedestrians. George Bush, leader of the free world, was in town. So, ordinary people, get out of the way.

Returning to Brussels yesterday evening I find razor wire barricades already set up at Rue Joseph II close to the main EU institution buildings, still with some tape on the windows broken by irate fishermen a few weeks back. Apparently the Walloon federation of farmers and some transport workers are coming to Brussels to have a rant / have a protest / have a riot (delete as appropriate) about high fuel prices.

Then on Thursday all the high and mighty, the Heads of State and Government are going to rock up in Brussels and try to solve the ‘crisis’ into which the EU has been plunged as a result of the No vote in Ireland on the Treaty of Lisbon. Only the Heads of State and Government can solve the issue says Margot Wallström on her blog. The black Mercedes with the police escorts will shuttle the high and mighty to and from the Justus Lipsius building at Schuman.

In the meantime people like Hugo Brady, Will Hutton and Jackie Ashley make blithe statements such as “the era of the grand treaty is over”, “Pro-Europeans everywhere must engage” and “it is time for those who want Britain to stay at the heart of Europe to stand up and make their voices heard”.

Just think about this for a moment.

The essential problem is that the EU is stuck half way between an international organisation and some proper form of democratic institution. The assumption is that everything gets tied up in secret negotiations in smoke filled rooms but then, oh, hang on, maybe this impacts people, so we can’t completely keep them away from voting on some of it – be that representative or direct democracy. These are not grand treaties that get agreed; they are messy compromises between the interests of 27 national governments. Then once these damned things are agreed somehow those people that believe in don’t disbelieve in the EU project are supposed to rise up and stand up for what’s going on. Get real. If anyone is ready to stand by and do something I should be one of those people – but I’m not doing it now and I don’t know how I should.

One way or another I’ve been working in favour of European integration for most of my adult life – 6 years as a volunteer for JEF-Europe is a heavy responsibility. But I cannot possibly defend a bunch of Heads of State coming up with a measly compromise in Brussels, muppet MEPs writing silly reports about blogging, giving €4 million to an internet project that is unlikely to work, or MEPs schmoozing on the rubber chicken circuit. How the hell can anyone seriously defend that?

In short there is an elite taking decisions on behalf of the EU – officials in the European Commission far distant from reality, and officials advising politicians from Member States about what to do when the careers of those national politicians are not made or broken by whatever is done at EU level. Muddle through, make a messy compromise, take advice from within the Brussels circles, and hope that no-one really notices. Who actually has an incentive to be open, straightforward, radical, respectful of the will of the people? Where is the politician ready to stand up and say OK, I make my own political future out of this Union?

16 Comments

  1. For what exactly?

    For a grass roots pro-non party political European movement independent of Brussels?

  2. Probably Wallström carried the can for a collective cover-up in the administration…? Do you hold her uniquely responsible?

    Maybe I’m a bit harsh on Pope John Paul II – he was instrumental in bringing down communism and was not a believer, but he rose within the Catholic Church throughout the entire Communist time in Poland, so he had to play along with the game. Have a look at this and this. Also bear in mind I’m a steadfast atheist, so maybe I’m too harsh on the church.

    NZ and the EU… Agh, no easy answer. At one level, if NZ shares the same basic values as the countries of the EU then why not? The flip side is that the whole integration process in Europe is rooted in European history, post WW-II reconciliation etc., and would NZ or an equivalent country ever want to join? A series of different regional groupings – ASEAN, Mercosur, EU etc. would seem a more pragmatic approach.

  3. Martin Keegan

    I think you’re missing a piece of information. Wallström was specifically responsible for denying compensation to Nordin.

    I wasn’t aware His Holiness colluded with (rather than against) Communists. Clearly I need to do some research too.

    Do you think New Zealand should join the EU, or is it big enough to face globalisation by itself?

  4. European integration is vital – in certain areas of economic integration, protection of the environment, and peacekeeping – because the countries of Europe are too small to deal with the processes of globalisation on their own. Now that’s not enough to justify all of what the EU does overall, but in my mind it’s adequate to justify the EU’s existence.

    On your point about Margot Wallström – that’s the equivalent of saying ‘Tony Blair warmonger’ rather than ‘Tony Blair’, or ‘Pope John Paul II colluded with Communists’ rather that ‘Pope John Paul II’. Give Wallström her due – she’s put her views about the Irish No vote on record, something that most of the Commission have not.

    As for the Maria Nordin affair Рas far as I know Wallstr̦m is no more guilty for this than any other Swedish politician, and the incidents themselves happened even before Wallstr̦m was born, so according to your logic I should not be able to cite any Swedish politician here without reference to that affair. Ludicrous.

  5. Martin Keegan

    Jon,

    is European integration and end in itself, for you, or do you want it because you think it will advance some other goal (a verifiable proposition)?

    Please remember that mentioning Margot Wallström without noting that she has yet to atone for the Maria Nordin affair is deeply insulting to those of your readers who believe in human dignity, the respect for the integrity of the body which ought to be accorded to any human creature or those who oppose sterilisation and welfare-state-efficiency-motivated eugenics. This is a matter which should go beyond solidarity between social democrats. She is beyond the pale and should be recognised as such.

    mBaf: do you have any democratic sanction whatsoever for your proposal to convert the EU from a situation where each Member State has a veto to one where a Union-wide majority can be binding on all?

  6. Martin Keegan

    Ralf Grahn, please try to remember that in at least one EU country (Republic of Ireland), nationalism is not a dirty word, but a badge worn with pride by much of the population. Ireland must be the OECD’s last bastion of blood-n-soil bourgeois ethnonationalism, yet strangely we don’t see the pogroms, riots and ethnic cleansing which supposedly attend nationalism the world o’er.

  7. 500 million Europeans are taken in hostage by 862,415 Irish (less than 0.2% of the European population) – in the name of democracy. According to the elitist representative democrats this is the direct democrat’s fault, i.e. the “uneducated and unteachable people”. This disrespect makes the current EU-catastrophe even worse.

    Because: in a democracy the tool democracy can only be always right. In Ireland it was however employed wrongly. For voting for a purely internal-Irish problem without European dimension an Irish referendum would doubtlessly have been the correct instrument. For a pan-European concern however, only the pan-European referendum can be the correct means. This would be the correct level, and only then the right sovereign is speaking. No matter what the result will be, YES or NO, only via this way the right has spoken the right.

    In the EU the sovereign are the 500 million Europeans – and not a slight Irish referendum’s majority. Regarding the current archaic principle of unanimity it could even appear more bizarrely: even Malta or Cyprus could by their 315,000 resp. 500,000 eligible voters bring the EU to a final halt. Good gracious!

    No matter whether for or against the EU: we should not be lead by a handful of nationalists. For important matters we do need a pan-European referendum! The Treaty of Lisbon would have given us this power! Although its fate is uncertain at the moment, we have to become active for the EU’s future, i.e. our future. Let us demand a pan-European referendum for all important EU-matters, such as enlargement, environmental issues, the future election of EU president etc. There is the possibility to stand up in an organized way and to vote at the citizens’ platform: http://www.we-change-europe.eu.

  8. Jo,

    Thought and discussion is needed on many issues, like you say.

    Why do we need Europe?

    Why is improved EU decision-making essential?

    What can be done to enhance democracy, accountability and transparency at the EU level?

  9. oh dear, you know who you sound like… passionate about the fundamental ideas but not really liking the implementation at present, or the prospect of an arrogant response.
    (For me the concours is an example of why things are like this… it’s not based on people having the skills to carry out decent public administration but on what is for the majority of the population obscure and archane knowledge but all anyone in a position to change it seems concerned about is the languages candidates can speak).

    The points you make are exactly what having a democratic Convention to draw up the Constitution (not Lisbon) was supposed to solve. The problem was (and is) that beyond government only those that are strongly pro a European state or anti anything more than a free trade agreement every really get involved.
    And a simple two page document understandable for all becomes 400 pages covering every interest group or government’s pet issue.
    Not everything in Lisbon was self-evidently wonderful but nor was it monstrous. Compromises between so many governments (which through the nature of the democratic process are already taking a compromise view when they go to negotiate) are always going to be hard to sell… the EU is unique in requiring popular consent to an international Treaty-making process and in the effects those Treaties have in citizens’ daily lives.

    Tim misunderstands/ misuses the “out” in your phrase, I think. But the point is that this should be a time to really think, e.g. what a 21st century EU of 30+ Members ought to look like and do together. If Lisbon really does that we shouldn’t be hiding it under the carpet.

  10. You need some sort of login to view that page, and – thankfully – I’m not close enough to UKIP to have one.

    Nice play on words using a selective quote Tim – you know I didn’t mean it as you’ve interpreted it.

  11. “Where is the politician ready to stand up and say OK, I make my own political future out of this Union?”

    Ahem.

    http://www.ukip.org/ukip/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=234&Itemid=69

  12. @Ralf – I defend what’s in the Treaty of Lisbon – it’s useful stuff for sure. Plus I don’t see in the short term what other alternative there is.

    @David – what you want comes in the middle term, but getting there without the Treaty of Lisbon would be harder in my view.

    Plus the Constitution was also approved by referendum in Spain (by a good margin) and in Luxembourg. So it’s not 3-0, it’s 3-2.

  13. David Roberts

    The time for EU reform is now. Ralph Grahn is looking at the Lisbon Treaty through rose-tinted spectacles. Agree to it, he says, and all the good things you desire will follow.

    In my view the document that replaces the Treaty of Lisbon (which has now been rejected) must address the fundamental questions of democracy, accountability, openness/transparency, properly defined subsidiarity/localism and deal with corruption. There is also the key issue of integration. Has it gone far enough? Should it be halted where it stands? Or should it go on with no end or limit in sight?

    If the Treaty of Lisbon had itself adressed these issues it might have popular support. As it is, it appears that it is rejected by the majority of people in every member state – certainly that is President Sarkozy’s view (see my website).

    The EU needs real reform.

    David Roberts, http://www.eunow.eu

  14. Jon,

    I suggest, in spite of everything you said, that you stand up for the Lisbon Treaty.

    It is dull and uninspiring for most people, because it does not give them anything tangible, but it contains some timid but sensible reforms to make the EU a less impotent actor on the international scene.

    And though the citizen sees few concrete prizes – the citizens’ initiative been glossed because there was little else – the aims, objectives and principles of the European Union are quite admirable.

    In my opinion, they lay the foundations for future reforms (and jurisprudence), which will set in motion evolution towards these ideals.

    Sadly, various bands of populists and nationalists have managed to wreck three out of five referenda, but they have not advanced the cause of a better Europe by one iota, only managed to delay necessary and beneficial reform.

    When the substance of the Lisbon Treaty is in force, democracy, accountability, transparency, effectiveness etc. move to the top of the agenda. Even the political leaders can not fail to realise that their creature needs popular support, and that is not fortcoming without democratic legitimacy.

  15. For what exactly?

    I’m happy to run whatever campaign – whodoicall.eu for example – but I don’t want to run one called “I like a load of archaic and remote institutions”.

  16. If anyone is ready to stand by and do something I should be one of those people – but I’m not doing it now and I don’t know how I should.

    Start a facebook group?

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