Sunday, March 25, 2007

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Same planet, different European Unions

The European Union, in celebration of it's 50th anniversary, released its Berlin Declaration over the weekend. For an EU document, it's delightfully brief. It also contains this paragaph:

We have a unique way of living and working together in the European Union. This is expressed through the democratic interaction of the Member States and the European institutions. The European Union is founded on equal rights and mutually supportive cooperation. This enables us to strike a fair balance between Member Statesí interests.
That's certainly one way of interpreting the nature of EU institutions.

Writing at Foreign Policy's web site, historian Alan Sked offers a slightly different interpretation:

Todayís EU resembles a sort of undemocratic Habsburg Empire. Its legislation is proposed by a Commission of unelected bureaucrats who have now apparently lost control of their own staffs and who themselves are usually political outcasts from their national political systems. Decisions on whether to adopt their often bizarre initiatives are then taken in total secrecy by the Council of Ministers or the European Council, before being rubber-stamped by the federalist parliament and imposed on the citizens of member states, whose national legislatures can do absolutely nothing to alter their directives or regulations. Indeed, 84 percent of all legislation before national parliaments, according to the German Ministry of Justice, now simply involves implementing Brussels diktats. All this makes European politics undemocratic at all levels, and opinion polls reflect the publicís growing disillusionment.

posted by Dan on 03.25.07 at 09:48 PM


Aren't the European Commissioners appointed by the elected governments of the people? Aren't the ministers in the European Councils representing the elected governments of the people? Isn't the European parliament elected by pan-european elections every 5 years?

Aren't these institutions more representative and democratic like let's say WTO, an institution I suspect the author would have no qualms about?

So, how's this criticism different from the one made by anti-globalization activists in Seattle?

Moreover, there's a classical liberal argument to be made that precisely because these institutions don't rely as much on popular will are so effective.

It was the democracy of George W Bush that took advantage of the passions of the moment to take the country into an ill-conceived adventure.

posted by: Nick Kaufman on 03.25.07 at 09:48 PM [permalink]

Why mention Bush when the post is about the EU? Don't you know anything about the EU? It seems that the new form of argument these days is "Bush. QED."

posted by: Norman Pfyster on 03.25.07 at 09:48 PM [permalink]

Actually, it's same EU, different planet. If you check carefully and read the stuff regularly, it soon becomes apparent that British discussion of the EU often comes from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and not from Guildford after all.

As a bonus, Sked is suffering from a fairly common professorial syndrome, which is to say that everything happening today is a lot like said professor's particular specialty. Countering this is best done by asserting that another area of the humanities is actually the master discipline. If the professor fails to save vs pedantry, he or she will be neutralized for the next d12 news cycles.

posted by: Doug on 03.25.07 at 09:48 PM [permalink]

No really, at the risk of saying something sensible, many of the criticisms in the first comment are correct.

The directly elected parliament can also propose legislation. The Commissioners are in fact appointed by their national governments. If the EU is used as a pasture, surely that's the individual government's choice. And given the importance of EU legislation, it would be a foolish choice. The small countries know this; actually, now that I think about it, every country save the UK and possibly France seems to know it. The ministers in the councils are indeed the ministers from the elected national governments.

Bizarre is clearly in the eye of the beholder, and it's a bit rich for anyone in the UK to be overly sniffy about closed-door and clubby government. Official Secrets Act, how are ya. Calling the parliament rubber-stamp and federalist shows that he hasn't checked in in the last couple of decades. Eurostar from London direct to Brussels, Professor Sked, through that newfangled tunnel.

posted by: Doug on 03.25.07 at 09:48 PM [permalink]

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