Welcome to global governance

Book cover:  The New Road to Serfdom

Originally published elsewhere on 10/18/2010

Since the American Left dreams of an America that is more like Europe, it is worth noting developments within the European Union (EU). In The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America, Daniel Hannan really brings home how anti-democratic this emerging superstate is. Daniel Hannan is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing South East England in the EU.

Following WWII, the elite within Europe wanted Europe to arrange its affairs so that another war like it would never happen. Hannan singles out Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman as being forefathers of the movement that would eventually lead to the EU. Hannan claims that Monnet, Schuman, and other prominent European intellectuals in the 1950s really didn’t have much faith in the democratic institution of voting. In the years leading up to WWII, these intellectual leaders felt that the common folk had shown themselves to be easily swayed by demagogues. What mattered most to these forefathers of the EU was to so intertwine the economies and administrative bodies of the Western European nations that it would be logistically impossible for a member state to engage in war with another member state.

Between WWII and the present day, the movement evolved via treaties and the formation of a number of supranational bodies, such as the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the European Economic Community (1957) and the European Communities (1967). The EU was established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, but other treaties also helped define its scope of governance. Instead of using a patchwork of treaties as the legal basis for the EU, there was drive among leaders to replace these treaties with a single, EU constitution.

In 2004 the heads of state for the member countries signed a new EU constitution. This constitution was then to be sent to the people of the member states for ratification. Ten of the 25 member nations promised their people that they would be given an opportunity to vote on ratification via a referendum. Although war-torn Iraq held a referendum on its new constitution, the majority of the member countries of the EU never intended to extend this democratic process to its own people.

In the ten countries who had declared that they would hold a referendum, ratification of the EU constitution was soon in doubt. In France, 54.8% of voters rejected the constitution. In the Netherlands, 61.7% of voters similarly rejected it. Instead of altering the constitution to make it more acceptable to the citizens of Europe, the leaders of the EU just decided to scrap the whole constitution idea.

Daniel Hannan claims that a team of lawyers was brought in to address the lack of popularity of the new constitution. These lawyers began to write a new treaty that would replace the failed EU constitution. Without altering the meaning of the constitution, they copied its sense whole scale into what became known as the Lisbon Treaty. However a person without legal training cannot read and understand the Lisbon Treaty; its meaning has been entirely obfuscated by legalese. And now that the written charter of the EU was no longer a constitution, those member nations who had promised their people a referendum were let off the hook.

The Lisbon Treaty was on the verge of becoming the legal foundation for EU governance. However there was still one catch. Apparently the constitution of Ireland had a clause which stated that any significant shift of power away from those governing bodies delineated in the Irish constitution could not take effect unless the majority of the people of Ireland voted in favor of this change via a referendum. So of all the member nations, only the Irish people were going to be allowed to democratically decide on their fate. The Irish referendum was held on June 12, 2008; 53.4% of Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty.

Following the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, there was much groaning and gnashing of teeth. I thought that this Guardian article written in response to the vote was particularly telling. The Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, was said to be “humiliated” by the referendum debacle. His cabinet members were said to be “grim faced”. Apparently the leaders of all three major political parties of Ireland had endorsed a yes vote on the treaty, so they were all flummoxed that the people didn’t fall into line.

Joan Burton, of the Irish Labor Party, speculated that the no vote may have been due to the “obscurity of the treaty. Those who draft such documents should be able to make them easy to read for ordinary people.” Recall that the EU Constitution was easier to read and that its rejection by France and the Netherlands is what had inspired the legalese of the Lisbon Treaty. The thinking was that if people can’t understand the Lisbon Treaty, they’ll have to trust what their political elite say about it, and naturally the political elite of Europe was all gung-ho on the EU.

The Guardian said that the PM of Ireland would now have to travel to a summit in Luxemburg to “explain to his European counterparts how his country sunk the reform project.” There isn’t even the slightest suggestion that the Irish people had the right to decide what was in their best interests.

Further the Guardian decried that “less than 1% of the EU’s 490 million citizens appear to have scuppered the deal”, almost intimating that there was something grossly undemocratic about that, while only mentioning in passing that “Ireland was the only one of the 27 EU member states obliged to hold a referendum on the treaty.” (And how undemocratic is that?!?!).

The European commission president at the time, José Manuel Barroso, said, “I believe the treaty is not dead and we should now try to find a solution”. The Guardian article was written the day after the referendum fiasco, so they didn’t know what that solution might be. According to Daniel Hannan, here’s the solution that eventually evolved:

Extraordinary pressure was put on Ireland, and the country was threatened with isolation and bankruptcy. At the same time, a massive EU-funded propaganda campaign was launched. On October 2, 2009, demoralized by the effects of the financial crisis, which had been more serious in Ireland than anywhere else in the EU, Irish voters caved in and, in a second referendum, reversed their verdict.

I was curious as to what degree of sovereignty member states of the EU retained. According to this Wikipedia article on the EU:

EU member states retain all powers not explicitly handed to the Union. In some areas the EU enjoys exclusive competence. These are areas in which member states have renounced any capacity to enact legislation. In other areas the EU and its member states share the competence to legislate. While both can legislate, member states can only legislate to the extent to which the EU has not.

And in practice, what does this mean? According to Hannan, much of the work of the legislatures of the member countries is now just rubber stamping the legislation passed by the EU. Most states haven’t looked into what percent of their legislative work consists of this rubber-stamping, but in Germany the Federal Justice Ministry did look into this. The Justice Ministry found that:

84 percent of all the laws in Germany were there to give effect to EU directives or regulations.

So I’m thinking to myself that at least the people of Europe are represented by members of the European Parliament whom they elect directly. However it wasn’t until I read Hannan’s book that I learned that members of this so-called legislative body are not allowed to introduce any legislation. All the legislation that is submitted to them is conceived by a completely different body, the European Commission. Members of the European Commission are appointed to their positions by the European Council. So the legislation that is largely governing the lives of Europeans is formulated by a non-elected body. The people are indirectly represented in the sense that the European Council is made up of heads of state which have been elected directly or indirectly (via parliamentary elections).

In November 2009 Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium was appointed to be the first president of the EU. He hailed 2009 as “the first year of global governance.”

If I were European, I would find this all to be a very sad state of affairs. However, since the vast majority of European citizens didn’t have any say in the formulation of their superstate’s governing bodies, I guess nobody really cares what they think.



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