In other words this is a crisis of democracy whereby all political institutions will slowly (but surely) lose their legitimacy. If democracy is no longer seen to be working in prosperous Europe then the only system that will thrive globally is the authoritarian-capitalist one propounded by the Chicoms (and in certain places populated by devout people, the Islamist-Sharia model). That is a truly scary scenario.
We are not sure that the economic crisis has been avoided as is generally the claim, what did happen was that the Central Bank said that it would go to any length to preserve the Euro (which stopped the speculators from..speculating about the currency), and oh yes, Greece and some other countries must have a perpetual austerity program in place (whereby jobs for young people have essentially vanished).
The political crisis simply is that the elections are attracting voters (and electing parliamentarians) who despise the EUSSR and have the deepest disdain possible for the denizens of Brussels. Further, as the author (Peter Mair: Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy) argues, Western European politicians are ruling by proxy, and hiding behind the bureaucrats of Brussels.
The above system thus represents another version of the Sonia Gandhi – Manmohan Singh combo model that was so revolting to Indian voters – we need to know who makes the rules and the rulers should be fully accountable to the ruled. This is how democracy must work.
is that the EU is a house that party politicians built which has no room
for politics, while national governments are ever more likely to
pretend they are merely the branch office of Brussels. (After all, if
Brussels has already decided, you don’t take the blame; never mind that
you were there at the negotiating table.) In this situation, what Mair
calls the Tocqueville syndrome becomes acute: if political elites are
either inaccessible or impotent, why put up with them? Tocqueville was
writing about the fall of the aristocrats in the Ancien Régime, who
could no longer justify their privileges once they had lost power to a
centralised monarchy. The worst of the economic crisis might be over,
but the political crisis in Europe is only just beginning.
The polls are saying we would love it for you to keep weight measures in pounds, but poor us, Brussels is demanding that we move to kilograms. And yes, you can extradite Abu Qatada only with the greatest difficulty (10 years and a few million pounds wasted in appeals), even though he came to Britain under false premises, and managed to live off the social state, AND brainwashed loyal citizens of the state who would then suddenly turn up in Afghanistan to fight against British troops. Another profound absurdity is the experience of British citizens with foreign (non-EU) spouses who now effectively live in exile because of tough conditions laid down by the Home Office (to reduce non-EU migrants).
A sample of the complaints:
(1) The government has squeezed non-EU immigration down in a pretty
brutal way – you can’t, for example, bring a spouse in unless you’re
earning around £18,000 a year or have something like £64,000 in the bank
(in an instant-access account). You need more if you bring children in
This means that a large number of British people with foreign
spouses are now in what amounts to exile abroad, or forcibly separated.
an EU citizen from outside the UK can bring a non-EU spouse in freely –
you don’t need a visa, you don’t need savings, you don’t need a salary;
you don’t even need to bring your suitcase…. That’s clearly unfair,
and, from a legal point of view, utterly illogical.
And yet the
government will press on regardless, trying to keep net immigration
down, but at the same time abiding by an open borders policy. The
government’s desperation has actually led to it forcing British people
out of the country; they know that if they refuse a visa to the spouse
of a British person, the British partner in that marriage and their
British children will have to go abroad, which will contribute to
lowering net migration figures. This defies all logic.
I have to
admit that it annoys me greatly that it is easier for a European Union
resident with no ties to Britain to enter the country than it is my
Japanese husband, who has a British wife, son and mother-in-law.
also happens that if a British person marries an Australian or a
Canadian whose grandparents were British citizens, they will find it
harder to get that spouse into the country than somebody from the EU
whose family has never had any links to Britain whatsoever.
(2) I’m in a similar situation – my partner is non-EEA, and as a
British citizen, I must earn £18,600 + £3,800 (1st child) + £2,400 (2nd
child) per year. As a family, we have zero recourse to public funds –
no child allowance, no housing benefits, no free use of NHS, no tax
We pay taxes, NI contributions and council tax. Even worse,
we had settlement visa extensions refused earlier this year through a
gross error made by the Home Office. We had to appeal the error, which
cost us £4000 in legal fees. Result? The Home Office withdrew their
erroneous refusal decision the day before the tribunal and now we’re
back in limbo as the Home Office are still considering their decision on
visa extensions. The HO knew a tribunal judge would not only have
over-ruled their decision, but they would have been sternly rebuked for
creating such a needlessly stressful situation for a law-abiding,
tax-paying, contributing-to-the-country family.
Worse still, the
Immigration Act of 2014 is removing the right to appeal! So if the Home
Office make a mistake (as was the case in our situation), you have no
right to appeal. Your family are given 28 days notice to leave the
country, and you have to apply again from abroad (applications for
settlement visas and Indefinite Leave to Remain can take up to 6
The only mitigation here is if your family’s life is literally
in danger if you move to another country (and that is adjudicated by
the Home Office whether that’s the case or not), then your human rights
are considered and you can appeal incountry. This Act just needs
commencement orders and it will be enforced.
On the day the Bastille was stormed in 1789, King Louis XVI wrote in his diary, “rien” (French for nothing, the King was referring to the fact that his hunting trip was not a success). Few European leaders will have typed “nothing” into their iPads today,
but there is a real danger that, in response to the revolutionary cry
across the continent, they will in effect do nothing. Today’s rien has a face and a name. The name’s Juncker. Jean-Claude Juncker.
disastrous “the same only more so” response from Europe’s leaders would
be signaled by taking Juncker – Spitzenkandidat of the largest party
grouping in the new European parliament, the centre-right European
People’s party – and making him president of the European commission.
The canny Luxembourgeois was the longest-serving head of an EU national
government, and the chair of the Eurogroup through the worst of the
eurozone crisis. Although he has considerable skills as a politician and
deal-maker, he personifies everything protest voters from left to right
distrust about remote European elites. He is, so to speak, the Louis
XVI of the EU.
case for thinking that something has gone badly wrong when we see
ourselves as being ruled by unaccountable, supposedly apolitical
experts, but the only prospect of rescue is afforded by populists who
promise to hand power back to the people. The former give us identical
policies everywhere and no politics; the latter, you might say, give us
politics and no policies.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the
European Union. As Mair makes clear, the purpose of European
integration was from the start to create a ‘protected sphere’ –
protected, that is, from the vagaries of representative democracy. After
the political catastrophes of the mid-20th century, Western European
elites (except in Britain) concluded that popular sovereignty should be
treated with deep distrust.
After all, how could one have any faith in
the people when the people had brought fascists to power or collaborated
with fascist occupiers? There were profound reservations even about the
idea of parliamentary sovereignty. Hadn’t legitimate representative
assemblies handed power over to Hitler in 1933 and to Marshal Pétain in
1940? As a result, parliaments in postwar Europe were systematically
weakened, while non-elected institutions – constitutional courts are the
prime example – were given more power.
All this proved acceptable
so long as the elites were trusted – and so long as the decisions taken
in the ‘protected sphere’ didn’t have dramatic effects on people’s
everyday lives. Neither condition holds true any longer. As Mair points
out, it isn’t just individual politicians but the political class as a
whole that become a matter of contention in many parts of Europe.
years of Eurocrisis have left us with technocracy on the one hand and
populism on the other. The two positions seem completely opposed, but in
fact they have one attitude in common: the technocrats think there’s
only one rational solution to every policy issue, hence there’s no need
for debate; the populists believe there is an authentic popular will and
that they are the only ones who can discern it, hence there’s no need
for debate. Both sides are opposed to the pluralism that comes with
party democracy. Occasionally, populism and ‘expertocracy’ unite in a
single person: Silvio Berlusconi and Austria’s Jörg Haider promised to
run their respective countries like a company.
A peculiar mismatch
has come about between the scope of elections and what is really at
stake in them.
There are legitimate disagreements over the architecture
of the EU, and over the sorts of policy that should and should not be
devised in Brussels, but voters, according to Mair, choose the wrong
elections to make themselves heard on these issues. They voice their
dissatisfaction with the EU in European elections, although the European
Parliament plays no part at all in negotiating EU treaties, which
determine the shape of the Union as a whole.
The 751 MEPs do have a say
in particular policies (some believe that the European Parliament, often
held up for ridicule, has a much stronger record of amending
legislation than national parliaments, which simply rubber-stamp
government policy), yet voters express preferences about policy in
national elections, even though national governments have steadily been
losing power to the EU – according to some estimates, far more than half
the legislation in EU member states now comes from Brussels.
has dropped at each successive European election since the first one in
1979. But there is a feeling that the upcoming election may buck the
trend. Few EU citizens would deny, in 2014, that Europe matters.
they are willing to come out of what Mair calls comprehensive
withdrawal, politicians seem ready to meet them halfway. The European
Parliament has felt it necessary to spend money on a lavish ad campaign
with the slogan ‘This time it’s different’ in an attempt to get people
to the polling booths. And the supranational ‘party families’ in the
Parliament have nominated ‘leading candidates’ for the presidency of the
European Commission, promising that the job will go to the person who
gathers most votes.
The hope behind this proposal is that
politicisation, even at the cost of polarisation, will prove the royal
road to legitimacy. As the Finnish EU Commissioner for Economic and
Monetary Affairs and the Euro, Olli Rehn (not a man known for mixing
passions and politics), said recently, European elections should be
‘emotionalised’. Citizens might feel less resentful if they can put a
face to Brussels bureaucracy.
But that isn’t the lesson from recent
history in the US, where elite-led polarisation and personalisation are
seen to have damaged the legitimacy of the political system as a whole,
leaving the impression that politics is about huge egos bickering. And
it is far from clear that a choice of personnel really amounts to a
choice of policy, when the substance of EU policy is largely determined
by treaties which aren’t agreed by the European Commission or the
European Parliament, but by member states.
Even putting aside the
question of treaties, the Eurozone is steadily narrowing the scope for
autonomous political choice. Take Germany’s insistence that all Euro
countries put ‘debt brakes’ into their constitutions, making deficit
spending virtually impossible. The European Commission cannot alter any
of this; in fact, its task now is essentially to check that the rules
are being observed and where necessary to interfere with national
budgets. In these circumstances, getting to choose a president of the
Commission might seem merely a cosmetic change.