By far the EU’s greatest — and certainly most dangerous — structural flaw is its gaping democratic deficit.
As is gradually dawning on more and more people across the old continent, the European Union is riddled with fatal flaws and defects. Chief among them is the single currency which, rather than serving as the Union’s springboard to global dominance, could well be its ultimate undoing.
Another huge problem with the EU is its acute lack of transparency. Staggering as it may seem, in the last 20 years the Union has not passed a single audit. Indeed, so opaque is the state of its finances that in 2002 Marta Andreasen, the first ever professional accountant to serve as the Commission’s Chief Accountant, refused to sign off the organization’s 2001 accounts, citing concerns that the EU’s accounting system was “open to fraud”. After taking her concerns public, Andreasen was suspended and then later sacked by the Commission.
However, by far the EU’s greatest — and certainly most dangerous — structural flaw is its gaping democratic deficit. To paraphrase Nigel Farage, the stridently anti-EU British MEP, not only is the EU undemocratic, it is fundamentally anti-democratic.
While Farage may be treated as little more than an eccentric court jester by the vast bulk of the mainstream media — both in the UK and on the continent — his ideas are fast gaining ground among voters. As the Daily Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne noted in a fascinating review of the late Peter Mair’s book Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy, anti-EU parties are on the rise throughout Europe:
“In France, polls suggest that the anti-semitic Front National, which equates illegal immigrants with ‘organised gangs of criminals’, will gain more votes than the mainstream parties. The Front National has joined forces with the virulently anti-Islamic Geert Wilders in Holland, who promises to claim back ‘how we control our borders, our money, our economy, our currency’. In Britain it is likely that Ukip will win in May.”
Death By A Thousand Cuts
This rise in anti-EU sentiment should hardly come as a surprise given the impunity with which European institutions have ridden roughshod over the lives and liberties of European citizens. Since taking off its mask of benignity in the wake of the financial crisis, the EU has pulled off one of the most audacious and ruthless power grabs of modern history — and without firing a single shot!
Instead of using traditional means of warfare it has employed much subtler — but in many ways no less brutal — forms of economic warfare to achieve its aims. And those aims are by now crystal clear: to slowly, almost imperceptibly, weaken nation-state institutions to the point of total dependence on Brussels; and then have them supplanted with EU institutions. It is the financial equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.
As the Transnational Institute notes in its working paper “Privatising Europe: Using the Crisis to Entrench Neoliberalism“, the dark irony is that “an economic crisis that many proclaimed as the ‘death of neoliberalism’ has instead been used to entrench neoliberalism.”
Predictably, privatisation has played a central role in this process, despite the fact that the funds thus far raised from state auctions represent a meager fraction of each nation’s total outstanding public debt. That niggling little detail, however, has not deterred the Troika from demanding fire sales of virtually all publicly owned assets and companies in Greece, as well as many in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy.
Under the hammer in Greece are public gas utilities, transport and postal services, motorways, airports, large regional ports and even the country’s water supply — all to be sold off to multinationals for cents on the euro. Islands and public buildings have also been put up for sale.
This is in spite of EU treaties that state that the Commission is supposedly “neutral” on the issue of public or private ownership of companies; and despite the fact that the money raised will barely put a dint in Greece’s now-unpayable public debt. What it will do, however, is further the EU’s goal of hollowing out the Greek state.
And it’s not just in Greece where the basic functioning of national democracy is under threat. Since the EU bailout frenzy began the prime ministers of Ireland, Portugal and Spain are now little more than branch managers for the European Central Bank and Goldman Sachs.
Meanwhile, as the Transnational Institute warns, the European Semester ensures that all member state draft budgets are scrutinised by the Commission and the Council before being reviewed by national parliaments. Recommendations have included pension reforms that reduce early retirements and cut related social security budgets.
The Fiscal Compact, which entered into force on January 1 2013, grants even greater decision-making power to the European Commission and Council over member state deficits. The strict deficit requirements force members states to implement austerity during crises and over the longer term. These binding budget rules will be implemented in national laws, and failure to do so may result in financial sanctions.
The inevitable result is that decisions that viscerally affect the lives of 500 million voters are now taken by anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats rather than politicians responsible to their voters. As Oborne points out, “by a hideous paradox the European Union, set up as a way of avoiding a return to fascism in the post-war epoch, has since mutated into a way of avoiding democracy itself.”
The Non-Imperial Empire
Of course, none of this has happened by accident. Even before the crisis began, the imperial ambitions of the eurocratic elite were plain to see — at least for those who dared to look. In a 2007 press conference Manuel Barroso proudly, indeed smugly, proclaimed the establishment of the first ever “non-imperial empire” (see video here):
“The empires were usually made through force, with a center that was imposing (sic) a diktat, [that is], their will on others. But now we have what some authors have called a ‘non-imperial empire.’ We have by dimension 27 countries that fully decided to work together, to pool their sovereignty.”
What Borroso neglected to mention was that the people of France and Holland had already soundly rejected the notion of “pooling their sovereignty” in their respective referendums on the EU constitution. The response of the EU was a portent of things to come: a commission of unelected representatives redrafted the constitution into a new treaty, sneakily slipping in the most controversial points as amendments. No repeat referendums were held in either France or Holland and when the one country that offered a referendum on the new treaty, Ireland, rejected it by an overwhelming majority, it was told in no uncertain terms to get back to the ballot boxes until it got the right answer.
By far the EU’s most audacious attack against nation-state democracy took place in 2011, when it decided in the space of just a few weeks to replace the elected governments of both Greece and Italy with technocratic regimes headed by highly connected, former European commissioners and, to boot, one-time international advisors to Goldman Sachs — Mario Monti in the case of Italy, and Lucas Papademos in the case of Greece. As the British Conservative MEP noted at the time, the true face of the European project was suddenly there for all to see:
“Apparatchiks in Brussels deal directly with apparatchiks in Athens and Rome. The people are cut out altogether, their elected representatives sidelined. The lamps are going out all over Europe.”
Of course none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the abject failure of modern nation-state democracy — not only in Europe, but around the globe. As Mair wrote in the first paragraph of his book, although the political parties themselves remain, “they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”
The European elites have masterfully exploited this crisis of democracy and the resultant voter disaffection and apathy to enshrine a new system of rule by bureaucrats, bankers, technocrats and lobbyists (as I reported in Full Steam Ahead For the EU Gravy Train, Brussels is home to the second biggest lobby industry in the world, just behind Washington). If anything, we can expect this trend to accelerate in 2014 as the Eurocrats seek to consolidate their power grab through the imposition of EU-wide banking and fiscal union. Once that’s done, the quest for the holy grail of full-blown political union will begin in earnest.
Whether the EU is able to pull of this ultimate coup de grâce in its decades-long coup d’état will depend on two vital factors: its ability to continue preventing economic reality from impacting the financial markets; and the willingness of hundreds of millions of European people to be herded and corraled into a new age of technocracy.