How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the EU

My democratic instinct made me hate an institution that so often ignores the will of the people. Of course, reading Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter has mostly cured me of that instinct. But still, I didn’t like the EU until I read this article in the London Review of Books:

The standard argument [defending the non-democratic nature of the EU], to be found in journals such as Prospect, goes like this. The EU deals essentially with the technical and administrative issues – market competition, product specification, consumer protection and the like – posed by the aim of the Treaty of Rome to assure the free movement of goods, persons and capital within its borders. These are matters in which voters have little interest, rightly taking the view that they are best handled by appropriate experts, rather than incompetent parliamentarians. Just as the police, fire brigade or officer corps are not elected, but enjoy the widest public trust, so it is – at any rate tacitly – with the functionaries in Brussels. The democratic deficit is a myth, because matters which voters do care strongly about – pre-eminently taxes and social services, the real stuff of politics – continue to be decided, not at Union but at national level, by traditional electoral mechanisms. So long as the separation between the two arenas and their respective types of decision is respected, and we are spared demagogic exercises in populism – putting issues that the masses cannot understand, and that should never be on a ballot in the first place, to referenda – democracy remains intact, indeed enhanced. Considered soberly, all is for the best in the best of all possible Europes.

Since the Treaty of Maastricht, the Union has not by any means been confined to regulatory issues of scant interest to the population at large. It now has a Central Bank, without even the commitment of the Federal Reserve to sustain employment, let alone its duties to report to Congress, that sets interest rates for the whole Eurozone, backed by a Stability Pact that requires national governments to meet hard budgetary targets. In other words, determination of macroeconomic policy at the highest level has shifted upwards from national capitals to Frankfurt and Brussels. What this means is that just those issues that voters usually feel most strongly about – jobs, taxes and social services – fall squarely under the guillotines of the Bank and the Commission… The notion that today’s EU comprises little more than a set of innocuous technical rules, as value-neutral as traffic lights, is a fatuity.

Federalism stymied, inter-governmentalism corroded, what had emerged was neither the rudiments of a European democracy controlled by its citizens, nor the formation of a European directory guided by its powers, but a vast zone of increasingly unbound market exchange, much closer to a European ‘catallaxy’ as Hayek had conceived it.

Today’s EU, with its pinched spending (just over 1 per cent of Union GDP), minuscule bureaucracy (around 16,000 officials, excluding translators), absence of independent taxation, and lack of any means of administrative enforcement, could in many ways be regarded as a ne plus ultra of the minimal state… As a leading authority, Andrew Moravcsik, explains, ‘the neo-liberal bias of the EU, if it exists, is justified by the social welfare bias of current national policies,’ which ‘no responsible analyst believes can be maintained’ – ‘European social policy exists only in the dreams of disgruntled socialists.’ The salutary truth is that ‘the EU is overwhelmingly about the promotion of free markets. Its primary interest group support comes from multinational firms, not least US ones.’ In short: regnant in this Union is not democracy, and not welfare, but capital. ‘The EU is basically about business.’

And here’s a funny part about Europe’s dependence on America:

So natural has this asymmetrical symbiosis now become that the United States can openly specify what further states should join the Union. When Bush told European leaders in Ankara, at a gathering of Nato, that Turkey must be admitted into the EU, Chirac was heard to grumble that the US would not like being instructed by Europeans to welcome Mexico into the federation; but when the European Council met to decide whether to open accession negotiations with Turkey, Rice telephoned the assembled leaders from Washington to ensure the right outcome, without hearing any inappropriate complaints from them about sovereignty.

I encourage the interested reader to Read the Whole Thing. The author does a good job bursting the “Europe as shining beacon of hope for humanity” bubble. There’s a good section on the politics in Europe over Iraq and this line: “Pillars of society, pimping for torture.” Good stuff.

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