Richard North, 10/05/2019  

When Booker and I wrote The Great Deception, we could never really make up our minds which was the dominant characteristic of the organisation which was to become the European Union – the deception perpetrated on the peoples of Europe, or the self-deception of the politicians who so enthusiastically took part in its creation.

Central to that deception was the pretence that democracy was an essential feature of the "Europe" that was being planned. Even in 1943, as a member of the French Committee for National Liberation in Algiers, Jean Monnet spoke volubly of the need to restore democratic institutions in liberated Europe, at the very time he was planning to undermine them.

Inevitably, with an organisation deliberately designed to be anti-democratic, governed by a Commission which was required to make decisions beyond the reach of national politicians and their democratic mandates, there began to emerge the concept of the "democratic deficit" in Europe.

By 1999, when I joined the European Parliament as a group staff member, there was much talk of this "deficit", with particular concern being expressed about the low turnout in the European elections just past, and the presence of three Ukip MEPs. One could feel in the air in Brussels a palpable concern that this was an untenable position.

One of the responses was the production by the Commission in 2001 of the White Paper on European Governance, in my view one of the most important of the strategic papers ever produced by the Commission. It set out the template for the "democratisation" of the EU.

At the start of the paper, the Commission asserted that European integration had delivered fifty years of stability, peace and economic prosperity, had helped to raise standards of living, built an internal market and had strengthened the Union's voice in the world. And, in the lie direct, it claimed that: "These results have been achieved by democratic means".

In the paper itself, however, there was a revealing omission – an attempt to define democracy in any way that would accord with traditional scholarship. Most notably, there was no reference to the Greek origins of the word, and the concepts of the demos and kratos, the one being "the people" and the other "power". Literally, democracy means "people power", which is difficult to the point of being impossible to achieve in an organisation dedicated to acquiring power at the expense of the people.

There is, of course, far more to the definition of demos than is implied by the one word "people", and the concept has occupied scholars of democratic theory for many, many years. Just a small taste of the complexity of the subject can be gained from this paper. There are hundreds, if not thousands, like it.

The one thing about which there seemed to be little dispute back in 2001 was that there was no European demos in any meaningful sense, and nor could there be in the foreseeable future.

Undismayed, the Commission set about reinventing democracy, to take a form which it could claim conformed with the structure and operation of EU institutions, much of which we saw in the White Paper. All of a sudden, democracy was no longer about the role of the demos but of the ability of the "citizens of Europe" to participate in decision-making, and such allied things.

The same thinking was then seen in the Laeken Declaration of the same year – the precursor to the Convention on the Future of Europe from which the European Constitution – latterly renamed the Lisbon Treaty – was to emerge.

In order to deal with the "democratic challenge" facing Europe, the Declaration intoned, the European institutions had to be "brought closer to its citizens". They had to be "less unwieldy and rigid and, above all, more efficient and open". In fact, this was to be the substitute for democracy but, in line with the founding ethos of the Union, it was to be redefined as democracy.

Now, eighteen years later, we see the successor to Laeken in the Sibiu Declaration, the product of an informal European Council held yesterday, which Mrs May did not attend.

Once again, the future of Europe was on the agenda, leading to "ten commitments" signed by the Leaders of the European Union. And the content itself explains Mrs May's absence. There is no way politically that she could support a commitment to "defend one Europe", to "stay united, through thick and thin" and always to "look for joint solutions".

But then, tucked in as item number four, we see the same old, same old, as the leaders pledged "to protect our way of life, democracy and the rule of law". It doesn't actually assert that the European Union is democratic, but the inference is there. Not one would admit that the most sure way of protecting democracy would be to abolish the EU.

To the contrary, self-delusion reigns supreme as we see in the remarks by Donald Tusk at the Sibiu press conference. The Council president tells us that "the member states and their democratically elected leaders want to actively shape the way the EU functions and develops".

They may indeed want to do this, but the power in the Union is vested with the Commissioners who form the government of the EU. And, on appointment, each Commissioner makes an oath pledging to be "completely independent" in carrying out their duties. Furthermore, in the performance of their tasks, they pledge "neither to seek nor to take instructions from any government or from any other institution, body, office or entity". That, of course, includes the European Council – and, for good measure, the European Parliament.

Then, such is the structure of the European Union that the Commission has the monopoly right of initiative. It, and it alone, can formally propose a new law. Thus, no new law (except with very minor exceptions) may be made without a proposal from the Commission, and – since it takes a law to repeal a law - no law can be removed from the acquis without its approval.

Short of a new treaty, the only way the "elected leaders" can shape the way the EU functions and develops is by approving the new laws made by the Commission. And yet, with another treaty overdue, the only purpose of European treaties is to hand over more "competences" to the Union, expanding the areas in which laws may be made.

As such, the only way forward – the future to which the leaders aspire – is to create "more Europe". That is regardless of what the peoples of Europe might want, who are never actually asked. They might be allowed limited "participation" in the sense that they might be asked about the detail of some of the laws the Commission proposes, but they have no say in the direction of travel. And certainly, they have no power (kratos) to make demands and require compliance.

Not in any possible way is this a functioning democracy. Going right back to the concept of the demos, without that there can be no democracy in any accepted or meaningful sense – unless one is prepared to stand the definition on its head.

As it stands, and unavoidably, the demos - somewhat imperfectly – is defined by national boundaries, the sovereign area in which a single population can exert its power and demand accountability from its government. A body which is dedicated to abolishing such boundaries, unavoidably, is equally dedicated to demolishing democracy as we know it.

In time, the European Union could possibly build a new sense of national identity within its newly-defined external borders, and thus create a new demos. But there is no sign of that happening yet, and no indication that it could ever happen. In the meantime, the EU will just have to keep pretending it is supporting democracy, while it continues to do exactly the opposite.

The perverse thing here is that democracy isn't necessarily the be all and end all of systems of government. In special circumstances, such as during the prosecution of the Second World War, it was necessary in the UK to suspend our already fragile democracy. Some other nations in Europe had this done for them.

The point is that mankind has lived through and survived many different forms of government and it would be hard to argue that "pure" democracy was the best or only form of government available. Thus, there could be a case made for a limited suspension of democracy, and different mechanisms of governance at a European level - all for the greater good of the peoples of Europe. But that case is never made. As always, there is the pretence of democracy without the substance. 

The great deception continues.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few