European Democracy or European Technocracy?

The European Elections took place over the course of a few days in late May 2019. Across 28 Member States, Europeans went to the ballot box to elect 751 Members of the European Parliament. But did this have any tangible outcome on who will be the President of the European Commission? If the answer is no, then does the European Union violate the fundamental principles of the Social Contact which underpins Representative Democracy?

To answer we first need to rewind slightly to explain how the European Union functions. The European Union is made up four institutions, which maps haphazardly onto our normal understanding of the three branches of government, the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The only body to play a traditional role is the Court of Justice of the European Union, which acts as the supreme judicial authority and has the power to rule on matters of European Law.

For the other institutions though there is a weird mix of quasi executive and legislative powers that intersect with one another. For example, in the normal legislative procedure the European Commission proposes draft legislation (either regulations or directives). The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament then act as co-legislators who may propose amendments to the proposed legislation.

Yet, neither have the power to initiate legislation which is the essential role of a legislator i.e. the body which creates law. In a normal representative democracy, the legislature is easily identifiable in the form of a bicameral or unicameral parliament or house of representatives. This is not the case in the EU.

So what bearing do the European Elections have on this process. It turns out very little.

The European Parliament is made up of 751 members from across every European Member State according to a specific formula of degressive proportionality. With European Elections, the mandate of the European Commission also ends. Presidents of the European Commission, European Council, European Central Bank, and the High Representative appointed.

Unfortunately, the vote in the European Elections has zero relation to the outcome of these appointments. The most contentious of course is the role of President of the European Commission. In 2014, the European Union attempted to rectify this by proposing a Spitzenkandidaten process in which each of the political groups would nominate a candidate who would be considered by the Council for Commissioner President. The result was that Jean-Claude Juncker became the European Commission President for 2014-2019.

Following the European elections in 2019 however, the Council has completely ignored this process and nominated Ursula von der Leyen the German Minister of Defense, as President of the European Commission. This begs the question, why did European’s just go to the ballot box and vote? The result has no correlation to the result. Thus, the European Union will now be headed by someone who Europeans have never even heard of outside Germany.

The European Union claims to believe in the rule of law and democracy, but it makes a mockery of these. Liberal democracy is based on a social contract for which the Council and European elite run roughshod over. The social contract we have collectively agreed to is essentially that governments are accountable to the people.

While Europe criticizes nations like Russia for their fake elections, meanwhile the go about politics behind closed doors and in complete disregard for the election results. This is an absolute abhorrent outcome and the Council should be ashamed of itself. Many think it’s important to get out and vote. When you have outcomes like this we can see why 50 percent of people choose to stay home.

What the Council is attempting to do here is a coup d’etat against the legitimacy of the European Union and it will have negative repercussions for years to come. If there were any hope that the United Kingdom might somehow remain with the European Union, this has essentially evaporated with this nomination. The Council has essentially done the work for Brexiteers in showing the European Union to be a bureaucratic, technocratic, undemocratic behemoth.

Euroscepticism has been on the rise in Europe for the past ten years. With decisions from the Council like this, we can only expect Euroscepticism to increase. Citizens might be naïve and largely ignorant about European politics, but anyone with an ounce of reasonableness can see this for what it is, antidemocratic, which is what feeds Euroscpeticism as citizens turn away from parties and institutions which claim to be democratic and represent their interests.

If Europe had any hope of claiming the European Union is democratic, this is now as dead as the Spitzenkandidaten process. The Brexit party turned its back on the European Parliament, but now it’s time for European citizens to turn their back on the European Union. I do not mean break up the European Union, but citizens need to show that they stand for democracy not technocracy. Citizens demand that European leaders end the hypocrisy and do what is in the interests of Europe not just a group of powerful European Member States.

Trumping Common European Policies

I recently wore a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat to a regular political gathering in the capital of the European Union. Now, for the record I am not a Trump supporter. I wore the hat specifically to be provocative, and it worked. Throughout the course of 3-4 hours I received many comments from people.

Two things horrified me. First, the amount of people who supported Trump. Some jokingly of course, thinking it’s pretty funny to wear a hat like that. Then there was the guy who was really too serious and referred to the recent ‘great’ victory in the provincial elections in the Netherlands.

The second thing that horrified me though was the response for those who were clearly against Trump. One girl was shouting at me (in a friendly bantering kind of way) to take it off and saying that Trump is a dick. Good banter – to me that’s fine. What really horrified me though were the two Irish who thought they could steal the hat and proceed to give me a lecture about how much of a piece of shit I am.

People clearly do not understand when someone is being deliberately provocative. I’m not wearing the hat at a white supremist rally against the rights of minorities. I’m not even wearing the thing to push for Trump policies.

I’m wearing that hat in the centre of the white European middle-class liberal establishment – THAT’S WHY IT’S FUNNY!

Some have opined that people do not understand humour. I am increasingly convinced of this. I’d also like to hit on the fact that I am not even American, nor in the United States. I can’t vote for the guy and I have literally zero effect on the outcome of the US presidential election.

it is clearly lost on these sanctimonious patronizing shitheads that they themselves actively support a racist liberal political establishment in the European Union.

Bold claim on my part, but my main exhibit is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), perhaps one of the most racist (and expensive) policies the European political establishment continues to perpetuate despite all of the evidence against it.

The Common Agricultural Policy was established in the post-war era of the European Community. The idea was to ensure that Europe would never again face food shortages like they had in the immediate years following World War II. The program established subsidies for farmers and measures to encourage production of foodstuffs.

Today, farm subsidies account for 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers via “basic payments”. Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU is set to blow a gaping hole in the EU budget, and it’s still unclear how that will be filled. Some have suggested the CAP could be on the chopping block, but we know that the farmers lobby is strong and will challenge any attempt to touch their free money.

The CAP is racist because it has perverse effects on people living in Africa, an area still recovering from years of European colonisation. First, the CAP creates distortions in global commodities prices making it impossible for African farmers to compete with European farmers, even in their home territories.

On average, 20% of the EU milk surplus travels 7000 kms in form of milk-powder to Africa. There, it replaces local dairy products in the supermarkets. In Cameroon, a local farmer can sell his for 37 cents, while a German farmer sells it for just 22 cents per litre.

The CAP is subsidising European farmers and systematically destroying local African industries.

The CAP is a policy that supports inefficient and unprofitable European farmers despite the fact that African farmers on average earn $2,989 per year against EU farmer households who earn on average €14,000 (across the EU-28).

This is combined with European trade policy which encourages African farmers to continue growing colonial-era cash crops like coffee and cocoa, and not finished or refined goods like chocolate (it would be shame if Belgian chocolate had to compete on the merits!).

To hammer home the moral superiority, the EU has the gall to throw development aid into the mix when African farmers are unable to compete with European farmers. In 2012, the European Union opened programs to construct dairy companies in West and Central Africa. Hundreds of thousands of euros were dedicated to support small dairy farms and cooperatives. But these dairy farms were constructed without ever being put into operation.

At the same time, highly subsided milk is exported to this region. When confronted to this problematic Phil Hogan (Irish), Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, argued that, apparently, the problem doesn’t lay within European agricultural policy and that therefore no action is required. Instead, he suggested to send Europeans to train local people to use the machines – a 21st century equivalent to the White Man’s burden.

Second, the CAP has devastating effects on the environment. Unfortunately, the CAP is among the most powerful drivers of environmental destruction in the world. Payments are made only for land that is in “agricultural condition,” so in order to get more free money the system creates a perverse incentive to clear wildlife habitats, even in places unsuitable for farming, Hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent wild places across Europe have been destroyed.

As we already know, it’s developed countries who disproportionately contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions but its developing nations who will suffer the worst effects. The EU is the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, with agricultural making up 10% of those emissions. 94% of ammonia emissions, for example, stem from agriculture.

In closing I want to just say, fuck you to the Irish bastards who gave me a lecture on being racist, and I implore people to question who in fact the real racists are. A kid with a Trump hat, or a liberal establishment that proliferates agricultural, trade and development policies which impoverish millions of the world’s poorest people by inhibiting their nations’ ability to compete on the merits and stop their economies from developing.

Not only this, but these same policies perpetuate the disproportionate contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. And when challenged by all this, the best they can muster is, well, maybe we just need to send some white people to ‘teach’ Africans how to do things – sanctimonious, self-righteous and overall, racist!


Hip, Hip, Hypocrisy!

A recent holiday to Spain has made me realise more than ever that many in the Brexit campaign are choking on a giant cock of hypocrisy. The area I visited is a great microcosm of the shear ignorance surrounding the thinking of the Leave camp. Javea is a small resort town in the eastern most point of Spain about 1 hour north of Alicante. Thousands of British have come here to retire, and you can see why. Beautiful weather year round, nice landscape, and its cheap, real cheap.

Yet, most of the people I spoke to about the issue of Brexit one night were vocal supporters of leaving. This was a bizarre plot twist for me. They each in their own way parroted the reasons given for leaving given by the likes of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and the Sun magazine. Top of the list of complaints, and most baffling of all to me, was the issue of immigration. Onlookers were flabbergasted as to why I burst out laughing. It had not dawned for one iota of a second to these people that they themselves at that very moment were immigrants in Spain. They living in this cosy villas, sipping cheap sangria on the seashore couldn’t even look around them to see that the country they were in was not their own.

To them immigration was bad for many reasons, but one particular gripe was that immigrants didn’t integrate into society. Again, I was left speechless. None of these people at this party had any Spanish friends. Of the people there, only my aunt can speak Spanish at a competent level. The restaurants, against local tradition, have to serve the English at English eating hours, all the menus are in English. For god’s sake, there is an Iceland there where all the British food is shipped over from English for the local English to consume. Failing to integrate is the least of these people’s problems.

To be fair, a lot of these people were elderly and wishing for an earlier epoch when Britain still ruled the world. They think a British exit will go somewhere to restoring that. As a young millennial I was left in the awkward position of telling my elders that that just isn’t how the world works. You can’t just snap your fingers and make things the way they were 100 years ago. For a people who claim to be pragmatic and users of common sense, this lot were the some of the most deluded people I’ve ever met.

Of course, Brexit is more than just about immigration though. At the core of the argument is the issue of Britain’s economic future. In this area, again, the Brexit camp live in a fairy land. In my little testing pool of British opinion many thought trading once again with the commonwealth would be better. Have the likes of Boris Johnson actually done their homework on this. For Britain to remain wealthy, they must trade. Outside of Europe who are they going to trade with? Have the Leave Camp actually approached ruling political parties to ask if this is something they could negotiate. The President of the United States has already stated frankly that there would be no free trade agreement forthcoming for the British. The US have bigger fish to fry with the TPP, and now more recently TAFTA. Moreover, as it stands the like of Britain hammering out a deal with, say, New Zealand, a former colony, are slim. The only politician in New Zealand to raise the prospect has been Winston Peters, ironically one who matches almost exactly the demographic I was having this little discussion with. It’s a shame for the Brexit camp though, Peters currently polls between 1-5% likeability in New Zealand. Lack of free trade will make Britain uncompetitive losing out to cheaper competition.

Of course I am generalising on much of this but it leads to my more general point that the Leave camp can’t just snap their fingers and make the world in their image. Sorry to burst the British bubble, but your country just isn’t that Great anymore, (your main sports teams are rubbish for one) and the sooner you realise this the sooner you might realise that despite its many problems, and there are many believe me, Britain is better inside the EU with other partners such as France and Germany, than outside. Europe is the largest market economy in the world. Fact. Access to that market is vital for the prosperity of Britain, Europe, and even the world. One significant factor prolonging the global recession has been a sluggish Europe. A British exit threatens this, and really, is a rather selfish thing to do, whilst also being monumentally stupid.

A great moment in one of Jean Jacque Rousseau’s famous treatises, Du Contrat Social (On the Social Contrat) sums up my admittedly rather contemptuous opinion of the Brexit camp. He says

“Le peuple Anglais pense être libre, il se trompe fort ; il ne l’est que durant l’élection des membres du parlement : sitôt qu’ils sont élus, il est esclave, il n’est rien. Dans les courts moments de sa liberté, l’usage qu’il en fait mérite bien qu’il la perde.” (Livre III, Chapitre XV).

“The English people thinks itself to be free, but that’s quite wrong; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, the populace goes into slavery, and is nothing. The use it makes of its short moments of liberty shows that it deserves to lose its liberty.” (Book 3, Chapter 15).

If a large turnout shows that the English want to leave Europe I feat that Rousseau will be proven right in this instance. For the short moment they have liberty to choose their future, they will believe the demagogues who seek only power for themselves and their friends and so deserve what will come to them afterwards.

Britain Will Never Leave the European Union

Britain will never leave the European Union short of a complete collapse of the economic and political system. The powers that be in Europe, Britain and the United States, will never let this happen – there is simply far too much at stake economically and geo-politically. Those that claim an exit from the EU will be easy or smooth are kidding themselves.

An interesting parallel for such a conclusion can be drawn from the Delian League, the fifth century alliance led by the Athenians Persia. The parallel draws attention to the fact that whether or not a nation wants to leave a union such as Europe is irrelevant. Rather, it describes a situation where Britain will not be allowed to leave the union despite how politicians frame the issue.

The 478 B.C. Athens with a host of other Greek city-states around the Aegean joined together to create an offensive alliance against Persia which had recently invaded Greece and destroyed many Greek communities, including Athens. The alliance was concluded on the island of Delos (hence the name Delian League) and irons were sunk to symbolically cement the alliance in perpetuity. For seven years the league under the leadership of Athens took the fight to Persia and freed many more Greek communities from Persian control on the western coast of Asia Minor and the Hellespont region (modern day Turkey).

In 471 B.C. the island polis of Naxos no longer wanted to contribute to the League and decided to secede. Athens acted swiftly and decisively. Crushing the revolt, the tore down their walls, confiscated their navy and denied the Naxians their vote in the League. Six years later a much larger and more powerful polis in the northern Aegean, Thasos, also found that their interests were no longer best served in the League and decided to defect to Persia. Once more Athens acted swiftly but this time the siege lasted over two years. When the revolt was finally put down, the same fate awaited the Thasians as had the Naxians. Their walls were torn down, their navy confiscated, and their access to the mines in the region turned over to the Athenians.

Henceforth Athens became a much overt imperial power in its relations with the league members. In 454 B.C. the treasury was moved from Delos to Athens and using these funds Pericles began the construction projects in Athens which built the Parthenon, and the rest of the buildings on the Acropolis that we usually associate with the greatness of the Greeks.  For 50 more years Athens continued its imperial project. Many other allies attempted to defect and each was met with swift resistance from Athens. The Delian League was only dissolved following the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War at the hands of Sparta.

The European Union as we know it today developed over the course of the last 60 years. From the nascent European Economic Community many developments have integrated Europe closer together so that

today the European Union is the largest economy in the world, constituting 24% of global GDP with a unified economic area that enables the free flow of labour, good and services, and capital.

Of the 28 member states, 19 use a single currency which was recently threatened by the European Sovereign Debt Crisis. The European Union is not even a century old and it is facing severe structural pressures which could undermine its long term existential future. In large part this has been the catalyst which prompted a large chorus in Europe to demand a breakup of the European Union.

Many of the issues members like Naxos and Thasos had with the League have striking parallels to issues many Britons (and other Europeans) have with the European Union. Britons in particular are afraid of the ever closer union that many on the continent aim for in the future. They also fear the free flow of labour which they believe undermines their economic security as jobs are either shipped off elsewhere in Europe or taken by Europeans within Britain willing to work for lower wages. In essence many Britons feel their economic and national sovereignty is under threat from integration with Europe. This same fear was no doubt felt by many of those Greeks under the influence of the Athenians in the course of the fifth century.

Athens actively pursued policies that integrated the Aegean market with Athens in a similar fashion to policies pursued by the European Union. Athenian coinage was the standard currency throughout the Aegean and further abroad. Athens also passed legislation that standardised weights and measures across the empire. Dispute resolution between interstate parties was also relocated to Athens where they would be tried by Athenian jurors. All of these policies benefited Athens in the short term but in the longer term it is now suggested by some economic historians that measures such as these would have benefited trade throughout the Aegean in the longer term as trade became easier and transaction costs lowered. As Athens transformed the Delian League and integrated markets together they faced stronger opposition from their allies who saw these attempts as attacks on their national autonomy.

Just as the members of the Delian League feared ever closer union with Athens, so now many Britons fear ever closer union with Europe.

The lesson to take from the historical parallel is not a prescriptive analysis of whether or not Europe should integrate further.

Instead, this should be assumed.The lesson is rather that Naxos and Thasos were utterly crushed by Athens for attempting to leave the league, so too now will Britain. Athens brought their allies into submission through military might. Europe with the United States in tow will bring Britain into line using the economy.

The United States has already warned that the no free trade agreement would exist between Britain and the United States if they decided to leave the EU. Nor would the United States be interested in negotiating one. We can also be sure that the appetite for a free trade agreement between Britain and the rest of the European Union would be sour. Indeed, the prospect for economic warfare forcing Britain back into the fold is high. It could potentially create a situation similar to Napoleons’ failed strategy of banning Britain from all European ports. That exchange came down heavily in favour of Britain due to its overwhelming naval superiority and vast empire. Such superiority no longer exists. The conditions that allowed Britain to succeed previously no longer pertain and Britain would be cast adrift alone in the international community. To be sure, Britain alone is still a formidable economic power. Isolated from the two largest markets, Britain, in both the short and longer terms, will certainly face economic decline and even collapse.

When David Cameron stands in front of No. 10 Downing Street and declares that Britain is stronger and safer within the European Union you can be sure he is telling the truth in this instance. Not only is this true, but secretly he knows that leaving Europe would be politically impossible. Britain risks losing far too much from a Brexit than it would gain. Moreover, the world is so interconnected these days that national interests have lesser meaning in the face of corporate interests. These are the forces that will ultimately keep Britain within the EU.

The United States wants to keep the EU strong for two reasons. The most important is that two of the United Nations Security Council Members are located in Europe. These are important allies within the UN against potential rivals China and Russia who in the last decade have stepped up attempts to expand their global influence. Together, Europe is a powerful ally that can keep Russia in check. The threat of China in the east is an important reason why the US recently negotiated the TPPA in order to reassert their influence in the Asia-Pacific region. The US is currently pursuing a similar strategy in the west against Russia with talks for a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement between the US and the European Union already underway. British multi-national corporations will most certainly want Britain to remain within the EU to facilitate these talks and influence negotiations in their favour. Leaving the EU threatens British influence at the bargaining table and Britain will risk losing out especially to French and German corporate interests further undermining their economic security..

For the European Union allowing Britain to leave the European Union could also set a precedent paving the way for other states to leave. This is something which we noted Athens refused to allow to happen in the cases of Naxos and Thasos. Athens knew that if these allies left others might follow suit and the alliance would disintegrate. Athens behaved in their own self-interest as we would expect any other rational agent to do. We should not expect the European Union to behave any different this time around. The exit of such a large and integral member of the union would certainly undermine any other attempts to stop other states from leaving. Thus, the exit of Britain poses a long-term existential threat to the rest of the European Union.

The historical parallel between the Delian League and the European Union indicates prima facie that despite any intention to do otherwise, Britain will never be able to leave the EU. In the fifth century Athens introduced many policies similar to the stated aims of the European Union to facilitate trade, and create a large economic area allowing for the free flow of capital, labour, goods and services. It also did not allow members to leave if they perceived these policies to no longer be in their national interest. In its own time Athens became an overt imperial power which never succeeded in creating a unitary empire. Today the European Union faces its greatest long-term existential threat to date. Luckily for Europe the global geo-political situation means the United States – still the world’s largest superpower- is on their side in this debate. Even without the US, Britain faces losing far more than it could potentially gain from leaving. In the event that Britain does decide to leave, they will almost inevitably find the global economy a cold and lonely place to be without the help of the world’s two largest economies.

Some Sources and Extra Reading

Meiggs R. (1972). The Athenian Empire. Oxford Clarendon Press.

Ober J. (2015) The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece.  Princeton University Press.