Saturday, September 02, 2006

The realities of power

In a democracy, the ultimate power rests with the people, who hold their government to account during elections, voting them out of office if they fail to perform or do things of which they disapprove. Or so the theory goes.

What then of the news that the EU yesterday began paying aid to the Palestinians? It is making "social allowances" payments to 625,000 public employees who have been "left unpaid and impoverished" because of the financial crisis besetting the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

We are told that the funds - made through a programme overseen by the World Bank - bypass the Palestinian Authority government and benefit "those who have suffered a significant loss of income" when much foreign aid and some of the Palestinians' own revenues dried up after Hamas came to power earlier this year.

Besides direct cash payments of about $347 to each person, EU money will finance Palestinian health services and utilities, notably fuel to run generators.
Among the 625,000 Palestinians now receiving direct financial support are 11,500 health workers who are no longer being paid, says EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Stepping aside from the specifics for a moment, the key issue here is that the money is being transferred by the EU. The report says that the EU is making the payments but, in the final analysis, the EU does not have any money other than is what is paid to it by its 25 member states. In other words, it is not EU money at all – it is member state money. And, on the basis of our gross budget contributions to the EU, about 12 percent of that is British – delivered by British taxpayers.

Now, I am a taxpayer and a voter. What if I disapprove of payments of my money made by the EU to the Palestinians? Well, if it was my government making these payments, I could object through the "usual channels" and, if I felt strongly enough about the issue, I could launch a campaign.

In the way of things in the democratic process, my exertions and those who I had convinced to support me - could make a sufficient difference to tip the government out of power. Even with out that, the fear of that happening could well make the government think again about what it was doing.

But this is the EU. I could campaign all I like, for as long as I like. By some miracle, I could gain the support of all the voters in the EU and I could even get the government to agree with me wholeheartedly.

It would not make one whit of difference. The EU does not need the specific approval of the British government to make these payments, and nothing the British government could do would stop them. In this respect – and many others – the EU is a law unto itself.

As it happens, I do disapprove of payments being made to a people which have voted a terrorist organisation into government. In fact, I object very strongly. And, if that was their democratic choice, then, in a grown-up world, there are consequences (not least a three day garbage collection strike – illustrated). Another of those consequences is me - and many others like me - wishing to exercise our democratic choice by not paying them any money.

Except that, in that very important respect, we no longer live in a democracy and we have no choice. Funny thing that – the Gaza territory run by a terrorist organisation is, in theory at least, probably more democratic than the country in which I now live.

Theory it may be – but that is also the reality. And I am not a happy bunny.


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