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The arrogance of the Anglo-centric élites

Posted by Richard Wednesday, December 07, 2011


There might be more than a few people who think it is a bit rich Jack Straw complaining of the arrogance of the eurozone élites, when he is somewhat predisposed towards the same vice.

But there is something more profoundly wrong with his piece in the Failygraph, where he purports to offer an analysis of the failings of the European experiment, but in fact succumbs to the fatal habit of British politicians of attempting to analyse the EU through the spectrum of British (and personal) experience – thereby getting things hopelessly wrong.

The anglo-centric (or Brit-centric?) approach is immediately evident in Straw's dissertation, which he frames in terms of Viscount Castlereagh, the early 19th Century British foreign secretary.

Giving the impression of erudition and depth, the reference is entirely misplaced, as the structure and even existence of the European Union owes very little to Castlereagh's "Congress System of diplomacy", which Straw uses as his foil. In effect, Straw is blinding us with his own erudition, which is entirely irrelevant to the matters at hand.

Having thus established his "credentials", and in passing swallowed the Delors fiction on the genesis of the euro (another gullible politician), Straw then offers us his nostrums for rescuing the situation.

We must, he says, "set out our analysis of what has gone right and wrong for the EU; the likely consequences of closer fiscal union; and our own vision of the European co-operation we need for the future".

The evidence, he goes on to say, "is strong that it is the single market, not the euro, that has been the driver of greater growth and interdependence. So while the euro needs repair, policy-makers also need to concentrate on how the single market can operate more effectively".

To say that this is debatable is perhaps an understatement, but as a window into the mind of Jack Straw, it reveals a degree of fog which might suggest that the man has a limited appreciation of what the European Union is about.

The colleagues themselves make no secret of the fact that their objective is "ever-closer union", i.e., European political integration. It does, after all, say this in the founding treaty. The Single Market, therefore, is a primarily a driver of political integration – in part by securing interdependence. Growth, if it occurs, is a side effect.

Similarly, the single currency is a driver of political integration. It and the Single Market are two sides of the same coin.

But Straw does not seem to recognise this. He wants his "policy-makers" to focus more on defence, security and foreign policy (including the need to engage with Turkey, the threat from Iran, the Arab Spring, the rise of Asia, terrorism and climate change) – although he does not seem to understand that the EU also regards these policy areas as a means of furthering political integration.

Then, in one sentence, the fog of incomprehension intensifies – thick enough to blot out reason. "There should be less tinkering with matters best left to member states: there is, for example, no reason why the hours of junior doctors should be determined at EU level", says Straw.

A little less attention to Castlereagh and slightly more to Jean Monnet would have told the man that the purpose of producing such regulation is to achieve economic harmonisation and, through that, political harmonisation. This is not "tinkering with matters best left to member states". It is at the very core of the Monnet Method, the means by which surreptitious political integration is being achieved.

However, if it is a little worrying that a former foreign secretary does not understand the basics of European political integration, over Straw's next offering, one needs to get thoroughly alarmed.

Above all, he says, "the political élites in Europe need to shed their intellectual arrogance and remember the need to carry the support of their electorates. For the danger is that, in fixing a fiscal and monetary crisis, they instigate a democratic crisis that has the potential to threaten the institutional fabric not just of the EU, but of its member states".

When assessing the calibre of one's enemies, one of the most difficult things to do is to work out not what they know, but what they do not know. More often, their actions are driven by ignorance as by knowledge, but one tends to assume that the enemy knows as much of the general situation as you do.

But here, paraded in front of us all, is a depth of ignorance that is quite staggering.

Let us stand back for a moment and note that the largest office block in Europe is the main block of the EU Parliament in Brussels, named the Alterio Spinelli Building. The reason for this is simple. The man whose name it takes was hugely influential in the creation of the modern European Union.

It is thus Spinelli, not Castlereagh, that Straw should be citing, noting that this Italian former communist was prone to referring to the "House of Europe". But it was his firm conviction that his magnificent "house" during its construction phase was beyond the ability of mere mortals to appreciate. It had to be kept under wraps until complete when, with its final form apparent, it could be unveiled to the universal applause and approval of the people who could then understand its rationale.

This is from a man known as the "Godfather of the European Union", and underlines the singular fact that the founders of the European Union have never sought out the support of their electorates. Furthermore, le projet has never had democratic approval. The founder and present officials do not regard themselves as democratic representatives. They cast themselves in the role of Platonic guardians, beyond politics and above the messy business of democracy.

To assert as Straw does, therefore, that the political élites in Europe need to carry the support of their electorates is utterly bizarre. They have never sought to do so and, as we see now with Italy and Greece, they do not see the need now. The man really does not have the first idea of what the European Union is about.

But, imbued with his profound ignorance, Straw returns to Castlereagh. The Viscount, he says, saw democracy as a threat to the established order that he was so anxious to preserve. But it was the Congress System's failure to adapt to the popular will that led to its decay and then collapse.

Straw asserts that he is "not so apocalyptic about the European Union" but declares that it must "recognise the great dangers of pursuing policies that lack popular legitimacy, and respond far better to its people, if it is to avoid a similar ultimate fate".

He is whistling in the wind. The very idea of "popular legitimacy" does not feature in the DNA of our modern-day Platonic Guardians, and to suggest that it should is to expect the impossible. And if one then recognises that the European Union is fundamentally anti-democratic, an idea of what must be done becomes that much clearer.

If "democratic legitimacy" is an issue, and Straw is not wrong in asserting that it is, then it is self-evident that this cannot be achieved by or through the EU. The Union must be destroyed, for democracy to prosper.

That Straw cannot see this is very much part of the problem. His own arrogance – the arrogance of the Anglo-centric élites – blinds him to the reality.

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