Monday, June 08, 2015

Democracy? You're kidding, right?

One of the problems eurosceptics have is convincing people we're "run by Brussels". There's a good reason for that. We're not. It's more accurate to say we are told what to do by Brussels. It's even more accurate to say we're told what NOT to do by Brussels. So we're free to do what we like so long as it's within a predetermined set of parameters. How we do it is entirely up to us.

Very often that puts us in the position of having to do things we don't want to do in a way that we don't want to do it because the ways we do want to do things are prohibited. And as stupid as that often seems, we can always count on our ow government to make it even more complicated and more expensive. It's not even strictly accurate to say we're told what to do by Brussels. Governance is now global. As previously explored, our membership of the EU removes our power of veto at all the top tables.

So what we often end up with is law we don't want, never had a choice in and have to implement them in ways ill-suited to our own needs, often conflicting with more suitable local governance.

Many would ask particularly what difference would Brexit make since our own government and diplomatic corps are usually at the forefront of the stupidest global initiatives and wouldn't use the veto even if they had it. It's a fair question. The answer is probably not a lot. We would likely have ended up an equally lunatic energy policy even outside of the EU - but the critical distinction being that we own that decision. We are responsible for those we elect.

This is still quite an abstract distinction and more a point of principle - and the reason we struggle is that people's concerns in the wallet tend to take immediate precedence over concepts such as sovereignty; a word which is becoming increasingly meaningless, along with the word democracy which seems to elicit a hollow laugh whenever you mention it. There's a good reason for that though.  

The word democracy stems from the Greek word, dēmokratía, comprising two parts: dêmos "people" and kratos "power". Without a demos, there is no democracy. But people without power is not democracy either. So when we look at the chain of political institutions we see global bodies where we have no power of veto agreeing to things then passing them down to the EU where MEPs can nether repeal or propose legislation, in a parliament where we have a mere 1.2 MEPs for every million citizens, who even voting together as a bloc (which they rarely do) could never hope to prevent something becoming law if the UK did not want it. 

It is then passed as a directive and turned into domestic law by our own parliaments, mangled by Whitehall and handed to councils who are told what and how to do something. So it's not just the EU that has an allergy to democracy, its all the way down through the chain, with only a voting ritual every five years to change the guard at Westminster.

So when asked why bother leaving the EU since it won't make any major difference - we're in something of a pickle again. Without comprehensive domestic reform Brexit is largely an exercise in futility. But domestic reform is putting the cart before the horse. If the government is not acting on the instructions of the people at the global level, and agreements eventually arrive at our shores via an EU directive, then we've not really accomplished very much. And so while Brexit accomplishes little on its own, it is a precursor to broader meaningful reforms such as separation of powers and proper local devolution.

Today Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall spoke of the need to hand more powers to local authorities. In this we would not disagree, but she cannot speak of handing away powers that are not in her gift - with fishing, agriculture, energy and employment law all being specific competences of the EU. Far from being a democracy, the EU is an obstacle to it. Thus, rather than democracy, what we have is a benign managerialism.

The big problem euroceptics have in convincing people to vote out is that this benign managerialism to all intents and purposes actually works quite well, with little in the technical regulation that would inspire people to go to the barricades. Neither promises of utopia nor predictions of doom either way are sufficiently believable to mobilise a movement, and when the real experts are saying Brexit makes little noticeable difference, why wouldn't you be satisfied with the status quo? After all, it's not Communist China with mobile execution vans, there are no Stasi squads putting bloggers in jail and give or take, free speech is healthier than it ever has been. What is so bad that we need to rock the boat?

The answer to that is not much. The problems we have a wildly exaggerated and we can't say for certain whether Brexit would be any improvement since what affects us also affects EU member states. The immigration problem won't go away for any of us regardless of Brexit. So what is it about?

It's about the future. This is not a referendum on whether we accept the status quo. This is about whether we want to travel in the EU to its final destination. For sure we're probably never going to join the Euro, and the full federalist dream is never going to come to fruition either. But that's the problem. What the EU wants to happen never will happen but that won't stop it from persistently trying. And really what is the point when we don't need it, nobody wants it (apart from those euro-elites whose incomes depend upon it) and it's rooted in an idea from the early part of the last century, long before such things as affordable airliner travel and the internet. Put simply, Europhillia is luddism. 

More and more countries are confidently stepping into the first world and into the global community and the future of global trade means a global conversation, with every voice being heard rather than elites speaking on our behalf. We don't want the world breaking up into competing blocs. We want inter-governmentalism with nations speaking directly to nations without a middleman constantly watering down our agreements. If we want the full benefits of trade then why ask for permission and why add the delays of the Strasbourg talking shop? Why wait to invite India or Brazil to the table? Why say to the world that you can come in if you're Polish but not Peruvian, Indian or Canadian? It's no longer the 1960's. There's more reason for British people to flock to India than in the other direction.

The EU has been negotiating TTIP on our behalf. We have secured certain opt outs but then so has everyone else in Europe, which means that trade deal is a lot weaker than it could have been. What could we have negotiated for ourselves? I have a stronger desire to visit and trade with New York or Mumbai than I have Berlin or Amsterdam. But then why not with everybody on our own terms and in our own time?

Rather than fighting off immigrants in the Mediterranean and blowing up smugglers boats we would be trading freely with Africa and spending aid directly, helping to build first world administrative systems that reduce the need to migrate in the first place. Sure the EU could do that, but the chances of the money getting much further than a Brussels Mercedes dealership are nil.

We're a first class country denying our own place at the top table, and for two long we have been inward looking to Europe when we should have been looking out. It's time to let the obsolete ideas of the last century die and persuade Europe that it's small idea of a United States of Europe is dead. A world of free nations awaits us. 

The old problems are long gone for Europe. Europe isn't going to go to war over coal and steel any more than Lincolnshire is going to fight Humberside over pork. The notion that we would suddenly start fighting each other without the EU is a quint superstition. In the final analysis, I can't think of anything more likely to cause regional instability than an antidemocratic entity that just won't take no for an answer. It's already put up walls with Russia, building new walls in Bulgaria and fortifying Southern Europe. That doesn't look very much like progress to me. Arguably, the inherent inefficiencies and corruption in the system are more likely to provoke internal war.

It isn't political union or flags that keep the peace. The EU is built on foundations of intellectual sand. Trade, travel and communication bring the peace. Freedom preserves it. So why close ourselves off to the world? Why be a little Europe when we can be a great Britain?