Saturday, January 03, 2009

Engrenage again

Although great events dominate the headlines, as always, the slow, insidious process of EU economic integration goes on, this – in the Monnet mould – being the precursor to and the mechanism for political integration.

In the spotlight (not) is the news carried by the Irish RTE network which announces that, as of Thursday (i.e., 1 January), "a new small claims procedure has been put in place for people across the European Union to deal with cross-border complaints."

Like the Irish Small Claims Court system, this piece tells us, the new procedure is for dealing with disputes concerning goods or services of €2000 or less. The new system will make it simpler for people to resolve complaints against traders based in another EU country. (Previously a court action had to be pursued.)

Generally the new procedure will cost a fee of just €15, and no layer (sic) is necessary. Claimants will file a standard claim form, the defendant is given the chance to reply, and then judgement is issued in 30 days. The judgement is enforced by the member state.

This, of course, will not work – different systems and different priorities will cause all sorts of hang-ups. But you can see the progression. First, you "open" the borders to the free flow of goods and create a borderless system of trading. Then, inevitably, the cross-border consumer cannot get redress over faulty goods, so you must then have an official cross-border system to deal with that.

Then, in the fullness of time, when this is shown not to work, you must then introduce a common system of enforcement. When that does not work, you must have a "European" supervisory agency to ensure that the common rules are applied … and so on and so on.

By such tiny, barely-reported steps, each separated by many years, does the process gradually ensnare us so that, decades later, we look up and ask "how the hell did we get into this mess?" By then it is too late.

That the process is politically driven is well evident by our lack of arrangements with the USA. There, UK online (i.e., cross-border) trading volume is much higher, but it works on the basis of trust – and the old principle of caveat emptor. There is no official intervention, and no common small claims system. You take your chances and, by and large, the system works to the satisfaction of all.

The genius of engrenage, though, is that nobody notices. Each step can be justified, in isolation, on apparently good grounds – as long as no one understands that it is a process, and the end point is economic and then political integration. By such means are we thus enslaved.