The welfare-state crisis that is ravaging Greece, Spain and other European countries is rocking the foundations of the very European Union itself. It is hardly a secret that four in ten Greek voters last June cast their votes on parties that are more or less openly against the EU. It only takes a minor shift in the balance of public opinion to put a constellation of those parties in a majority position in the Greek parliament.
Similarly Euroskeptic voices are being heard in Spain, though more indirectly in the form of separatism directed against the Spanish nation itself. But nowhere is the criticism of the EU stronger than in the European Parliament when British parliament member Nigel Farage, chairman of the United Kingdom Independence Party, sounds off.
There clearly are reasons for Europeans to be skeptical, even harshly critical, of the EU. The Union is run by non-elected bureaucrats and suffers from a heavy democratic deficit. It forces regulations and other policy instruments on member states without giving those states a proper chance to voice their opinion. But the most destructive element of the EU is that it forces member states with large budget deficits into one destructive austerity policy package after another.
The anti-EU sentiments are now at such a height that EU proponents are getting really worried. For example, two representatives of the Union of European Federalists (UEF) are voicing great concern in an articl on EurActiv.com. The UEF is an old organization of politicians and others who strongly support European integration. Nothing wrong in that per se, but their defense of the current EU structure, which is far from federal in nature, is worrisome.
Marko Bucik is a foreign affairs writer and former UEF board member, and Nikos Lampropoulos is a current UEF board member.
In a typically restrained European way, Bucik and Lampropoulos express great worries about where the EU is heading under the pressure from its increasingly strong critics:
The EU has undoubtedly gone through tumultuous times over the last three years. Because of an unprecedented economic crisis, its leaders have been challenged both by stabilising their own economies, as well as by assisting those states facing financial collapse. … Most importantly, the EU has so far held together. Despite often justified criticism, it managed to pull together a level of solidarity among member states that has ensured no country has been left behind.
It is unclear what they mean by “left behind”. Greece is going through a full-scale economic collapse, with five straight years of shrinking GDP, rapidly deteriorating public-sector services and unemployment numbers at explosive levels.
By all reasonable measures, Greece is being left behind – and it is being left behind by economic policies dictated to it by the EU.
Back to our two European federalists:
However, behind this headlines summary, we can observe with increased concern that little attention is paid to a more fundamental shift within the EU. The once-benevolent supranational integration that regulated free trade, consumer rights and abolished borders among European states, has over the last three years acquired significant new powers that impact the very essence of the functioning of the welfare state. The Euro Plus Pact, the Fiscal Treaty and the new set of legislative measures to strengthen economic governance are all extending EU’s powers into areas that have been traditionally under national democratic control. Most EU observers will probably agree that these measures are necessary elements of a proper economic union.
Right here, if you are a federalist, you would unequivocally criticize these new powers. What is happening in the EU is not an evolution in the direction of a federation – if so the EU powers would be limited and enumerated – but instead a trend toward an ever stronger European nation state.
This point escapes Bucik and Lampropoulos:
So do we.
Why? They never explain. Instead they pay lip service to the EU’s democratic deficit, which, they acknowledge…
…is set to grow and further undermine the diminishing legitimacy the EU has among its citizens.
Then they turn the entire current EU debate into one about packaging. It is a matter of giving EU residents an idea that they somehow have some sort of democratic influence over their own lives:
The extended powers and the increasingly ideological nature of the EU need popular legitimisation in one form or another.In fact, the already existing lack of legitimacy is the main reason why national leaders have had such a tough time arguing for solidarity in the face of a crisis. For short-term political expediency, they have for years blamed Brussels for unpopular decisions, instead of honestly talk about why certain decisions have been necessary. Such narratives, bundled with some ignored referendum results, have over time led to EU being progressively seen as an elitist project run by unelected bureaucrats.
But they stop short of admitting that the EU is progressively elitist and run by unelected bureaucrats.
Euroscepticism is now not only an exotic part of British politics, but a widespread political trend. And the national leaders’ own narrative is coming back to hunt them. In the long run, establishing a genuine dialogue about what the EU is and what it does is essential to prevent the inevitable from happening: the hardening of stereotypes, euroscepticism and resistance to needed steps towards greater integration. … the more important question is whether the EU will come out of the crisis more democratic and empowered with greater popular legitimacy or less democratic and with popular support at historically low levels. If the leaders’ answer to the crisis is further integration in the form of a banking and fiscal union, it must come along with a political union where accountability is the rule, not the exception.
That would take separation of powers between the member states and the EU; it would take open and direct elections of a legislature and an executive office similar to the American presidency; it would take a three-fold separation of powers with an independent judiciary; and, most important of all, it would necessitate explicit and iron-clad limitations of EU powers.
None of this appears conceivable to our two federalists, for understandable reasons. Any such move in the direction of an American federation would strengthen the member states and, most important of all, give the European people full control over who they are being governed by.
Such a federal is beyond the realm of imagination to EU proponents. They are completely stuck in their nation-state way of thinking that all they can discuss is how to sell the “necessary” expansion of EU powers to the uninformed half-a-billion people whose lives are being subjected to those powers.
We certainly have our problems here in America, especially with the re-election of Obama. But our constitution is stronger than it might seem, and there is a good chance we will come out of his second term with a renewed appreciation of our federal form of governance. The Europeans, on the other hand, are so tied by conventional thinking to the nation-state’s monolithic form of government that the only way the EU can progress from here is in the direction of more authoritarianism. This only reinforces the points made by such prominent EU critics as Nigel Farage.
But it also means that if the critics lose, the EU will eventually destroy democracy – on the very continent that invented the concept of accountable government.