Sunday, June 20, 2004
The End of the Beginning

Now that the phoney war is over, the acceptance of the European Constitution by the political classes on the Continent, with a choreography of conflict (to convince the British public), leads to reflections on how we came to this point.

When the European Convention was established after the Amsterdam Treaty was signed, the purpose of this institution was to present a redesign of the European institutions that would confer greater democratic legitimacy upon the whole enterprise. A constitutional debate and subsequent negotiations resulted in a draft that perpetuated and reinforced the power of the bureaucracy and the Council of Ministers. Divisions and arguments arose between countries and factions over the apportionment of power, but no voice championed greater democratic scrutiny or the repatriation of powers to the Member States.

There are a number of reasons that explain why the drafters of the Constitution could view an extension of the 'democratic deficit' as a form of deepening democratisation, providing a greater voice for the peoples of Europe. One of the causes is ideological: the ideology for 'Europe' is now institutionalised and shared amongst the majority of politicians. It provides an answer to their political, social and economic problems; promises a progressivist narrative that meets the demands of a vast proportion of the political spectrum, from corporatist Christian Democrats to the greens; and reinforces the deception that Europe can punch above its weight. This ideology is a powerful force because it overrides the divisions between Left and Right that were constructed and maintained during the Cold War. Its development is a consequence of the end of the Cold War and a replacement for anti-communism.

This Broad Church allows the European institutions to co-opt and provide a voice for politicians, commercial groups, single-issue lobbyists and professional associations. By establishing a marketplace for regulation at a European level, these groups have been drawn to Brussels, like moths to a flame. The incentive of influence over regulation that affects millions of lives on a continental scale has converted these groups to European action. Their conversion was guaranteed when they understood that they were being listened to and, as a consequence, regulation would include their recommendations. The result is that a co-ordinated grouping of single-issue lobbies, such as the Greens, has more power over the law, than one country like the United Kingdom.

In order to maintain this Broad Church and unbrella ideology, the European institutions have to ensure that law and policy proceeds through consensus. Every directive, every regulation will have winners and losers, but no victory or defeat can be so great that the social representative becomes disaffected from the corpus of Europe.

This corporatism underlies the political economy and ideological prespective of Brussels. The constitutional draft contains the contradictory and elephantine demands of these lobbies and their political representatives. That is why it can be criticised for being both too liberal and too socialist. Like the Bible, there are many possible readings, depending upon your point of view.

It also resolves the puzzle of why a constitution that reinforces the pwoer of European harmonisation and integration is considered, by pro-Europeans, as a successful step forward in bring Europe closer to its voters. The politicians now view elections as merely one method through which the views of Europeans are represented. Lobbyists and non-governmental organisations are viewed as a focus group for wider dissatisfaction on certain issues: they are a jury of their peers. Indeed, elections are now seen as an inefficient and cumbersome device, if they reverse the ideological momentum.

The ratification of this Constitution institutionalises the corporatist politics of Brussels and provides a firm date when the liberal democracies of the nation states became legitimating and interlocking inferiors to a superior bureaucracy, staffed, in part, by their own elites.

(23.17, 20th June 2004)


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