As Richard North observes, that the pro-EU Guardian has featured prominently on its front page a Eurobarometer survey which is telling us that public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels, is of significance.
Not surprisingly there is much hand wringing within that publication of the “fundamental questions of the EU’s democratic legitimacy” and what to do about it. But as any serious student of the EU knows democratic legitimacy was never on the table; removing democracy (or preventing “populism” if we are to use the negative redefinition of the term democracy) was always the intention of Jean Monnet – a man who was never elected to public office. The Guardian is thus discovering that the lack of public mandate – or populism – is coming back to haunt the EU in spades.
Conversely though, despite that the EU is not democratic in the sense its Monnet-inspired bureaucrats are not elected, it does not tell member states what to do. As a consequence I’m often dismayed by a significant part of the Eurosceptic movement in their arguments. EU member states choose to belong, they choose to participate, obey and they can choose to leave. That it is the “4th Reich” and the “EUSSR” are easy, lazy and inaccurate criticisms – the truth is the EU cannot force a nation state to do anything; the UK has not been reduced to pleading “please Sir can I have some more?”, instead the UK chooses to be in this position.
And one of the fundamental reasons that the EU cannot force the UK, or any other member state, what to do is that it is not yet, as a project, complete. While the EU has steadily hollowed out member states’ institutions, it has not yet fully grasped the baton of power itself to the extent in most cases that there is no-one in charge and no-one in overall control. It’s still in a transitional phase, a halfway house where international and supranational EU bodies are at odds with each other, neither one nor the other. Nation state governments have been undermined, yet there is nothing functional to replace it. It’s a theme I’ve touched on before.
One is reminded of Christopher Booker from 2009 when writing about the flaws of the theory of evolution. I don’t intend in this piece to either agree or disagree with evolution but merely to highlight that this paragraph from Booker’s article which makes for a perfect metaphor of the current state of the EU:
Years ago, a good illustration of this was Attenborough himself claiming to ‘prove’ Darwin’s theory by showing us a mouse and a bat, explaining how one evolved into the other. He seemed oblivious to the obvious point that, as the mouse’s forelegs evolved by minute variations to wings, there must have been a long period when the creature, no longer with properly functioning legs but as yet unable to fly, was much less ‘adapted to survive’ than it had been before.
It makes for a wonderful analogy that can be applied to the progress of the EU; a project that has removed the “properly functioning legs” from its member states but as yet has not acquired the wings to enable it to fly, making it less adapted to survive. Nothing illustrates this better than the farce that is the Euro – a currency that needs political union to succeed but is unable to complete that very objective thus leaving it in limbo.
Such a mess arises from the strategy of integration by salami tactics and stealth – the implementation of the Monnet method – a tacit admission from Monnet himself that the project was always flawed. The creation of the European Council in 1974 was another admission of failure. Monnet’s frustration by the unwillingness of sovereign nations in giving up their power led to the establishment of the European Council as a mechanism to help “Europe through the difficult transition from national to collective sovereignty” – a process that was understood to be one way only. A process that is still ongoing albeit in fits and starts. Yet by trying to force onto a people an artificial system of government without taking them with you in terms of approval was always going to end in tears.
Ironically this “difficult transition” has led to precisely the kind of disorganization that Monnet hated. Early on in his biography he said:
[My father’s] view of mankind was optimistic, but I have not inherited it completely. Quite early in life, events taught me that human nature is weak and unpredictable without rules and institutions.
So it’s not suprising he concluded his biograghy thus:
“The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present: they cannot ensure their own progress or control their own future. And the Community itself is only a stage on the way to the organised world of tomorrow.”
So it comes to pass that Monnet who abhorred the concept of the nation state will, via his “pet project”, inadvertently reinvigorate nationalism across the EU and who, abhorred the natural somewhat chaotic democratic functions of every day life, will end up leaving behind a complete mess. If it wasn’t so serious, one would be highly amused by the irony.