February 27, 2005
Will Europe be democratic?By James Lewis
Following President Bush's trip to Europe this past week, a journey to promote democracy in Russia and the Islamic world, he might also want to turn his attention to the rapid decline of popular government in Europe. Strangely enough, the autocrats of the European Union seem determined to rule millions of lives without bothering with trivia like popular elections.��
Janet Daley of the London Telegraph wrote recently that
'Europe does not have a deep commitment to democracy, at least not in the sense that the English—speaking tradition understands it. ... I do believe that the democratic experiment in continental Europe, begun just over 200 years or so ago, is coming to a close.'���
In fact, the European Union openly admits that it has a 'democracy deficit' ——— but it is in no hurry to fix it. The truth is that the elites who run the EU look down on their own populations and even fear them. In the national memories of France and Germany, political stability has always come through authoritarian control. But if the EU grows into an autocratic state with half a billion people, the consequences may not be good. (Link to previous article).
Karl Zinsmeister notes that
'To American eyes, the most striking aspect of the European Union is its undemocratic nature. The EU apparatus is exceedingly closed and secretive. Relatively few of the confederation's important decisions are currently made by democratically accountable officials. On front after front, bureaucratic mandarins are deciding how everyday Europeans will live.�� ... Many Europeans, in a way Americans find impossible to understand, are willing to let their elites lead them by the nose. There is a kind of peasant mentality under which their "betters" are allowed to make the important national judgments for them.'
Zinsmeister quotes British journalist Clive Crook as saying that "Europe's leaders see themselves as wise parents, and their citizens as children."�
For only one example, when Denmark voted in 2000 against adopting the euro as its new currency, the European Union simply told the Danes to vote again until they got it right. It seems that the EU will not fix its 'democracy deficit,' because doing so would limit the power of the new ruling class.
Even the British Left is sometimes outraged by such contempt for accountability. Gisela Stuart, a Labour MP, was infuriated by what she saw at the EU Constitutional Convention:
"The process in the Convention was itself riddled with imperfections and moulded by a largely unaccountable political elite, set on a particular outcome from the very start. ...� Just precisely who drafted the skeleton, and when, is still unclear to me, but I gather much of the work was done by V�lery Giscard d'Estaing and Sir (John) Kerr over the summer." (boldface added)
Stuart maintains that the EU Constitution is largely 'designed to meet the inclinations and ambitions of its bureaucrats and politicians." (boldface added)�
In the upshot, only two people drafted the basic EU Constitution. Giscard, the former President of France, is all in favor of the EU as long as it is allows France to play a bigger role on the world stage.� Sir John Kerr is a career diplomat ——— think Sir Humphrey Appleby in the BBC television series Yes, Minister! ——— who consulted with Giscard, no doubt with the support of Britain's Labour Party. The aim: To write the EU Constitution in such a way that Britain would consent to surrender to the Continent.
The motivation of the Labour Party� is clear. Much as Americans admire Tony Blair, his party has been a hotbed of socialist fantasies for a century. In spite of the failure of the Soviet Union and the endless welfare mess in France and Britain, today the Labour Left still believes that all nation—states should submit to a new international elite. That seems to be why no one seems to care much about the undemocratic nature of the EU.� Possibly Tony Blair believes that the EU's 'democracy deficit' can be fixed once Britain is inside the parlor. But there is something very seductive about total control: once politicians have it, they are not likely to give it up without a fight. By current trends, the European Union will therefore simply turn into Super—France: elitist, cynically corrupt and with a giant anti—American chip on its shoulder.
France and its partners are obsessed with beating back the United States. That is why Europe has financed the biggest passenger airplane in the world, the Airbus A380. Europhiles are celebrating today, because the A380 is bigger than the Boeing 747, just as they adored the Concorde as the fastest passenger plane in the world. The fact that it flopped commercially was simply beside the point. recently,�the AP reported that Europe was demanding� that Thailand buy six A380s at a cost of almost two and a half billion dollars. If the Thais balked, Europe threatened to retaliate by raising tariffs on Thai imports.
That may be a crude violation of free trade treaties, but the important thing today is European pride ——— or rather, its need to overcome a nagging sense of inferiority. The Continent has the smell of greatness in its nostrils again, and it is simply aching to swing more clout in the world.
Americans sometimes forget that Europe is not just a charming place to visit. It is also the home of all the totalitarian creeds of the 20th century, from fascism to Marxism. Hitler came of age in the intellectual caf�s of Vienna, Lenin in St. Petersburg and Geneva, and Pol Pot in Paris. All three emerged from the Bohemian life with a burning mission to change the world, using the sledgehammer of the state without mercy; all three left an inconceivable trail of human suffering in their wake. European totalitarianism was driven by sheer egomania, a craving to be master of the world.� Yet in spite of that bloody track record, Marxism is still the dominant political faith in Europe. That fact should make us wonder ——— is the EU quite as tolerant and peace—loving as it claims to be?� Or are we seeing a slicker socialist command state in the making?
By comparison to the European Continent, the English—speaking world has been consistently more humane, even with all its historical flaws and blunders. Mark Steyn recently argued that
'the British ...language, culture and law have been the single greatest force for good in this world.'�
That may not be a popular opinion, but the historical evidence is compelling. The key British political contribution, of course, is the understanding that highly concentrated power must be balanced. Jonathan Swift wrote that
'All government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.'
On the Continent, on the other hand, the ruling elites merely believe they are now finally getting it right. Stalin may have made a few mistakes, and even Hitler went off the deep end, but now, now we know how to Save the Planet. Europe's new aristocracy deserves its power because it is wiser, more caring and much smarter than the rest of us.
But all ruling classes seem to share share that conceit. North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong—il� probably feels convinced of his own wisdom and benevolence. The emerging EU has no effective internal controls, no balance of powers, and no accountability. By Anglo—American standards it looks like a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Whether Europe will be democratic is therefore a critical question. The first reality test comes�as the EU Constitution comes up for a popular referendum in several countries.� A week ago Sunday, Spain voted yes on it. Even though the EU does not consider the referendum to be binding (and most EU Commissioners have sworn to ignore it) the vote will mark a watershed: for the first time, ordinary people are being�asked if they really want their new all—powerful Euro—government. A No vote might be a signal to the new aristocracy to come up with a more balanced and democratic constitution. Tony Blair's� Labour Party is betting on a Yes vote, meaning the end of British sovereignty, and therefore the death knell for the Atlantic Alliance. The EU Constitution would lock in a new autocratic superstate.
Before the end of 2007 we will know whether Europe will grow toward democracy, or whether it might just begin to slip backwards to its bloody past.
[For more on this topic, see the views of a British Conservative Member of Parliament.]