Can the technocratic, bureaucratic, EU ever be reconciled with any meaningful concept of democracy?

The rhetoric of ‘Nationalism” and ‘Internationalism’ are both equally misleading and irrelevant to the true debate about the EU. On the one side the “Internationalists’ try to portray the British as ‘brutish’ and the ‘Europeans’ as, oh, so, civilised. On the other side, the ‘Nationalists’ raise the spectres of the trustworthy English ‘Tommy’ and the duplicitous, conniving, “foreigners’. Both of these views are of course romantic nonsense.

Romantic notions of Beethoven, the Sistine Chapel, French bistros and villas in Tuscany, must not blind us to the European capacity for brutality and totalitarianism. The European ‘Enlightenment’ is a romantic fantasy emphatically contradicted by history. Remember that in the 20th Century ‘Europe’ launched two of the most brutal wars in human history within 30 years of each other, and that Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy all had fascistic, militaristic, dictatorships in my lifetime!

And equally nonsensical is the idea of British Exceptionalism, which is a piece of Victorian propaganda used to justify a brutal colonial Empire and the enslavement of hundreds of millions across the world. Apart from this Imperial period of 200 years from 1750-1950, the UK has been a minor player in both world and European affairs, and quite rightly so.

History shows us that the British are not ‘exceptionally’ cultured, civilised, moral or competent but that neither are the ‘Europeans’.

History also shows us that concentrated ‘power’ and the quest for power, always, always corrupts human beings and always, always leads to war, famine, murder and destruction. History also show us that the more centralised that power is, the more dangerous it becomes and that, ‘democracy’ is the most important mechanism humans have ever devised for limiting the worst effects of the destructive but all too human’ will to power’.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Lord Acton

The central issue regarding the EU is whether the technocratic, bureaucratic, EU can ever be reconciled with any meaningful concept of democracy.

The EU as currently constituted is a profoundly undemocratic institution and yet has primacy over the elected governments of the nations in the EU, this cannot be right. The European Parliament which is elected has effectively no power, and the unelected European Commission has almost unlimited power. We fought for 300 years for universal suffrage and equality under the law and now we have handed sovereignty to an entirely unelected body?

The EU was founded in 1951 as a price-fixing cartel, The European Coal And steel Community, and true to it’s roots, since 2008 it has demonstrated just how embedded it is as an enforcing institution of Global neoliberal capitalism. The profoundly undemocratic imposition of ‘austerity’ on Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy after the financial crash has dispelled any illusions about the true nature of the EU.

Indeed, one of the main arguments from the Left in favour of the EU confirms the profoundly undemocratic, not to say anti-democratic nature of the EU. The argument goes that because EU laws and regulations override UK law, we are ‘protected’ from the brutality of our own Tory government by the EU’s laws on workers rights and the European Court Of Human Rights. This is profoundly undemocratic because the argument assumes it is okay for non-elected technocrats in Brussels to be able to override the UK Parliament – and implicit in the argument for many on the Left, is the idea that these ‘European’ bureaucrats are inherently more liberal, civilised and benign than our own electorate (who elect the government) and will ‘always’ be so. Yet even a cursory look at history, even recent history, must disabuse us of that notion.

It also ignores the fact that if a Left-leaning government in the UK wanted for example, to re-nationalise the Railways or water and power, EU laws would prevent it from doing so. The EU is imposing a particular economic and political view upon the Nations within it regardless of the democratic processes taking place within those countries.

And in any event, EU laws on workers rights are not inspired by civilised or benign motives; they are about creating a ‘level playing field’ for employers across the EU to aid competition. They are also very, very weak. The EU Working Time Directive is for example, barely worth the paper it is written on and normalises a 48 hour working work, after 200 years of working class struggle to establish the 40 hour week as the norm. But any left-leaning government in the UK could not ‘improve’ on the provisions of the EU Working Time Directive because the logic of the single market demands equality of regulation across the EU.

The ex Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has had direct experience of the technocratic, bureaucratic EU imposing it’s will against the clearly expressed democratic will of the Greek people. He recognises the democratic deficit in the EU but regards the end of the EU as potentially the prequel to another European war. So Varoufakis, who I have a lot of time for, is arguing that the EU needs completely rebuilding as a democratic institution.

[Incidentally, Varoufakis is sometimes described as an ‘advisor’ to Jeremy Corbyn, and Corbyn has clearly adopted this ‘democratising’ the EU line as the central idea that enables him to campaign for the UK to stay in the EU, despite his own misgivings as demonstrated by his mixed voting record on the issue.]

But for democracy to be meaningful it has to participatory, deliberative and discursive and be as devolved and localised (rather than centralised) as is practically possible. Seats of democratic power that are geographically and culturally divorced from those they are supposed to represent are ineffective – hence the call for more and more devolved democracy within the UK.

Thus I would argue that a ‘democratic’ EU is a contradiction in terms – such a huge institution, representing such diverse peoples can never be ‘democratic’ in any meaningful sense. In practice, and at best, EU ‘democracy’ can only ever be symbolic.

I also think there is very little in the history of the institution to suggest that there is even any will to ‘democratise’ the EU or even if it is constitutionally possible. Thus I think Varoufakis’ mission to democratise the EU is admirable but both doomed to failure and undesirable   The EU is a despotic expression of elite power that in my view cannot be ‘reformed’.

But without such a ‘democratising’ plan the EU will remain a technocratic, bureaucratic, capitalist dictatorship and I cannot support that based on some romantic notion of how civilised the ‘Europeans’ are compared to us brutish Brits.

So, at the minute I’m voting ‘out’.






About I Am Not A Number

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders. In 2008 he was appointed as the Senior Lecturer in Recorded Media in the School Of Music & Performing Arts at Bath Spa University. He currently presents, Agitpop, a pop & politics radio discussion programme on North Cotswold Community Radio He is currently the Communications Officer for UCU at Bath Spa University and a UCU SW Regional Rep at SWTUC.
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2 Responses to Can the technocratic, bureaucratic, EU ever be reconciled with any meaningful concept of democracy?

  1. Ed says:

    I was interested in this article, at the moment I am still uncertain how I will vote, but if you are right when you say the EU is able to prevent a potential re-nationalisation of the Utilities and Railways et al. by a future Labour govt, something I have campaigned and argued for over many years, that would make my mind up as to which way to go. How do you think Jeremy squares that? with his obvious sympathy for returning all the privatised industries to public ownership I would have thought the EU point would have outweighed any faint hope of ‘democratisation. I will certainly try to get an answer from one of the 12 year old’s who surround our party leaders now, even Jeremy judging by the quality of some of the emails I receive from his office.

  2. Here’s some more info on the nationalisation issue:

    Corbyn himself is obviously torn by the EU issue:

    My own interpretation is that Corbyn simply felt he could not yet again publicly stand against policy decided by the Party before he became leader. He knew the Tories are split on the issue so by backing the Labour Party policy and avoiding a split Corbyn has bought himself some time.

    Interestingly, Corbyn himself always refers to the Varoufakis ‘democracy’ agenda when discussing the EU Referendum. This is good because it enables him to trash Cameron’s silly ‘negotiations’ while remaining critical of the undemocratic nature of the EU but still hold the Party line of voting ‘in’. Thus for him it is an ‘honourable’ compromise.

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