By John Laughland
Created 2007-12-19 15:15
I have often compared the European Union to a cartel – a cartel of governments, engaged in a permanent conspiracy against their own electorates and parliaments. This analysis seems to have been dramatically confirmed by the Lisbon Treaty, signed last week, which replaces the defunct “constitution” rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005.
Although a lot of anti-EU rhetoric rightly concentrates on the overweening power of the unelected European Commission – which indeed generates far too many laws and has an institutional self-interest in augmenting its own power – what many Eurosceptics overlook is that European integration also, and crucially, favours the power of national governments over that of their respective national parliaments. Because laws in the EU are made by the Council of Ministers, i.e. the committee of 27 ministers for whichever subject is being voted on, EU integration means that governments receive wide-ranging law-making powers.
This is, of course, incompatible with the principle of the separation of powers. According to that principle, the executive power (the government) should be separate from, and accountable to, the legislature (the national parliament) and of course the judiciary. Dictatorship is precisely the form of government in which the executive is not so constrained, and this is also the case in the EU.
Because the EU represents a dramatic and constant transfer of legislative power from national legislatures to national executives (sitting in the Council of Ministers), it can also be dubbed “a permanent coup d’état” (to use the phrase François Mitterrand used in 1965 to attack the powers of the Fifth Republic, long before he was happy to wield them himself). The fact that the Council of Ministers, the EU’s legislature, meets and votes in secret only makes the fundamentally anti-democratic character of the European construction even clearer.
It is for this simple reason that all establishment politicians, whether of Left or Right, are in favour of the EU. It increases their power and their room for manoeuvre. How much easier it is to pass laws in a quiet and secret meeting with your twenty-seven colleagues, than it is to do so in front of a fractious parliament where there is usually an in-built opposition which will attack whatever you do! How much more comfortable to engage in a bit of mild horse-trading with like-minded politicians from other countries, than to have to argue your case in the glare of public criticism! How much better to be able to vote an unpopular law and then blame “Europe” for it instead!
For many decades, this conspiracy worked wonderfully, mainly because Europe adopted and stuck to the so-called “Monnet method”. Named after the European Community’s brilliant if vain founder, Jean Monnet, the Monnet method consists in sapping power away from national parliaments on the quiet. This is achieved by pretending that the powers thus alienated are non-political – technical things like coal and steel, the common market, the single currency. This impression that the powers transferred are merely technical is reinforced by the fact that the transfers are usually effected by means of impenetrable treaties written in a language no one can understand.
There have been only two occasions when this principle has been abandoned, and on both occasions it had led to failure. The first was after the signature of the Maastricht treaty in December 1991. That treaty was conceived as a geopolitical quid pro quo for German unification: France agreed to the reunification of Germany on the basis that it would subsume its deutsche mark hegemony into that of the euro. In other words, it was a big political project which was presented to the electorate as such and as a great leap forward for European unification in general. It was rejected by Danish voters in June 1992. France responded by declaring that she too would hold a referendum, which in turn was very nearly rejected in September of that year. The Danes were forced to vote again in 1993, and so Europe’s pet project, the euro, passed by only a whisker.
The second time that Europe announced a big political project was when it drew up the constitution. However little interest people took in the details of treaty law, the word “constitution” was politically resonant. It focussed attention on the federal vocation of the EU, hitherto hidden from view by the Monnet method. People understood that it meant the permanent alienation of power from their nation-states, but it also allowed people to project their other worries clearly onto the EU, especially about excessive deregulation, competition from cheap labour countries in Eastern Europe, and of course the prospect of a new wave of immigration from Turkey if ever that country is admitted as an EU member.
Voters in France and the Netherlands, two founder members of the EU, therefore rejected the proposed constitution.
As a result of that rejection, Europe’s leaders have now decided to put behind them their foolish flirtation with democracy and return instead to the tried and tested method of doing things behind closed doors. Rather than announcing a big political project in a language which most people can understand, the new Lisbon Treaty goes back to the old method of formulating only amendments to previous treaties. You simply cannot understand the text unless you go back through the previous treaties to see what articles are amended, which few people have the time or the inclination to do.
Whereas the constitution at least had the merit of clarity, the new treaty displays all the old EU vices of opacity and legalese. This is quite deliberate. Europe’s leaders know that such a difficult text will never attract the same hostility as the old constitution because it is simply too difficult to understand.
How do we know that this is deliberate? We know because the author of the defunct constitution, the former French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, has told us so. In an article in Le Monde in October, Giscard wrote that the new treaty had been composed “by jurists” who had taken the content of the old constitution and simply re-formulated it in terms of amendments to existing treaties. “They started with the text of the constitution,” he wrote, “took its elements apart one by one, and made them correspond by means of amendments to the two existing treaties, Rome (1957) and Maastricht (1992) […] What is the purpose of this subtle manoeuvre? First and above all to escape from the constraint of having to hold a referendum by dispersing the articles and by renouncing the constitutional vocabulary.”
As I say, the EU is a cartel of governments and a conspiracy by them against their electorates. It is an affront to democracy and should be dissolved.