Montesquieu

Do you believe in Europe?

 

« L’Europe est un État composé des plusieurs provinces »

“Europe is a State composed of several provinces”

(Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu)

 

 

In times like these, in which even the granting of an award to the EU is criticized by many people (why so late? Do our current leaders deserve this award? Is not it a devaluated award?), I think it is a good exercise to meditate a little on where we were, where we are and where we might be in other circumstances.

 

With this idea in my mind, today (October 23) I read in The Times:

The Foreign Secretary will travel to Berlin to say that public disillusionment with the EU in Britain “is the deepest it has ever been”. People regarded the EU as a one-way process, “a great machine that sucks up decision-making” from national parliaments to Brussels.

That needs to change,” he will say. “If we cannot show that decision-making can flow back to national parliaments then the system will become democratically unsustainable.”

 

Democratically unsustainable. I find it curious, because the same democratic rules that we use to choose our national parliaments are the democratic rules that we use to choose the European Parliament. That is to say, universal and direct suffrage, in which the same people who can vote in national elections, can vote in European elections. Thus, firstly, EU Institutions in Brussels have the same “legitimacy” to exercise its powers as the national governments do in London, Paris or Berlin.

 

The real problem is to decide whether the politicians in Brussels represent us well enough or not, and that is probably what the UK Foreign Secretary is actually thinking. I put myself in his shoes and I understand his doubts. But let us consider briefly his proposal. What then would be the solution? To flow back the decision-making to national parliaments, of course, to increase democratic power. But by the same reasoning, why not giving the decision-making in main areas (health, education, economy, employment) to regions and provinces within countries? Undoubtedly, we should do it, to increase even more democratic power. And later, shouldn’t we give full powers to our local politicians, those closest to citizens, to maximize the power of democracy? Yes, we certainly should.

 

What is the end of the story? The end of the story is the beginning of the story. We Europeans have already been there, from medieval times to 19th century, and we know the experience was not good: a small town or village in which a mayor or similar, often with little training and knowledge (and very often badly influenced by a local cacique), had full power to do and undo at will. Well, in fact we have visited again that dark place in recent times, considering that the main cases of excessive public spending (and corruption) have appeared in the local government level.

 

This is not to say that several government areas should not be decentralized: this is to say that there are a lot of them in which we need international deals. I sincerely believe, when people blame EU of all our ills, we are losing the overall view, the view that allowed us to reach an unprecedented agreement to establish the basis of peaceful coexistence in the fifties and to continue growing and improving our quality of life for more than sixty years. Why not force our politicians and diverse parties to share ideas internationally and to agree to find the best solutions for all of us? Of course it is not easy to achieve, but it is much more reasonable than go back to past times and emptying EU Institutions of decision-making powers.

 

While I digest the previous news, I find another striking one, on the cover of The Times too, coincidentally very close to the other. We can read in the section “Remember them”:

Oldest surviving Battle of Britain pilot dies aged 99

The oldest surviving Battle of Britain pilot has died 72 years after he narrowly escaped death when his Spitfire was shot down over the English Channel…

 

Remember them.

 

By the way, can you imagine how was the news in Europe sixty years ago?

Do not imagine, please, come with me and take a look

 

Top news in Europe in October 1942:

– Allied bomb several Greek ports.

– It begins German offensive against Stalingrad.

– RAF bomb Aachen.

– Germans bomb Malta.

– British bomb Cologne.

– Reprisals in the Netherlands for acts of resistance.

– British bomb Genoa, Turin and Milan.

– Germans bomb Canterbury.

 

Remember them.

 

They are quite different from some news I have read in the media these days.

EU summit: old friends agree truce to trigger banks bailout

Germany and France last night smoothed over a dispute…

The Times (UK)

 

Italian base in Antarctica restarts its activity

A group of Italian and French technicians will be transferred on November 6 at the base of the French-Italian Concordia Station.

Corriere della Sera (Italy)

 

Spain, France and Italy have agreed to exchange organs for donations chain

The creation of this “common area” in southern Europe will multiply the chances of finding a suitable donor…

ABC (Spain)

 

So now we have Germany and France, two old friends. French-Italian concordia. A common area between several countries to help each other. It sounds pretty good. And honestly we can only blame one: the European Union. Probably it is not such a bad idea to award the Nobel Prize to the EU, for its achievements over all these years. And for what it is still achieving today.

 

I think British citizens should keep convinced of the advantages of our common project, as convinced as when they decided to join EU in 1973.

 

Remember them.

 

And shouldn’t be the mission of our politicians to remind people the progress made (e.g. “hey, now we do not need passports, visas and works permits to go abroad”), encouraging us to move forward together, instead of repeating and amplifying complaints (“oh, here the desillusionment is the deepest”)?

 

We need UK in the European Union and we need them in a leading role which they are not playing for now. Talking to people from different countries, we can check that we not only use English language as the main communication tool in the EU, but we also love British contribution to the European way of thinking, to our political and economic history, in addition to countless things: their culture, their cinema, their music. We definately need more UK.

 

What can I say to British citizens and all other European disillusioned who are reading me?

 

Maybe only two words: remember them.

 

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Related links:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article3576471.ece

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/economics/article3573019.ece

http://www.abc.es/20121010/sociedad/abci-espana-francia-italia-donaciones-201210092202.html

 

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Comments

  1. Montesquieu/Jose,

    I enjoyed reading your clear and straight forward argument about the benefits of the EU, which are clearly sincere.

    I would ask you however to revisit and reflect on a few of your points and arguments to understand why so many of the people of the UK are very unhappy with the status quo in the EU.

    The ‘Nobel Peace Prize’. Yes EU politicians deserve their share of the kudos but remember there was a ‘Cold War’ from the end of WWII until around 1991 when self interest NATO and the USA would require an honourable mention!

    William Hague said: “This Coalition Government is committed to Britain playing a leading role in the EU but…disillusionment with the EU in Britain is the deepest it has ever been.
    “People feel the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say.”

    “People regarded the EU as a one-way process, “a great machine that sucks up decision-making” from national parliaments to Brussels”.

    Unfortunately he is correct and this is exacerbated by trying to fix the current disaster that is the Euro. The introduction of the Euro was mismanaged from its inception and to fix it will require banking and political union. Many in Britain feel threatened by this and fear what may become of them if they get swallowed up and diluted in a Federal state which has 500 heading to 600 million people.

    This not what we thought we were joining back in 1973 and indeed when the referendum was held in1975 we were told ‘don’t worry, it’s a trading club’.

    You can blame (or thank) the British media (printed and electronic) for informing a knowledgeable but eurosceptic British public about the lack of democracy in the EU. Yes we have the opportunity to vote for MEP’s but do remember they are pretty anonymous, useless and irrelevant. Europe does not attract a high calibre of politician. After watching the parliament on TV I would suggest that is true for most countries.

    You say quote
    I find it curious, because the same democratic rules that we use to choose our national parliaments are the democratic rules that we use to choose the European Parliament. That is to say, universal and direct suffrage, in which the same people who can vote in national elections, can vote in European elections. Unquote.

    This is very true but bearing in mind the electorates low opinion of European politicians, who cannot propose legislation, what’s the point? Let us now turn to the EU commission and discuss how democratic that is! Commissioners are appointed by Prime Ministers and Presidents and can therefore be regarded as a form of Nepotism or Crony-ism.

    Take our own Baroness Ashton as an example; appointed to the House of Lords by Prime Minister Tony Blair and then appointed as a Commissioner to replace Lord Mandelson to become the High Commissioner for the EEAS, earning more than the President of the USA! She may well be a very nice person but she has never been elected to any job in her life. Now that is democratic!

    It is my understanding that only the President of the Commission can get rid of a Commissioner (with good reason) or the EU parliament can vote for a change of the whole Commission. A bit drastic. Throw in the Community Method and you have something so foreign to the British people and indeed most of Europe. Ask yourself this question, if you started on this journey 50 or 60 years ago would you still have arrived in the same place? I hope not!
    You say quote What is the end of the story? The end of the story is the beginning of the story. We Europeans have already been there, from medieval times to 19th century, and we know the experience was not good. Unquote.

    Jose, we have all moved on and I believe that we should look forward with hope and enthusiasm for ourselves and our Children and not be hampered by negativity and fear from the past.

    You are are of course entitled to your view but maybe the best way forward for the UK is to flatten the decision making process and return decisions like law and order, border control, human rights, fishing and agriculture, banking etc. etc. to the national level. If our friends in Europe are not prepared to allow this under the rules then let us negotiate in the friendliest possible way a new agreement or our exit from the EU. Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is required to negotiate an alternative deal with any state that gives notice of its intention to leave.

    You say quote
    By the way, can you imagine how was the news in Europe sixty years ago?
    Do not imagine, please, come with me and take a look…
     Top news in Europe in October 1942: unquote
    It made interesting reading Jose but it was actually seventy years ago.
    As you rightly point out we are coming up to “Remembrance Day” when we will Remember Them.
    Not only will we remember British, Commonwealth and USA losses in the two Great World Wars but also the brave fallen heros from conflicts upto the present day. It is only my point of view but it is possibly time to remember all the fallen from all conflicts in Europe.

    You say quote
    I think British citizens should keep convinced of the advantages of our common project, as convinced as when they decided to join EU in 1973. Unquote Thank you for that but I think we will struggle on that one. Just a point to remember, no one in the UK under the age of 55 has had a chance to vote on the EU.

    Best Regards

    George Mc

    1. Dear George Mc,

      Thanks for your comprehensive comment and for your good summary of the British point of view.

      I agree with you in many aspects. I am sure that you and I, and all our readers, we could give a thousand examples of politicians who do not represent us well enough, holding a job (and earning a salary) they do not deserve. Unfortunately. But that is as good argument for eliminating EU politicians as for national ones, or for any other level of government. On the contrary, I know some of them who really work hard for their region and country, as well as for Europe, doing great things for human rights, free movement of people and goods, common market or social policy. Even some of them are bloggers in Blogactiv.eu and we can follow their interesting proposals here (fortunately for us all, they write much better than I do…).

      In any case, the method of election of EU politicians seems to me more consensual than in any other organization in the world: following your example, the Commissioners are proposed by the Council, it is true, but later they should be elected by the Parliament, the chamber of direct representation of European citizens.

      Regarding the legislative power, it is currently shared between the Institutions of the EU: Commission proposes laws and Parliament and Council, by consensus (previously named “codecision procedure”, now “ordinary legislative procedure”), approve them. Many people think that the Parliament has still a weak power, but it is not so, their decisions affect us more than we think. Here we can see for example the opinion of Professor Farrell, University of Manchester (by the way, another great UK contribution to our EU team), what is mentioned in Wikipedia, in the European Parliament article: “The EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world”, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?language=EN&type=IM-PRESS&reference=20070615IPR07837

      On my little reminder of past wartime, I must admit that (as this is my first post here) I wanted to add a slight “dramatic literary touch”… I hope you and the rest of my readers are not very strict with me about it.

      About the main point of your comment, the possible greater distancing of UK, or its eventual exit from EU, of course I think nobody could or should try to force UK or another country to stay in the EU, if its citizens do not want (on the other hand, I would not want someone in my football team who is not comfortable with the others). But I really believe that, even if I were British, I would not see how raising again borders could help neither my economy nor my society. To have frontiers does not benefit anyone, and harm a lot of people and many businesses. Let us consider for a moment, although its situation and history are quite different, the case of the U.S.: does anyone think that if every State had a different policy (economic, financial, commercial, banking), sometimes even contradictory ones, they could recover more quickly from the crisis?

      I am pretty sure that if the referendum (EU yes/no) were held in UK now, the result would be overwhelmingly negative. But keep in mind that the last referendum on the European Constitution held in France and the Netherlands, two countries “founders” of the EU, was also negative. In my humble opinion, in both cases the reason is more a punishment vote (probably deserved) against some decisions of our current politicians than a proof that people do not believe in the idea of a united Europe anymore or they have lost their ties with other European citizens, that I am firmly convinced we have them and our ties are strong.

      These are difficult times and many people want to run away, it is to a large extent understandable. My thinking aloud is: are we sure in what direction we want to go?

      Best regards,

      Montesquieu

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