The EU dictatorship they want but won't get
There are powerful forces in the EU pushing for a dictatorship, which is what political union would ultimately mean. They won't succeed but they may cause havoc in the attempt
Democracy in Europe is a fragile thing, just a couple of decades old in the continent's centre and east; only a few decades more than that in most of the rest. Only a fool with no sense of history would dismiss the possibility that authoritarianism could reassert itself, or that European soil is anything other than fertile ground for it to grow in.
So, it should be no surprise that highly authoritarian forces are attracted to the continent's most ambitious bid for supranational power since the end of the Soviet empire. Where else would they go? To some small country on the periphery? Why bother when the whole kit and caboodle is there for the taking in Brussels? Before you dismiss this as eurosceptic hysteria, just think about it. Ponder the logic.
A European Union of any description -- even the kind of loose association of states that we could theoretically live with -- would run the risk of generating a gravitational pull for authoritarianism. Authoritarian power cannot exist on a purely conceptual level. It needs a place to grow and people and, ultimately, institutions to nurture it.
Without coming within a million miles of being explicit about it, that was what European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding was on about yesterday in Cambridge.
"There is a strong case for a true fiscal and ultimately political union. In my personal view, the eurozone should become the United States of Europe," she said, while acknowledging Britain would not be part of it.
Political union must mean a form of dictatorship since power would be removed from the nation state -- the only political construct with a meaningful demos -- and placed in a no man's land dominated by the bureaucracy. This point surfaces now and again, but is rarely internalised. It needs to be.
If you don't have a demos -- a people with a shared sense of identity and destiny -- you cannot have a democracy. Poles, Danes, Germans, Italians etc do not have mutually comprehensible languages; they do not read each others' newspapers or watch each others' TV shows; their daily news agendas are dominated by different items, discussed by different people.
They share in common what wealthy middle class societies share in common the world over -- nothing more, nothing less, and nothing remotely approximating to a sense of shared peoplehood, a demos.
It isn't usually the done thing to accuse one's political opponents of stupidity, but you would need to be remarkably stupid or ignorant not to understand that point. And, in fact, we're not accusing anyone of being stupid or ignorant.
It's just a matter of values. We stand for democracy. Viviane Reding et al do not. They essentially distrust the various European peoples and believe that unless power is removed from their grasp they will misuse it. That is what is behind the endless references from senior European figures to the prospect of war should the dream of an ever closer union fail to materialise.
Strictly speaking, this isn't scaremongering. They truly believe it. And they believe it because at a fundamental level they do not share with true democrats the belief that the people can be trusted to be their own masters. On the contrary, left to their own devices ordinary Europeans are barbarians who will kill each other if they have the power to do so. Hence Brussels, and hence the dream of political union.
They're highly unlikely to get it of course. Even Reding accepts that Britain and some others would not join in. What she probably underestimates is how damaging the eurozone crisis has been to confidence in the deep integrationist project more broadly. Even Germany and France have seen an upsurge in euroscepticism. Without them, the dream is dead in the water.
What we should be more worried about is how much damage could be done in the attempt. From the repeat referendums in Ireland, through the ones that were ignored in France and the Netherlands right up to the contemptuous response to Switzerland's vote to restore immigration controls earlier this month, everything points in the same authoritarian direction.
The europhiles are destined for permanent frustration, but they plainly won't give up. Even getting half of what they want will entail a further hollowing out of national democracy and an ever longer catalogue of anti-democratic precedents.
That's the real danger; not that they succeed, but that they cause havoc just by trying.
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