19 December 2007

Europe in the vice.

The structure of the European Union is such that power will ebb inexorably away from national governments and flow to Brussels. European Union laws supersede national laws and can be enacted to some degree free of control by national legislatures. This bodes ill for Europe.

Any hope that there are strong constituencies within the European Union willing to safeguard democratic control of government cannot but be dashed when there is such evident contempt for voters in European political circles as evidenced by the manner in which they are attempting to implement the defunct E.U. Constitution.

First, the structure of the E.U. that facilitates centralization:
[L]aws 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”. . . . 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.[1]
The structure of the European Union thus favors a dangerous transfer of power to a Council of Ministers meeting and voting in secret.

The conduct of the E.U.'s proponents, as opposed to its structure, shows similar contempt for democratic governance. Witness the underhanded way in which the previously rejected-by-voters E.U. constitution is being foisted back on the people of Britain and Europe by merely breaking apart the same constitution and attaching those parts to existing treaties. This is being done by a process of amendment, which amendments deliberately use impenetrable hypertechnical language and require the interested observer to plough back through the extant treaties to understand how a disembodied amending provision relates back.

Then there's always the aboveboard contempt for European voters. From Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former president of France:
The rejection of the constitution [by the voters in referendums] was a mistake which will have to be corrected [by more sagacious people].[2]
"Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly [...] All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.[3]
This drift toward a powerful and unconstrained executive in the European Union is deathly serious. It is the opposite approach taken by our founding document, which should be as useful a guide to Europeans as it is -- or might be -- to us.

Alas, European political leaders now flirt with centralization of power in a manner demonstrating that the preeminent political lesson of the twentieth century was not learned. They thus risk laying the foundation for an oppressive superstate. How far this process will go before Europe slides back into black fascism or red fascism is no small question.

Tragically, at the same time, these political leaders remain blind to – or cowed by -- the totalitarian menace growing in their midst, but which has its roots not in the twentieth but in the seventh century.

Europe is now effectively caught between the arms of a vice.

[1] "Why Europe’s National Politicians Sign Away National Sovereignty." By John Laughland, The Brussels Journal, 12/19/07 (emphasis added).
[2] "The Betrayal of Freedom in Europe: Back in the EUSSR." The Brussels Journal, 12/19/07.
[3] Id. (Emphasis added.)

UPDATE (12/22/07):

It's hard to believe the open way in which the treaty amendment process is intended to be both as opaque as possible and a mechanism by which to avoid submitting the substances of the amendments to voter approval.
Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly [...] All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.
~ Giuliano Amato, former Italian Prime Minister and Vice-Chairman of the Convention which drew up the EU Constitution.

In fairness to him, the above does not signify that Mr. Amato approves of this backdoor way of getting the Constitution approved.

Several other people are quoted in the following source to the same effect but, as to them it is possible to tell that they approve of this mechanism.

Several European governments are positively intent on avoiding democratic procedures for effecting a major political change.

"The Cleavage Between the People and Their Governments." The Brussels Journal, 12/12/07.


Slartibartfas said...

While you are correct about the national executives becoming a legislative force on EU level you miss a very important point. (I am not a fan of that executive plays legislative thing btw)

What you miss is the European Parliament. When the Treaty of Lisbon gets confirmed and implemented by large only the foreign and defense policy remains an exception, in all the other fields without the support of the European Parliament the Council won't be able to pass any law at all. So in fact this national executive will only be one chamber of European legislation, the other chamber is a truly legislative institution which gets its legitimation through direct elections by the EU citizens.

In my opinion that downgrades the point you make significantly.

Col. B. Bunny said...

Thanks for your comment. I revised my post greatly. First to take out the stuff about American experience with government ignoring voters. Trying to knead that into the "Europe in a vice" post worked to attenuate my point too much. Second the remaining post needed some more work. You forced me to try to understand the workings of the E.U. more than I did though I'm not sure I've advanced much past that state of minimal understanding. I hope I don't have to do much more of that.

You raise an interesting point but I don't think it undercuts the point of my source, Mr. Laughland, which is mine.

It is not that the European Parliament can veto proposed legislation (or merely give an opinion about it in some cases). Rather it is that the Council of Ministers (or European Council if it is the heads of government who are meeting) can — meeting and voting in secret — further the advancement of E.U.-friendly legislation proposed by the European Commission, also a 27-member body. And, members of a national government, whether a minister or a head of government, can work to propose and advance measures that, if enacted by the E.U., will supersede national laws.

Would those officials be free of legislative oversight or control at the national level?

On the surface they would be subject to a no confidence vote or other less drastic control measures. However, would they be able to advance a government agenda (i.e., executive branch-only agenda, in our terminology) by subterfuge and collusion with like minded officials of other national governments? I have no doubt. Small size and secrecy do not make for candor and are rather more likely to facilitate corrupt political and economic agendas. Or non-national agendas. A minister could, for example, collude with a minister from another country to have him or her propose legislation distasteful to domestic constituencies. As Mr. Laughland writes, the national government can use plausible denial even with the parliament looking over its shoulder all the time.

If this is accurate, how likely is it that the European Parliament can be relied upon to veto E.U.-friendly legislation that is hostile to or supersedes (quaint, parochial, antiquated, discriminatory, or bigoted) national laws? Not very, in my view.

One American legal scholar whose name I can't recall observed that federal courts have invalidated state laws in vast numbers while hardly ever invalidating federal legislation. Theoretically, federal courts should not be predisposed one way or the other but in practice the institutional bias has worked to facilitate a one-way flow of power to the federal government at the expense of the states. What is there in the structure of the European Union that would give one confidence that a similar bias will not operate in favor of the extinguishments of national laws?

But, by way of emphasis, Mr. Laughland's point was not that there was no legislative counterbalance to the Council of Ministers. It was that national government leaders could work to enact E.U. legislation to achieve a domestic result more to their liking and yet accomplish this in a way that freed them to some degree from the normal legislative oversight we think of as desirable under a separation of powers approach. (Maybe the British don't use that term but the concept is valid nonetheless, even if their government arises from the ranks of the legislature.)

I consulted the Wikipedia entry for the European Union in responding to your comment.