Πέμπτη 24 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Democratization of Europe

 by Nicholas Biniaris
Professor Varoufakis gave an interview which gives me the chance to address two issues about Europe’s democratic deficit, upon which he builds a case for his new political movement. His project is about the possibility of changing Europe in a radical way without destroying a united (of sorts) continent.
Let us review some well-known objections to the democratic character of the European project: The British want to get out of the EU because the Brussels’ bureaucrats issues fatwas-like Directives which have nothing to do with the will or the needs of the British people. The legal constrains for the membership in the EU are undemocratic because they are taken by non-sovereign bodies of appointed officials. The people of Greece, Portugal, or even Italy or Spain, believe that their will about the economy, unemployment or debt was never heard in Brussels and the European body of leaders. High politics, lobbies and power politics of Germany, France or Britain have excluded the participation of public opinion from the decision-making processes of the EU. The people are disenfranchised. Democratic Europe is a sham.
On the other hand the millions of refugees and job-seekers from Asia and Africa flock in Europe. Dissidents from authoritarian regimes seek safety in Europe. The home turf of most NGO is in Europe as most of the institutions upholding human rights. Here we see hundreds of demonstrations all year round against governments’ policies, or for support of movements in other countries or for the protection of the environment. It seems as if all these plus the Universities, media, the blogs, the internet, the social media which are free to present and communicate all sorts of criticisms and opposition to political decisions or objections to opinions circulating on any subject under the sun aren’t enough to certify the EU as a democratically working entity.
All the above facts don’t quenched the thirst for democracy of those who abhor the “authoritarian” Leviathan of Brussels or the European Council. The view that the institutions of the EU are less democratic than the national institutions of the member states is right up to the extent that the bureaucrats aren’t accountable to a body of voters but play the role of cogs as parts of a self-aggrandizing machine. However, before we seek to democratize Europe we have to keep in mind the following.
The first is that any competent reader and student of the EU history is aware of the process of Europe’s “unification”. Never was this based upon a commonly understood democratic bottom-up process. What actually was the case was a functionalistic plan under which democratically elected governments decided to accept and legally enact certain policies related to matters of production in Europe or the way the market functioned in the 50s. Later on they formed, through various treaties, the rules for these markets to function in a much broader context of states and global competition. These governments had the legal right to come to international agreements about trade, economic co-operation and common legal grounds for executing those treaties. 
Europe had democratically elected governments that came in agreement over the Coal and Steel Industries and the free movement of goods services and people across the borders of the national entities in question. No doubt paleo-Marxists, anti-capitalists of all colors could and still do denounce the view that   Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg, as the original six state entities to initiate the EEC historical experiment, were or are democratic. This radical view still seem to be part of the substratum of the well-advertised complaint expressed with the slogan: “democratic deficit of Europe”.
The functional approach to the European unification was used after the attempts to establish a federal Europe, a genuine functioning democracy, failed. As a matter of fact the proof is in the avoidance of the French Parliament to discuss the federal remaking of Europe in 1954, and the French rejection of a common European armed forces with Germany. It was also demonstrated by the recent rejection of the European Constitution by France and Netherlands. The French democracy was not that keen for a real European political integration. At the same time in Greece today, as in other economically strapped countries, the critics of the Troika and the Memorandum cry for the lost Greek sovereignty that all of a sudden became the Holy Grail of both the easily excitable Left and the habitually incoherent and nostalgic nationalists.
This brings up the second point at hand which deals with the causes of the failure of EU’s democratization.  I’ll argue that the real problem of Europe isn’t its democratic deficit construed by some conspiratorial group of heinous elites who planned to keep the masses down.  It is rather its democratic overdetermination. Europe was and still is too democratic and less democratic at the same time. What is actually happening is that there is a democracy distribution curve which is lopsided and biased.
The European nation-states have 28 different constitutions, England doesn’t have one, 28 different electoral systems and different systems of electing heads of states. France has a powerful President, Greece a personal Primenisterial democracy and Holland in contradistinction a multi-party government with a totally controlled prime-minister. This conundrum of democracies, different electoral systems and distinct political cultures, is the real cause of the lack of an overall democratic process for the EU.  
We demand democratization of Europe among existing democratically elected governments that obstruct the possibility of democracy in Europe as a whole. The examples of the economic crisis and the ongoing historical problem of the Asian and African refugees and economic immigrants are the epitome of this problem.
Let us expand upon this. When the sovereign debt crisis broke out accompanied by the banks’ bankruptcies and vice versa, the most democratic measure would have been for all governments to go to their parliament and discuss openly the problem, and at the same time to bring the whole issue up in the European parliament. All these bodies are democratically elected and include representatives from the whole spectrum of politics. Instead, the inter-governmental bodies of Brussels got together to asses costs and benefits and decide upon the rescue plan for Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and later on Cyprus and Malta. It was at this point that the critics of the austerity plan focus their criticism against Europe’s democratic deficit.
What would the counterfactual situation be like? Could the various parliaments and the European one had produced any really different outcome from the one we experienced on May 2010? My opinion is that it would have produced nothing like it and it would have left Greece and other besot states to declare bankruptcy with unknown repercussions for the Eurozone and the Euro. The 28 parliaments would have reached no effective decision.
The second case is the Ukrainian conundrum. The EU, with an incompetent incongruous foreign policy prompted a catastrophic encounter with Russia whereas it could have engaged both Ukraine and Russia in a more realistic and power-sharing process. It failed and although sanctions were imposed unanimously by the Council of Europe, several of the member-states were more critical and other less critical relative to their national interests and recent experiences with the former Soviet Union. Presently, after the events in Paris, France is ready to ease the sanctions since it is now in agreement with Russia about their war on ISIS.
Fast forward and we are witnessing a historical event, the mass exodus of millions to Europe via Greece and Italy. Germany has declared that it will accept all and instantly Merkel was lauded as the Mother Teresa of Europe and two months later she is described as ready to fall from power due to this decision. At the same time individual European states are at odds fighting each other about quotas, fences and rules and regulations for free travel in Europe and refugee status. The recent events in Paris makes the status of the Schengen Treaty precarious and adds further discord among the EU’s member states.
The above lead to, at least, to three conclusions: the first is that the EU was never fashioned out or sturdy material to withstand external shocks, secondly that the already pre-established democratic order of European nation-states and their national interests are the obstacles for “democratizing” Europe as a whole, and thirdly that the geostrategic position of Europe is a vital component of Europe’s possibility for democratization. It is very easy to castigate inter-governmental bodies and the lobbies influencing, or even coercing them, instead of the “people” setting the agenda and the answers to all these life or death problems. Nevertheless, the actual meaning of the battle cry “more democracy for the EU” is: “more democracy for Europe, but less sovereignty and decision-making for the nation-states”.  Can the citizens of self-important nation-states as France, Germany or Britain accept this? Britain with its referendum seems to say no.  
So we come back to the old problem of a European federation. This specter haunts Europe again and again without any workable answer. The European states have, as of now, rejected federalism and thus the democratization of the core decision-making institutions of Europe. How can we have a democratic Europe without a political unification? The answer is that this isn’t possible. All technical machinations or shenanigans cannot fill the gaps from the lack of a genuine democratic governance.   
The post-modern union, without borders, without elected central government, no army and common foreign policy and no lender of last resort, or no common taxation, labor laws and social security rules, is a dysfunctional edifice that needs to be fixed at once. But the question is inexorably raised again and again: how to put all these wrongs on to the right path? As long as the democratic nations of Europe do not concede their democratic prerogatives to a single real inclusive European democracy the question will go on and on without an answer.
If the question of federalism from top-bottom seems to be dead what is the alternative? This is what we expect to hear from Professor Varoufakis in the next few weeks as he promised. His proposal for a new and well-functioning EU is its democratization. He prudently believes that it isn’t advisable to destroy the union. In this respect he refrains from calling for clearing the slate in the usual utopian method and building the New World with the fervor and passion of Paul on the way to Damascus.
He says:
‘’It became abundantly clear that at the level of the nation-state you can’t even table proposals regarding your own country, let alone proposals for the Eurozone as a whole. I experienced the Eurogroup at very close quarters and it was obvious that it was not a forum in which to discuss how to stabilise the European social economy, or how to democratise it. That is just impossible – it can’t be done.’’
The Eurogroup is definitely not a forum to try and democratise Europe. It is a working group trying to implement or decide upon measures which are taken by European heads of states. Professor Varoufakis is most probably barking at the wrong tree, if he had in mind to democratise Europe through his presence as the Greek Economics Minister in a Eurogroup. What he was supposed to do there was to discuss the terms and conditions already set and accepted by previous Greek governments. If these terms and conditions were ineffective or wrong, then it was an issue to be taken over by the heads of states as an overall change of policies, which means an overall change of mindset about fiscal and monetary policies for the German body politics. What he had most probably in mind was to prove to his peers that the economic theory and practice of the Germans was wrong, not only for Greece bur the whole EU. If he had succeeded in this Herculean Labor, the EU, as he insinuates, would have been truly baptized “democratic”, if not it needed an uplifting to a higher level of political awareness.  
He continues:

“So I put two and two together and end up with the conclusion, at least for me personally, that the only thing that is worth fighting for is this coalescence at the European level with one very simple, but radical, idea: to democratise Europe.’’
“People might say, “Pah, Europe is democratic.” No it is not. Not democratic at all. So to democratise it is actually a very radical idea that goes against every fiber in the body and soul of those people in Brussels.”
If we cannot democratize Europe neither through our nation-state nor through European institutions what is the alternative? Most probably is a new pan-European political movement which will inspire the citizens of Slovakia, Portugal, Denmark, Greece, Malta et al to think as citizens of Europe and demand European citizen’s democratic rights. How this can be done and what incentives will be given to turn nationalistic views to inclusivity is something we are very impatient to find out. 
We federalists failed to sell our wares effectively. In the 50s and even in the 21st century the people still trusted the nation-state as a cradle of democracy and safety. The Union was good as long as it suited our economic advancement and predilections for globalized living. There is no alternative to federalism if we aspire to establish a living democracy in Europe, with citizenship, borders, armies and common foreign policy and common economic policy.
All critics of the European project must have a few facts and truths about Europe. First, it is a methodological, historical and political mistake to deny the democratic foundations of the EEC and the EU. It is rather a misleading view which plays in the hands of many fiddlers who belong to the anti-European camps. No doubt, well-meaning critics of the European unification plan have legitimate reasons to complain about the turn, or the radical interpretation that the European unification narrative took. The plan took the wrong turn but for reasons that are more about democracy as it is practiced by nation-states rather than about lack of democracy. The battle cry: “more democracy” is either misunderstood as to the extent of its applicability or it plays in the hands of those who are trying to sell the view of the good old order of small and insignificant nations states as important players in the world stage.
Secondly, critics of a unified Europe are either exalting romantic utopias of European nation-states as guarantors of the safety and stability for their citizens or ignorant of the globalized reality for economic security and even survival. No single European nation-state today can project economic, political or soft power in the world as if it is representing 28 nation-states. The case of Germany is the most straightforward of all. The Germans who criticize Greeks, Portuguese or Italians about their failures to comply with the euro requirements must come to internalize that it is through the EU that Germany holds whatever influence it has in the world. This is exactly the reason why the German elites still keep the ‘’south’’ in the union and try to salvage the incomplete unification in this ad hoc manner.      
Finally, the present conditions are ripe for either an implosion of the present EU or a movement forward towards a genuine political unification. The present political leaders of Europe are neither the most efficient nor the brightest. They suffer from a lack of understanding of the historical perspective of their decisions. The ideological biases of the classical left and right are also a hindrance to any political unification because the arguments turn out to be: either we achieve a political integration and thus democratization according to the rules of the left, down with capitalism, or according to the fantasies of the right, or the political significance of either mode of democratization is artificial, biased. It is perceived as unacceptable, illegitimate or even treasonous to the other side of the table.
 No doubt, we are anxiously expecting to hear Professor’s Varoufakis new plan for this historical development and hope that it will be ingenious enough, a kind of a Trojan Horse, to attract the attention of the masses and the priestly elites alike and be ushered into the holy of holies of the history of Europe. For a genuine democratization must come at the confluence of the two streams of struggling reality to overcome the stagnation and divide in a political and cultural hub of world history, Europe.
Nicholas A. Biniaris 21/11/2015