Slouching Towards Post-Democracy

by Andrew Stuttaford

An interesting, if somewhat technical, story emerged in the EU’s parliament yesterday.

Let’s start with Euractiv:

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage this evening (7 July) blasted the three main pro-European parties for blocking his Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy MEPs from influential positions in European Parliament committees. At time of going to press (7 July), it appeared that the European People’s Party, the Socialists and Democrats and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe had teamed up to prevent the posts going to the EFDD.

After a secret ballot this evening, they rejected Italian EFDD MEP Eleanora Evi as chairman of Committee on Petitions, 23 votes to eight, instead electing Liberal Cecilia Wikstrom. They also blocked Evi, from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, from a vice-chairmanship. She said the move was “anti-democratic and immoral”.

EFDD sources said they had also been blocked from influential posts in the agricultural committee, which they blamed on the stitch-up between the three groups. The EFDD currently has no chairmanships or vice chairmanships in any committee.

To take a step back at this point, the ‘EFDD’ is the political ‘family’ within which UKIP is housed for the purposes of the EU parliament. The biggest of these families is the European Peoples’ Party (the EPP), the center-right grouping that, until a few years back, also included Britain’s Tories.  Being a part of such families (the bigger and the more pan-European the better) generates substantial procedural advantages within the parliament and also (I know, I know) can increase the amount of taxpayer funding available. 

Anyway, back to the story, turning naturally to the Shanghai Daily:

The composition of the committees, including each chairmanship, is carved up according to the D’Hondt system, a calculus designed to award posts in proportion to the number of MEPs in each political grouping that make up the EP.  Following last week’s elections in Strasbourg to decide who sits on the each committee it was thought that the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy (EFDD) group would chair the petitions committee, with the job going to Italian MEP Eleonora Evi, from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. This committee scrutinizes petitions from individual EU citizens but is more important in guarding against lobbying by special interest groups.

That’s not how it worked out.  The EPP, center-left S&D and ‘liberal’ ALDE groupings (respectively the largest, second largest and fourth largest ‘families’ in the parliament) agreed between themselves to ignore the D’Hondt precedent and to vote in that ALDE Swede.

Even ahead of this (secret: the EU parliament doesn’t do accountability) vote, the planned stitch-up had already outraged the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA), a grouping, incidentally, with politics very different to those of the EFDD.

Shanghai Daily:

Danish MEP Margrete Auken, the Greens spokesperson on the committee, said: “Excluding any political group from a committee chairmanship to which it is due under the established system for fairly distributing these posts would be a blow to the democratic process in the EU Parliament. This goes beyond petty politicking to the heart of European democracy.” 

 Auken added that it was all the more important for the petitions committee, given its role in defending rules and rights and “standing up to interference by special interests”.

 ”The candidate nominated by the EFDD group appears to have all the qualifications and the right approach to adequately exercise this duty,” the Danish MEP continued. “

Now, the D’Hondt system is a ‘convention’, not a rule. Legally, it can be ignored. That it has been, however, on this occasion and in this way, is telling. Not only are the EPP, S&D and ALDE sending a clear signal to Europe’s increasing number of euroskeptic voters that their opinions simply don’t count, but they are also revealing something else: that their loyalty to the construction of a European superstate transcends the allegedly distinct ideologies for which they are meant to stand. In that connection, it’s worth remembering that the ‘center-right’ EPP and the ‘center-left’ S&D voted together some 75 percent of the time in the last EU parliament, as indeed, you would expect oligarch parties to do.

And so, once again, we turn wearily to the last lines of Animal Farm:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

The idea that this structure can be reformed is idiocy. Pretending that it can be is deceit.