The Corner

Barbarians at the Gate? (2)

Writing over at the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman frets that democratic accountability might be about to force its way into the heart of the EU (although he does not put it that way).

Europe currently has one thing going for it that America lacks. All the most important decision makers in Brussels are committed to making the system work.

And that, thinks Mr. Rachman, is how it should be. That there are plenty of well-intentioned and smart people who think that “the system” itself has metastasized into something that lacks legitimacy (without a European demos there can be no European democracy), and fails, even, to deliver much in the way of utilitarian benefit, is something that Mr. Rachman, usually a sharp and perceptive commentator, is oddly unwilling to acknowledge.

He continues:

This broad centrist consensus was an unacknowledged strength of the EU throughout the euro crisis. Although it became routine to complain that European leaders always do “too little, too late”, the markets also realised that – even if Europe’s leaders did not get it right first time – they would just reconvene, at yet another emergency meeting, and keep bashing away at the problem. The fact that all 28 national leaders at EU summits are committed to working together is crucial in keeping the euro alive.

In the real world, that’s called digging a deeper hole.

But wait . . .

Rachman warns that the rise of euroskeptic populist parties — often (as he accurately notes) with very different ideological agendas — could mess up this cozy arrangement, not least because of the pressure that it might put on the supposedly centrist governments now running the show. Given that some areas (too few) of EU decision-making require unanimity on the part of its member states, only one government has to go “rogue” for trouble to ensue. That “trouble” — disrupting the current destructive set-up — might, quite reasonably, be regarded as a feature, not a bug, does not (again) appear to be something that Rachman is prepared to recognize.

In a similar vein, he worries that a euroskeptic surge could disrupt the workings of the EU parliament, traditionally, he observes, “the most federalist institution in Europe, acting as a lobby group for the transfer of more powers to Brussels,” and now the beneficiary of new powers granted to it by the EU’s Lisbon Treaty:

While it lacks the blocking capacity of the US Congress, a rebellious European legislature could reject the EU budget, prevent crucial appointments and refuse to sign off on legislation that is needed to prop up the euro.

Unfortunately, under almost any credible electoral scenario next May happy moments such as that will remain the stuff of fantasy. The ‘centrist’ parties will continue to run the show, as they do now. But, if the euroskeptic parties perform as well in elections for the EU’s parliament as Rachman not unreasonably believes that they might, then the ruling establishment will at least be forced to account for its actions far more than is currently the case.

As I said, feature, not bug.

But read the whole thing. 

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