The Corner

Piketty: Not So Keen On This Whole Democracy Thing

I cannot say that I am particularly surprised to see Thomas Piketty (and a collection of fellow French intellectuals), writing in the Guardian in terms like this:

The European Union is experiencing an existential crisis, as the European elections will soon brutally remind us. This mainly involves the eurozone countries, which are mired in a climate of distrust and a debt crisis that is very far from over: unemployment persists and deflation threatens. Nothing could be further from the truth than imagining that the worst is behind us.

This is why we welcome with great interest the proposals made at the end of 2013 by our German friends from the Glienicke group for strengthening the political and fiscal union of the eurozone countries. Alone, our two countries [France and Germany] will soon not weigh much in the world economy.

… the European Union would have two chambers: the existing European parliament, directly elected by the citizens of the EU 28, and the European chamber, representing the states through their national parliaments. The European chamber would initially involve only the countries of the eurozone that want to move towards a greater political, fiscal and budgetary union. But it would be designed to welcome all EU countries agreeing to go down this road. A minister of finance of the eurozone, and eventually an actual European government, would answer to the European chamber.

And, democratically speaking, it would be a sham. To repeat (yet again) the words of former Czech president Vaclav Klaus:

There is no European demos – and no European nation.

Without that nation, without that demos, there can be no democratic EU. 

A European nation may, if Europeans want, evolve over time, but that is a process that has to be organic, incremental, freely chosen, bottom-up. To try to impose,or even accelerate, it is to invite disaster. And to ignore the lessons of history: Multinational federations rarely end well.

There’s a reason why the world is now made up of more states than ever before (with possibly more to come: In Europe alone, Catalonia, Scotland, and Flanders are just some of those new states waiting, perhaps, to be born). It just seems to be what people want.

Thus it is no coincidence that the EU has become more coercive and ever more contemptuous of democracy the further it has moved down the road to ‘ever closer union’. With the continuous deepening of the European project lacking much in the way of popular support, Brussels has had very little alternative.

Ever closer union is, and always will be, a project of the elites, and it is a job machine for them too. They are and they will be the administrators, the regulators, the lawyers, the lobbyists, the cutters of deals, the sellers of favors, the Potemkin politicians, the officials who know best (and the academics who give them their ideas). And, yes, they are Piketty’s people, the people who will be top of the heap in the world that Piketty would like to see built, the creatures who will feed in the troughs that he is so thoughtfully helping design. 

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