The future of European democracy

Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, writes: As things stand, the long march toward political union desired by the elite governing the EU is not likely to reach a democratic destination. Those who decry nationalism should realize that the attempt by an elite to impose political union and free movement of people on unwilling electorates is today the main driving force of the extreme nationalist sentiments that they abhor. Whatever our grandchildren and their descendants decide to do in Europe, it must be based on a democratically legitimate process if it is to avoid recreating the very divisions that the original conception of the architects of postwar Europe so rightly strove to achieve.

Americans need to wake up from their cozy assumption that the apparatus of a supranational state is the only way to ensure a peaceful and cooperative European partner. Across Europe the younger generation wants to go beyond the nation-state to break down barriers and find new ways to resolve problems that extend beyond national boundaries. They will find ways to do this that do not require the outdated trappings of a supranational entity with its own anthem, flag, parliament, and now even steps toward an army.

Our political class would do well to recall the words of Confucius:

Three things are necessary for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler cannot hold on to all three, he should give up weapons first and food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand.

Not just in Britain, but around the industrialized world, the divide between the political class and a large number of disillusioned and disaffected voters threatens trust. At times it seems that the governing class has lost faith in the people and that the people have lost faith in the government. And the two sides seem incapable of understanding each other, as we see today in the United States. But the continent on which the challenge is greatest is Europe. If any good comes out of the British referendum, it will be a renewed determination, not just in Britain but around Europe, to eliminate that divide. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “The future of European democracy

  1. Internationalist

    “…Across Europe the younger generation wants to go beyond the nation-state to break down barriers and find new ways to resolve problems that extend beyond national boundaries. They will find ways to do this that do not require the outdated trappings of a supranational entity with its own anthem, flag, parliament, and now even steps toward an army…”

    And yet young Britons voted in favour of staying inside that “supranational entity” with its “outdated trappings”.

    The problem that young people (the young people of King’s imagination) would find is that the rediscovery of the wheel is hardly ever a fruitful endeavour. In order to solve problems that transcend national boundaries the existence of institutional arrangements that transcend those boundaries is needed. To the extent that those problems are inevitably bound to revolve around the issues that the citizens of nation states have always regarded as central, these institutional arrangements are bound to look like a political “union”.

    While reforming the EU may be both an urgent and uncertain endeavour, King’s wholesale rejection of it is so vague that he apparently relinquishes all agency on behalf of the promise incarnated by the “young”.

    This renouncement of agency is merely a rhetorical device. King has a clear preference on how to “resolve problems that extend beyond national boundaries”: through the mechanisms of the unfettered marketplace.

    King’s invocation of “democracy” is just about as sincere, and as consistent, as that of the populist right. This glibness comes to the fore when he includes the European Parliament on his short list of outdated “trappings”.

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