Wednesday, March 02, 2016


Unrepresented Foreign Residents: The PSOE/Ciudadanos coalition says it'll give us foreign residents the right to vote (and stand for office) in local elections. Not before time, perhaps. For In Spain, there are fewer foreigners in governing bodies than in other European countries. In fact, says, El País, Spain trails the rest of Europe on this. Well, as Lenox Napier says, at least this is now on the table. Even if nothing is likely to improve near-term.

Living off Your Parents: I believe the UK incidence of 16 to 30-year-olds living at home is rising but I wonder if it'll ever reach the current 80% figure for Spain. Of those who do achieve independence, 84% are forced to share their abode with 2 or more roommates. Truly a lost generation.

Oh, dear: An Irish Catholic priest has been caught on video snorting cocaine in his home, in a room full of Nazi memorabilia.

Quotes of the week:

  • It’s not easy to combine the spirit of the Wife of Bath with that of a Hollywood diva, but Adele managed it. Times reviewer of her Belfast show
  • I'm a unifier. Donald Trump.
  • It must be galling to be lectured by the Prime Minister of Belgium about the need for European unity and integration, when there's not the slightest sign of unity nor progress to any integration in Belgium itself. William Hague.
Finally . . . . Surnames: Where's yours from? To no great surprise, mine is from South Wales. More to the point, it's labelled Celtic, which should make me very welcome in a part of Spain which insists it's the 7th member of the international Celtic club. Not that the other 6 totally agree. No Celtic language, they unkindly point out. Click here to check yours.


Two, related, articles today. The first rejects the view that the EU is an undemocratic institution and the second comprehensively challenges this view.

The EU has its flaws – but calling it anti-democratic is falsifying reality

The EU’s allegedly undemocratic nature has become one of the most potent arguments in the coming referendum. It is a rallying cry for Eurosceptics of right and left.

Boris Johnson has slammed the EU for being “increasingly anti-democratic”. Iain Duncan Smith, another leading Tory Eurosceptic, says he was horrified when Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier, was replaced by an administration of unelected technocrats in 2011. He told the Sunday Telegraph he raised the topic in a cabinet meeting: “I said, am I the only one here that feels distinctly uneasy about Big Brother turning around to the elected government and saying, you must go?”

Kate Hoey, one of the Labour party’s most prominent campaigners for Britain’s exit, has railed against the EU for being anti-democratic, anti-socialist and unaccountable. Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister meanwhile has called the EU a “democracy-free zone” – although, unlike Hoey, he thinks Britain should stay in the union and fight for reform. Some criticisms of the EU’s democratic deficit – for example, that it is bureaucratic, untransparent and remote – are partly valid. It also lacks a demos, an electorate that thinks of itself as European. But it is a gross exaggeration to say it engineers coups against elected governments that it doesn’t like.

The European commission, a hybrid of a civil service and a government, can be bureaucratic. There are too many rules in some policy areas, some of which aren’t well thought out.

But that is true of all governments. Civil servants can be infuriating. But government would be even more amateurish if politicians took all the decisions without any experts at their side.

What’s more, the notion that the European commissioners are faceless bureaucrats is misleading. While they are not directly elected by the people, they are chosen by each of the 28 governments which in turn are elected. Almost all are politicians. Think of former British commissioners such as Peter Mandelson or Roy Jenkins.

The most extreme critique of the EU, though, is that it has brought down elected governments.

The situation isn’t so different from the US cabinet. The secretary of state, treasury secretary and so forth are not directly elected by the people. They are appointed by the president. But few would call them bureaucrats.

It is also fair to say the EU isn’t transparent enough. The main weakness is the council of ministers, which along with the European parliament is responsible for passing laws.

The council, in which Britain has a 13% vote, is made up of ministers from the 28 member countries. That is democratic enough. But its proceedings are held behind closed doors. When it is acting as a legislative assembly, that isn’t right.

An even bigger weakness, though, is the EU’s remoteness. Though voters elect members of the European parliament, turnout in elections is low, and few people know who represents them.

There are two main solutions to this problem. The one advocated by Varoufakis, and his new pan-European reform movement, is to create a truly sovereign parliament. But most British voters would reject the idea of a more powerful European parliament. The better approach is to decentralise power and strengthen national parliaments.

David Cameron’s deal to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU did make some progress on this score. He got the other leaders to pay more attention to the principle of “subsidiarity”: decisions being taken as closely as possible to the citizen. He also secured a “red card” that will give national parliaments power to block EU laws if at least 55% of them club together – though that is, admittedly, quite a high threshold.

The most extreme critique of the EU, though, is that it has brought down elected governments. When Eurosceptics make this allegation, they typically point to three examples: Berlusconi’s departure in Italy, George Papandreou’s resignation as Greek premier at roughly the same time, and Alexis Tsipras’s inability to get rid of austerity policies after he was elected Greek prime minister last year.

Although the EU certainly played a role in each of these situations, none meets the definition of a coup.

Look first at Berlusconi. By autumn 2011, he had already lost the confidence of the Italian people because of sex and judicial scandals. Meanwhile, his coalition splintered and as a result was on a wafer-thin majority.

Then the government’s borrowing costs started rising after Berlusconi refused to implement retrenchment policies advocated by his finance minister. Italy was on the verge of bankruptcy when the premier was hounded out of office.

Sure, Berlusconi also lost the confidence of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s then president. But the main factor behind his resignation was that “his majority was not there any more”, says Roberto D’Alimonte, professor of political science at Luiss university in Rome.

The Papandreou story was in some ways similar. He decided to hold a referendum on a bailout plan he had negotiated with Greece’s eurozone creditors. But he failed to tell in advance either those creditors or senior members of his own party, including Evangelos Venizelos, his finance minister and deputy prime minister. Merkel and Sarkozy were certainly unhappy. But Papandreou could still have hung on to power if his own MPs hadn’t turned against him.

When a prime minister loses the confidence of his parliament that surely cannot be called a coup – even if foreign heads of government are pleased with the outcome.

The Tsipras situation is different because he managed to keep the confidence of the Greek people and parliament. The issue, rather, is that he wasn’t allowed to get rid of the conditions set by the country’s creditors, despite promising the electorate that he would do so. But when a country borrows a vast sum of money, it obviously comes with strings attached. Tsipras made wild promises he couldn’t hope to keep. What happened wasn’t a coup: it was the case of a demagogue being forced to face reality.

So yes, the EU suffers from a democratic deficit. But that doesn’t make it anti-democratic. And the solution is not to quit the EU but rather to fight to make it more decentralised, transparent and accountable. Who knows? In a generation or two it might even develop  a demos.

It seems to be almost an absolute that those who are most in favour of the EU are those who know least about it, and how it works.

And although that cannot be true – as so many leavers are also profoundly ignorant about the ways of the EU – it is certainly the case that EU supporters such as Hugo Dixon are not exactly brimming with knowledge about the construct they so much love.

In this case, in a 1,000-word piece for the Guardian, he is parading his ignorance about the demonstrably anti-democratic nature of the EU, failing completely to understand the reasons why this should be so.

Issues such a the treatment of Italy and Greece come to the fore, and one hears the litany of complaints about excessive bureaucracy, the unelected European commissioners, portrayed as "faceless bureaucrats", and the fact that the Council of Ministers legislated behind closed doors.

Also mentioned is the "even bigger weakness" of the EU's remoteness and the low turnout of the European parliament. And in all this, the views of some of our less-informed "eurosceptic" are relied upon to add supposed depth to Mr Dixon's case, one in which he asserts that the EU has its flaws "but calling it anti-democratic is falsifying reality".

In all this, however, neither Mr Dixon nor any of those he calls to bolster his case get close to pinning down the main reason, if not single reason, why the EU not only fails as a democratic construct, but – contrary to Mr Dixon's assertion, is also quite distinctly anti-democratic.

The lack of democracy – the so-called democratic deficit – is perhaps something that can be fixed, or at least partially improved. But there is no cure for something which is inherently anti-democratic – short of changing it beyond recognition.

And that factor which makes the EU anti-democratic is the European Commission and its "right of initiative", the fact that is has the monopoly power to propose new legislation.

This has two-closely linked effects. Firstly, and obviously, this means that no law (or legislative initiative) can be pursued without the approval and direct participation of the Commission. It cannot be forced to act, and it is accountable to no one if it chooses to refuse action.

The allied issue is one of removal or amendment of existing laws. The point here is that, in order to do either, another law must be proposed – it takes a law to remove or amend an existing law. With its right of initiative, only the Commission can decide on whether that will happen. No matter how bad or unpopular a law might be, if the Commission digs in its heels, it stays.

This right of initiative is not accidental. This was deliberately introduced by architect of the Union, Jean Monnet as a means of making it politician-proof. He intended that powers should be vested exclusively in its "Platonic guardians", rendering them totally immune to the vagaries of democracy.

To understand this is to appreciate that the institution is beyond change. To have the Commission set up in any different way would be so fundamentally change the nature and dynamics of the European Union that it would no longer be the same organisation.

Thus, whatever Dixon might think, the EU is an anti-democratic construct. It was designed to be anti-democratic and cannot function in any other way and still be the EU. It could possibly become a democratic organisation but, if it did, it would no longer be the European Union.

Living with the Atlantic Blanket.

Dawn 2 days ago:

Dawn today:



Alfred B. Mittington said...

But let us hope that PSOE-Ciudadanos does not lead us into temptation…

If you were given the vote, for whom would you cast your ballot, pray tell??

It's bad enough back home… It is even worse here…

I prefer to be left out of the loop, with a clean conscience…


Colin Davies said...

For once, a reasonable comment from Alfie. Let's hope it's a trend . . .