The EU and the case for a ‘non’ (Updated)

A couple of weeks ago, Versac from the French blog Publius sent me a bunch of questions concerning my views on the EU and the Constitution. They’re interviewing a number of non-French bloggers in this way. I thought I’d publish my answers here. A sample:

The main negative thing is that it’s giving the EU more power, competences, and I think that’s inappropriate before the democratic deficit is addressed. Also, it may lead to more judicial activism, which is bad.

Voting no is a bit of a gamble, since you can’t be sure it will push the governments in the desired direction, and not for example rule out Turkish membership to get it passed, or end up drafting an even worse constitution. But the happy scenarios seem likelier than the bad ones. We need to bloody the politician’s noses. Above all the present situation is unacceptable, and no real reform seems imminent. We need to seize the rare chance to set the EU on a new course, towards democracy and accountability. By rejecting the constitution, all bets are off.

Full interview under the fold.

Who are you?
I am 25 year old Swede, who lives in a small town near Stockholm. I recently dropped out of journalism school to begin a corporate training as a subtitler. Politically I’m a slightly right-leaning centrist and liberalish.
I started my blog Europundit in April of 2003, at the time the only English language blog dedicated to covering the European Union.
One day I wrote a post suggesting a pan-European blog about politics. Nick was interested. We recruited five others, and after much discussion A Fistful of Euros was born. Six more has since joined since.
Because it was my idea, and esp. because almost all afoe contributors were invited at my (behest), I see afoe as my baby, even though I haven’t written much in the last year. I take great pride in the level of quality we’ve achieved.

How would you characterize your attitude concerning the European Union and the process of European integration: Euro enthusiast, Eurosceptic, Europhobe? Why?
Rather anguished, but I do want the EU to work. The EU is fairly undemocratic. I’m increasingly sceptical that an entity such as the EU, with a great deal of power without being a state, can become a properly functioning democracy. It certainly isn’t now.
At the same time I think the EU does a tremendous lot of good (along with a lot of bad) and I have some degree of emotional attachment to Europe.
I quite like your name. It bears mention that the way the EU functions in some ways resembles how Madison and Hamilton envisioned wanted the US to function, the decision makers shielded from public opinion. The council of ministers setup accomplishes what the Electoral College and senate was supposed to do, but didn’t end up doing.
The insulation from the electorate hasn’t made policy more enlightened however. Rather it’s poorly thought out, decided by the narrow agenda’s of the governments, their staff’s and EC technocrats.
This means that decisions are taken without any input from public opinion, from civil society, from national legislatures, without any broader public debate. They may reflect minister’s political agendas, some special interest?s or favored business’ lobbying, but mostly they reflect the myopic and power accumulating tendencies inevitable in unchecked bureaucracies. So it may well lead to bad policies, but more importantly is the moral case, the public is excluded from the process. The electorate has in reality little ability to influence the EU through their vote, or to hold their leaders accountable.

One example of the democratic dysfunction, perhaps the gravest, is civil liberties. Governments have gotten away with a lot of bad stuff in the wake of 9/11 that in most instances an individual government wouldn’t have gotten passed on the national level if they’d tried it. And without almost any public debate. British bloggers and pundits are up in arms over a bunch of stuff Blair has done on his own, but have ignored the probably more serious infractions of civil liberties that he implemented along with the other 23 governments.

Are you in favor or against the European constitution? Why? What are, in your opinion, the main progresses and/or setbacks in the treaty?
Again, my attitude is quite ambivalent and anguished, but I lean heavily towards a reluctant opposition to the treaty.

The good things are: Having a constitution instead of the treaties. More power to the parliament. The way it was brought about, having the convention instead of just an IGC. A general cleanup; a number of minor improvements.

The main bad thing is that it’s giving the EU more power, competences, and I think that’s inappropriate before the democratic deficit is addressed. Also, it may lead to more judicial activism, which is bad.

Voting no is a bit of a gamble, since you can’t be sure it will push the governments in the desired direction, and not for example rule out Turkish membership to get it passed, or end up drafting an even worse constitution. But the happy scenarios seem likelier than the bad ones. We need to bloody the politician’s noses. Above all the present situation is unacceptable, and no real reform seems imminent. We need to seize the rare chance to set the EU on a new course, towards democracy and accountability. By rejecting the constitution, all bets are off.

Good/bad: Making the decision making process easier.

How is the EU / the European constitution perceived in your country? On which issues is the national debate focusing?
There won’t be a referendum in Sweden, which has meant that it hasn’t been much debate at all. It’s a bit appalling. The general public knows very little about it. Everyone in the pundit class gives it qualified support except radical leftists.

As a Swede, how do you see France’s role in the European construction?
In the beginning it was vital, of course. I think recent French governments have been on the wrong side of most issues. Most egregious is the stanch support for the highly immoral CAP, and the resistance to enlargement. In general, egotistical and arrogant behaviour. For example the Nice conference and Chirac’s comment that new members should shut up. Your government is arguably worse than most on the democratic deficit. Chirac is pro-integration and for more intergovernmentalism, which is the opposite of what we need. I don’t see any government’s role in the EU as hugely positive though.

– If the French were to vote “no” to the European constitution on May 29th, what do you think would happen next? Could a new constitution more favorable to French interests and demands be adopted?
That’s the $64 000 question. It’s hard to say. The most likely is perhaps a new short IGC that doesn’t rework the constitution too radically. That would be smartest. Also possible is that they give up for a year or two, stick with niece, and then restart the process from scratch. Or maybe restart it right away. They might possibly be arrogant and daring enough to have another referendum without changes, if they think they have a shot.

5 thoughts on “The EU and the case for a ‘non’ (Updated)

  1. I regret not having been able to vote (oui, OF COURSE) today (I am American) so much that I dreamt about it last night.

    Thank God for my sensible French husband who WAS able to put HIS two cents in.

  2. “We need to bloody the politician?s noses”.
    And then?

    Maybe the politicians should go?
    No more politics?
    Maybe we need better politics/ better politicians. How are we going to find them and convince them to act?

  3. I’m not saying bloody the politicians noses for the hell of, or as a symblolic protest, butto “seize the rare chance to set the EU on a new course, towards democracy and accountability”.
    A shock to the system is needed.

  4. I am not European, but I find this issue very confusing. I agree that the European political elites have tried to strong-arm this process. Many countries (like Sweden) were not afforded the opportinity of voting like is happening in France today. On the one hand, I agree that they need to have their noses bloodied for not embracing proper public representation in their “club.” How many Muslims are in the French National Assembly, even though they make up 8% of the population? Then they complain about lack of assimilation.

    But, isn’t it primarily the socialists who are afraid of an embrace of capitalist markets who are pushing for a ‘non’ vote? Are they afraid of losing their entitlements?

  5. “But, isn’t it primarily the socialists who are afraid of an embrace of capitalist markets who are pushing for a ‘non’ vote?”

    No, this would not be the case. The ‘no’ cuts across the left right axis completely. What you can say is that the farther you are away from dead centre, the more likely you are to say ‘no’. A European Bush would almost certainly be voting no.

    So would a European Castro, or Chavez.

    Of course, there are plenty of people – like David – near the centre, who are also against, so even this rough and ready rule of thumb breaks down.

    It is however difficult to imagine any extremist voting yes.

    Also there are the ‘national questions’. People who want more French say are undoubtedly voting ‘no’, but actually the ‘no’ vote will most directly benefit Spain and Poland who will maintain their voting strength. Aznar is over the moon: a victory for Spain, and a big defeat for Zapatero (and the *mallorqui/catalan* Rafael Nadal thrashing everyone in the Roland-Garros).

    The bigger issue David raises I would rather leave for the post mortum, after we know the result.

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