In a recent article for The Conversation Richard Youngs, Professor of International and European Politics at the University of Warwick, offers his observations on the proposal of Emmanuel Macron for a series of ‘conventions’ in EU member states to discuss with citizens the EU’s priorities as a contribution towards re-launching the Union.
“He [Macron] envisages the conventions running for between six and ten months, beginning towards the end of 2017. Governments will report back to the EU from their respective national conventions and member states will then work their conclusions into a five-year EU reform plan.”
“Many believe a more participative process could help the EU grapple with multiple problems, not least its legitimacy crisis.”
Certainly the EU needs to decide whether or not it wishes to be a democratic organisation. So far it has decided against that idea, mainly because of its continuing fixation on its progress towards ruling its member states as a supra-national government. This in turn is based on the EU’s disdain for nations, their governments and their citizens which goes back to the foundations of the Union and its predecessor organisations.
“He wants deeper, centralised economic union, and deeper security integration.”
So far we can’t tell whether President Macron is sincere in his wish for the Union to become more democratic. However, he does seem to be sincere in wanting to secure the EU’s foundations more strongly and, since those foundations include continuing integration and strengthening economic and monetary union, we can guess that his pitch for democracy has more to do with public relations than with fundamental reform. And it probably is linked to his desire to strengthen the Franco-German core of the EU and re-establish France’s dominant position, which it has lost with the dramatic economic success of Germany.
Youngs continues: “However, promising to hold public consultations is a high-risk strategy. It will raise expectations among EU citizens. The worst outcome would be for governments to hold the conventions and then not to take on board the suggestions and concerns that emerge from the deliberations.”
“If they fail to respond to citizen feedback in tangible ways, popular frustration with the EU may simply intensify.”
The EU has history, as they say, in its dissembling approach to its citizens and their desires and expectations. From previous experience it is likely that any consultations with citizens will be manipulated in at least two ways. First, the people and organisations chosen as representatives of the public will not in fact be representative. The EU has a “tendency to hand-pick favoured civil society organisations to take part in its many consultations, knowing they will defend the status quo when asked for feedback.”
Second, any disagreeable conclusions that result from the exercise will simply be dissolved in further moves towards the main objective.
“This is what happened in the early 2000s, when public consultations were held on the drafting of an EU constitution. While Dutch and French voters rejected the constitution in national referendums, major changes were still pushed through in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty that seemed to fly in the face of Europeans’ concerns.”
Being not as stupid as their leaders wish to believe, Europe’s citizens noticed the chicanery and lowered still further any remaining trust they had in the Union. Most of the crises that the EU has experienced result from the underlying dichotomy between ‘the Plan’ and the people. Crises have been ‘resolved’ with sticking plaster rather than reform, which means they continue to fester and new ones are regularly added.
So we agree with Youngs when he writes, “Governments may give in to the temptation to shape the democratic conventions for largely PR purposes.”
“If governments essentially pre-empt their outcomes, the conventions could end up causing more harm than good.”
His references to “governments” is realistic as, for their own reasons, many member state governments favour the Union and act, often against the wishes of their citizens, in ways that conform to the project’s ambitions.
“Deeper EU integration has long been a difficult sell outside Brussels, but in the past few months, the EU has been feeling more confident. Many European governments and EU institutions have again begun to push for deeper, supranational integration.
“Keen to harness the current positive momentum, EU governments and institutions may now be reluctant to hold off on new plans while the democratic conventions run their course. They may be even less willing to reverse course if that is what the conventions reveal people want.”
This is consistent with the history of the EU and its predecessors (see The Great Deception by Christopher Booker and Richard North). The EU is constructed deliberately so that powers (“competences”) extracted from member states, or passed upwards by them, are irreversible (what goes up is not allowed to come down). There is no possibility of reversing course, which is why we argue that the EU will fail in the end, even though its leaders and supporters are more confident just now.
“Little will have been gained if the conventions run for a few months and then the EU returns to its current pattern of opaque bargaining and deal-making.”
In his enthusiasm to support the continuing progress of the EU towards its often, if quietly, stated goal Emmanuel Macron may, if we are lucky, contribute to its earlier demise.