Aspirations and Outcomes

Nearly twenty years ago the EU’s appointed leaders declared the union to be almost complete, bar a little polish. Was it true then and is it closer now?

We’ve come across an old document that helps us to understand what Remainers, and other EU-philes, see in the Project that excites them to want Britain to stay in it. When we say ‘old’ perhaps we shouldn’t, though a little less than 18 years is quite old by EU standards, if not by European ones. The Laeken Declaration forms part of a set of notes from a European Council meeting held on the 14th and 15th December 2001 (the Declaration is on pages 20-26 of the document, which can be downloaded from here:

This first quotation, and our comment, will do to represent the whole Declaration, as an opening:

Citizens undoubtedly support the Union’s broad aims, but they do not always see a connection between those goals and the Union’s everyday action. …Many also feel that the Union should involve itself more with their particular concerns, instead of intervening, in every detail, in matters by their nature better left to Member States’ and regions’ elected representatives. …More importantly, however, they feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.”

This seems a fair statement, even if the broad support is wavering and may collapse, along with the Union, if the crises it’s facing in Italy and elsewhere cannot be fixed. Some good people in the EU may worry about the legitimacy and effectiveness of some aspects of the project, yet they dare not challenge the ‘elders’ of the faith whose eyes are fixed on a supposed heaven where these worries will simply evaporate.

What EU Say

What EU Do

“…only peace and concerted action could make the dream of a strong, unified Europe come true.”

We ask, rhetorically, whose dream it is to rule a unified Europe. EU founders surely had such a dream, and current leaders proclaim the dream on behalf of their citizens. But we have not seen them present any evidence that EU citizens share such a dream. What is evident, in this and many other EU documents, is that the dream of unification has to be imposed with the help of marketing spin, such as pretending that dreams, values and goals are held in common with all Europeans, as an effective way to sell the project. (See The European Project: Some History and Plan v. People)

Twenty years ago, with the first direct elections to the European Parliament, the Community’s democratic legitimacy, which until then had lain with the Council alone, was considerably strengthened. Over the last ten years, construction of a political union has begun and cooperation been established on social policy, employment, asylum, immigration, police, justice, foreign policy and a common security and defence policy.”

There is much in the Declaration about citizens enthusiasm for the project but participation in European Parliament elections has been weak and even the 51% turn-out in the most recent election fails to support the claim that the Parliament represents people’s interests. (See EU Parliament Elections and What on Earth?)

For a detailed review of what “political union” means see the Five Presidents Report,  Ever Closer Union and Union, Unity and Uniformity, among other posts on this issue. Since this Declaration was written, unification has gone much further and the federal government exists in practice, even if this has not yet been declared.

The European Union is a success story. For over half a century now, Europe has been at peace. Along with North America and Japan, the Union forms one of the three most prosperous parts of the world. As a result of mutual solidarity and fair distribution of the benefits of economic development, moreover, the standard of living in the Union’s weaker regions has increased enormously...”

The claim, implicit here but explicit elsewhere, that this peace is the result of the EU, is false and we challenged it in several posts, which are gathered together in Brexit: A Brief Summary and in our answer to Q1 in Questions and Some Answers.

This is to completely ignore the dramatic inequalities within the EU. There is simply no evidence that the region as a whole has prospered as a result of EU activity; indeed there is compelling evidence that some parts of the Union have been held back by the financial punishment meted out to them as members of the eurozone (see Themes-7 and Themes-8 on Economics and our posts linked from there.

The unification of Europe is near.”

This was claimed in 2001 and unification has continued to progress, if fitfully. There is much talk of the need to complete this unification but little clarity about what it would look like when completed, let alone what the EU and its member states would do at that stage. Unification is the target and once the target has been hit isn’t the game over?

Citizens undoubtedly support the Union’s broad aims, but they do not always see a connection between those goals and the Union’s everyday action. …Many also feel that the Union should involve itself more with their particular concerns, instead of intervening, in every detail, in matters by their nature better left to Member States’ and regions’ elected representatives. …More importantly, however, they feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.”

It’s a great shame that EU leaders don’t pursue this otherwise valuable insight. It seems that the main purpose of declaring it is to show that citizens need not worry, the mandarins (or priesthood) have it all under control. And anyway it’s your fault if you think the thing isn’t working. The main purpose of this Declaration is to cover the gap between the ideals, which we should swallow whole, and the reality, which we should not dwell on so obsessively. We’ve addressed this disparity in many posts, including this one and Law-abiding or Abiding-law? and It’s the Ideology, among others.

A good PR tactic is to pretend to acknowledge concerns and then to ignore them. Many promises have been made, and quickly broken, about transparency but it seems that such promises are just for show while the practice remains to keep citizens in the dark, in case we spot what is going on and try to resist. See for many examples the notes in Themes-9,   Themes-10 and Themes-11 and the details in the posts linked from there.

Does Europe not, now that is finally unified, have a leading role to play in a new world order… The Union is open only to countries which uphold basic values such as free elections, respect for minorities and respect for the rule of law.”

Earlier (see note above) unification was near, now it is finally here. This is what we mean when we ask what it would look like when unification is complete, or what it looks like now that it is complete. (We’ll be putting together a theme post on unification soon, but it will raise more questions than it answers. Meanwhile see European Values,  Ever Closer Union and Only Believe.
The role it has to play is that of a power resolutely doing battle against all violence, all terror and all fanaticism, but which also does not turn a blind eye to the world’s heartrending injustices.”

But what is the EU actually doing about violence, terror, fanaticism or injustice? Such claims could appear on the political equivalent of a cornflakes packet; they are equally without substance. For one example of EU inactivity on injustice see Virtue is its own reward, but for whom?

The image of a democratic and globally engaged Europe admirably matches citizens’ wishes.”

The image may match citizens wishes but it’s just an image, not the reality that is implied on the packet. Democracy is another theme in the pipeline but meanwhile see, for example, Democracy or Institutional Strengthening? or Democracy Denied or So What is Democracy? or On Democracy (1, 2, 3).

They want a common approach on…all transnational issues which they instinctively sense can only be tackled by working together.”

Once again Council members attribute their own wishes to ‘their’ citizens. But are these the wishes of anyone else? More likely the EU wishes us to believe that we have such wishes, while they get on, undisturbed, with the ‘real’ job of taking unification forward. To get further glimpses into the dissembling see, for example, Working Together?,  Dis-integration and “All you need is love”.

What they expect is more results, better responses to practical issues and not a European superstate or European institutions inveigling their way into every nook and cranny of life.”

This is more likely to be true, so we wonder what it is doing here, in this Declaration of self-love. Perhaps, since there is nothing more on this idea, the authors want us to relax in the knowledge that they understand us, with the presumption that they will act in our interests, while they act against their Declaration, doing the exact opposite of what they declare to be their aspirations (see A Light in the Dark and Secrets and Obfuscations).

In short, citizens are calling for a clear, open, effective, democratically controlled Community approach, developing a Europe which points the way ahead for the world. An approach that provides concrete results in terms of more jobs, better quality of life, less crime, decent education and better health care.”

We have no doubt that these are things that citizens would call for, were there any forum in which they could make themselves heard, understood and acknowledged. We look at the EU idea of what such an opportunity might offer, as set up by the mandarins, who know best what we want, or at least what we should want (see final point below and Did the EU Bring Us Growth?).

The Union needs to become more democratic, more transparent and more efficient. …Citizens often hold expectations of the European Union that are not always fulfilled.”

We agree with the first part of this; we also would like to see the EU becoming more democratic, transparent and efficient, but we see no signs that it is, or activity that might make it so. As for the second part of the quotation, we can easily believe that citizens would have expectations that they do not see fulfilled, after all we have them too (or did before we reached the view that fulfilling citizens’ expectations is not what the EU is for). We assume, since we see no evidence in support of this claim, that its purpose is, as usual, more obfuscation (see the series of posts beginning with, and linked from, Overtime Lords).

The European Union derives its legitimacy from the democratic values it projects …the European project also derives its legitimacy from democratic, transparent and efficient institutions.”

The first part of this is partly true, though not for the reasons the EU would acknowledge. The EU, quite deliberately and skilfully, “projects” democratic values, but it doesn’t hold them in practice, or act on them; the purpose of claiming these values is to obscure the truth that the EU is not democratic in any meaningful sense (see Democracy Denied).

Should the role of the European Parliament be strengthened? …Should citizens have more access to Council documents?

Good questions, to which the EU already provides answers. They tell us that the European Parliament continues to increase its powers. And in their treaties they declare that citizens should indeed have full access to Council documents – when that is in the public interest; however, in practice such access seems rarely to be in the public interest (see Expensives,   Expensives-2 and A Light in the Dark).

In order for the debate to be broadly based and involve all citizens, a Forum will be opened for organisations representing civil society (the social partners, the business world, non-governmental organisations, academia, etc.).

It sounds good to declare that debate should “involve all citizens” but such a declaration doesn’t withstand a moment’s thought; just try to imagine how some five hundred million citizens could all be involved. Never mind the practical difficulties, the EU has solved them with their Citizens’ Initiative. But this is representative rather than inclusive and to get an initiative considered by the EU we would need a minimum of one million citizens to support it. Do we need more evidence of the gap between what they declare and what they do?

So, who would want to argue with any of this Declaration? Well, we argue that the ideals expressed in the Laeken Declaration are rarely, if ever, represented in the actions of the Union. We have illustrated this disparity with a few comments and links to our previous posts. It must be that Remainers cling to the ideals outlined in this Declaration and are unable, or do not wish, to compare the ideals to the reality.


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