Observing Democracy

The European Union claims that it is a democracy. Many supporters accept this claim, perhaps without giving it much thought. This post illustrates the matter and refers back to some of our own thoughts on the subject

EUObserver – a reliable supporter of the EU – has an article [1], titled Time for EU to grow up as a democracy, which raises once again our question of what is democracy and how the EU sees itself – [2] and [3]. The author raises the issue, perhaps unintentionally, early in his article:

The determination to lay the foundations for an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe has not resulted in the creation of a federal state, but in the emergence of the EU as a democratic regional organisation – that is a Union of democratic states, which also constitutes a democracy of its own.

The first line of this we discussed in several posts, the most recent of which is [4]; we see this (ever closer union) as the central ambition of the EU. While it is arguable that the EU has created “a federal state”, we won’t challenge this claim here; but see [5].

What we do challenge is the, repeated, claim “of the EU as a democratic regional organisation…which also constitutes a democracy of its own.” While the EU is undoubtedly a “regional organisation” and “a Union of democratic states”, neither statement justifies the claim that the EU itself is democratic. The author appears to have fallen into the trap of believing EU propaganda, which makes this claim frequently [6]. According to the author “the EU itself can be characterised as a democratic regional organisation with a dual democracy.” He goes on to argue that the European Council “transformed the parliamentary assembly into a European Parliament and organised the first direct universal elections for their democratic institution in 1979.” Again, this just repeats the claim that the EU is a democracy, without providing any supporting argument, which might be theoretical, definitional or popular, each of which we have countered in previous posts [7].

Although elected, the European Parliament does not have similar powers over government as those of its member states, in which electorates are given periodic opportunities to dismiss governments, which are therefore accountable to voters. It is almost as if the author accepts that because the EU is a union of democratic states it too is democratic, and that this is so obvious that the claim doesn’t need to be supported by any sort of analysis or evidence.

What is true among the author’s claims is that the “European Union has developed its own form of international organisation with a distinct system of governance.” The EU’s system of governance is certainly distinct from those of any of its member states; however, the chief distinction is that the EU has done away with democracy, even as practised in the least democratic members.

He recommends that the EU should spread “the message that it is developing its own model of democracy” but he simply accepts the EU’s own claims that it is democratic, so his whole argument is based on an untruth, which is a pity as he has much to say that could be valuable, including:

The challenge for the Conference on the Future of Europe is to address the shortcomings of this model of dual democracy.” [8]

Sadly the author doesn’t tell us what these shortcomings are, and he surely would argue that a lack of democracy is not one of them.

[1] https://euobserver.com/opinion/153201

[2] EU Treaties-2: Values & Democracy

The EU practices top-down government and declares that its members are equal. They talk big on democracy and citizens’ fundamental rights, which are repeatedly stated but not practised. The goal is convergence – economic, political and regulatory, as is clear from the Treaties, notably in this post.

[3] Themes-15: Democracy

The issue of democracy highlights, perhaps more than any other theme, the gap between the values that the EU declares it holds and the absence of such values in practice. It also shows up at its worst how the EU contrives to cover the gap with blather, repeating without shame that the Union is a democracy while demonstrating, also without shame, that it is not.

[4] Why the Union Project is Unsound

It is interesting that Michel Barnier, formerly the Brexit negotiator on behalf of the EU, plans to run for President of France on a theme of reclaiming French sovereignty; do most citizens within the EU want a federal union? The EU daren’t ask its citizens – how is that democratic?

[5] Is EU is or is EU Ain’t?

In this post we quote some of the tortuous examples from the EU treaties, where it ‘confirms’, ‘desires’, ‘resolves’ and ‘declares’ that it is guided or inspired by democracy. Other countries that falsely self-identify as democratic get the message over more briefly by putting it in their titles: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is just one of several such countries. To give it its due, the EU is not a dictatorship comparable to the DPRK but if it simply declared itself The Democratic Union of Europe (DUE) it could dispense with much tortuous verbosity, but we wouldn’t have to take the name any more seriously than we do North Korea’s. The tortuous verbosity the EU employs serves as propaganda, an elaborate way to persuade those who choose not to look too closely that it is a democracy.

[6] Policy Predicated on Propaganda

We start from a dictionary definition of ‘propaganda’ to show how the EU uses this both to promote and to disguise its fundamentally autocratic federal agenda. We can be sure that the EU will continue to focus on the need to disguise its core agenda with high-sounding but vacuous declarations. We cannot take seriously the idea of ‘the European way of life’; this article is yet another example of how EU propaganda is absorbed by otherwise intelligent people and regurgitated as though it makes sense.

[7] On Democracy-1, -2 and -3

The EU insists that it is democratic. The desire for democracy amongst Europeans is ancient, indeed proverbial: Vox populi, vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God). The EU is proud that it comprises only democratic states and makes this form of government a prerequisite for membership. The importance of democratic behaviour to the EU is clear from its many mentions in the treaties and other documents. Most of us believe that a democratic government should be accountable to its citizens and that citizens should be able to dismiss a government of which they disapprove. These two entitlements are surely necessary for any regime that justifies the label ‘democratic’, but neither is truly evident in the EU.

Both the absence of EU democracy and the difficulty the EU has in dealing with national democracies are illustrated by the continuing dispute between the Polish government and the putative one in Brussels. On the one hand, whatever we think of its activities, the Polish government was elected democratically and might be dismissed at a future national election. On the other hand the EU insists – through its treaties and vigorously by other means – that EU law takes precedence over national law, and the senior Polish court has challenged this, on behalf of its government. In short, the Polish government puts its version of democracy ahead of EU rules. How could democracy work at the federal level if people were asked to vote for two mutually contradictory regimes, one of which asserts its primacy over the other? Well, they are not asked to do this because the EU does not allow it, despite its claim to be ‘democratic’.

Meanwhile EUObserver reports that “Some 43 percent of Poles said there should be a referendum on EU membership to settle Warsaw’s rule-of-law dispute with Brussels”. What might the outcome of such a referendum do for the EU’s notion of democracy?

[8] The Future of Europe and We Need to Talk About EU

The European Commission published a report on the results of a survey requested and co-ordinated by the European Commission’s and European Parliament’s Directorates-General for Communication. The survey, and its conclusions, are based on two assumptions: the first assumption is that the EU is the same as Europe—there are 44 countries in Europe, 27 of which remain in the EU; the second assumption is that the foundations of the EU (for example, Ever Closer Union) will remain unchallenged.

The EU is to hold a discussion on the future of the Union or, as they call it, a Conference on the Future of Europe (taking the continent’s name in vain again). The perpetual problem the EU faces is this: how can EU involve the people in the Project and so make them more enthusiastic without giving them more authority? The answer is, it can’t; the authorities will always do what they believe is best. The EU institutions are conflicted. They are aware of popular dissatisfaction but are struggling with how to address it without losing control of the project’s predestination.

Afterword

The contretemps between Brussels and Warsaw shows that the EU does take democracy seriously – the Commission says that recent Polish law changes impede press freedom. A key point at issue is the EU’s insistence that all member countries must be democratically ruled and therefore their courts must be independent of government control (which, they argue, Poland’s are not). Regardless of its merit it is ludicrous for the EU to apply this standard when the CJEU frequently interprets the law to further the Commission’s goals rather than adhere to what was formally agreed in the Treaties [9]. Some of the CJEU’s ‘judges’ have never even presided in their own national courts, they are political appointees:

Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5, King James Bible.

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that its own constitution supersedes EU law. The panel declared: “The European Union Court of Justice’s attempt to interfere in the Polish justice system contradicts the… concept of the primacy of the Polish constitution” (7th October 2021).

Germany’s Bundesverfassungsgericht (BverfG, or federal constitutional court) also asserted the primacy of its constitution, although that decision was suspended in practice when subsidies that are illegal under the Treaties were permitted. And now Michel Barnier, in his bid for the presidency of France, has told voters that his country must regain its sovereignty and take control away from the CJEU.

To be fair to Barnier he was working to a mandate set by the EU Commission when he was determined to deny the UK its own sovereignty – but why be fair to him when he could have refused on principle? Like the Commissioners he is a hypocrite, either in his Brexit negotiations or his bid for the hearts of French voters. He and they know that most citizens would be likely to vote against the supremacy of EU law over their nation’s choice on crucial matters so they daren’t allow them to choose. How is that democratic?

[9] EU Treaties-4: Law, Agreements & CJEU


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