Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Beware EU Federalism!

with 5 comments

It is a privilege to be an American living in Europe during this important phase of European history.

In one sense, what happens here is none of my business. I may observe, but it isn’t my home continent and it’s not ‘my fight’, so to speak.

But in another sense I have a responsibility to at least offer an informed opinion. I do have the benefit of having lived in the United States most of my life and having watched what’s happened there over several decades.

Thus, taking the latter point as more important, let me give some ‘advice’ to my European friends: Beware of the EU federalist movement!

Look at it this way. People in Europe love to criticize the United States. They criticize George W. Bush. They criticize the war in Iraq. These are good things to criticize! In fact, these are the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to get out of the U.S. for a while.

But the problems of the U.S. are in many ways the direct result of federalism — the excesses of an immensely powerful central government with no accountability to its constituency. It’s too big and too remote from the people it “represents.”

The very name “United States”, in fact, is currently an absurdity. There no longer 50 “states”. There is just one large country. State rights and state identities have consistently diminished since the nation was first hobbled together as a loose confederation of 13 distinct and autonomous colonies.

Things would be lot better in the U.S. if the states had a greater share of the power. States, unlike the federal government, are still responsive to citizen input. I’m from Arizona. If/when I have a strong opinion on some policy that affects Arizonans, I can drive down to Phoenix and meet with a state representative. I can attend public meetings and make a speech or presentation. I can personally affect government. It is still “my” government, something I am part of.

But if I were to try to do the same thing in Washington DC I’d be laughed out of town.

That’s the problem with the U.S. right now. It’s run by a vast machine — the federal government — which is beyond the ability of citizens to control or even comprehension.

Do Europeans really want to go down the same road?

Okay, there are good economic reasons for promoting European unity. But most of that’s already accomplished. There is a common currency (well, almost), and trade barriers within the EU have been removed. That ought to be enough. Nothing more will be gained by adding to this a strong central EU government. In particular, the last things you want are (1) a central EU “foreign policy” administration, and, especially, (2) an EU army.

The latter is especially insidious. Once you have a government army, then you open the door for the military arms industry to control government policy. That’s what’s happened in the US.

And what about this nonsense of rotating representation of member countries on the central committee?  The sheer complexity of it ought to alert people to the fact that something is basically wrong here.  Imagine the games this might lead to:  okay, Great Britain will be off the council for five years; time for all the other contries to railroad policies against Britain’s interests.  Then when GB returns and you can be it will be payback time.

Then we come to the issue of taxes. How do you suppose a central EU government would be funded? Naturally, by taxes. Do you really think that the individual governments — Germany, France, Great Britain — will divert their own tax revenue to this purpose? Not very likely. To do that, they’d have to cut their own programs — something which all governments are extremely loathe to do.

No, the existing national governments will not shrink. (In fact, they’ll probably manage to find some way to use EU consolidation as an excuse to add services and increase taxes! That’s what governments do: they grow automatically until some social force resists them). But then, inevitably, additional taxes will be levied to fund the new EU programs. And since Europeans are already crushed under excessive taxes, to add even more taxes is both absurd and tragic.

All this would be bad enough if citizens were being given clear information about the choices. But EU centralization is being forced upon them. In 2005 when the EU constitution was subject to public referenda in France and the Netherlands, citizens in both countries rejected it. Now in 2008 the people of Ireland rejected the so-called “Lisbon Treaty” (i.e., the revised Constitution, but referred to by this pseudonym, as though in a shabby attempt to fool voters)

(This point is important enough to dwell on for a moment.  Folks, this is serious business!  The Irish referendum was for ratification of the EU Constitution.  Why on earth would you want people to ratify a constitution without making them fully aware of the fact that it is a constitution?  Do you want to disguise the fact or minimize its significance?  Wouldn’t you rather want to make them abundantly aware of the full importance of what their doing? )

After the French and Netherlands rejection, EU centralists simply found ways to bypass public referenda, seeking to ratify the Constitution by national parliaments. Again, what could be shabbier than this, or a more glaring exposition of the intention to force policy without the consent or full understanding of the public?

If I were from Europe I would be outraged at this. If expanded EU powers are a good thing, then let the issues be publicly debated. Let all sides be explored. But most importantly, let the public be fully informed and let them decide what they want. At present the good citizens of Europe are being worked and taxed senseless — and even though I am not from Europe, I am rather angry about what I see in this regard.  In this climate, the politicians, getting no resistance, are seeking to expand government control.

European Libertarianism?

As always, we should try to close on a positive note. One thing sorely lacking in European politics is a “libertarian” perspective. In both America and Europe, you have left-wing and right-wing positions. But in the U.S. you also have a strong “limited government” viewpoint. This, no doubt, is something that goes all the way back to the founding of the country as a nation of emigrants from Europe — people escaping organized governments and all the associated evils.

Nevertheless, because libertarianism is a sound idea, it is inevitable that it will eventually manifest itself in Europe. Therefore I am pleased to supply this link to the Netherlands Libertarian Party:

http://www.libertarischepartij.nl/

They are not very large now, but perhaps they will grow and their ideas will spread to other European countries.

Also, I thought worth sharing is this website by Finn Skovgaard:  it’s encouraging to see that there are people like Finn paying close attention to European politics!

http://www.skovgaard.org/europolitics/constitution.htm

Onward…

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Written by John Uebersax

June 21, 2008 at 5:51 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I am an American who is interested in the EU, though I reside in North America. I too have thought it would be exciting to be in Europe as its federal system takes shape. I’ve posted on comparing the EU and US at http://soozah.wordpress.com/, which might interest you.

    Federal Farmer

    October 11, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    • Your blog does not seems to be there right now. In any case, you might consider that there is a large difference between the founding of the American federal system in the 1780’s and Europe today. The US system was produced as a sincere effort by committed, thoughtful, *prayerful*, men and women to forge a nation. The motives of the EU, I think most would agree, are more mercenary. The main incentive, it seems, is financial. That’s a losing proposition to begin with. The second obstacle is that there is not a common language — and partly for that reason, not a single culture. The language issue is especially important — because a government is taking shape which is not accountable to its ‘citizens.’ The people in Europe have virtually no idea what the EU is doing.

      John Uebersax

      October 30, 2009 at 2:54 am

  2. Nice post! As I read it, I wonder if federalism doesn’t have a tendency to turn into consolidation. I argue that big business is a catalyst. See http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/on-the-eclipse-of-american-federalism/

    euandus3

    October 25, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    • Thanks. I enjoyed reading your article. The analogy with animals instinctively anticipating an earthquake seems apt. Indeed, in literature and art there is much evidence of a “collective unconscious” expression of fear that government will keep growing until it takes over. Consider, for example, all the novels and movies about a dystopian society where the government controls everything. People understand this is a danger. So how does it happen? One reason, perhaps, is that governments have learned to play against even greater fears: fears of enemies (and of there are not enemies, the government will create them); class envy; and now, fears associated with health. Look at the last decade:
      Govt. says: Terrorists! (we’ll fight in Iraq and Afghanistan — but we need more power)
      Govt. says: Terrorists! (we need to protect you at home; give us more power via the Patriot Act)
      Govt. says: Beware Drugs! (we’ll put all those grass smokers in jail)
      Govt. says: Beware impending financial catastrophe (give us more $1 trillion to fix)
      Govt. says: We need universal health care (with us in charge)
      And it also says: the need is so urgent you’re not allowed to read the bill before we pass it!
      This is what I think might be called the government’s modus operandi.

      John Uebersax

      October 30, 2009 at 3:01 am

  3. Thanks a lot for your post. I understand that it mainly comes down to the question of how much power would be given to which level of government and how they could be checked. So, this would not be so much about the principle of federalism (which states that power should be shared between different levels of government, power should remain on the lowest level feasible, and all levels should have their own democratic mandate), but about how to control the sprawl of government.

    But please allow me to point out a few important misunderstanding in your text.

    You write about “this nonsense of rotating representation of member countries on the central committee” and that certain states are out of the “committee” for years. Well, I am not entirely sure what you mean by the “central committee” as there is no institution of that name in the EU. I guess you are talking about the European Council and the Council of ministers? Those are two institutions representing the governments. The European Council is made up of prime ministers and acts as a kind of idea giver and forum of arbitration. The Council of Ministers is more akin to a Senate, but with the national ministers responsible for a certain policy on it.

    Now, this system is far from perfect and should probably be replaced by something like a second chamber of Parliament. But however, in the current system no state is ever “off” that council. All EU states are always represented in the Council and have voting rights. So there is never a time frame for states to push through decisions “behind the back” of others.

    Similarly for taxes. At the moment, the EU is financed by money given to it from the member states. Obviously, this is tax money already, but indirectly. At least in the EU, it would be unlikely that the government would get the power to raise taxes independently, but we would likely see a system where some tax rates (such as VAT) were co-ordinated and a certain percentage of that would go to the EU. At least, that system would be a lot cleaner and more transparent than the current behind-closed-doors-horse-trading on the budget.

    But you are right about the fact that governments have a tendency to acquire more power and resources over time. This is mainly due to the tendency of bureaucracy to create new bureaucracy, but it happens in all governments, no matter how small or big, near or remote. What is needed, is an institutionalised opposing force. It might seem counter-intuitive, but probably the best way to deal with this would be another institution: a kind of “subsidiarity court”, constantly working in the opposite direction and checking the necessity of government actions and rules.


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