Is international democracy possible? Or EU democracy?

Today David Aaronivitch has an article behind the Times paywall titled “But what if Europe follows a different map?”. In it he discusses the possibility of the UK’s terms of EU membership changing, and the establishment of democratic institutions at EU level.

Quite rightly, he questions whether the rest ot the EU would be prepared to accept the sort of changes in UK terms of membership which (e.g.) the UK Prime Minister wants to achieve. He’s probably wrong about this: the EU already accommodates “differential geometry”, in that some countries are not in the Eurozone or Schengen system, and that it is in the economic interests of the rest of the EU to maximise British economic involvement.

As a parallel, we should look at another undemocratic international institution, the ITU. Most ITU member states had government postal / telephone monopolies, whereas the United States basically did not, and the US and a few similar countries therefore constituted an awkward minority. However, the ITU accepted US partial membership on the grounds that this was better than non-membership as a means of advancing the ITU’s core objectives of rent-seeking, surveillance and preventing technological change and competition in the telecommunications sector.

The EU is not going to turn around and tell Britain to take its appalling trade deficit somewhere else. If the UK government asked for minimal EU membership, the other countries would prefer this to UK withdrawal. Aaronovitch doesn’t really want his readers thinking about this.

He also talks about “supra-national democratic institutions” that “can hold this process to account, somehow make it legitimate for the Hanoverian to help out the Thessalonikan, as the Texan pays for the Vermonter”. Why does he question whether a European acceptance of UK disengagement can ever happen, but not question whether this suprademocratic democracy can ever exist? It’s a big blind spot for the Europhiles.

I don’t believe a supra-national democracy can exist. It’s a contradiction in terms.

The existence of a demos is a constraint, not a policy. It’s a social network of people who generally agree that they’re going to govern themselves. The UK shows that separate countries can both come together and form a single country (England, Scotland and Ireland), and that sometimes people want to go off and govern themselves (the Republic of Ireland).

Over the centuries, Greeks and Germans may gradually come to think of themselves as Europeans, as Welsh, English and Scottish people largely came to think of themselves as British; the process can go the other way too, as people come to believe that being Irish meant being not British. Whether a particular group of people generally think they’re part of a group is up to the people themselves; you can’t make people feel a common bond.

The unchanging “essentialist” conception of what a nation is, favoured by far too many British Eurosceptics and occasionally Germany’s judiciary, is wrong. Nations can split and merge. But this is a split or a merger of a collection of social relationships the members choose to make between themselves. It is these relationships which mean that people consent to be governed by other members of the group. I take “consent” broadly, in a way which would encompass mediaeval feudal Europe and include adherence to a long tradition of being governed together, even if not very democratically, which offers some hope for Europhiles who can accept just leaving the people to grow together over centuries.

But to be clear: if the people of two nations consent to be governed as one, then they’re already the same nation; the social network is merging. Supranational democracy is as unnecessary as it is impossible.

It is simply untrue to say that the current population of the EU generally want to be governed as a single polity. In the UK there’s majority support for reducing┬áthe powers already exercised at EU-level. The EU constitution in practice already goes vastly beyond what people anywhere in the EU would consent to, with the exception of a statistically insignificant extremist Europhile minority.

So, if we give the words their conventional acceptation, the only way there’ll be a democratic Europe is if the generality of the public want it.

Criticically though, the rational constructivists have, without the consent of the peoples of Europe, created a constitutional system for the EU in which responsibilities are gradually and unilaterally transferred to the EU by the Luxembourg Court, but the democratic institutions to constrain the exercise of those powers can only be established very gradually and require a consent that may take centuries to evolve.

The more that power is exercised by the EU, the more it affects people’s lives and the more they’ll try to have their say.

The smart Europhile would prioritise measures to prevent this situation getting any worse. The European Court of Justice is a sham and may be beyond reform, but that’s where the smart Europhile should focus.

But I’m not a Europhile …

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