The EU has a new batch of unelected leaders, but where is the democracy?
After three days of marathon negotiations and closed-door meetings, Europe has a fresh cast of newly unelected leaders. It’s times like this when the completely undemocratic and disconnected nature of the EU is hardest to deny.
It’s also at times like this when you wonder, who could really blame the Brits for opting out? For all the problems Brexit has caused – and sitting here in Dublin I’m aware there are plenty – there is still a lot to be said for the idea of escaping the bureaucratic hellscape that is the European Union.
European Council President Donald Tusk announced the chosen ones for the four top jobs on Twitter: a German defense minister, a French IMF chief, a Belgian prime minister, and a Spanish foreign minister. Is there any doubt about where power lies in the EU and who it really serves?
For a brief period on Tuesday evening, there was speculation online of impending doom as US VP Mike Pence canceled plans for an “urgent meeting.” When Twitter reports said the “European Commission Security Council” was also called for an “emergency meeting,” it started to sound serious. Maybe the world really was ending.
However, the European Commission Security Council does not actually exist – and people were getting worked up over nothing. For a solid five minutes, I too was convinced that it must be a real body I had never heard of. This is the EU we’re talking about – one could be forgiven for confusion.
EU leaders, much like their American counterparts, spend quite a lot of their time pontificating to the rest of the world about democracy – but where is the democracy in the process by which these new faces of the EU were selected?
There is none, of course. No votes were cast, no debates were held, no elections took place. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the vast majority of Europeans hadn’t even the foggiest notion that these switches were going to happen. When you have no say in something, it’s impossible to feel connected to it.
So, who are the anointed ones? German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will head the European Commission. An ally of Angela Merkel, she is a major proponent of an EU super-army. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles will run the EU’s foreign policy. Christine Lagarde will move from the IMF to head the European Central Bank. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will replace Tusk as European Council president – and no one elected any of them.
In March, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a “European Agency for the Protection of Democracies,” a “common border force,” a “European asylum office,” and a “European Council for Internal Security.” If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail – and if all you have is unelected neoliberal bureaucrats, the solution to every problem looks like a new mega-agency or supranational body answerable to no one.
The brief furore over the fake ‘European Commission Security Council’ was the perfect demonstration of how bloated and disconnected the EU really is from the citizens it is supposed to serve. How many Europeans, if you told them something happened at the European Commission Security Council, would actually be able to tell you right off the bat that this council does not exist? Not many.
The late Austrian political thinker Leopold Kohr contended in his book The Breakdown of Nations, that wherever something is wrong, something is “too big.” He believed all systems – regardless of the political ideology ruling them – would oppress people if they became too big. The answer to the problem, he argued, was not more unity, but division.
The only alternative was that growth would feed growth and power would be increasingly concentrated away from the people – until the system eventually collapsed. The British Empire, the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union – Kohr’s philosophy has been proven time and again, yet our leaders still tell us that bigger is better, constant growth must be worshipped.
“True democracy in Europe can only be achieved in little states,” Kohr wrote.
We are a long way from that now.
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