3 juli 2008

Ierland heeft de EU niets te danken!

Voor zij die nog steeds geloven dat de Eurofielen gelijk hebben in hun verwijten van "ondankbaarheid" aan het adres van de Ieren:

Ierland werd NIET welvarend door Eurosubsidies, maar ONDANKS deze marktverstorende geldinjecties. Ierland heeft de Europese Unie dan ook NIETS te danken, misschien zelfs net integendeel.


At 6/7/08 00:33, Blogger Vincent De Roeck said...

Larry Siedentop schreef afgelopen week in de Financial Times een schitterend stuk over referenda en de Europese Unie onder de titel "Europe is failing to restore idealism".

The referendum is a device viewed with suspicion by those who believe in representative government. Yet first the French and Dutch, and now the Irish, have used the referendum to defend representative government. It has become the means of protesting about the failures of representation in the European Union. These referendum defeats amount to a damning comment on the central institutions of the European Union – in particular, on the nullity of the European parliament. The problem is not that the parliament is powerless but that it has no authority. The parliament has no hold over European opinion, no ability to mobilise or shape consent across the European Union.

Voters sense what both the European Commission and national executives seem unable to understand – that important transfers of power from member states to Brussels in the past two decades have created the risk of a mutual discrediting. National parliaments have compromised their legitimacy, without the European parliament acquiring any. A generalised cynicism about government is on the rise. This weakening of democratic cultures in the member states may be an unintended consequence of the process of European integration. But it is no less serious for that.

How has the European “establishment” reacted to the vote in Ireland? With a few exceptions, it has responded to the problem in the way that has created the problem. Its voice has been paternalistic. The Irish are reproached for ingratitude after the material benefits they have received from aid and integration into a larger market. But this attitude betrays a failure to understand that markets do not create gratitude, whereas political systems – at their best – can do so. The reason for that is clear. Liberal democracies are founded on the principle of equal fundamental rights, equal liberty. The self-respect following from that principle gives citizens a moral foothold, in the form of self-government, that helps to compensate for the inequalities of market freedoms and civil society.

Inequalities of status, wealth and power are further offset by a factual condition generated by liberal democracy – the prospect of social mobility. In that way, both as a matter of right and of fact, liberal democracy is associated with individual empowerment. Yet that sense is fragile. It is only with difficulty that European states have created the culture of self-government that is now a central component of national identities. It is the liberal democratic component of those identities, something that prevents them from descending into mere tribalism.

The clearest example of the connection between national identity and self-government is the UK – where, in the absence of a codified constitution, national identity is closely tied to the sovereignty of parliament. Probably that is why, of all European countries, the UK has had the most difficulty adjusting to integration, to the loss or “sharing” of sovereignty. Those who dismiss the referendum results as unimportant – as reflecting irrelevant domestic priorities or obscurantism – fail to identify the deepest level of motivation in national voters. That is fear of their identity as citizens eroding and with it their self-respect. We should not dismiss or denigrate such a reaction. For it is a defence of the finest achievement of western societies.

What does the EU offer in place of liberal democracy in the nation state? There is now a widespread impression across Europe – and especially among the young – that it is in danger of offering pseudo-democracy, remote bureaucratic government thinly disguised by a European parliament. That is why the most striking moral fact about Europe today is the loss of idealism. The EU has been unable to make up for the disappearance of its founding idealism – the abolition of war in Europe, through Franco-German reconciliation – by replacing it with the idealism that can be generated by self-government. Its contributions to creating a peaceful and prosperous continent are simply taken for granted.

The EU’s failure to appropriate the idealist potential of liberal democracy stands in contrast to the US. It is hardly possible to deny that the Bush administration has taken a serious toll on American idealism, on the way Americans perceive themselves and their role in the world. But equally striking is the way the intense competition between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has revived American idealism. The primaries have restored belief in the political system, its ability to regenerate a society that had lost its bearings. The primaries also educate Americans in the nature of their complex political system. Is it an exaggeration to say that, as a result of following the primaries, many Europeans understand American federalism better than they understand the relationship between the institutions of the EU and their own states? I don’t think so.


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