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Putting democracy at the heart of Europe
Putting democracy at the heart of Europe
Edited byJohn Coleman
It has often been said that the European Union is a unique venture in bringing together the warring entities which were once the nation states of Europe. The failure of the League of Nations led Jean Monet, as has been said may times in this journal, to attempt a supranational solution to this problem. Nations linked even closer with each other would find it increasingly difficult to go to war with one another. The logic is unquestionable but what does it do to the citizens of those countries? Do they accept the situation with quiet confidence? Or do they accept that they must make the best of a bad job and then only because it is obvious that the alternative is worse? Or do they feel helpless and pressurised? It is quite plain that we have not achieved the first alternative. It may well be that the majority of people in the countries of the mainland of Europe accept the second solution having been buffeted by a history of invasions. The British and perhaps the Scandinavians veer towards the last solution.
The present Labour Government has tried hard to achieve a real understanding of the continental outlook but it seems doubtful if they can carry their electorate with them.
Neither of the last two solutions is satisfactory. Only a union which inspires the quiet confidence of its people can endure. At the moment it seems that if we have a union we cannot have democracy and if we have democracy we cannot have a union. This is what the "democratic deficit" is about. It is Europe's dilemma. But perhaps it was also the problem with many of the larger nation states. Unity has been achieved but only at the price of alienating many citizens.
The greatest danger of course is that we will recreate the evils of nationalism at the supranational level. Although Churchill favoured European unity he was not unaware of the dangers: "a day of fate and doom for man will dawn if ever the old quarrels of countries are superseded by the strife of continents". It is therefore worth looking again at what the ideal would be. It would certainly not be a nation state in the old sense ready to march to war at the first sound of patriotic drums. It would perhaps be a state constructed out of small communities sharing language and ideals, ready to share with other groups, each with their own distinct character, to form the state in the way that parts of the body work together to form the person. Such a state comprising of Burke's "little" platoons might have a chance of carrying the process further and conceding some of its sovereignty to other similarly constructed nations. This is really what is meant by sharing sovereignty but it has to be sharing that is accepted by the people in reality and not just in a nominal sense. In this way we might develop through democracy to real unity or union. It was probably something of this nature that Churchill was developing through the Council of Europe.
Judged by this standard the European Union clearly is in an extremely perilous position. How perilous is revealed by Hazir Teimourian highly provocative article on Turkey. He is of Kurdish origin and clearly has strong views. If he is right it is clear that enlargement is going to undermine the Treaty of Rome which is firmly based on the free movement of capital and labour. Throughout history the great movements of people have upset the human apple cart. The next issue of New European proposes to include a contribution by Andrew Mango the author of a new biography of Ataturk and a distinguished authority on Turkey.
The next article by Aidan Rankin on human rights has a direct bearing on how we organise the nation state and how we can approach the formation of a union. The narrow and politically correct view of human rights carries enormous dangers. Human rights become a weapon to bring out against all opponents. What we need to know is that we have come to our own conclusions and way of life in sincerity and good faith and respect others we know have arrived at their way of life, however different, by the same route. This article considers in a most fundamental fashion the structure of human societies and the principles needed to underpin them. It is resolute in its rejection of the falsehood and hypocrisy that appear like cancers in human society.
The next piece is by Janet Bush, Economics Editor of The Times. It begins by referring to the recent pamphlet by Sir John Coles, the former head of the UK Foreign Office: "British Influence and the Euro". Sir John argues that far from increasing British influence joining the single currency would tend to curtail it. It is a powerful argument no government can afford to neglect. This journal has always had some doubts about the euro as a single currency but not as a common currency for business and holiday purposes. In fact a common European currency would be highly beneficial even if the European Union did not exist at all. The article ends with a strong warning from David Owen about creeping centralisation: "all we need to do is to go on as at present, with our politicians edging us into an ever more integrated European Union, agonising about not being in the euro, half-promising to join and bending over backwards to diminish the very concept of the nation state in a so called post modern world?"
Marjorie Lister is concerned with Europe's relation with the so called developing world. She welcomes the Union's humanitarian interest in the serious problems of the developing country conflicts, many of which have some kind of connection with European colonialism but points out that the EU's success rate has been low. Interestingly she suggests that the EU might borrow some criteria for intervention from the "Just War" debates of the seventeenth century.
The report by Keith Archer "Towards a People's Europe" is based on a study of two cities: Manchester and Dortmund. Briefly it is a fine example of the Church endeavouring to make a reality of its principles in the real world. It is realistic both about the Church and about Europe. It is clearly linked to the excellent book by Edy Korthals Altes, Heart and Soul for Europe reviewed in the book section of this issue. Indeed it shares many of the basic ideas of this journal "A Europe of Many Circles" and this is particularly evident in the quotation from the Club de Florence's "The Impossible Status Quo" published on the eve of the Amsterdam Treaty.
The next report is on a pamphlet from Demos and the Green Alliance and is written by Ian Christie, the deputy director of Demos. The very first sentence sums it up, "The European Union urgently needs a revitalised mission". It is a profound analysis of the European Union's position in the twenty-first century world. It is a report that governments will ignore at their peril - and oppositions likewise!
Romest Vaitilingam brings us down to earth again with a report on the obstacles to achieving a single market in electricity produced by the Centre for Economic Policy Research which is currently monitoring European deregulation.
All this raises the questions: how must integration is wise? How much is counterproductive and how we keep the question of democracy at the heart of the European Venture in the twenty-first century?