How all-powerful institutions keep Europe in gridlock

He also pursued a “solidarity” agenda, seeing redistribution as part of cross-regional social justice. However, the scale of the cohesion funds he secured was, Anderson thinks, “little more than the alms of an instrumental charity”.

Structurally, the enlargement of the European Union has allocated a commission post to each of the 27 remaining states, such that a majority, even if representing less than 13% of the EU’s population, could in theory outvote the commissioners from the six largest states, representing 70% of that population.

But, says Anderson: “Decisions are always taken by ‘consensus’ – that is, behind a façade of unanimity, under impulsion or veto of the six major states.”

Commissioners are appointed for five-year terms and supported by 33,000 permanent bureaucrats, who preside over the union’s accumulated set of rules, the acquis communitaire, which has grown from some 2,800 pages at the time the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973 to a mammoth 90,000 pages capturing all the behaviour and norms that a succession of subsequent applicants were required to sign up to before admission.

Anderson calls it “the most formidable written monument of bureaucratic expansion in human history”; together with the 34 “procedures” used within the commission, it makes the workings of the union virtually impenetrable for normal citizens – though presumably not for the army of 30,000 registered lobbyists in Brussels, mostly representing corporate interests.

The acquis – in its complexity and scope – serves further to consolidate the centrality of the court and the commission at the expense of member states, along with their constitutional courts, their diplomats and their civil servants; and it is in a state of constant expansion.

Powerless parliament

As for the European Parliament – originally a mere ‘Assembly’ – the minor accretions of power over the decades have scarcely moved the dial in terms of democratic accountability. The 705 MEPs, supported by a staff of over 7,000, cannot “elect a government, initiate legislation, levy taxes, shape welfare, or determine any foreign policy”. In short, concludes Anderson, “it is a semblance of a parliament, as ordinarily understood, that falls far short of the reality”, within which political differences become “all but completely invisible”.

Turnout in European elections has often fallen below the 50% mark; likewise, attendance by the deputies at parliamentary sessions. Most decisions on legislation are reached at ‘trilogue’ meetings between representatives of the commission, the parliament and the Council of Ministers, which comprises ministers from member states’ national governments. Anderson cites Christopher Bickerton’s book ‘European Integration’: “Between 2009 and 2013, 81 percent of proposals [from the commission] were passed at first reading via the trilogue method; only 3 per cent ever reached third reading, which is where texts are debated in plenary sessions of the Parliament.”

Anderson sees a wide gap between the parliament and those it ostensibly represents. Eighty per cent of Dutch MEPs supported the draft European Constitutional Treaty, which was rejected by 62% of Dutch voters in 2005. The previous year, only 39% of the Dutch electorate had turned out for the European parliamentary elections; compare that with the 63% who voted against the wishes of their MEPs on the constitutional treaty.

“The Parliament,” Anderson says, “is the least consequential component of the Union” – but at least it supplies a “measure of the legitimation that any self-respecting liberal order requires”.

Private banking

By contrast, the European Central Bank, created to manage the single currency under the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, is subject to no accountability other than the remote prospect of a new treaty. The Eurozone central banks nominate one member of its governing council each, supplemented by six executives. “Its proceedings,” notes Anderson, “are secret, its decisions are formally unanimous [and] no dissent is ever published.”

Although the economies of the Eurozone countries are very different, this fundamental factor was disregarded in what Anderson sees as a drive by the promoters of the euro “to create a currency which would lock those states that adopted it so close that they would be obliged to follow monetary union with political union”.

In practice, that political union proved beyond the reach of the Maastricht negotiations, but its absence has exacerbated the stresses inherent in managing economies of different sizes, different structures and different levels of development.

One way of dealing with these stresses would have been for the bank to issue public debt, but Maastricht forbade that: such was reserved for member states only. When Mario Draghi, the bank’s third president, found a way to evade this in order to deal with a financial crisis within the Eurozone in 2009, his head of research later told the Financial Times that “the whole concept of getting around European rules and doing QE [‘quantitative easing’, or creating money] without calling it QE was extremely clever”.

Draghi’s measures were in apparent contradiction to articles 123 and 125 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon and were legally challenged. The European Court of Justice came to the rescue, however, with what Thomas Horsley called “herculean” contortions.

Nations and members

Anderson judges Christopher Bickerton’s book ‘European Integration’ “the most fundamental of all works on the EU of the past decade”, and emphasises its subtitle: ‘From Nation-States to Member States’. He quotes:

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» How all-powerful institutions keep Europe in gridlock | David Elstein | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2021/03/14/how-all-powerful-institutions-keep-europe-in-gridlock/ | 2021-11-28T11:54:59+00:00
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