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The State, the EU and the current crisis

by Bruno Waterfield Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 10:56:08 AM EST

It is a sunny Sunday in Brussels, so some thoughts on the European Union and that crisis.

The EU is learning a painful lesson: that its cosy consensus world of officialdom, diplomacy and contempt for voters, is not up to the mark when dealing with a full blown crisis.

The last two weeks have shown that the EU is better at puffing up fears about climate change, bird flu and other terrifying environmental perils than it is at dealing with a concrete problem that could lead to a full blown recession.

The EU has never been about abolishing national interests but always about managing them in a manner that is about convenience for Europe's political classes, with a heavy emphasis on consensus arrived at through secret and unwieldy bureaucratic procedures.

But as the current financial crisis has rushed headlong towards economic recession it is abundantly clear that institutions created for the benefit of diplomats and mandarins are not up to the job of stabilising febrile market institutions or getting cash (where it should be) into productive investments not dodgy bets on dodgier loans.


The problems the EU is facing are writ larger on the domestic stage, just as the European statist classes have embraced the EU, national statecraft has become dominated by fetishistic and self-destructive practices to which, we are told, There Is No Alternative.

The EU and Britain, with minor differences of degree and emphasis, have for over two decades been dominated by the liberalisation agenda, including a constant diet of "deregulation" (doublespeak that actually means more regulators) and privatisation (irresponsible horrors like the PFI).

This TINA agenda - totally dominated by tick box culture and the dreadful jargon that ensues when bureaucrats enter into a two-way Faustian pact with business - has clearly been more about states, such as Britain, ducking responsibility and outsourcing authority away from democratic accountability.

The proof? The EU, and the British state, are not up to the job of dealing with the current crisis, which is becoming one of global capitalism.

As Frank Furedi has observed over on www.spiked-online.com: "Their menu of options - raise or lower interest rates, nationalise or recapitalise failed banking institutions - indicate that their ambition is simply to carry out an unimaginative form of reactive fire-fighting. The present cohort of government officials, politicians and economic and financial experts are too steeped in the traditions of the good times of the past two decades to be able to take any really difficult decisions."

Since the 1980s the EU has built resilient structures, from the euro to the CFSP, to manage conflicts of interests between member states (especially the interest of a reunified Germany).

These institutions, the euro particularly, have survived well while the job was managing conflicts of member state interests behind closed doors between cosy conclaves of officials.

In fact by taking them out of the public domain they ceased to be truly "national" interests in the sense they became technical issues rather than about different sides in politics.

The unique aspect of recent events across the EU has not been the conflicts, always there, but their eruption into the public domain where interests assume a different more intractable character for the governing classes of the 21st century.

The EU's resilience is only fully operative if the process of negotiating conflicts, over the economy, foreign policy or whatever, bypasses the public, meaning that interests are merely differences between officials.

A national interest is a public thing. It is declared by politicians, political leaders and interest groups seeking to mobilise citizens behind them. The ultimate national interest is when we are asked to take sides in a war.

EU member states who have built up a decision-making process aimed at avoiding precisely this are ill equipped at dealing with real national questions, such as the clashes of interests which come to play during a recession, issues that require and involve the mobilisation of people.

The EU's response to recent referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland reveal that it is a Union of rulers united in mistrust of the people, not a Union of leaders able to take their people with them.

Economic stability and the absence of social conflict (that old thing called class struggle) to break the centrist consensus have been the preconditions for the EU's two decades in the sun. Both these preconditions are under threat in a recession.

If EU member states, and certainly Britain, are required to restructure the economy and cut public spending, Europe's political classes must push through lay offs and austerity.

Not a single country, certainly not Gordon Brown's Britain, has come forward to outline how Western European states are going to make severe reductions in current forms of state expenditure - someone has to pay for bail outs in a recession.

Nor has anyone yet set out how the government or EU vision for how the economy is going to be reorganised after the shake out of a recession, that means unemployment and lower living standards.

To do this a government must be able to mobilise against the inevitable opposition by taking the majority of their citizens with them in the national interest.

Just look at Britain. The out-sourced, privatised but supremely bureaucratic British state finds it hard to mobilise its own personnel let alone broader sections of the population.

Margaret Thatcher could restructure because she won a political battle and social conflict for the national interest (I supported another side in the class struggle). Can you see dithering, bottler Gordon Brown or any other weak, wobbling EU leader doing the same?

The British government (and the Green rinsed Tories are no different) response has been more of the same. More lectures about the need for taxes to rise, more moralistic environmental "nudges" aimed at reducing our irresponsible consumption but no answers to what needs to be done.

For over 20 years, the EU has been an elitist master-class tutoring Europe's rulers in how to do politics behind closed doors without us. This leaves them ill equipped for today's crisis.

Europe's ruling classes, especially Britain's, badly need "recapitalisation" and an urgent injection of moral and political capital and authority. The problem is the coffers are bare.

The EU referendums have shown how estranged political establishments are from their peoples, governments who have been long used to showing their contempt for the public have precious little trust or good will to bank on.

Display:
Welcome to the active part of ET. (if this is indeed your first diary).

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 11:11:38 AM EST
As a note for completeness, this appears to be a cross-post from Mr Waterfield's blog at The Telegraph (UK) newspaper site. I'd presume from the username that he has done this himself and thus since it's his own words, there are no "fair use" issues.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 11:56:42 AM EST
It's a bit different. But yes, more or less
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 12:03:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, OK, tip jars are not normative in the New User Guidelines (cf. Community Policing, Second Paragraph, under New USer Guide: What are comments' ratings and how do I use them?), but I wanted one in this diary, so I'm nominating your first comment, above.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:15:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The EU is learning a painful lesson: that its cosy consensus world of officialdom, diplomacy and contempt for voters, is not up to the mark when dealing with a full blown crisis.

Where does contempt for voters come into the picture? I don't think any of the national governments that tried, and without exception failed, to deal with the crisis have shown much interst in voters -- more interest in CEOs.

The last two weeks have shown that the EU is better at puffing up fears ... than it is at dealing with a concrete problem...

So you claim environmental perils aren't concrete problems. Nice inversion of what is real and what is illusory. Methinks climate change or deforestation or plagues are much bigger bigger problems than the one hitting the virtual economy.

...and you go downhill from there. Spin, spin, spin, and stale at that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 12:55:59 PM EST
They should showing interest in voters not CEOs
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:03:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand: what exactly do voters want to be done about the financial crisis? Other than guarantees on their deposits, which many European governments did extend (IIRC starting with the Irish)?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:12:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think, especially if we tip into a recession, some sanswers to bigger questions
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 12:27:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a lot of substance in your post, so it will take a bit of time to digest. Some of the name calling will likely trigger knee-jerk reactions in some of us here on ET, but your post is certainly worth careful considerations. I'll try to react to various bits separately, as I see more than a few various issues being raised.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 12:56:06 PM EST
Nah. Upon careful consideration, my impression is even worse.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:03:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The EU and Britain, with minor differences of degree and emphasis, have for over two decades been dominated by the liberalisation agenda, including a constant diet of "deregulation" (doublespeak that actually means more regulators)...

How exactly does a constant diet of deregulation mean more regulators, and what does this have to do with the efficiency of the business sector involved?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anas Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 12:59:58 PM EST
Privatisation has led to an expansion of agencies and inspectorates set up regulate hitherto unregulated areas. I alwways think of Ofcom, in Britain, which takes a very proactive and ideological appraoch
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:06:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Weren't state-owned companies always de-facto regulated?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:10:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there are big similarities but also differences between regulation and state control/planning
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 12:22:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Clearly. For a state company, ideologic policy can be overt.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 03:44:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ofcom - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ofcom inherited the duties that had previously been the responsibility of five regulatory bodies:

  • the Broadcasting Standards Commission,
  • the Independent Television Commission,
  • the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel),
  • the Radio Authority, and
  • the Radiocommunications Agency.

Do you mean that Ofcom had remit over issues not regulated by those five bodies?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:13:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me highlight one point from the mess:

EU member states who have built up a decision-making process aimed at avoiding precisely this are ill equipped at dealing with real national questions, such as the clashes of interests which come to play during a recession, issues that require and involve the mobilisation of people.

It was precisely the marketistas, above all the successive Britiash governments, who prevented the EU from having economic governance, insisting on maintaining national sovereignity over issues like taxes. So it is a tall order to ascribe it to the democratic deficit.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:02:58 PM EST

The EU has never been about abolishing national interests but always about managing them in a manner that is about convenience for Europe's political classes, with a heavy emphasis on consensus arrived at through secret and unwieldy bureaucratic procedures.

That's actually a reasonably accurate description. The thing is - is it a bad thing? If you replace "unwieldy bureaucratic" by "complex technocratic", you get the description of the mostly competent work done by the EU.


But as the current financial crisis has rushed headlong towards economic recession it is abundantly clear that institutions created for the benefit of diplomats and mandarins are not up to the job of stabilising febrile market institutions or getting cash (where it should be) into productive investments not dodgy bets on dodgier loans.

  1. Why should market institutions be stabilised? Aren't markets supposed to do that on their own? If you admit to the fact that they need "stabilising by institutions" then you make the case for the very existence of mandarins (those that run said institutions) and the diplomats (that hash out the rules for such institutions)

  2. The fact is, the institutions regulating financial markets were unfortunately made for the benefit of the mandarins or the diplomats, but for the players in the financial markets, thanks to their heavy lobbying of said mandarins and diplomats (and wooing too, so maybe it WAS for the benefit of mandarins, in their second careers in the financial world...)

So I read you as making the case for a more powerful bureaucracy in Brussels...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:08:54 PM EST
That's actually a reasonably accurate description.

I'm not certain "is about convenience for Europe's political classes" is a proper characterisation. Even cattle trading at the EU Council and struggling with the Commission (and the EP) aren't necessarily convenient for our political classes... but it is certainly more convenient for the rest of us that they don't go for "the ultimate national interest" and end conflicts with wars instead. Like they did for the prior five millenia.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:48:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Basically, I am arguing for democracy - both in relations to markets and the state.

Both the EU and the financial market institutions are all too often founded on the principle, or fetish, that people can, should not, be in control (globalisation).

My point about stabilising markets is an observation not a prescription.

I really do not think, even if it were possible, that financial institutions run on behalf of mandarins and diplomats (you yourself note the overlap with the wider oligarchy) could benefit the common good.

My point is that both state and markets are unable to represent the general interest at a time when that question comes to the fore.

The "nationalisation" of banks under the current conditions will not alter this situation or clarify the question of what (and who) the economy is for.

In fact, pretty much all the actors involved would go the distance to avoid this question being asked at all.

Both the EU and the parasitic financial sector organise ("independent" central bankers and all) around evading or denying this question.

by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 04:29:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What does democracy look like in a market, other than regulation?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 04:36:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Planning
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:06:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And you think the EU is bad? His screed against excessive planning is about the only sensible thing Hayek had to say.

Seriously, how much planning, or to what extent, do you mean?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 12:41:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My point is that both state and markets are unable to represent the general interest at a time when that question comes to the fore.

In that picture, is the EU really important?

The "nationalisation" of banks under the current conditions will not alter this situation or clarify the question of what (and who) the economy is for.

Can I interpret this in the sense that it's not clear if it is to benefit shareolders, or creditors, or depositors, or the economy as companies, or the economy as jobs; or some wider sense?

Both the EU and the parasitic financial sector organise ("independent" central bankers and all) around evading or denying this question.

For me, the above implies that the EU all about the economy -- or at least that its economically relevant aspects are independent of others.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 06:12:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Yes. Because, in my argument, the EU is a way of bypassing public debate and accountability - without which talk of a general interest is meaningless. In a recession a public debate about the general interest is vital or else we will just get austerity, job cuts and lower living standards (the instinct of those that rule us)
  2. It is not really nationalisation because while the state may own it does not control. The state is just another stakeholder. The books have not been opened either (as far as I know).
  3. I don't think that the EU is any more independent of its economic evasions as the Brtish state.
by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:13:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Accountability is at the heart of your comments, and I understand better your initial post in that light.

Maybe it's worth commenting here on the origins of the EU bureaucracy, which was modelled on the top layers of the French State bureaucracy, ie a quasi-aristocracy, with a lot of power and not much accountability to the general public, but two redeeming features: (i) joining it is merit-based, using pretty objective criteria, and (ii) a sense of public service was part of the ethos.

The old French 'grand bargain' was that the top bureaucrats got power for life, in exchange for running things competently and including the interests of the general population as part of their mandate. Thus a focus on infrastructure and public services, provided in a highly centralised way.

The good thing is that thanks to that bargain, the State was able to hire the best minds of the country, because it provided the most rewarding jobs - except in monetary terms.

But the bargain was, to a large extent, undermined by the clash with the increasingly dominant anglo-saxon way, with a focus on accountability to shareholders (monetary returns rather than engineering completeness), a quicker turnover of people based on results, and rewards for the best people in the form of lots of money - and accountability in the form of votes that can kick people out. The French system (and the EU bureaucracy) gets perverted when the elites that are entrenched in positions of power for life can also get away with earning lots of money, by squeezing the plebes from the previously granted socially shared advantages. In that case, you get the worst of both worlds - entrenched elites able to ignore the plebes.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 09:38:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. I do agree that national governments can use the European Council, not to mention the Council, as a way of bypassing public debate and accountability. But certainly not the European Parliament. (The Commission is yet another thing, but I leave that to Jérôme.)

    However, In last Sunday's agreement on separate but parallel bank saving packages at the special EU summit on the financial crisis counter-measures, what I find noteworthy is that the national governments felt pressured to respond to public debate: in particular the talk about constraining manager renumerations. (Yesterday, German finance minister Peer Steinbrück got a quite heavy grilling in a public TV interview on the German €500 billion package.)

    So, I don't think debate on general interest was bypassed this time, even if of course I'd wish a much stronger debate on it. More, as the national nature of the bailout plans indicates, I think it's still the disconnect of the nation states separately and that of markets that really matter, not their use of the EU.

  2. From the little of what I heard of the German, Austrian, French and Spanish plans so far, the state would control. The state would not exert total control, but more than simply its voting weight: the credits would be given on condition of letting the finance ministers or central banks set terms (including at management decision level) and review financial conduct.

    Now, putting such power in the hands of a finance minister is of course a bouble-edged sword: he could both choose to completely overhaul and micro-manage banks, or to be done with it and allow bank CEOs free rein without much oversight. (But, this is again a question of the accountability of national governments.)

  3. That's a significantly weaker point. Methinks the EU is primarily organised around political aims, even if the bulk of its current legal institutions and texts and budget deals with economic issues (even the Common Market has political aims).


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 04:18:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Supplement: it is also noteworthy that Paulson, too, changed the US bailout package from one aimed at acquiring bad assets from banks to one injecting capital by buying stakes in banks.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 04:20:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... for relying almost exclusively on an analytical toolkit that is incapable of addressing a number of critical factors (intrinsic uncertainty being among them) ...

... on this occasion, I must applaud the way that so many mainstream economists have latched onto and pushed the basic fact that a solvency crisis cannot be solved after it has broken simply by paying fair market value for assets that are on the books.

With so many "serious" people pushing for an equity stake as a preferable alternative to overpaying for troubled assets, it becomes hard for even a former Lehman Bros. CEO to ignore.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 01:56:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - The State, the EU and the current crisis
Not a single country, certainly not Gordon Brown's Britain, has come forward to outline how Western European states are going to make severe reductions in current forms of state expenditure - someone has to pay for bail outs in a recession.

They don't need to reduce state expenditure. They need to increase taxes on the people who have been gambling with everyone else's cash.

There's no lack of liquidity, and certainly no lack of potential funding for social investment. The problem is that wealth has been systematically farmed and extracted - and then wasted.

Why do you think social investment is a bad thing, but simultaneously seem to be suggesting that gambling with other people's cash is a good thing?

As for Gordo and his evil minions - the UK has a wretched record of political mediocrity and entrenched class war. What's missing isn't more class war, but real vision - and that vision isn't going to be found anywhere in the UK's political classes, on any side of parliament.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:23:13 PM EST
What's missing isn't more class war, but real vision

Was thinking the same thing.  Well done.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:29:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or, maybe, what's missing is a real class war against those gambling with other people's cash, rather than a fake class war (involving parts of the political class on both sides) against the EU.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:51:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We are talking in code!  What does this quote look like, put into action?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 06:47:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... forward promising to turn a steep recession into a prolonged Depression' would in my mind be a feature, rather than a bug.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:17:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Frank Furedi has observed over on www.spiked-online.com: "Their menu of options - raise or lower interest rates, nationalise or recapitalise failed banking institutions - indicate that their ambition is simply to carry out an unimaginative form of reactive fire-fighting. The present cohort of government officials, politicians and economic and financial experts are too steeped in the traditions of the good times of the past two decades to be able to take any really difficult decisions."

Well, there is truth in that, though the kind of difficult decisions imagined by Mr. Furedi, Mr. Waterfield, and myself may all be very different.

On the other hand, I note that their menu of options, even if narrow, is wider than interest rates and cash injetions: see the international financial market regulation proposals in German federal finance minister Peer Steinbrück's eight-point plan (diaried by myself here). However, similar proposals from the same sources have been vehemently resisted by the British and US governments in the past year or two.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 01:57:56 PM EST
Thatcher had political vision, and Brown lacks it, but looking at their legacies from abroad, I'm curious to know: Why would anyone trade the Brown Era for the Thatcher Era?  Vision is nice and all, but it doesn't trump double-digit unemployment, wild swings in output resulting from the Monetarism-meets-ADHD adhered to by the Thatcher government, and ideological warfare against the working class that left Britain stuck in under a regime championing the causes of the world's current malaise.

Brown, for all his flaws (and they are many), has been one of very world leaders few to come up with a semi-coherent plan to deal with the crisis, even if a huge amount of money appears to be used in a similar way to the Paulson Plan ("Buy lots and lots of Big Shitpile at inflated prices!").  It demonstrates at least some familiarity with the Swedish plan of the '90s -- a plan, by the way, which many leaders elsewhere seem to have been completely oblivious to until a few days ago.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:05:24 PM EST
By the way, Bruno, a side note: Compliments to your colleagues at the Telegraph on covering the American presidential election.  It's been truly nauseating seeing news orgs like the Beeb get suckered into silly season along with their American counterparts, but y'all have done a respectable job from what I've seen.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:25:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:25:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:26:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hello Bruno, and welcome to ET.

I'll need to read your post again at leisure but my first response is, Yes, but what are you for? You expend a great deal of effort (rightly and otherwise) detailing shortcomings, but do you have a program other than "tear that shit down and blow the bastards up"?

Your crack about "climate change and bird flu" is certainly off the mark, imo: Dealing with issues like these - and chemicals directives and all the other stuff that needs to be done even when it isn't in the headlines this news cycle is rather a sign of competent government in a complex society than otherwise.

Likewise, when you decry an estranged political establishment you automatically attribute this to arrogance, decadence, corruption, fear and elitism (as regard which latter any echo however faint or unitentionalof McCain/Palin rhetoric makes my slightly uncomfortable). Estrangement, however, is not evidence of unfitness.

As I learned when doing works council work many years back (and am currently relearning in dealings with local politics and administration), one quickly moves into spheres with their own specialized knowledge and vocabularies, which makes it more difficult to communicate situations and context to those who don't share that knowledge and vocabulary (sorta like science). The EU is inherently difficult to communicate simply by virtue of the complexity of Europe.

So tell me, does your program allow for this complexity?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 02:23:46 PM EST
I attribute estrangement, with all the fear etc, that comes in tow to the lack of democratic accountibility and a contempt for voters.

I do not accept that the world is so complicated or so specialised within complexities that it is incomprehensible.

People working in many organisations have to be careful not to get into that mindset - one that I think comes from failing to have the argument to convince people of why a particular course of action benefits them, or deosn't.

I used to be very active in trade unions at the beginning of the 90s and saw the "they just don't understand what is good for them" mentality first hand. It's bad news

by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:19:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bruno Waterfield:
I attribute estrangement, with all the fear etc, that comes in tow to the lack of democratic accountibility and a contempt for voters.

I'll grant you that the EU still has accountability issues (although much improved in this regard now that the EP has some actual authority) but I don't see any indication of "contempt". Where is that coming from?

Bruno Waterfield:

I do not accept that the world is so complicated or so specialised within complexities that it is incomprehensible.

Certainly not - we could all be investment bankers, mathematicians or scholars of international law (as I think someone remarked at our most recent meet-up, "Rocket science isn't even rocket science."). But we need to put in the time and effort to learn the concepts and vocabulary. And none of us will be able to master all the disciplines needed to understand all the complexities in this world. My own experience tells me that it is dangerous to discount the importance of specialist knowledge just because one doesn't know it is there.

Bruno Waterfield:

active in trade unions

My works council experience was different: in Germany, works council members are elected by their fellow wage slaves, and I never ceased being a wage slave. My experience with communication is that it is difficult to answer questions like, "Why are you negotiating 'pay factors' and not pay raises?" when the asker does not have the context. Sometimes is no 2-minute answer that the asker will understand.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 12:36:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll grant you that the EU still has accountability issues (although much improved in this regard now that the EP has some actual authority) but I don't see any indication of "contempt". Where is that coming from?

I am guessing he means the reaction to the failed referendums on the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. On this subject, my own conclusion, also reflecting several debates on ET, is that no one is willing to truly confront what those votes 'meant', because they pick and chose.

What I mean is that No voters had wide-ranging motivations: sovereignist nationalism, a concern about codifying neoliberalism, general unease about how the public debate was conducted, and buying into outright propaganda lies persistently spread from some quarters. The No campaigners themselves (and Eurosceptics cheering them on from other countries) tend to ignore that each wing of them was a minority in itself. Yes campaigners, but especially top EU bureaucrats and national governemnt heads, vindictive assholes included (Sarko), tend to pick the least savoury No campaigners to explain what happened (e.g. say Libertas in Ireland).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 04:34:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lets remeber this piece was written for the Torygraph and must thus include the obligatory anti-Brussels bureaucracy phrases and codewords to pass editorial muster, regardless of their accuracy or relevance to the other points being made.

That the EU elite have been slow to respond to the crisis in any coordinated way seems an uncontroversial assertion, but what is remarkable for the Telegraph is that it is actually looking to the EU for such a coordinated response.  Normally it would be trumpeting British nationalism and the British Government's unalienable Sovereign right to tackle the crisis on its own soil in it own way without "interference" from Brussels.  

That the article trumpets the Euro as being successful and resilient is even more remarkable.  I have no difficulty with calls for making EU decision making process more efficient, effective, transparent, and democratically accountable.  What is remarkable is for the Torygraph to want it to work at all.

Vote McCain for war without gain

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 06:10:06 PM EST
Indeed.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 03:32:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While yesterday, I was tripped most by the apparent off-hand dismissal of environmental problems, and a general thematisation of alleged state, what state EU, failure that shifted the blame from a market failure; today I feel it's worth to make explicit some of my problems with a central theme in the main part of the article -- democratic deficit.

(1)
To start with, as often when reading your paper, one is filled with the sense that democratic deficits in institutions other than the EU somehow go under the radar -- especially as you get rather close to describe the problem as a general one hitting the political class.

Say, you mention war as the ultimate national interest -- but where are the multitudes of articles in The Telegraph and other British papers decrying the undemocratic nature and cosy behind-closed-doors meetings of NATO, coalitions of the willing, and indeed even national governments ignoring the public's rejection for joining America's latest wars?

There is undeniably a general problem here: that of the elitism of the majority of democratic political leaders across the world. In fact, I think this problem is closely linked to the origins of the current crisis: the worldwide push for deregulation at the benefit of financial capitalism (which, without regulation, degenerated into irresponsible gambling with other people's money). This push was anything but democratic: many countries from Latin America to Russia introduced 'reforms' with reference to demands from investors, the IMF, 'the necessities in a globalised world', or Washington. (You and your paper often quote the French or Irish referendums on EU matters, but say the referendum stopping the move towards privatised healthcare here in Hungary would be worth a similar treatment.)

In some countries, such undemocratic government was abetted by the election system (Britain's first-past-the-post ensured wide parliament majorities for Thatcher despite never gaining the support of more than 44% of voters) or the complete lack of it (Chile), but more important was pure vanity. You can be sold that you do the right thing by doing what the Important People suggest against stupid commoners' wishes if you are recognised by the Important People as one of them. (Say, it is common on the Left to view the Bilderberg forums as some grand conspiracy, whereas I think it does the trick in a much simpler way: political leaders will be flattered if an exclusive club rolls out the red carpet for them.)

(2)
But, you could say, even if there is a wider problem of the elitism of the political class, the EU is one particular nice vehicle for them?

Now on that front, I am troubled by your treatment of the EU as a monolithic block, by the persistent lack of differentiation between the different branches of the EU (which, again, is something quite frequent in your paper).

When you write about EU 'officials', you do not separate the bureaucracy managing the day-to-day business of the EU (the Commission) and the intergovernmental bodies, which truly control policy (the Council that is made up of ministers representing national governments; and the European Council, an originally not at all official, but by now clearly most powerful institution consisting of heads of states and governments). The less removed, directly democratic body of the EU, the European Parliament, goes completely amiss.

This is critical because you seem to treat behaviours displayed primarily by the intergovernmental bodies as somehow systemic, for the EU as a whole -- whereas the history of the dynamic of the power balance between the different EU institutions would be entirely topical.

It shouldn't be forgotten that in the past, many national governments were ready to consent to the intergovernmental body ceding powers to both the Commission (say on economic governance) and the Parliament -- but especially Britain's policy of sabotage under every government in the past three decades limited that.

It shouldn't be forgotten that the Lisbon Treaty mess was part of a struggle: out of the desire to compensate for the national selfishness cattle-trading at Nizza was born the EU Convent, whose drafting process was already subverted by Giscard d'Estaing to suit the governments (among them again and again the British ones), who then forced significant re-drafting in opposition to Commission and EP, and again only allowed these to rubber-stamp the Lisbon Treaty.

So, in conclusion, that the EU is not equipped to deal with certain problems is the result of certain forces preventing the EU from gaining these powers and responsibilities. That presently, there is pervasive detached elitism emanating from especially one of the EU institutions is again the result of especially anti-integration forces preventing a different evolution of the EU institutions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 04:12:54 AM EST
which would be worth a front page of its own.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 05:59:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmph, could be. But Bruno's reply to you made me curious, and I would rather await some debate between you and him before story-ising an updated version.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 06:07:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't confuse what I think with the Daily Telegraph's editorial line. They are two different things. I couldn't agree with you more on Nato and wars - and with quite a lot of what you are saying.

I have a slightly different take on financial markets, that privatisation became a very attractive means of out-sourcing authority and bypassing democracy.

In other postings here I have differentiated between the EU's various breeds of official. The inter-government aspect is the most important, it is the EU in its purest form.

Personally, I do not equate the EU with any desire to build a European Fedreal State, I see it organically arising out of the degeneration of nation state (as a democratic form) across Europe.

by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 07:26:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The degeneration of the nation state is a good thing. It's just our follow on hasn't been the greatest. Nation states are nasty, petty, artificial little things.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 at 12:42:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you two are using the term "nation state" in two different ways. I think Bruno is using the term to mean "states that existed when I was a kid" while Colman is using it to denote "states whose borders precisely coincide with cultural/ethnic/linguistic boundaries."

The latter type of state is, of course, silly. But it's not like there's all that many of them. The former kind may or may not be silly in and of themselves. What's a little weird in my book is to expect a state - any state - to survive indefinitely with its borders, international commitments or indeed sovereignty intact. European history since the invention of the railroad has been one of smaller states surrendering their sovereignty (or having it forcibly removed) to integrate into larger economic and political blocs.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 12:15:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Bruno means the disconnect of elected officials.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 04:53:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About the first two paragraphs, I am quite happy to hear.

In other postings here I have differentiated between the EU's various breeds of official.

However, it does matter for your line of argument that you haven't done so. And for understanding I still have to ask: don't you use 'breed of official' with the meaning of bureaucrat (which may or may not properly describe government delegates in the Councils and elected reps in Parliament), and what the hell does "purest form" mean vis-a-vis an organisation with different institutions?

I do not equate the EU with any desire to build a European Fedreal State,

"Equate" is definitely the wrong word; but if you can't recognise the motivation (even if one out-powered by the intergovernmentals) among the majority of its creators, its bureaucrats and EP members, I don't know what to say.

I see it organically arising out of the degeneration of nation state (as a democratic form) across Europe.

The (progenidors of) the EU were created with the explicit wish to degenerate the warring national states in their economic-competing and warrior form. I do see the strengthening of the intergovernmental aspects (above all, the codification of the European Council) as arising organically out of the degeneration of the democratic credibility of democratic nation states across across Europe (and the rest of the world).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Oct 14th, 2008 at 04:51:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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