Alphen, Netherlands. 26 February. The other day a senior European Commission official asked me if my concerns about the growing democratic illegitimacy of the EU were some form of psychological instability. With elections to the European Parliament due in May at a time when liberal democracy is being steadily replaced by the EU’s liberal bureaucracy the need for citizens to engage with today’s uber-elite is more important than ever. However, the very process of ‘Europe’ has created a culture that places those on the right side of power on the wrong side of democracy.
On three occasions in the past couple of weeks I have witnessed the arrogance of power which sustains such élites and which is so damaging democracy and respect for politicians.
My first brush with self-serving power was to be told by the self-same Commission official that I was utterly wrong about the EU. No, the European Commission had not become more powerful since the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. Far from it, powers had been handed back to the member-states. Moreover, the very idea of an EU elite was absurd. Commission officials were just ordinary people doing their damnedest on behalf of the humble European citizen. On the defensive he deployed the now time-honoured nonsense of Europe’s elite; if ever closer political union was not driven forward one could not rule out the prospect of a future pan-European war.
My second brush with power came the same day courtesy of his boss. Fully paid-up member of the Euro-Aristocracy Deputy Commission President Viviane Reding demonstrated all too clearly the gulf between power and people in Europe. She also demonstrated the extent to which the Commission has become a political force rather than the impartial enabler of European law.
In a 10th February meeting of ‘citizens’ in London she told the British it was too late for them to be debating sovereignty. Seventy percent of Britain’s laws, she said, were now co-decided by the European Parliament and European Commission. For Reding the whole debate in Britain over sovereignty was irrelevant and pointless. That bird had flown and resistance was futile. She then went onto infer the British people were too ignorant to vote in an in-out referendum because their view of the EU was “distorted”.
As Open Europe director Pavel Sidlicki put it succinctly. “Mrs Reding epitomises the EU elites’ approach to dealing with the public – superficially embracing debate with citizens while dismissing substantive criticism”.
However, perhaps the most egregious example of political arrogance came not from a member of the EU’s uber-élite but a current British minister very close to the Prime Minister – David Cameron’s cabal. In a conversation said minister had with a very senior friend of mine about the need for Britain to re-discover strategy he dismissed “not particularly courteously” the very concept. Indeed, a national vision was “a very silly idea” and quite pointless. Events should be dealt with as they arose, he asserted.
When challenged with the suggestion that the ability to respond to said events requires planning, choices, investments and thus strategy he simply dismissed the whole concept.
According to my friend he had, “…no grasp of, nor wish to grasp history and historical perspectives and displayed a level of arrogance, ignorance, complacency and disdain which were striking”. No wonder Britain is in such a mess. This explains why so much national sovereignty has been handed over to Brussels with little or no understanding of the consequences for Britain as a self-governing state.
Cameron’s friend left the best bit to last and remember this is an elected politician. There was no point in debating publicly such issues because the public were too thick to understand. In other words the very people who elected this serving minister are to his mind too stupid to be engaged on the huge issues of the day which affect Britain, Europe and them. It is as though the people have become an inconvenience to those in power. As my friend said such a point of view, “…demonstrates an unsuitability to be a leader in a democracy ( if he knows and accepts the concepts of democracy)”.
It is the assumption of power and the intolerance of the ‘other’ that is the essential problem of many of today’s political élites. In 1952 US diplomat Adlai Stevenson standing up to Senator McCarthy and his awful Un-American Activities Committee said, “The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live, and fear breeds repression. Too often sinister threats to the bill of rights, to freedom of the mind, are concealed under the patriotic cloak of anti-communism”. Anti-Europeanism?
When will Europe’s political élites realise they are the problem, not we the ‘stupid’ or mad citizens who pay for their many privileges. European democracy is tipping into crisis and it is about time people realise that.