Saturday, 11 June 2016

The EU's courtiers can't see the truth - their project is rotten to its core

The greatest of political scientists, S. E. Finer, wrote about how all polities have a court. And that those courts featured those closest to the king, those aspiring to get close to the king and those who formed a rival court. The threats to these courts are of two different types - ones that determine who is king and who are the courtiers closest to the king and ones that create a different order, that replace the king with a different king.

So when we analyse the European Union - important right now because we have to decide whether to be part of it - we should remember that it is a political thing not an economic thing and that many of the people seeking to influence your decision are, in one way or another, courtiers. We should also remember that those courtiers have no interest in there being a change of king because their career trajectory clings to the current rulers. To be more precise the courtiers adhere to the current system rather than to the specific people who form the central court of the European Union.

Tim Worstall describes the outlook in a comment on Visegrad 4 ( or rather some sort of conference thing in Prague recently under the aegis of the Visegrad 4 grouping):

The interesting bit was how scary it was in fact. The groupthink is strong in this arena. There is no questioning of the goal, even if it’s not clearly delineated. That ever closer union is just assumed: how to bring it about being the only difference anyone has. I was the only truly eurosceptic person there and I wasn’t on the panel discussing eurosceptics for example (Frances is reasonable on this subject where I am not).

At one stage I pointed out that fiscal union simply was not going to happen. Europeans just are not going to allow 15-20% of GDP to be distributed through Brussels, which is what would be needed for the automatic stabilisers to operate properly so that the eurozone comes even close to being an optimal currency area. To do that really does mean German taxes paying Greek pensions.

It. Will. Not. Happen.

Not this century at least.

Everyone was shocked: how could you say such a thing? And anyway, we need to work out how to make this happen not think of why it cannot.

What’s scary about this is that these are the people (the varied policy wonks, political aides and so on who made up the audience) who are actually deciding policy within that EU bureaucracy. and they’re simply off with the fairies.

Now Tim is an economist of sorts rather than a political scientist. This isn't to say that he doesn't understand how political systems work but rather that his answer (in this case about the Euro) is couched in terms of the economic consequences of one or other choice. Yet Tim has noticed that the European Union's court - the body round which these policy wonks, aides, advisors and so forth are clustered - is not making decisions based on the economic rightness or otherwise of that decision. Even were the careful deconstruction of the Eurozone to be the right policy, there is no way in which these courtiers could countenance that policy choice being pursued. This would be politically unacceptable.

The reason for this situation - why, in Tim's terms, the assorted folk at this summit are 'away with the fairies' - is that their personal interest, career and future income is tied to the interests of the EU's central court. To challenge the fundamental policy premise of that polity - to point out that Brussels is naked - would be to threaten those interests, that career and the good income to be gained from clustering round the EU's court. So what the courtiers offer is the classic response of such people when faced with an existential threat - reform. We're told that the EU can be reformed, which means that a different set of courtiers sit at the centre of a slightly reconfigured court (with the gamble from the courtiers proposing 'reform' that they will be closer to that centre - and a little richer, a tad more powerful - than at present).

Everything that these courtiers do is Laputan in its distance from the real world of the people who those courtiers like to pretend are the real drivers of their world. For all the talk of elections, voting and democracy, the world of our courtiers is - for the most part - unchanging. This goes some way, perhaps to explaining why there is so much fret about neo-reactionary trends in European politics - it's not just that the Free Democrats, National Front, AfD or UKIP are right wing but rather that they position themselves away from the comfort of the EU's court. This trend is a threat to the EU and therefore incomprehensible, frightening and to be stopped at all costs.

So when those courtiers tell us we're 'blind' or wave their arms and exclaim in exasperation 'wake up, wake up', what they're doing is telling us we should come in from the cold, join their cosy world. We should accept the core ideology of the EU court - 'ever closer union' and so forth - and work with them on 'reform'. At one time I'd have been inclined to take this offer - the EU was a positive force in the world (or so we thought) - but having been close enough to what it does, I know differently. Far from buying the old lie about economic benefit, I now realise it is a political project that seeks the end of those things I value as important. It is only superficially democratic, specifically supranational and founded in List's old ideas of state directed, corporate capitalism (the same ideas borrowed by Mussolini in trying to hammer some sort of intellectual structure onto Fascism).

In one respect it is quite sweet that so many very clever people cluster around the EU's court. Like every other bunch of courtiers throughout history, these people mostly believe (when they've finished chasing consultancy contracts, speaking engagements, advisor positions and policy jobs) that there really is no alternative to the world in which they live, they develop a sort of strabimus with one eye gazing into their narrow little world while the other swivels frantically searching for ever grander ideas of union, collaboration and co-operation. We're told these people are the bright ones, the 'experts', yet they are - quite literally - ignorant of the lives, loves, aspirations and hopes of the people who are supposed to be their bosses.

What scares these courtiers is that a unruly rabble of people they've been told to dislike (and, as with all revolutions, some will actually be dislikeable) will pull down their comfortable castle and expose it to the light of truth and reality. There is a world beyond the EU. We can have a different king. There is - as there always is, whatever Maggie said - an alternative.

The argument for the EU is presented to us as an economic one - we'll be better off as a member, as art of a process of papering over genuine differences with euro-pap. What you should remember is that this is a political project. As Michael Portillo put it:

It has created hardship, unemployment and division on a dangerous scale. It is the result of an ideology; and the ideologues who pursue the goal of union do not count the cost in human misery. Why should they, since it is paid by others? Europe’s political elite is so self-satisfied with its self-proclaimed virtue in uniting Europe that it never doubts itself nor tolerates those who point out the damage that it does and its sheer incompetence.
The EU's courtiers don't see the truth - their project is rotten, dying and it it risks, as we've seen in Greece, pulling down the lives of ordinary people to satisfy its hubris.



Anonymous said...

A very concise and honest analysis. My only question is: how much better is the alternative (Brexit) likely to be? Because we'd still be talking about courtiers with positions to defend!

Kathryn Toledano said...

Ah yes. But we can democratically choose to dump them. The eu courtiers are attached to unelected 'kings'.

Kathryn Toledano said...

Ah yes. But we can democratically choose to dump them. The eu courtiers are attached to unelected 'kings'.