The European Union: Empire by Consent
The European Elections are upon us, so I suspect I’ll be writing a bit about the EU over the coming weeks (and it won’t all be transport policy, so worry not). But I wanted to start out with a video I found recently of Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission. describing how he sees the EU post-Lisbon Treaty: an empire by consent.
Here’s the video, and the crucial sentences are at 4:08, but its worth watching the whole answer if only for the context.
The Times followed this up with an article that started out thus:
Britain was told yesterday that it was part of a new European empire — by the Brussels bureaucrat who would be emperor.
The speech itself came in 2007, when there were loud calls from across European member states for referendums on the new Lisbon Treaty, and the Telegraph were straight off the mark with this opener:
Gordon Brown was under renewed pressure to hold a referendum last night after José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, hailed the European Union as an "empire".
So what exactly is this empire thing we’re all supposed to have willingly joined. After all, that’s effectively what Barroso told us: the first non-imperial empire, essentially an empire created by consent. But by who’s consent? And will this consent ever expand to giving us a vote on who the leader is?
I found the whole thing rather unnerving. I often find myself in debates where I have to explain why the EU is a good idea gone wrong, not an inevitable conclusion to making friend’s with the neighbours and agreeing to share garden produce. It really is a much better idea to create common, equitable interactions between citizens of neighbouring countries in the aims of creating a common understanding through which real, deep-seated and positive peace can develop.
I would venture to say that this expansionism should be consented not just by those on the outside moving in, but those on the inside. That said, the very Xenophobia the EU could play a role in fighting would have prevented Romania from joining, rather than the real issue which is the sheer volume of corruption still present in that corner of the world.
And there is also the very real risk that the expansion of the EU could trigger some kind of armed hostilities on the borders between the European and Russian spheres of influence, indeed, to some extent it already has, in the form of the Georgian crises last year.
The fact is, the only people have really consented to being part of this brand new shiny post-Empire are the very elites who will benefit most from it in its present formation: those who want common assurances that neighbouring governments will defend them from their subjects and help plough ahead with corporate-reorientation of the entirety of society.
I don’t particularly like the idea of voting on a leader of the EU, but I do think that some kind of supra-national election of a figure head might actually be needed, if only to have someone to throw wet sponges (or pots of green custard) at when things are going completely the wrong way and are beginning to harm the marginalised residents of the Union.
A bold new project a United Europe surely must be, but it must not be allowed to continue as a project for fellow ruling elites to subjugate their citizens in isolation of one another; trans-European government must lead to trans-European resistance and trans-European public accountability, as well as something of a trans-European press and civil society. Until these things emerge, the EU will remain an unmitigated threat to democracy, a factor which is not inherent in the concept of working together across borders in this way.