Saturday, 26 September 2015

Whose rules are they anyway?


Whenever I talk to europhiles it always comes down to their inherent phobia of democracy. What if those evil Tories abolish human rights and bring back slavery? It's a silly notion and Australia shows that we do not descend to the status of primitive savages without our enlightened EU supervisors.

This week I have been reading Treaty-Making and Australia: Globalisation Versus Sovereignty by Phillip Alston. Published in 1995, he observes that "In countries like Australia, national sovereignty has long been a thing of the past when it comes to many areas of business regulation. In the world system, Australia is substantially a law-taker rather than a law-maker. This process of globalisation of regulatory law has been accelerated by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Thanks to the GATT, our food standards will now, effectively, be set in Rome rather than Canberra or Sydney."

"The impact of the GATT is no more than an acceleration of what has been going on for a long time. For years, some of our air safety standards have been written by the Boeing Corporation in Seattle, or if not by them, by the US Federal Aviation Administration in Washington. Our ship safety standards have been written by the International Maritime Organization in London. Our motor vehicle safety standards have been written by Working Party 29 of the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Our telecommunications standards have been substantially set in Geneva by the International Telecommunications Union."

He writes that "Globalisation has become a trendy subject but really globalisation of law should always have been trendy, because it has been going on for thousands of years, albeit at an accelerated rate this century. Human beings have always had an overwhelming capacity to define big ideas as their own when in reality they were someone else's. Every great law reform has a hundred authors who claim it was originally their idea. Nations have the same capacity for delusion at a collective level.

Nations revel in the illusion that their laws are creations of their national imagination, of the capacities for problem solving of their local political institutions. Most political leaders do not realise that most of the time they are voting for laws that are nearly identical to laws previously enacted in other states (at the same time political scientists have documented systematic patterns of verbatim copying of laws to the point where even serious typographical errors get copied). That is because they are only dimly aware of the mechanisms of globalisation."

Keep in mind this is written in 1995. This was about the time we were seeing massive anti-globalisation protests around the planet, but not in the EU. The EU obscures the horizons so people think the more influence of these global bodies is attributable to the EU, thus the organisations that really run the show are barely on our radar. It's not even on the menu for discussion and our MPs and hacks just don't have the first clue.

Fast forward to today and very little has changed. The same dynamic is as strong for Australia as ever it was. Course, one thing the left object to is when Australians occasionally elect a right wing conservative who says no to these international bodies. That is something the EU will never do. And that is why europhiles love the EU. It ensures that the British people are never consulted and are prevented from refusing the supreme government. They don't trust democracy and they don't think we should have the right to choose.

In reality Australia shows us that in most cases we will accept global conventions and standards and the rare exceptions where we don't, like Australia is when we are acting in the national interest to deal with emergencies, much like the refugee crisis where the old conventions and accords simply don't speak to the problems of this century. Europhiles might observe that sometimes Australia stretches international law to breaking point in doing so, but then so does the EU. When it comes to breaking EU law the biggest offender by a country mile is the European Commission.

With this in mind it rather skewers the notions that outside the EU we would be obeying the same rules of the club without influencing them. Philip Alston has it that the collective influence on social policy of non-treaty material from international sources has been very much greater than that of treaties. (ie Lisbon) Indeed, many of the most influential sources have not even been agreements between governments, let alone ones with the legally-binding nature of treaties. For example, important sources include international organisations or conferences which are not restricted to governments or, indeed, do not involve them at all. Many of the most influential intergovernmental agreements have been made within restricted groups of countries such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rather than in the United Nations or some other global context.

To date, intergovernmental agreements at the regional or sub-regional level which affect key social policy in Australia have been relatively few. However, the growing trend towards regionalism, and the rapid economic and social development of many Asian countries, promise to increase the number and importance of such agreements within the next decade or two.

Whether or not from intergovernmental sources, the nature of influential non-treaty standards varies considerably. Some are "declarations" or "statements" consisting largely of "rules" or "principles". For example, the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, both made by the United Nations General Assembly, have had considerable influence within the West. Other United Nations agreements, however, such as the Guiding Principles on Developmental Social Welfare and the Declaration on the Right to Development, have not been significant here. This partly reflects, of course, the fact that some of these documents are addressed principally to the problems of less developed countries.

And as I recently noted in Junkers' landmark speech outlining the terms of the last Greek bailout he said "There are, as I said, no wage cuts in this package. This was never, never ever on the table. What is on the table is a proposal to modernise the wage grid of the public sector. And, for the private sector, we have agreed to review collective bargaining practices. Our only request has been that this should be done in line with the best European practices in cooperation with the institutions and International Labour Organisation which are the specialists when it comes to this question."

And THAT really is the nature of the beast. In the coming referendum campaign we will hear much of what the EU supposedly does for us, yet in reality from disability rights to standards on car wing mirrors, we are looking at a myriad of global organisations to which most of our politicians are only dimly aware of that drive most of what we now implement as law. The EU lacks the manpower or the intellectual resource to regulate to this extent so it outsources and copies declarations and conventions verbatim. We do not need the EU to do it for us and in all instances we are better off having an independent right of veto and parliamentary scrutiny.

Crucially though, the fact that we would keep all of these global conventions for all the bodies governing our exports, this keeps us in line with the EU in that EU regulations merely codify them into law.  If Australia has a Mutual Recognition Agreement with the EU, then so can we. There is little likelihood of losing our access to the single market - and what we gain is the ability to forge our own trade deals.

Contrast that with what we are being asked to remain in. The offer on the table is to stay in a reformed EU. What that means in practice is a two tier Europe where we obey all these global rules and regulations, have no say in how they are made, have no independent right of veto, and not only are we not at the top tables of global governance as Norway and Australia are, we are also not even at the top table of the EU, since the Eurozone members have primacy over policy. As much as the EU already mutes our voice, at the top table, we are actually being pushed onto the sidelines of Europe by way of not being a Eurozone member.

The rhetoric about being isolated and going it alone at this point sound rather silly when you consider that we are a far richer and more productive country than Australia - and Canada for that matter. They "obey all the rules of the club" yet they are not obliged to surrender their voice at the top table. The global single market has overtaken the EU, and since we are not in the Euro, we have no need of political integration, thus we have no reason to remain in the EU.

Academic programmes will still continue. In all likelihood we will still have a visaless agreement with the EU and we will continue to contribute to the EU budget for those areas where co-operation is deemed worthwhile. We have nothing to gain from staying in the EU, but quite a lot to lose in terms of regional and global influence over the rules we comply with. We are never going to have full sovereignty as is imagined by many eurosceptics, but the right to say no in those exceptional cases is vital not only to preserve that which is worth preserving, but also to ensure shoddy deals like TTIP are not rammed through for the sake of expedience and vanity.

Our veto at the top table is our guarantee that the emerging global single market will be a fair and free one where the people are not subjugated to corporates. And if any nation will throw a spanner in the works, it is Britain because it's full of good (if misguided) people who keep asking "What if those evil Tories abolish human rights and bring back slavery?". 

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