Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The ghost of politics past

The reach of global governance

One interminably dull aspect of the Brexit debate is just how much law comes from Brussels. InFacts, the Europhile propaganda unit, concludes that there's no meaningful answer. You would have to be quite scientific in devising a fair and accurate means of measuring. Laws invoke other laws and have accompanying judgements and even if you could devise a method of measuring, the figure would be meaningless and out of date by time of publishing.

There are degrees of magnitude. A technical law on marketing of cabbages is not really the same as a directive to close down power stations. It's largely a product of our media/internet age that everything has to be reduced to a single statistic. In this I would go with the InFacts conclusion - with certain caveats.

That said, just because there is no meaningful statistic either way, we should not allow that to distract us from the fact that a massive proportion of technical rules and standards are not made by Westminster - and we adopt countless European and international standards with very little, if any scrutiny.

Then there are those binding targets. While some EU in origin some of the time, they may also be global agreements. Carbon reduction measures being a case and point. These are far reaching and in some cases have massive repercussions, costs and externalities. It's as much a product of our institutional political narcissism as it is our EU membership. We can sulk all we like about the damaging energy targets but it is our own politicians who pressed for suicidal measures and then gold-plated them.

If fact, objections to the EU are often misplaced. Critics are less railing against the EU as the chaos and confusion of conflicting agendas and the lack of a clear line of accountability. The narrative of "meddling Brussels bureaucrats" is far easier to sell than "we have a complex web of global laws, rulings and standards from regional, international and local public and private regulators". In this I don't think the EU has done anything to us that our politicians haven't been salivating for - and since we elect them, the fault is largely ours.

Even this blog waffles on constantly about the need for the UK to have a veto but that's largely pointless if our own administration would never in a billion years use it. And so we are stuck with a much more profound conundrum. How do we get the best from globalisation and harmonisation, while protecting the traditions and customs that define our culture, heritage and spirituality?

Ruthless modernists would dispense with the latter, but this is to ignore human element. If people are made to be passengers without a stake in the rules they must live by then they are mere economic units rather than social beings with moral agency.

So we have a problem here don't we? As a society we are well aware that we must have standards and regulations and things work better with than without, but without understanding the reasons and the origin there will naturally be a resistance. That's what makes the EU the popular bogeyman. This is not to say I am exonerating the EU. I'm just saying it's a little more complex.

The problem we have when we receive global or regional standards they come with implementation costs that require us to adapt our business processes and override some long standing cultural practices. Since by the time the small business learns of such regulatory impositions, the chances are that it's already too late and there's nothing to be done, no means of raising an objection at the Westminster level and little point in going to an MEP - not least when the standards applied are little, if anything to do with them.

So since we cannot block, prevent or amend the law we received it's fair to say we don't have a democracy and the politicians we employ to act on our behalf are part of the problem rather than being a defence mechanism. So clearly, what we need is a system whereby individuals and businesses can seek review and exemption.

In some respects we already have this but it doesn't work very well in that it does not feed decisions back up the chain so that issues are taken into account at point of revision. That means there is no balance struck between the need for harmonisation and the needs of people. It's a question that will plague humanity for as long as we have civil society - and that's really at the heart of the Brexit debate. Is the EU a sufficiently effective mechanism to harness the wealth giving powers of globalisation while preserving democracy?

The answer to that is no. The reason being is that the EU's regional supranationalism is largely based on telling nations what to do and how to do it, and if they don't like it and everybody else does, that's just tough. It is antithetical to both democracy and also globalism - not least when all it does is implement global conventions and laws on our behalf but still gold-plating them sufficiently to close Europe off from the world.

Demonstrating the point, today we see the New Zealand Food Act 2014 coming into effect. The main changes focus on food production rather than where the food is made, control plans for higher risk operators and a national programme for those who are lower risk, and improving enforcement of the new laws. Businesses with poor safety records will be targeted more and the change means those who already have a good rating won't come under as much scrutiny as those who don't.

The laws include all businesses that sell food - from restaurants, to corner dairies, market stalls, or internet cake sellers. It offers businesses greater flexibility and people can sell food they have made at home as long as it meets the same food safety standards as other businesses.

So what has this got to do with anything? Well, the DNA of this Act is to effectively implement Codex Alimentarius regulations into New Zealand’s domestic food regime. Effectively the exact same regime as that which forms the basis of EU rules.

Yet despite now conforming to the same rules as the UK and the rest of Europe we are not able to freely trade with New Zealand without going via the EU when really the vehicle for harmonisation is less the EU as it is Codex Alimentarius (CA). The reason being that as much as mutual conformity is required there must also be common inspection systems.

So to me the obvious Brexit opportunity is to engage fully in the WTO. We can widen trade beyond the narrow, Euro-entric trading system, bringing in the economies of Asia, Africa and South America. If the EU is not the origin of laws and standards, why do we need a middleman? We need to strengthen the global institutions, formalise them, democratise them and bypass the EU entirely. 

Having studied the matrix of global regulation for some time now, we can see that in many ways this is already happening, where there is unprecedented consultation and openness where stakeholders can go through their own governments to get to the top tables. Unless you're in the EU that is. In some serious ways the EU is a huge obstacle to building a global single market - and one that's badly needed.

My concern is that we are going to have to grow and develop these institutions anyway since that is the direction of travel, and then annoyingly be caught between the two worlds where there the EU refuses to step aside in a battle of wills between two competing forces. The EU and the rest of the world. We will be propping up a redundant construct that causes masses of duplication, clouds the lines of accountability and adds only complexity and confusion in something that should be less complex and less confusing (I won't say should be simple).

In this, we are now faced with a choice. A choice between an obsolete supranational entity struggling with an existential crisis or the rest of the world where there is a hyper-connected global single market emerging but still in infancy. You might say that the EU is the midwife to it, or in some ways is the elder guardian or sibling, but it is maturing and expanding at a pace that should and does embarrass the EU - whose own lack of agility makes it ill-at-ease with the modern world.

The globalisation of regulation is a genie that won't go back into the bottle. As it progresses, it increasingly undermines the foundations of the EU, eating away at its reason for being. Once that process of redundancy is complete, all you're left with is a redundant shell with the EU institutions pushing its ideology through civic society and education, maintaining the pretence that Mother Europe is the benevolent guardian and provider. 

In reality nobody would really notice if it evaporated over a decade. As much as the EU trades on our behalf we still have multilateralism of a sort, only it is working through an EU filter - which I can't see for the life of me why we need. It's a solution in search of a problem. 

So coming back to the point about how many laws come from Brussels, the question should really be one of how much law does Brussels adopt on our behalf, and if we were to deal direct, what is left that we couldn't live without? To my mind, not much - and nothing that could not be replaced and enhanced by way of having national control.

In this regard a vote to remain in the EU is a vote to throw away some amazing opportunities in order to keep up a pretence and keep a pointless gravy train rolling. The politicians love it because it suits their vanity, academia loves it because it sprays free money around in maintenance of the illusion, lefties love it because it suppresses democracy, and banks want to keep it largely because they hate change of any kind. 

The push to remain in the EU is entirely driven by selfish concerns from those who profit most from things as they are. That would be fine if we were talking about innovators and wealth creators, but we're not. We're talking about parasites who largely steal our money and bribe us with it. It works too. All the EU need do is bribe Nissan to build a car assembly line and MEPs and MPs fall into line to sing EU praises, when what we really want is a jobs revolution for the North East, not crumbs from their table.

And this is really the crux of it. We don't want this central economic planning. We want real localism, real democracy real global participation and access to the levers of power. The EU is an obstacle to all three. In this morass we go in search of ever more clutter with which to decorate our government. Regional assemblies, directly elected mayors, devolved assemblies - all in a never-ending search for democracy without addressing the root of the problem. Unless the people are sovereign, none of these voting rituals and high offices can add any value.

We are lumbered with a bad idea from the last century designed for a different world and while reality goes one way, the EU goes another, refusing to face up to its own obsolescence. We are still haunted by the ghost of World War One and it is holding us back. The people want change, they want meaningful politics and they want democracy - but when it comes to the choice the entire establishment turns on them and says "don't even think about it". 

And that's why a Remain vote isn't going to solve anything. We will continue to fumble around in search of democratic gratification, we will continue to be passengers, and continue to be powerless in the face of hyper-globalisation. The levers of power are not connected to anything. 

From there I only see an increasing sense of frustration which eventually turns to anger - not least while the onslaught of ever more regulation from unknown sources freezes more and more people out of making their own way in the world and having a stake in society.

Government wants to track and log every business transaction. Our security requires that we have strict mechanisms to protect identity and privacy and public safety. All to some extent necessary, but as it advances, more and more of our customs and traditions are eroded. Eventually everything is sanitised, homogenised, stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved - with everything being sacrificed on the altar of "compromise" and the "greater good". Nothing is sacred, nothing is preserved, everything is up for sale and open to killer competition. Where is the soul in this?

While people may scoff at Ukip for being a support group for those ill-at-ease with modernity, they are the canary down the mine. While we may mock, we should also listen because the essence of their complaint is the same one we all share - power is flowing away from the people, too much is done without their consent and the people we elect cannot be moved to act even if they had the power. 

This referendum is our chance to decide who governs us. While Brexit is not the silver bullet or the immediate answer, it is a necessary first step to building a democracy that can strike a balance between the need for commonality and the need for a shared national identity - in common with our habits, values and traditions. 

It isn't sentimentalism or a rose-tinted view of the past - it's a recognition that people need more that just material provisions, and where that is concerned, the EU's attempt to create an artificial European demos tramples all over who and what we are, and erodes those things that make us distinctive.

We need to ask why we should be held hostage to the paranoias and fears of the post-war generation. Why should we be held back by their antiquated and ill-conceived construct? Why should we not have a say in global affairs? Why should we not have local control over our food and energy? Why should we not have the right to say no to our government? Why should we allow banks and corporates to do as they please and pick and choose which laws they follow? Why should society be be designed for their convenience?

This isn't a question of Brussels making the rules or how much comes from where. It's about who holds the power, and who wields it and in what circumstances. In this, while we remain in the EU, we can say that it isn't us - we don't have democracy, and if we want it we have no choice but to leave the EU. 

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