Friday, 27 January 2017

Not much to choose from

Over the last couple of years I have developed some (almost) cordial relations with various policy wonks all of whom at one time have had a connection with Brussels. What they tell me is that UK intuitions have never had any real problem influencing the EU. That is why they backed remain and that is why they insist the UK is very influential in the EU. And I can see what they think that.

If you work for a largely EU funded body or one that indirectly receives taxpayers money then you are part of the self-lobbying mechanism. The EU has an agenda and grants preferential access to organisations who want the same things. That means if you have ambitions of any kind your fastest ticket to Brussels is to join an NGO group. Of course you have to think exactly like them to get anywhere but that is how you end up with a soft left liberal consensus/groupthink throughout.

In this, Brussels is regarded as being secretive. There are a lot of areas which are off limits to MEPs and, fortunately for the Commission, most MEPs are too stupid and incurious to go poking around in things that, as far as the Commission is concerned, do not concern them. MEPs generally don't know how the system works and are easily herded. They are heavily dependent on instruction from staffers and can be very easily manipulated. The EU has very well established ways of containing dissent and scrutiny.

This is why the EU parliament is mainly a token affair to present the illusion of democracy. It has a PR utility but generally speaking, unless MEPs are pro-EU activists, MEPs are, understandably, treated like scum of the earth. In this there is increasingly less common ground between the commission and the parliament as each crop of MEPs tends to be ever more eurosceptic and from the political fringes. They are seen as a threat to be contained.

And you can sort of see why. Proportional Representation for a job without much in the way of prestige tends to attract pondlife. If you thought Ukip MEPs were thick you should see some of the continental ones, particularly from Eastern Europe. There is a weird dynamic in populism where know-nothingism is rewarded. This is how Trump ends up as POTUS.

Consequently the liberal establishment circles the wagons and becomes ever more detached fRom any kind of feedback mechanism and even moderately conservative voices are treated with extreme suspicion. The net result is a system of European governance which is profoundly elitist and highly meritocratic - just so long as you believe what they do. Eurocrats are anything but stupid.

The problem with this is that the idealism of the left, particularly in regard to climate change and sustainable development becomes the driving concern in legislation and economic policy. Some of it is entirely laudable in its aims but ultimately has no grounding in reality or practicability since these individuals seldom rub shoulders with ordinary people and have never worked in industry. The product of all this is a remote, paranoid and profoundly anti-democratic system with a phobia of accountability.

Because the EU is highly influential in international standard setting and there are multiple crossovers with the EU, the entire edifice of global governance is subject to the same groupthink. In many ways it is corrupt and wide open to manipulation by corporates through their charitable foundations and think tanks. Just follow the money.

And though these people genuinely do want a better, cleaner, wealthier world, the unintended consequences of their ideas are often devastating. This is why we are seeing a worldwide backlash against NGOs in authoritarian developing countries.

As the system has become more remote we have seen increasing opposition to it, with anti-establishment politics taking root everywhere. We are now faced with a choice between the liberal world order, whose foot-soldiers promote destructive identity politics or the likes of Trump and the Brexiteers who seem to take tremendous pride in knowing so little. They who would destroy the system rather than attempt to shape it and redefine it. This is the dilemma of our age, where picking a side is impossible. It's either the madness of the mob or the condescension of the elites. I think I may retreat to a cave in Siberia.

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